Through (cyber) space and time – Ways of Being

On a Saturday morning, I was handed a chair. By the afternoon, I was sitting on the floor.

Every audience member arrives with something different, and Clayton Lee and Michael Rubenfeld are asking for it. Ways of Being, the last addition to this summer’s Kick & Push Festival, is a performance project in-progress “made in the moment, with whoever is in attendance.” Two artists, two time zones, two audiences—how lucky I was, then, to attend the workshop production’s first ever attempt to find its footing!

I walk into the Tett Centre’s Rehearsal Hall, empty with the exception of lighting and video designer Frank Donato behind his technological enclave in the inner-most corner, with the instructions to situate myself wherever I desire. Suddenly, I’m a teenager again, surrounded my strangers who are equally hesitant on what the rules of the room are. The ice is immediately broken when three out of five of us are unknowingly facing the wrong way, and again when Lee addresses us as people rather than audience members, considering our lives as apart of the performance in a way most artists would choose to ignore.

Just how much of yourself do you give or guard? By now, it’s clear the rules are that there are none, but the conventions of the performance space seemingly remain in tact. The way Lee and Rubenfeld are communicating through video call comes across as a somewhat innovative way to connect the two spaces, and then without warning, the performers pass off their laptops to a crowd member at random.

As I watched both individuals unsure of how to proceed, it was perhaps the most honest way for them to respond. The way I see it, giving someone your laptop in this day and age is such an intimate act. That sh*t is personal archaeology! Consider the parts of yourself and your life your computer holds that no one else has access to, but could exhume.

The laptop ends up making its way around the room, and the conversation 6793 km away. Both Kingston and Krakow audiences take turns anonymously answering a series of prompts on a shared Google Doc projected in our respective rooms. You’re responding to the other audience with your own, while simultaneously responding to your audience within yourself. And devices like wi-fi controlled light bulbs allow for a dynamic exchange of the mood each audience is curating.

Clayton Lee walks through the audience holding a lightbulb on a stick, and a laptop on a video call with Michael Rubenfeld in Krakow who is doing the same. Both live feeds are projected on the wall.
Clayton Lee walks through the audience holding a lightbulb on a stick, and a laptop on a video call with Michael Rubenfeld in Krakow who is doing the same. Both live feeds are projected on the wall.

Later on, someone from the audience is invited to “dance” with someone else in Poland where Rubenfeld is conducting his side of the show. They are guided in front of a camera where their bodies are projected side-by side, almost like a TikTok duet in real time. Stepping in front of the live video feed, the performers, now in white hooded coveralls, bring each other’s digital partner into the room. Ways of Being is chock full of creative implementations of technology to highlight new social conventions and idiosyncrasies that come with digital communication.

To my dismay, a dance battle did not ensue.

As a work in progress, you were more forgiving of technological glitches because you could what the artists set out to accomplish and understand the priority was audience engagement rather than experience. Every single second you discovered a version of yourself in tandem with the happenings of the room. Why did I do that? Why didn’t I do that? How would my answer change depending on the image of myself I wished to present at a given time?

Enamoured with Ways of Being, I returned a week later and found my answer. I didn’t feel comfortable making myself known to this group as I did the first time. Somehow I determined that they didn’t deserve access. For this crowd, recurring issues with sound, projection, and internet connectivity interrupted the engagement in a way that wasn’t as forgiving. I also made the mistake of bringing someone who hates audience participation and became consumed with guilt for wasting their time. As much as I wanted others to embrace the performance with the same vigour I had, there was no way I could actually make that happen.

Ways of Being embraces the things we’ve yet to learn about the places and people we know and love within this (cyber) space and time. In a period of destabilized connection and candor, Lee, Rubenfeld and Donato were able to curate sense of presence that was electrifying.

There is nothing I love more than a good idea. And Ways of Being is full of them.

Created by Clayton Lee and Michael Rubenfeld, Ways of Being is a project-in-progress which ran from August 28 – September 3, 2021 at this year’s Kick & Push Festival.