STAIRWAY TO STARDOM
September 26, 2017
Stairway to Stardom graced public access television through the 80’s, becoming a cult phenomenon in the internet age for its “so bad they’re good” contestants. Amanda Szeglowski and her company cakeface have taken the show to kick off HERE’s 25th anniversary not in exploitative pastiche, but towards an associative new entity achieved through a thorough interview process that universalizes the struggle to self-creation.
Prism House greets us to the white space with club music and projected clips of the original contestants, their lack of rhythm choppily edited into strict sways to their beats. The ensemble of five female bodies enters in the fuss, facing back, heads atop a flurry of tinsel. After an image of a young girl with similarly shimmering sleeves graces the screen, they ceremoniously revolve, calibrating themselves with an accumulation of head bobs, both funky and mechanical. They either have been studying for this moment all their lives, or this is their eternal study.
After an opening dance break they list things one wanted to be when they grew up at the rambling rate of an internet browser constantly refreshing. From the get go it is clear that these onstage presences are not the originators of these aspirations (although, the performers are responsible for some of it).
Each section of text follows a usually unspoken subheading – Regrets, self-motivating mantras, what it means to have “made it.” Exceptions include an insistent and insatiable, though dispassionate “What did your parents want you to be?” and “So, what are your talents?”
One may speak for several perspectives, and the group may speak for one. The monotonous deadpan delivery, syncopated by robotic stuttering, makes changes in syntax incredibly potent in denoting a new individual answering, as the content itself is strictly maintained from its original verbal answer, including mistakes in grammar, stalling words, and candid political incorrectness.
There is a unanimous acceptance of occupation as identity. The difference between a job resume and a performance resume becomes hard to maintain as we realize how much incompetence we encounter, inflict on others, and excuse. The definitions of talent versus skill similarly blur, most poignantly when one muses on their ability to draw, but not to create.
Between textual sections, occasionally flashy, but largely understated movement resembling backup dancing is placed front and center. It, too, malfunctions, quick head and shoulder jitters halting the step-by-step flow. In accompaniment to the text, postures and facings change on operative words without imposing subtext, while functionally generating a pulse that facilitates crystalline delivery.
These performers, speaking from simultaneous narcissism and mediocrity, are unquestionably talented. How are we to identify the presence they project? Glitchiness being the unifying activity in every medium, they are not people, but a record of people, engineered with the guarantee of eventual decay. The tinsel they enter wearing renders them as VHS static. The projections, both mutilating the show’s clunky footage into smoothness and eventually including the performers themselves, released from their fembot forms, make video the thing that depicts and preserves us as human, versus the live presences that expose our selves and dreams as mechanisms, headed towards inevitable obsolescence and unguaranteed reinvention.
EYE ON THE ARTS< NY -- Jonathan Matthews