- After by Andrew Schneider et al.
AFTER expands on the vocabulary that Andrew Schneider developed in prior work, notably the Obie Award–winning YOUARENOWHERE. His is an aesthetic of emerging technologies merged with precise and virtuosic theatricality. AFTER is explicitly a sequel, in both theme and form, to this prior show, complete with many of the same tricks, including impossibly fast blackouts that, jump cut–like, transform the world of the play in seconds. Stage technologies are often an active player in Schneider’s work, propelling the action of the play forward or somehow intervening on performers’ actions or bodies. This vocabulary, as well as a collaboration with sound designer Bobby McElver, is deepened through innovative use of sound spatialization technology. Also directed by Schneider, the production of AFTER contemplated what might be after life, or at least after YOUARENOWHERE.
The play’s many short scenes may be slices of life—or after life, or death. I say “seems,” because the performance was often enigmatic and without a clear narrative. Most scenes featured Schneider or collaborator Alicia ayo Ohs (who was integrated into the last moments of YOUARENOWHERE when it was remounted in the month prior to AFTER’s premiere), both wearing microphones with attendant wireless packs strapped to each arm. In early scenes, Schneider and Ohs often appeared together on a brightly lit stage that was empty save for a desk and chairs. These and other scenes repeated, but with differences and variation, as if stuck in a limbo state: the lights went out, and when they came back on an instant later, Schneider, Ohs, and the furniture were in an entirely new configuration. Other performers occasionally joined them, or took their places. Longer contemplative scenes broke up rapid-fire sequences: Ohs lying on the floor, slowly delivering a monologue describing what happens to a body freezing to death; other scenes did not feature an actor, just sound and light.
Rather than using plot, AFTER explored its subject matter through tone, often quite literally when it came to the lighting and projection mapping by Schneider, and sound by Schneider and McElver. These design elements embraced a language of failure derived from technology: the error, the glitch, digital skips and electronic noise, perception distorted fun house–like by new media. In one scene, as a performer spoke, the voice dislocated from the body; in another, a performer spoke in another’s voice. These technical elements amounted to a presence, which at times seemed malevolent, that exercised forms of control over the performers’ bodies. The effect was occasionally reminiscent of the unseen forces that seem to manage the world of Beckett plays, such as the goad in Act without Words II: a nonhuman mechanism intruding onto the stage and into the characters’ lives, prompting new action. With each cue exactingly timed, the apparatus was in charge; there was no room to go off-script and improvise or pause for an extra breath. The affordances of new media technologies thus form Schneider’s theatrical vocabulary; he explores how to relate them to the body. This is perhaps a hacker theatre: lighting and sound is pushed past the limits of what off-the-shelf consumer technology can do, and these in turn are used to push past limitations of the body, like being able to speak only in your own voice.
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AFTER’s aural magic was thanks to EMPAC’s state-of-the-art sound spatialization technology. Indeed, AFTER’s groundbreaking theatrical use of wave-field synthesis (WFS) was perhaps its most significant feature. Although such 3D audio systems are beginning to appear in some theatres, AFTER is the first production to use EMPAC’s system, and, developed during a residency at the center, the show is likely the first in which WFS was so heavily integrated, shaping both form and content. EMPAC’s WFS...