Remote Houston

Remote Houston an interactive and participatory performance piece hosted by the Alley Theatre has been extended until the 20th. The last I heard there were only showings left for next Tuesday (5/16) and Wednesday (5/17).

Rimini Protokoll, a Berlin based artists’ collective who has been producing similar city-wide shows in Europe brought their act to the good ole East End of Houston, TX.

Without splicing too much. The piece seemed to operate on a binary measure and the main focal point was coincidentally our own focus. We were provided with noise canceling headphones attached to a receiver that fed us Heather’s voice, our tour guide for the majority of the show. The purpose of the show was to create awareness in our ingrained societal cues and in where our internal met our external stimulants and why we decide to mechanize actions and emotions that a robot (Heather) would ‘dream’ of having.

After meeting at the Alley Theatre, we received Q Cards so that we could catch a ride on the MetroRail to the East End and we walked to the Evergreen Cemetery. Once ‘Remote Houston’ began, we were instructed to find a grave and were asked different questions to create this person’s life and circumstances of their death, their age, goals, etc. Essentially, Heather wanted us to set the tour off with an existential crisis, albeit the questions were (delivered) flat, they did provoke thoughts that may not otherwise cross my mind surrounding impermanence, the temporality of memory and my loved ones who have passed. – She delivered the death/living binary. With this as the foundation of our tour, we proceeded to examine our own existence in terms of being an agent of nature within an artificial landscape that we, as humans, have created for ourselves. This mimicry of life is reflected in the fact that we are listening to an automated voice the entirety of our performance.

The geotemporal synchronization are off putting as we approach train tracks and I am alarmed at the approaching auditory train, but nothing. The most impressive one was as we approached our first crosswalk, she counted the time remaining with eerie accuracy. This was all an exercise to stretch our attention tendons which are further tested as we return to downtown. Our trip back included her making us look at/assess people (again), introducing us to her colleagues (the voices of the MetroRail lol), and her egging us on to dance while waiting for our stop.

A dual meaning occurs when we are face to face with a crowd waiting to board the MetroRail, once the Rail arrives and has picked up the actors that were just on the stage (Central Station), we applaud (at) the remaining bystanders. The rail was purposefully called the ‘Iron Curtain’ reminiscent of the bipolar distribution of power seen during the Cold War and, not only, signifying a transition period in global international relations, but our own transcendence into the performance.

We were clapping for ourselves because after that moment we were part of a multi-act play. It was a beautiful stage to set for us, we danced a waltz with one another, shortly after settling into the church-like lobby of the JP Morgan Chase Tower in Downtown, adorned with high glass ceilings and opera like balconies looking down on us. After the music slows, Heather tells ME to go towards the balconies, I was reluctant because my dance partners weren’t moving, but my directives were to look back at the remainder of the group who was NOW performing for US. We shifted the gaze from looking at our surroundings to looking at each other, a portion of our group were now the subjects of our spectatorship. Heather began critiquing ‘those fools dancing with no music’ – she was feeding us her/our thoughts and we went our separate ways. This was the first moment of separation as our ‘hoard’ split into ‘herds’.

We crossed paths again with the rest of the audience to this theatre piece once we were on the viewing deck on the 60th floor of the Chase Tower high above the city of Houston overlooking the East End, the Alley Theatre and getting a clear view of City Hall. – this was when Heather morphed into Will. Will was more of a robot’s robot, in that he didn’t care for the trivialities of humanity, such as the garage full of “status symbols”. He repeated an exercise that Heather instructed us to do- meeting eyes with someone. In Heather’s scenario, we had autonomy, to choose who we wanted to look at, how long to look, how we reacted, or to completely ignore her directive. In Will’s it was robotic, cold and a little mean. But, as a whole it was a practice on directing our gaze and by this point I wholeheartedly followed/participated in the play.

Will had already led us outside the Chase Tower directed us to survey our surroundings with our hand binoculars and then orchestrated a race across the street to the other end of Jones Hall. And, after our staring contest our show was nearly done with only the conclusion remaining that would be staged on the mid-level balcony of the Alley Theatre. I was looking under and towards buildings I have only ever seen in my skyline, but yet being above a significant chunk of people buzzing around after work.

Will wraps up the play by roasting us into evaporation by almost shaming us because we participated in mob mentality, majority induced behavior. His final question being something along the lines of, ‘would you jump, if I told you…’ The ‘Remote Houston’ piece plays with inverting the spectator’s gaze by making our hoard’s objective view turn subjective by creating subjects out of the audience members for other participants to observe. Seeing as our guides are computers and the building blocks of coding language is a binary, the guides make sense of our organic world in terms of binaries.

The curation of this occurs on an individual level throughout as we are directed to seek specific emotions or actions from other audience members and as a collective, when we are split into large groups. The binary is experienced through the entirety of the play, female/male guide, nature/artifice, life/death, past/present, suburb/urban, adventurous/pragmatic, athletic/brainy, ground level/below and above downtown etc.  Overall the play was an experience and shows different sides of Houston that a local may not stumble upon – a good reminder to switch up our daily routine  to refresh our perspectives, maybe even adopt a tourists’ curiosity of your hometown.

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