Claude Wampler: What Just Happened?

There’s some interesting discussion over at the Walker blogs concerning the
performance career ender that was staged, just this past weekend, by
Claude Wampler. I saw the show on Friday but, sadly, didn’t stick around for
the Q&A, which sounds to have been very tense. Truth be told, my date was
so angry as to be agitated; after the show, he wanted a drink in his hands, stat!
So did I, of course, except I found myself more amused by the thing … But I’d been lucky
enough to notice, as we waited for the house to open, that there were likely "plants"
among the audience members. How and why? Because there were too many folks with
asymmetrical haircuts, and too many wearing shiny fabrics–that’s why. The "real"
audience members were swathed in wool and down parkas. (It was freakin’ cold
outside.)

According to some of the folks posting at the Walker
blogs, Wampler made a [condescending?] statement at the Q&A regarding the
difference between NYC and Minneapolis
audiences. Well, we’re quieter, for one. But we probably don’t dress as
often in metallics, either. By show’s end, some of the plants were up and
dancing in the aisles. Others were tossing light-up toys onstage. My suspicions
were confirmed.

In case you missed it, Wampler basically staged a band
practice. From beginning to end, the frontman had to communicate his vision for a
song to his bandmates. But a visual trick was employed: images of the trio were projected onstage. The lead singer’s image fell onto a screen, so his remained crisp. But in the cases of the keyboardist
and drummer, smoke was occasionally pumped into the vicinities of their
instruments–and so, their ghost-like images would materialize, every now and
again, on the canvas of that haze.

But, going back to my original point: the real story is that the audience was "seeded," or full of planted performers. These folks
hooted and, in some cases, heckled and behaved all-around badly, which inspired
imitative behaviors from others. For example, when the lead-singer character
made a funny comment about how the band must "finesse" its way out of his song (presumably by playing fancily),
my date shouted (seemingly with glee): "Sure do!"

And that, friends, made the whole thing worth it–the fact
that my well-behaved friend felt compelled to act in such a dramatic way, and the
fact that he felt SAFE enough to do so. In other words, Wampler tinkered with
the audience/performer dynamic to great success. Sure, her show was repetitive,
perhaps even boring (although I must admit to being amused by the rock-n-roll clichés). But I appreciated being jolted out of my expectations
and, for once, at a theater, having absolutely no fucking idea what was going
on. Sweet chaos. As I exited the theater that night, I turned to an usher
and asked (also with glee): "What just happened?" Then I went to the bar with my friend and
enjoyed one of the most spirited conversations I’ve had about art in a long, long while.