Thinking about performance vs social existence and had a moment of meta.

 

the first time I saw We Think We Know You, I was like, okay that's neat. Then I came back to it after thinking about performance and control and expectations, and it hit me really hard, and I tried to figure out why.

so he starts out in his nervous, self-deprecating persona apologizing for the end of the show and goes on being blinkily judged separately by 3 external individuals whom he invented internally, who may or may not be based on actual social problems he's encountered as a product of performative celebrity

 

his body language is entirely closed off, uncomfortable, his facial expressions are by turns disbelieving and quietly self-deprecating, it's that kind of awkward when-can-I-leave that if you have no one to turn to and say "can you believe this shit?" it's like the worst experience ever and he TOTALLY NEGATES HIS ENTIRE AUDIENCE by experiencing it completely alone in front of them without invoking them. He sometimes performs these wtf moments off to the side, but they're never to the crowd, which effectively isolates him within the realm of the show-in-general AND the realm of the piece he's in, which he doesn't do in any other piece. He's SO alone and so alienated by his situation (which he INVENTED, all the voices that are criticizing and isolating and misjudging him are HIS OWN VOICE but I will get into that later) that he has to internalize everything, in this expressive performance, that he just sort of implodes and transforms the implosion into an explosion so while they're still saying the hurtfully frustrating things, he now has control over them, but even that's not going to assuage his misjudgement so he tries to introduce other variables and/or attract some external attention to the problem. But the satan interjection and the crickets from above and obviously the rest of the world isn't going to interfere with this transgression here, so he resorts to violence (in what I find to be some really cool and good mime punches, like he Really Commits, but my interest in stage violence is another essay entirely and I will talk more about his Real Commitments to Physicality more later) and since his persecutors are imaginary that results in no change

he begins to perform his frustration straight out to the middle of the house, seemingly near the point of tears, and then either through his control (obviously it's under his control, he WROTE IT) or through the coincidence of the juxtapositions the world makes for him, the throughrunning subtext of the whole set of 3 reactionlogues (they're not monologues, he literally never says anything onstage during this thing, he only occasionally even mouths anything, he's ONLY REACTING this entire time) becomes Text instead, and the worst, most frightening feature that the 3 fictional external entities have in common, the fact that they think they know him because of assumptions they've made either due to things they've heard or how they think the world works, becomes their explicit claim. the directions he has to react in order for these words to come together in this way are so indicative of an overwhelmed, surrounded, defensive reaction, not just his really skilful manipulation of his own body language but also the way he has them coming from all 3 forward-visible directions and he has to look all the way around himself frantically for the words to seem to be coming from the right places, that this is where I start getting sympathetic heart-racing moments if I'm in the right space for it and my empathy is screeching along. AND THEN HE CUTS HIMSELF OFF. they keep repeating their awful mantra and he stops participating socially, and he slumps and starts then abandons the idea of putting his hands on his hips and shifts stance and screws up his face and looks so angry, betrayed, defeated, and then resigned, that he appears to give up. (btw I think either he has a particular kind of body language that I am particularly attuned to, or he is actually just really good at reacting visibly to things, because I wrote a whole thing one time about how I am bad at reading people and this seems clearer to me than maybe any other acting performance I've ever seen.) anyway he is DONE. is it a retreat? is it a defeat?

NO BECAUSE NOW HE'S OVERWRITING THEM. the point is that they don't know him, so he's going to Express Himself, and it's his own ideas coming from the air where he's pretending to piano, and gradually the layer upon layer upon layer of musical ideas (no words, and I think that's important, and also I freaking love stacking music, that's one reason I'm so into Sondheim) overwhelms the false mantra and it fades into near-inaudibility, while with every new loop his face is less and less concerned with the external entities and more and more passionately into the instigation of the new musical ideas, and his body language is too. He's not totally invested in the musical ideas even by the third keyboard loop, but once he starts the kickdrum and the bass keyboard thing, the groove settles into his hips and he has to hold his face in between octaves because he only needs one hand to play half of that one, and the Thing is Happening and you can hardly even hear "we think we know you" anymore but he hasn't forgotten about it because he's making it his. Once he gets to the snare backbeat (and doesn't that look cool with the phaser keyboard happening at the same time), he's screwing up his entire face with the music and undulating his whole body with the beat, and once it's down and he can leave it to play by itself he does actually start dancing for a second before he points the breakdown with his imaginary headphones (and god that's an amazing lighting cue) and you think the 3 reactionlogues are completely gone and he BRINGS THEM BACK

BECAUSE NOW HE CONTROLS THEM ENTIRELY AND THEY'RE PART OF HIS SONG THAT HE JUST MADE out of NOTHING but spiteful misunderstanding and now the voices have pitch and musical value beyond an insistent, penetrating and cumbersome rhythm, he's making them conform to his venue of expression, more than one at a time, even each individual voice can be multiplied for harmony as he completely abandons their judgemental content for their aesthetic potential and gets some really good full-body slithers in, that just look so satisfying, AND NOW HE'S PLAYING AIR GUITAR and ALSO AIR DRUMS AT THE SAME TIME, the two most archetypally Cool instruments to express the hell out of yourself with onstage in front of a screeching audience, and let me complete my tangent about his Physical Commitment at this point because man. He is there. It's not that it's a particularly accurate mime of either guitar or drums, and his leg still goes the way it does when he's actually playing piano, but the degree of large and small muscle involvement, all the way down to the corners of his eyes and mouth, is SO THOROUGH that I feel like it's a better demonstration of physical exertion and passionate involvement than his (also thorough and also physically committed) portrayal of literal masturbation earlier in the same show. He brings it back to the keyboards at the end and by now the voices are only part of the song, not an external judgment in any way anymore, and he's so into it that his face is out of control and he has to hold his head on between beats and his hips and elbows and sometimes his leg get away from him. And he dictates the end, he dictates the last address anyone has to him, and then FINALLY acknowledges the audience, that it's a performance, that it's for them as much as himself even though they could have saved him, they were there the whole time, but he overcame these externals by himself anyway, because he could, and for them and on their behalf. so.

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