- Show Me a Good Time by Sean Patten et al.
“Everybody needs a good time. That’s what all the songs tell us. Nobody wants to die alone.” With these words, staring directly into the anonymous, unblinking gaze of a webcam, actor Simon Will set the tone for the premiere of Gob Squad’s marathon durational performance, Show Me a Good Time. Over the course of the next twelve hours, from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am, Central European time, on June 20, 2020, the eve of the summer solstice, the performance would usher its viewers from light into darkness and into the light again, outlasting the year’s shortest night and inviting us to contemplate our mortality, our vulnerability, and our need for vitalizing communion.
Gob Squad had given themselves an essentially heroic task: to puncture the malaise of a world put on pause by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to deliver (remotely) a dose of playfulness, meaning, and connection to a viewership yearning for these basic needs. Toward this end, the Berlin-based performance group had devised an hour-long structure that would loop twelve times. At the beginning of each hour, one of the performers would take on the role of host, greeting livestream viewers from the empty stage of the Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) Theatre and orienting them to the piece’s main themes: time, uncertainty, impermanence. Soon afterward, three other members of Gob Squad, equipped with cameras, headset microphones, and plastic face-shields, would enter the livestream, appearing either in Berlin or one of two locations in England. These three would entertain viewers from their domestic spaces or venture forth into emptied-out cityscapes, as explorers questing for “something larger than our stupid lives” (to quote performer Berit Stumpf).
Early in the evening, Stumpf found a pair of abandoned, rain-sodden sneakers on a street corner, tried them on, and exclaimed, “I am walking in someone else’s shoes!” In a park, under some unremarkable bushes, Sean Patten found a shabby stone plaque marking the center of Berlin and mounted it like a podium. Bastian Trost gravitated toward the massive Weltzeituhr (“world clock”) in Alexanderplatz, where he invited viewers watching from Berlin to rendezvous with him and share a glass of kombucha.
Sharon Smith, streaming from the south of England, cooked dinner for her daughter, attempted to hex a homemade doll effigy of Boris Johnson, then ventured out into a moonless night for a surreal encounter with an indifferent horse. Sarah Thom cruised the streets of Sheffield in her car while her ailing mother slept, under sedatives. Feeling low, Thom sought some relief from depression in the golden light and glorious aroma of a fish-and-chips shop. Back in Berlin, Will, released from his role as host, journeyed on foot to Tegel Airport, arriving at 4:12 am. The sliding doors parted and, eyes twinkling with delight, he found himself entirely alone in a gleaming, silent, otherwise uninhabited terminal.
As they roamed and philosophized, the Gob Squad adventurers did their best to tease ad libs into themes, create compositions out of contingency, and extract interest from the everyday—albeit the eerie everyday—of the pandemic. At times, these attempts at meaning-making unfolded with the effortlessness of happy accident; at others, they came across as contrived, awkward, and overly conceptual. At forty-five minutes past each hour, the structure of the performance demanded that the host performer on the HAU stage generate an [End Page 108] existential crisis, lamenting their situation as an actor without an audience, in a theatre without a public, in a culture without a clear way forward. This crisis required an intervention from the other three Gob Quad performers: one would seek out a location or backdrop; another would track down an audience member (often a surprised pedestrian); the third would supply a title. The HAU host would then improvise a short performance—often an absurd song or an antic...