- The Lastmaker
The Lastmaker, by Goat Island’s core artists (director Lin Hixson, Karen Christopher, Matthew Goulish, Mark Jeffery, Bryan Saner, and Litó Walkey), was the group’s ninth and final performance piece. Founded in 1987, the company of Goat Island decided to disband in 2008 following The Lastmaker in order to explore other avenues of growth. Even as the close of Goat Island forged new directions for its individual artists, its imminent disbandment created an atmosphere for this piece in which the group contended with the prospect of its own end. This unique climate of creation, balanced in the liminal space between making and unmaking, resulted in a final production that troubled the very notion of performance as that which continuously disappears. Through complex self-reflexive strategies utilizing naming, setting, themes of writing and recording, and historic landmarks, Goat Island’s The Lastmaker [End Page 665] questioned the impermanence of live performance by staging the impossibility of ending rather than the inevitability of disappearance.
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In addition to the elements of the performance itself, the timing and the title of The Lastmaker marked Goat Island’s emphasis on process and continuance. On 15 May 2008, Lin Hixson and Matthew Goulish participated in a discussion at Stanford University, led by Peggy Phelan, about Goat Island’s work. Describing the group’s decision to separate after The Lastmaker, Goulish remarked on the fittingness of ending after Goat Island’s ninth performance piece. Nine, Goulish stated, is the largest numeral; after the number nine, it’s just more of the same. The group’s agreement to finish at the point of greatest potentiality suggested Goat Island’s refusal to imitate itself, to do “more of the same.” The title The Lastmaker echoed similar ideals through words rather than numbers. Goat Island united the ideas of finality, materiality, and endurance in the word “last”; combined with “maker,” which conjures a sense of creating through time and synthesizing disparate parts into a whole, The Lastmaker named the process of an ensemble that chose transformation rather than ending.
The setting of The Lastmaker added further layers to the levels of self-reflexivity through the setting Although the performance space at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art is a theatre with a proscenium stage, Goat Island opted for audience seating in a tennis court configuration on the stage floor. The two halves of the audience faced each other, with the back wall of the stage to one side and the open and empty theatre house on the other. The black stage floor bore the scuffs of previous performances and was empty save for the white rehearsal tape that demarcated the playing space. It was a space where the seams showed; Hixson made no effort to disguise the mechanics of the performance, preferring to leave the vestiges of rehearsal and performance in plain view. This, coupled with the audience’s constant view of other spectators, created a conscious climate that expected, even encouraged, the audience to view the performance as a journey resulting from constant rehearsal and discovery. With the scuff marks and rehearsal tape, Goat Island marked the space as a place of work through time, transforming the stage floor into a legible document that simultaneously invoked past and future rehearsal and performance.
The theme of writing and recording moved through many moments of The Lastmaker, aligning the performance itself with indelibility. When Karen Christopher impersonated Lenny Bruce, a boombox punctuated her words with static that recalled the [End Page 666] passing of time as well as the persistence of Bruce’s words through written and recorded mediums. In another performance moment, Bryan Saner donned a hat, and with it the voice and posture of an old man who sat and accompanied himself on the saw in a farmland version of “The Weight,” written by The Band’s Robbie Robertson. The song provided an audible score that both legitimized and resisted performance as disappearance. The Band, in addition...