Embracing the Chaos with Jeffrey Cousar
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Embracing the Chaos with Jeffrey Cousar

Posted September 13th, 2017

This year storied and beloved Philadelphia theater company New Paradise Laboratories have returned to the Fringe Festival with one of the most enigmatic and exhilarating shows you’re likely to see this month.

Hello Blackout! picks up well before the events of NPL’s previous Fringe-presented work O Monsters. That show followed the seemingly human, but exceedingly alien Kissimmee triplets and their mother in the present day. This time around we are with them at the beginning of, well, everything. Taking place before, during, and after the Big Bang, Hello Blackout! unfolds like a compellingly surreal take on the creation myth, where all conventions are thrown aside in favor of inviting unlimited possibility with open arms. It is at times deeply unsettling, at others riotously funny.

In dipping into the past, NPL has resurrected the family’s previously absent patriarch to reveal just what became of him. Taking on this demanding role of the father/king and joining the cast on their ride through the beginning of all things is performer Jeffrey Cousar. 

A Philly native, Cousar began his performance training very young, first attending Philadanco as a child and later, at 13, moving on to Freedom Theatre. After graduating from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, he started working professionally as an actor.

He first became involved with NPL earlier this year, performing in their immersive detective adventure Gumshoe. The interactive mystery took audiences throughout the Free Library as they were trained to be agents of the “Bureau of Mysteries” by various agents. Cousar played the role of Saiph, an agent who specialized in secrets and conspiracies. “I had to take into account the fact that there was no buffer between me and the audience,” Cousar explained, describing the considerations required for executing the site-specific piece. “I could improv working as a colonial merchant in Old City, but Saiph also had specific text to relate to the audience. Doing that in a space where someone could interrupt you mid-dialogue keeps you alert.” While that piece required quick thinking and a strong awareness of his surroundings, Hello Blackout! presents a wildly different set of challenges.

While it’s no secret that our beliefs, conscious or not, that there is an order to things are constructs to help us better deal with all the uncertainties of existence, we still tend to invest some bit of ourselves in predictions—be they statistical, astrological, algorithmic, psychic—to find comfort. Hello Blackout! on the other hand just barrels into that uncertainty and builds a playground inside. “We deal with the idea of chance and its role in life,” Cousar offered, adding, “It’s articulated visually and we navigate its expressions until our end.” What that translates into on stage is a heightened reality where just about anything may come hurtling out of nowhere at any point. In this mysterious realm, performers may comport themselves in totally alien, unnerving manners, but could turn on a dime to more recognizably human behavior at any moment (though an air of parody often hangs over it).

Even in the face of such high strangeness, Cousar is game, immersing himself in the show’s atmosphere which NPL artistic director Whit MacLaughlin describes as horror-farce. “There’s a lot to know about the world, but you just have to study it and embrace it,” said Cousar, who’s found exploring this alternate reality to be a deeply rewarding experience as an actor. “Asking performers to consider other avenues of thought to interpret their art, then express it, opens them up. The more you do it, the better you become.

“It’s like Miles Davis learning from Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I think Whit has the same intention.”

As an added benefit, it turns out welcoming the chaos of the Kissimmee’s world into his life has aided him in processing all the chaos occurring on a daily basis in these trepidatious times. “With all the other shit happening on this planet it’s nice to think about higher planes of thought. It leads you back to wanting to live, enjoying who you are in this time right now.”

—Hugh Wilikofsky

Banner photo by Andie Springer, all others by Kate Raines/plate3.com.

Hello Blackout!
New Paradise Laboratories 

The Proscenium Theatre at The Drake
302 South Hicks Street

Sept 5–Sept 17

$29 (general)
$20.30 (member)
$15 (student + 25-and-under)
TICKETS + INFO

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O Monsters (screening)
New Paradise Laboratories 

The Proscenium Theatre at The Drake
302 South Hicks Street

Sept 9, 10, 16 + 17

$10 (general)
$7 (member)
TICKETS + INFO

 

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