Warhol, Live Onstage!
Gob Squad's Kitchen (You've Never Had It So Good) originally was conceived as a film that would consume its audience. But the Berlin-based experimental theater troupe Gob Squad's critically acclaimed show — based loosely on Andy Warhol's 1965 film Kitchen starring Edie Sedgwick — is now a multimedia, interactive stage presentation.
Three screens are set up onstage. Cameras film the action taking place behind the screens and project it onto them. The middle screen shows some cast members improvising as they re-create and tweak Kitchen, while the flanking screens show other cast members improvising a version of Warhol's 1963 film Sleep (in which poet John Giorno was filmed sleeping for more than five hours) and Screen Tests. The latter, shot between 1964 and '66, was a collection of what Warhol conceived of as portraits-on-film of such figures as Sedgwick, Jonas Mekas, Lou Reed, Marisa Berenson and more. In the second half of the show, hand-picked audience members are invited “into” the films.
“What happens throughout the evening is that these films actually flicker into other films Warhol made as well,” says Gob Squad member Simon Will, speaking to the Weekly from his home in Berlin. “There is an attempt by us to be true to the films and authentically honor them. … In the attempt, we take [audience members] on the other side of the screen, and then something even better happens, somehow that becomes even more authentic.” (We don't want to spoil the experience by giving more details.)
One of the goals of the piece is to get at the nature of memory, and the mythology of cultural artifacts and flashpoints. “Specifically, there is a lot in terms of the mythologies of the '60s,” Will says. “There's often lots of discussion about emancipation — you know, the '60s being renowned for being a time of sexual emancipation, of feminist emancipation, of racial emancipation — and we try to square those ideas with our own lives and how they fit in our own lives now.”
The company has toured the show around the world, and the location often affects how it's read and what the audience improvisers do. “When we take it somewhere like Singapore,” Will explains, “where you can't kiss on the streets, and you definitely can't have a same-sex kiss on the streets, there is pretty much zero tolerance for what might have been regarded in a '60s, American context as liberated behavior. It's a very different mental landscape there, so to transport those ideas into that context is definitely going to have a different effect and a different reading. And then in the second half, when you bring the audience into it, you get a different kind of person completely.”
While the improv creates comedy, there also is an undercurrent of melancholy at work. For all the violence and discord of the '60s and the cool posing of Warhol and his Factory crew against it all, there was a sense of optimism, of possibility being realized. Now, Will implies, that hope has been dimmed, with the rise of political and religious conservatism around the globe, several raging wars and global warming wreaking havoc on our oceans and food supply.
“At the beginning of Kitchen,” Will says, “we very boldly say to the audience, 'Here we are, at the beginning of everything.' What we mean by that is the beginning of pop art, of the pop movement, the beginning of drugs and sex, and drugs and rock & roll. We kind of propose that as a frame right at the start. And then we fast-forward to this particular time. As predicted, pop has eaten itself. It recycles itself and has gone into this kind of self-referential spiral. And perhaps now we're at the end of something.
“A lot of those very experimental '60s ideals—depending on how you look at it — they failed. But failure is part of the process of going somewhere, and it seems that we are very afraid of failure now.”
GOB SQUAD'S KITCHEN (YOU'VE NEVER HAD IT SO GOOD) | REDCAT | 631 W. Second St., dwntwn. | Sept. 20-23 | redcat.org