N O W I S W H E N W E A R E (the stars) Lights Up Brooklyn — Review
The commitment of theatre companies to produce the same old holiday “classics” every year always baffles me. I mean, how many times can one actually see A Christmas Carol? Can’t we watch It’s A Wonderful Life or Charlie Brown Christmas at home? Call me a Grinch, but let's get a little creative. Well, lo and behold the most unexpected winter (and dare I say festive) performance is closing out BAM’s Next Wave 2022 festival. Andrew Schneider’s guided installation N O W I S W H E N W E A R E (the stars) is the perfect way to get out of the cold, see some incredible lights, and ponder your existence. Sounds like the holidays to me!
Jokes aside, I was very excited to venture into the Obie Award-winner’s latest installation. Inspired by the Milky Way and Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Room, all I knew about the installation was that it featured five thousand programmed lights. So, I was surprised when Andrew came out to the lobby at the top of the experience and let us know that the team had gone to great lengths to make the experience as dark as possible. He promised that there were no “haunted house vibes” but it would be impossible to see things at times. He also went around the small group (8 of us the night I went) and asked our names and what we were hoping to get out of the experience. “Transcendence,” said a fellow audience member. “Well that’s a lot to live up to,” Andrew replied.
As a stage manager led us into the experience, they asked us to put our hands on the shoulders of the person in front of us. After some brief, awkward shuffling, we turned our bodies forward, looking at a void. It was utterly terrifying and claustrophobic at how dark the room was. Just when I thought perhaps this installation wasn’t for me, Andrew began to talk to us (from where? Who knows). “Look at your hand in front of you. Even though you cannot see it, your brain knows it is there.” As I began to lift my hand and ponder what that meant, my name was called out to step forward. I took a leap of faith, extended my arms (full mummy), and then began to see the lights.
Almost like magic, small, white lights began to illuminate the space. As I stepped further into the darkness, more lights would appear. It felt like the room could be the size of a football field - or bigger - infinite. The other-worldly spectacle was sublime. As Andrew called more names out, I realized the lights were programmed to shine when someone walked by. As the eight of us wandered through the space, Andrew asked us to ponder how every choice we ever made or didn’t make led us to this exact spot. Looking at the trails of lights behind us, turning off the further we walked forward, it was a powerful image.
Once we made it fully into the space, more existential prompts came as we were asked to stand/sit still. How long have we spent sleeping? How long have we spent having an original thought? Why are we here now and what does that mean? At times, I did get a little lost in these broad prompts, wishing we could experience walking around the installation instead of positing. Other times, I couldn’t quite hear the prompts within the swirling sound design. The beginning of the piece had such a physical journey, which the middle lacked. I felt as if I was taking in so much visual information that it was hard to fully pay attention to the text.
Even if the visuals of the installation were more interesting than the questions it was asking, I still greatly enjoyed being allowed into this mini-wonderland. It really did feel like an escape from the real world, which is something I know a lot of people crave during this time of year. I don’t know if it could become a new holiday classic for, let’s say, grandma, but I told my friends it was the coolest thing around town. And to the one man who was seeking transcendence, I hope he found it.
For more information on N O W I S W H E N W E A R E (the stars), visit here.