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“A man with a nosebleed appears, possibly from the near future, to tell us something. Microphones crackle and break. Lighting instruments fall from the ceiling. Signals get scrambled and transmissions glitch.”
This cryptic summary doesn’t come close to preparing you for the all-out assault on the senses and profoundly disorientating experience that is Andrew Schneider’s YOUARENOWHERE, hailing from New York. Even the title itself is enigmatic and difficult to pin down – it can either be read as “You Are Nowhere” or “You Are Now Here”.
This sold-out show ran from 14-18 June at Shoreditch Town Hall in collaboration with the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill and LIFT 2016, a festival showcasing unique forms of theatre from all over the world. Christopher Haydon, director of the Gate Theatre, can’t praise it highly enough: “Watching it feels like being in the matrix. It’s an utterly unique, magnificent, unexpected, strange and beautiful thing.”
Upon entering the theatre, you are greeted by a smoke-filled stage and the neurotic, angst-ridden and highly intellectual music of Talking Heads. Slowly, the smoke dissipates to reveal a sparse set, save for a black hanging frame, rigged with LED lights that blaze or fade out as required during the performance.
And then the performance begins: Andrew Schneider bursts onto the stage, with batteries and wires attached to his arms, looking and speaking remarkably like a cyborg. His rapid-fire speech is broken up by jumbled fragments of audio, distortion and white noise, making it very difficult to understand what he is saying. This sonically challenging landscape is itself interspersed with blackouts and jerky changes in movement.
At times when Schneider leans into the black frame to speak, a shadow appears over his face and the sound becomes distorted, while his lower body is illuminated, in an optical feat. The impression is that an augmented reality robot is urgently speaking to us from the future, with a scrambled signal often getting in the way. He speaks of the human condition, of love, time travel, the nature of time and space, what it means to be alive and even the theory of special relativity – all in existential, staccato bursts of language.
Suddenly the scene changes utterly. Schneider croons the song “Lonesome Blues” by 1950s star Ricky Nelson, while blue light floods the stage – but not for long, as sonic feedback and visual disruption come forth again. Things then get even weirder, as his speech starts being played backwards – reminiscent of scenes in Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
A turning point in the show occurs when Schneider talks about near-death experiences, asking the audience whether they have ever wondered if when they come close to death, they actually die – perhaps in another universe or reality. His voice starts echoing back – layers of echo upon echo, eventually rendering his words completely unintelligible. I don’t want to give away too much, but it is at this point that he becomes much more self-aware and human through the information he starts to gives the audience. This heightened sense of self-awareness makes for a compelling juxtaposition against the augmented reality robot we’ve seen up until this point. Two brilliantly theatrical coup d’états also happen – which you’ll have to experience for yourself to fully appreciate.
In a post-show Q&A, Schneider says that this “piece is like a neuro-landscape – what the brain feels like” and that he is more motivated by ideas and “interested in moments, in human-to-human contact” than conventional narratives – something which comes across very strongly in the show. Schneider also describes his creative process as consisting of “islands of ideas – some gain critical mass, others float away”. The lack of a cohesive structure in the performance may not be to everyone’s liking, but I found Schneider’s experimentation with form, sound and movement equally bizarre and fascinating to observe.
The fact that Schneider solely worked on all the technical elements of the show – distortions in sound, blackouts and physical movement – is impressive in itself. Ultimately, though, there is a great depth to his performance that goes above and beyond the technical ingenuity of YOUARENOWHERE.
YOUARENOWHERE is, above all, an existential barrage that covers the gamut of human experience, incorporating complex popular physics and quantum mechanics concepts along the way. Though it may be difficult to take in or understand, it’s like nothing you’ve seen before.
Visit the YOUARENOWHERE website for updates on future tour dates.