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Life/Theater Diary: The Dash

July 10, 2009

Life/Theater: The Dash
June 13, 2009
WakeForest Baseball Park (Gene Hooks Field)

A sea of cars jostle their way along University Parkway this Saturday afternoon as the normally spacious street swells to accommodate three major events happening along its route. On this day, High School graduation ceremonies at the LJVM Coliseum, Ribfest at the Dixie Classic Fairgrounds, and the Winston-Salem Dash Baseball Game collectively bring thousands of people looking for food, fun and revelry into one bustling corner of Winston-Salem. In this classic triumvirate of Southeastern celebration, the baseball game is by far the most laid back as fans, tourists and families slowly make their way through the gates of Gene Hooks Field. Their relative calm belies the nervous anticipation that circulates through a special subsection of fans gathered around a pair of picnic tables just off the concourse. Assembled once again by artist Lee Walton through clandestine email communication, these “fans” are the all-stars and aspiring rookies of the Small Plots series that recently wrapped its city-wide stint on May 30. They’ve been brought together one last time to blur the lines between life and theater on one of the most enduring stages for performance and “role playing” in the history of America: the baseball park.

The Actors Gather & Plot

The Actors Gather & Plot

On this stage, the characters on the field are often rivaled (and sometimes surpassed) by the fans, mascots, and sideshow acts that are becoming an increasingly prominent (and visible) part of today’s game. This colorful notion of audience will be both subject and stage for tonight’s event: an interactive performance in Lee’s ongoing Life/Theater series. We arrive around 5:00pm to gather the actors, go over their roles, share stories around pizza and soda (Thanks to Trey and the Dash), and run through the night’s plan. Each actor/pair/group is assigned a role they will play throughout the evening, moving subtly but steadily through the crowd as Lee encourages our intrepid cast to pace themselves, have fun, and “blend in.” To mirror a typical baseball lineup, there are nine roles to play: Fan with Too Much Popcorn; Clumsy Fan with Drinks; Fan with IPod Dancing; Fans Cheering at the Wrong Time; The Stumbler; Fan who Can’t Find Seat; Couple Wearing Matching Outfits; Fan Stretching a Lot; and Fans Locating each other with Cellphones.

handing out the scorecards

handing out the scorecards

These basic descriptions are listed in a playbill/program that is distributed to every fan who enters the ballpark tonight, instructing them to “play along” by checking off their scorecards when they see each character appear. Much of the project’s impact depends upon their interest, and as the crowd begins to settle into their seats, our level of excitement increases with every program we see being opened and perused. The visual scavenger hunt will soon begin, but the fans’ eyes have already begun to turn toward one another – heightening the ever-present, but habitually over-looked theater of the everyday.

perusing the playbill/program

perusing the playbill/program

SECCA staff and supporters are sitting in a section behind homeplate, panning our eyes across hits, pitches and players as we scan both wings of the stadium for the first actors to appear. It’s not long before Curtis (of Lost Business Man fame) walks by, cradling 6 boxes of popcorn in a way that – for better or worse – makes the absurdity of overconsumption remarkably normal. A similar air of conspicuous inconspicuousness informs every slosh of water as Cheryl spills parts of her tightly clutched drinks upon aisle steps and onlookers’ shoes.

Fan with too much Popcorn

Fan with too much Popcorn

Clumsy Fan with Drinks

Clumsy Fan with Drinks

In every inning that follows, the Life/Theater actors appear up and down aisles, across the stands, and about the concourse – momentarily enacting comedy, tragedy, serendipity and melodrama before they slide back into “real” life and relative anonymity. Gestures of athleticism and abandon infuse Madelyn’s silent dance to her IPod and Lizh’s 9-inning extension of the 7th Inning Stretch, while a tragic sense of comedy saturates Vinnie’s futile search for his seat and Steve’s endlessly entertaining stumbles. Converse to the guys’ humorous plight, Lauren and Rachel’s happy reunion (once they’ve found one another via cellphone) engenders both smiles and a cinematic sense of triumph. The cheers that erupt at odd moments throughout the game are far more enigmatic and open-ended, but are performed with equal gusto by Katie, Aubrey, Lauren and Kristen. There aren’t any other groups here tonight that voice their cheers at the wrong times, but we are astonished by the number of couples wearing matching outfits (with no prodding by Lee). So much so in fact, that our actors Sam & Lauren – in their grey T-shirts, blue jeans, and matching sunglasses – are by far the most inconspicuous in this colorful series of doppelgangers!

Dancing to an IPod

Dancing to an IPod

Stretching beyond the 7th

Stretching beyond the 7th

Still looking for that Seat...

Still looking for that Seat...

Stumbling along

Stumbling along

Our wonderfully generous actors move in and out of their roles over seven thoroughly enjoyable innings – picking up and putting down their assigned “characters” with the seamlessness Lee cultivates (and covets) in the Life/Theater series. The reaction to the project is far less subdued, with a number of fans happily chasing actors (and those they believe to be actors), asking questions, and annotating their programs. As a case in point, one young detective is seen running up and down aisles, quizzing our actors, chatting with Lee and Cliff, and ultimately posing for congratulatory pictures with his filled out scoresheet – 9 for 9, and proud of it.

a "real" fan talking to Fans Cheering at the Wrong Time

a "real" fan talking to Fans Cheering at the Wrong Time

Fan with FIlled out Scorecard

Fan with Filled out Scorecard

His enthusiasm is infectious, and his appreciation of the project is echoed by numerous fans (and Dash staff) who thank us after the game. By the 7th inning showers arrive and the game is eventually rained out, but the affect of Life/Theater: The Dash is not in any way dampened. Its many layers were able to bloom and resonate tonight; allowing conceptual art to circulate and thrive in an unfamiliar, but fertile arena. Life takes on the shine of theater; Theater is humbly played in life, and the stage shimmers beneath our feet.

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