Ready, set, Surf Reality
Media artists give you ‘64’ thoughts to digest
BY SCOTT STIFFLER | Pioneering Downtown producer Robert Prichard has a way with mashing words into phrases that become pop culture — or unpopculture, or underculture — buzzwords. Long before Allen, Stanton, Rivington and Orchard Streets cleaned up their dirty and dangerous acts, the co-founder of the late, great comedy lab Surf Reality (at 172 Allen St., from 1993-2003) coined the term “performance comedy.” Prichard would have used the term “performance art,” except he insisted that whatever made it onto the Surf stage be unpretentious…and very funny.
Thus, “performance comedy” (do today’s kids even know it anymore, he wonders) came into being — and for a few years, it was Lower East Side shorthand for Surf Reality’s patented blend of music, comedy, monologue work and all manner of strange stabs at diagnosing the human condition in a way that kept you awake and aware at all times.
Although the brick and mortar Surf is long gone, Prichard has kept the flame burning at other Downtown venues — as producer and curator for “Radical Vaudeville.” That term, which he created, is credited by Webster’s online dictionary with reviving the concept of vaudeville for the 21st century.
Although he has yet to come up with a term to describe it, the latest project from Surf Reality’s collective promises to deliver a “multi-media collision of visual arts and performance.” The event “64” is a live interpretation of 64 paintings by visual artist Jennilie Brewster (created from photographs cut out of the New York Times, pasted onto canvas and painted over). While on residency at Djerassi in Northern California, Brewster met playwright Timothy Braun — who was inspired to stay up late, drink coffee and write a play for each of the paintings (none of them more than one page in length).
Regarding what ended up on the stage after a collaborative process involving actors, visual artists, sound engineers and animators (riffing on source material from the playwright and the painter), Prichard says, “We had various platforms of artistic communication, all touching on the same themes…but not necessarily trying to tie them together. The sound is its own thing. The song is its own thing — but they’re mutually reinforcing parallel events. When we put them all together, it was like a vaudeville show where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
When all is said and done, 53 of the 64 plays will be performed live. The rest, you can access on YouTube, as podcasts or on Surf Reality’s website (surfreality.com). The plays will also be on voicemail (“Pink Cross” can be heard now, by calling 718-296-6481).
There’s something reassuringly retro about the notion of attending a play by making a phone call. But the “64” distribution network envisioned by Prichard is one whose tentacles will spread around the world, thanks to a potentially endless supply of online collaborators.
“I’m going to keep refining it,” he says of the project’s potentially endless media lives. “We’d love to get into a venue for a long run…but for its ultimate incarnation, I see it having an online presence where there’s an animated version of every one of the plays. People could choose the order…and we’d like to put the scripts out there for other media artists to make their own versions of the plays, then post those works.”
There’s no telling what the project will look by the time the whole world has its way with it — but when that day comes, Prichard will find a word to describe it.
Part of the Spring Artist Lodge at HERE
Written by Timothy Braun
Inspired by the paintings of Jennilie Brewster
Directed by Robert Prichard
Assistant directed by Maria Economides
Live soundscapes created and performed by Tom Tenney
Music by Brief View of the Hudson, Sean T. Hanratty and Jeff Dickinson
Animations by Ashleigh Nankivell
Video by Ann Enzminger and Alex Brook Lynn
Lighting Design by Paul Jones
Featuring Jim Melloan, Susan Young, Morgan Everitt, Sean T. Hanratty, Noel Dinneen, Jeff Dickinson, Lori McNally, Tom Tenney
March 15-17, at 7pm
March 17, 2pm matinee
In the Dorothy B Williams Theater
At HERE Art Space (145 Ave. of the Americas, at Spring St.)
For tickets ($15), call 212-352-3101 or visit here.org
Visit 64surfreality.com, jenniliebrewster.com