Making Art in 2017: Whit MacLaughlin on Hello Blackout
Name: Whit MacLaughlin
Company: New Paradise Laboratories
Past Festival shows: Curated shows: O Monsters, The Adults, 27, Freedom Club, Extremely Public Displays of Privacy, Fatebook, Batch: An American Bachelor/ette Party, Planetary Enzyme Blues, Rrose Selavy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia, The Fab 4 Reach the Pearly Gates, This Mansion is a Hole. Self-produced: Gold Russian Finger Love.
FringeArts: Tell us about your show.
Whit MacLaughlin: As a company, we have been drawn to big questions from the beginning: Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the big system we’re all a part of? What does Philadelphia, as a city, as a concept, really mean? Why do we die? Questions that don’t have answers. NPL takes delight in asking unanswerable questions. It’s an obsession. Now we ask: why do we have something called a “future” that is so hard to predict? Seems like a fundamental question, but one that’s almost pure nonsense. One might be tempted to say: “What a stupid question!” Of course we have a future, but we can’t tell what it’s going to be because it’s not here yet. There’s no answer. Yet. Maybe tomorrow.
Nevertheless, almost everything we do in daily life involves searching for a way to predict what’s going to happen. What’s going to come in the mail today? Should I take that job? Am I going to be diagnosed with something bad? Who am I going to marry? We say: the fun is in the finding out! But still, it’s perplexing and frustrating, this issue of the future. Almost all Greek drama is about trying to see the future. Tiresias, the blind oracle, is in many of the plays. A BLIND ORACLE. Drama, from the beginning, has always been about the problem of a future that’s unforeseeable. Like Hamlet trying to figure out what to do to remedy his father’s murder. We’re paying close attention to a newly developing school of thought, a philosophy, called Speculative Realism. It suggests that the only absolute in the world, the only thing that must exist, is “contingency.” The world weaves itself out of a chaotic state and the things that happen don’t necessarily have a reason. May seem obvious, but we think it’s worth considering a bit more deeply, especially now that technology seems to move faster than we can, that our political life seems off the rails, that we live in a “quantum universe.” What does any of that actually mean for us on a daily basis? NPL takes big questions and blends them into a big question cocktail, then gets everybody drunk on it.
FringeArts: How have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year?
Whit MacLaughlin: We’re riding the bucking bronco of contingency. We’ve introduced techniques into our devising process that are like rolls of dice – Actor K makes a proposal, that Actor J learns and executes. What is intended? What is the meaning? It all tumbles and doesn’t land until very late in the process. It’s nerve-wracking but very fulfilling when it comes together. Also, we’re exploring “true blackout”. How dark can it get in the theatre? We’re using infrared goggles to help us navigate. Inky darkness is very hard to engineer. Finally, we have to talk about the music in Hello Blackout! Bhob Rainey is composing a hell of a soundscape, all performed live by a quintet of musicians who are experts both in classical intonation and extended techniques. At times it’s like the universe is tearing in two. At other times, it’s beautifully and completely strange.
FringeArts: Tell us about an instance from 2017 where your interaction with art provided some much needed solace or refuge from outside troubles.
Whit MacLaughlin: We are inventing a theatrical form we’re calling “horror farce.” Fearsome and ridiculous at the same time. Seems both to mirror and amplify the times. Solace? Refuge? Maybe. But mostly, I’m very impressed with a lot that’s on TV. The only way that theater can really compete with craft TV is to do that thing that only live performance can do. I know what that is, hopefully everybody who comes to the Fringe Festival has a sense of it, but it’s difficult to describe. It’s super-analogue. Matter—bodies and objects—flying feverishly around in a room. The present is like a bracing drink, a little too intoxicating at times. Our theater work is like the hair of the dog that bit you.
New Paradise Laboratories
Sept. 5-6 (Previews), 7-10, 12-17 @ The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, 1512 Spruce Street
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O Monsters Screening
New Paradise Laboratories
Sept. 9-10, 16-17 @ The Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, 1512 Spruce Street