Waiting, Stomping, & Magic Tricks Jan 19, 2018

The following is an introductory note from the program to Forced Entertainment's Real Magic, at On the Boards Jan 18-20.


What creates theater? Is it defined through text, character development, or narrative arc? What is conceptual art? Can conceptual art be political? Or does it use only cold, isolated objects to create larger meanings?

Left: Marcel Duchamp, Fountain (1917); Right: Bruce Nauman, Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square (1967-68)


Many conceptual visual artists use mundane objects or create a document by repeating actions in video. From Marcel Duchamp’s seminal Fountain which turns an ordinary urinal on its side, and signs it R. Mutt; to Bruce Nauman’s early performance video works, which documented the artist in a series of actions like tracing the shape of a square or stomping in his studio for the duration of the videotape; to Samuel Beckett’s historic work Waiting for Godot, in which two characters eternally wait for someone else to arrive, these artists and others take a simple idea and transform it into something magical. 

Above: Waiting for Godot: Lucien Raimbourg, Jean Martin, Pierre Latour and Roger Blin in Blin’s production of En Attendant Godot at Théâtre de Babylone, in Paris, in 1953. 


Forced Entertainment creates work in a structure of experimentation and improvisation, without using text as a starting point. Their work retains the structure of a theatrical ensemble and simultaneously a collaborative conceptual art troupe. They begin from various starting points, as most artists do, but use images or objects found in a theatrical setting—costumes, props, lights—in addition to aspects of the political world we collectively occupy.

The game show, caberet night, or magic trick become a theatrical method for the delivery of ideas, as it is also the score and internal structure for how the performers respond to one another and the audience. Forced Entertainment uses humor as a theatrical device to examine our individual agency. The performers are stuck in a world that they are unable to change or deviate from; the structure is a labyrinth of sorts, and we are held with them watching the comedy and tragedy of our shared world. Some of the performers wear chicken suits, which amplifies the absurdist aspect of the performance. 

Real Magic can be described as a circular narrative, an experimental conceptual live action, or possibly an absurdist game show where the audience is a witness. Forced Entertainment’s use of the word “real” in the title indicates another layer to the work. 

Made in the context of an impending Brexit vote and the looming American presidential election, Real Magic questions western society’s notions of reality and forces us to watch and notice a continuous repeated action, and the differences imbedded within it. Is it a magic trick or reality? Forced Entertainment reveals the implications of paying close attention to a series of events, as political extremism rises and stretches from one side of the Atlantic to the other. 


Rachel Cook
Artistic Director, On the Boards