Nov 13, 2020

My review of the DAYLAN HILLIS review in

I recently collaborated on a project with Jeff Hernandez and Jeff Swearingen. It was called Daylan Hillis in Space. A sort of "digital theatre" project for the 22nd Annual Festival of Independent Theatres. Since the Covid-19 pandemic is still happening, the FIT this year was a "virtual" affair. Projects were recorded and presented online as "on demand" videos.

The FIT lasted October 8 - 31, 2020. On October 28, TheaterJones, the local online journal for the performing arts, released a "review" of the FIT entries. So, to be clear, three days before the festival ended, the review came out. The review was written by Arnold Wayne Jones, an experienced reviewer who often works for the Dallas Voice.

I am putting Jones' review below. It illustrates a major challenge in the arts landscape at the moment. Beyond the obvious producing challenge of trying to present a production digitally that would normally be presented on stage, there is a problem on the recieving end as well. Namely, the dilemma of critical coverage of such projects.

Jones' implicit assumption is that the camera MUST move as if this hybrid project was a piece of cinema. 

Jones was plainly at a loss of how to "cover" such a project. It is not a theatre production, of course, once it is removed from playing in real time in front of a live audience. However, what was presented was also not cinema. Filmmaking was not the goal. This project (notice I don't call it a play) was purpose-built for the online form the presentation would take. The result was a project that falls outside of easy categorization. It is a narrative, sure, but beyond that, the project operates by its own rules. 

After a snarky statement about actor Swearingen being ideal to play "a tightly wound, disappointed, middle-aged white guy with self-esteem issues" Jones states that the director (me) doesn't "know what to do with the camera."

Jones' implicit assumption is that the camera MUST move as if this hybrid project was a pure piece of cinema. This is aside from the fact that the concept of the show was that the main character was addressing the audience through a webcam the entire production. The "static" camera he describes is part of the production concept. It is strange he did not pick up on such an obvious thing.

[Jones] is like a child presented with candy who complains about the wrapper.

On the other hand, the piece was plainly not his cup of tea. Jones' attention was not held the scant 38 minutes of running time (or "35" as he incorrectly states), and that is his to own. I could comment that perhaps, like so many of us, he is unaccustomed to viewing online content over ten or fifteen minutes and has a diminished attention span for focusing on a narrative of any length presented in this way, but that would only be my supposition. 

The "non-descript wall" that he refers to was in the piece by design. The first "act" is set in as mundane and as sterile an  environment as possible. By the way, the second act has the main character metaphorically in the belly of the whale, so it features Daylan's illuminated face floating in the darkness of an alien space craft while the third act sees out titular hero in a colorful, saturated, mysterious landscape on an alien planet. The design of the environments was on purpose. Jones' seems to want something to hold his attention in the background for some reason, instead of focusing on the tale of the central character. He is like a child presented with candy who complains about the wrapper.

As a reviewer, I would hope that he would question and put forth the smallest of analysis about what he was watching. Though, I would hope, as an arts journalist, he would understand the form and content of the project, perhaps he just didn't like the show... and that is okay, too.

As the Latin saying goes, de gustibus non est disputandum ("There is no accounting for taste.")

Here is what Jones had to say:

Review: 22nd Festival of Independent Theatres | Festival of Independent Theatres | ONLINE

FIT to be Online

This year's Festival of Independent Theatres brought six short films from familiar and new groups.

published Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Jeff Swearingen in Daylan Hillis in Space | Photo Credit: Audacity Theatre Lab

 — Even though the pandemic has now dragged on for seven interminable months, we are still — as audiences, as theater presenters — struggling to figure out the acceptable contours in translating live in-person performances for “virtual” theatrical experiences. Some companies have done live shows via streaming platforms (or socially distanced in parking lots); some have released previously-recorded performances for current consumption; some have created Zoom readings. The actual post-COVID productions recording a traditional performance have been few (notably, WaterTower Theatre’s full-on version of the solo show I Am My Own Wife). The Festival of Independent Theaters’ crop of shows seem to eschew theatricality for more exploratory visual language, and, well, it’s not always a good fit.

Daylan Hillis in Space (Audacity Theatre Lab) by Brad McEntire and Jeff Hernandez has a one-man show tailormade for its single cast member, Jeff Swearingen. He’s the title character, a mid-level security guard in a top-secret government facility. He’s angry with Susan, who started the job the same time as he but has been promoted faster (most of the play is a series of monologues to her) and who gives him the crappy shifts. But when Daylan investigates a disturbance in a secure room … well, it’s right there in the title.

Swearingen is the natural go-to for the role of a tightly wound, disappointed, middle-aged white guy with self-esteem issues. He modulates the monologue’s pacing and levels well enough to keep us amused. And that’s not always an easy thing. McEntire (who also directs) doesn’t seem to know what to do with a camera. The first half of the play is the same medium-closeup of Daylan in front of a nondescript wall. The setting moves twice, but the single-shot concept never does, making it feel static and confining (Swearingen’s performance often exceeds the borders of the frame). Without varying the image much across 35 minutes, we grow restless and bored. And without an audience to play off of, the jokes land on silence and don’t live in the moment as much. It’s cute, and fun, but it overstays its welcome.

Original post... HERE

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