When an email came around asking if anyone fancied going along to see Celebration, Florida the new performance offering from Greg Wohead, I jumped at the opportunity. You may recall an earlier review of mine for his The Ted Bundy Project. I’ve also seen other pieces of his work at The Ovalhouse Theatre and find the work of this artist really exciting. The Albany Theatre with support from The Yard commissioned this piece.
Unlike the rest of Wohead’s work, he isn’t actually performing in this piece – well, not in his physical form on the stage in front of us anyway. The premise is simple, in each performance of Celebration, Florida the piece is performed by two people. Neither of the two performers will have rehearsed anything and they will not know what will happen in the show. As an audience, we are asked to trust them and to be kind!
Celebration, Florida has been performed by male and female, old and young alike. Each performer adding a different dynamic to the production. For the show I attended last night at the Albany I saw Katherine Hollinson and Gloria Sanders. Tonight (2nd March) I understand that there will be two men, Leo Kay and Bob Karper. There were also performers in the audience who had previously “played” these roles.
As a piece of experimental performance art, the show is arguably not for everyone and could be labelled as inaccessible and potentially elitist in the same way that high-end opera is not everyone’s cup of tea and, is not easily accessible, especially when in a language that you don’t speak. For me, performance art is a pure joy. I studied the greats; The Wooster Group, Forced Entertainment, and many more at University so watching the work of this artist is a particular pleasure of mine.
The piece runs for about 60 minutes and everything you read on the screen and/or hear via a microphone is Greg Wohead. Greg Wohead sharing his story of loneliness, being alone, surrogacy and forced community. His words are crafted to give the audience access to Greg’s inner thoughts and external surroundings. Greg’s words are deliberately descriptive. He wants us to see what he sees – literally!
For me, I felt the piece is designed to question our own habits to combat loneliness. As an audience, we question our own coping mechanisms, our own ways of being alone in an unknown place. Also our use of surrogates and the way we relate to others.
The performers are fed their “script” and “physical directions” via headphones. They do not know what they are going to be asked to do ahead of time. As their script is revealed to them so they reveal it to us. They are guided by Wohead as to what to say and do.
As an audience, we can’t hear Greg’s voice, although we understand that the performers are delivering what they hear as verbatim. We get a sense that what he is asking them to do – be it to roar loudly like a bear, or to stand and smile openly at the audience, or to dance like a crazy person as if no one is watching them. However, we don’t know this for sure. We trust that these performers are delivering Greg’s words and actions to us. Knowing that the performers we are watching are learning their script moments before we are is a really interesting sensation and one that I really enjoyed unfolding in front of me.
The “action” of the piece takes place in a hotel room, outside of a town called Celebration. A constructed town developed by The Walt Disney Company. The company has been “designed to be a controlled manicured embodiment of the perfect American Town”. If you ask me, it is quite a scary town and thoughts of inhabitants embodying Stepford Wives in a Trump Controlled “Disneyfied” America come to mind. I’ll just leave that image in your head.
Greg is in a hotel room. Greg is alone in a hotel room. Greg is alone in an unfamiliar town in an unfamiliar hotel room, yet Greg feels strangely comfortable in his surroundings. If you are familiar with the musings of Seneca and Auge and the comfort of a “non-place” or “non-space”, it puts Greg’s feelings into perfect context. These philosophers feel that places such as motorway service stations, airports, coffee shop franchises and chain restaurants are non-places. No matter where in the world you are, a McDonalds will offer a Big Mac, and you can always get a Flat White in a Starbucks whether you are in London, Texas or the Ukraine. The concept of a non-place is an interesting concept. False familiarity. Surrogacy, forced relaxation all come to mind.
As with other works I’ve seen by Wohead, the use of music and sound effects are hugely important to the performance. In this show, we are treated to various versions of Stand by Me. The echo of wanting to not be alone emanating from the soundtrack as well as Greg’s words.
I really enjoyed the show, I enjoyed Greg’s journey and the echoes of mine and my friend’s lives. That is using “meet up apps” drinking alone, exercising, visiting a non-place opposed to an unknown eatery, attacking the mini-bar and reaching out to strangers are all activities used to feel less alone and more connected to the world that surrounds us.
If you’re a fan of performance art, like conceptual performance and are prepared to put some work in yourself, then this show is really a treat. Highly recommended.
Review by Faye Stockley
Celebration, Florida is a show performed by two new unrehearsed performers each time it takes place. They will know almost nothing about the show before walking onstage and they won’t know each other, but rather they will meet for the first time ever in front of the audience. As the show unfolds, the performers will be guided by the artist, Greg Wohead, via headphones and a pre-recorded audio track to speak, move and perform tasks live in the moment. Past performers have included Jamie Wood, Vera Chok and Valentijn Dhaenens.
The show that unfolds is a meditation on longing, imagination and missed connections that vacillates between playful and dark, surreal and literal as Greg uses the performers as surrogates through which to communicate with the audience.
The show takes its title from a town developed by the Walt Disney Company, designed to be a controlled, manicured embodiment of the perfect American town. It is both a real town and a simulation of a town; as such the piece speaks to the relationship between a hollow capitalistic society and a lack of connection, where we might reach for surrogates or stand ins to fulfill our emotional needs.
Performed at The Albany, London
Douglas Way, London SE8 4AG, UK