But I have moved away from theater! I am an Artist now!
I should explain. I began performing in the holiday pageants of a small-town mega-church around the age of five. During the 20 years that followed, singing, dancing, and “entertaining” were a regular — if not major — part of my weekly activities, and my identity. I studied classical voice, played Oliver at age 12, Prince Charming at 18. Throughout the first two years of my undergraduate education, I focused on theater studies and performed in musicals and choirs. I even completed a summer dance intensive, in which I pulled a muscle in my back during a live Contact Improvisation. Ugh!
As time progressed and I discovered new intellectual foundations (thanks, university!), I became discontented with my passive theatrical trajectory — ideologically, creatively, and personally [as Malene Dam writes in her essay on my upcoming exhibition Shimmy Shake Earthquake, I tend to be “too much”.] I shifted my focus to the visual art program, changed my context/conversation, and pursued a degree in sculpture. During that time I made it my secret statute to create only objects and images and to actively deny performance, no matter who encouraged or how many times it was recommended.
Still…I wanted my objects to perform! Insert Freud reference. Insert Gone for Gold quote: “But I was delusional. Confusional. Misconceived. Disbelieved.” Toward the end of the BFA, I began advertising my sculptures and installations like concerts or theater events authored by my self-referencing invented persona, TMO LIVE!
As TMO LIVE! I began performing — quick cabaret-style covers in sculptural costumes on sculptural objects for people who made sculptures. I moved to Los Angeles and began my graduate studies in the art program at CalArts. There I embraced performance, explored and experimented with aspects of duration, site-specificity, and multiplicity. I strutted in stilettos on a gold-glittered figure eight to the soundtrack of Britney Spears’ Blackout album re-recorded backward. I performed the musical Hello, Dolly! in its entirety as a one-man show in Joshua Tree during sunset. By the end I was staging my thesis (STAGED: Three Crimes in Three Acts) in a black box theater — a performance that consisted of 10 performers, costumes, set pieces, live music, choreography, rehearsals, posters… A musical? A play? Was I making theater?
But I had moved away from theater! Okay, maybe I had left just the prescribed architectures of theater from my youth.
Inspired by research on early 20th-century performances by the futurists as well as contemporary performers such as Justin Vivian Bond and Kembra Pfahler, I wrote Gone For Gold, a 40-minute one-man cabaret in rhyming verse with seven songs. This I toured throughout Europe last summer performing in gardens, living rooms, artist-run spaces, bars, and art institutions. After traveling and touring I returned to Los Angeles with a realization — I am making experimental theater. Or at least theater that I hope is experimental. Yikes!
But why theater? And why now?
The following is a self-admittedly premature attempt to answer a question that has had, throughout centuries, many great thinkers and many great books and many great works addressing it. The space and time of the theatrical performance is, specifically in our hyper-mediated contemporary existence, one of the few places of formalized un-interrupted commentary and collective reflection on the socio-political landscape.
The spontaneity of live performance is not possible in the projected rectangle of cinema and other forms, such as reality TV, that dominate popular attention. This spontaneity makes possible the genesis of complex affect that can poetically disrupt the seemingly stable, opaque aspects of our spectacle-driven culture. Like Franco “Bifo” Berardi, I consider the actions of WikiLeaks and the Occupy movement to be intense, effective uses of live performance.
These ruptures need not be digital or heavily populated. Take, for example, the young (inebriated?) Danish man who slapped the Swarovski-encrusted ass of Beyoncé while she sang “Irreplaceable” at the Forum in Copenhagen. What a shock! Her bum is real and her attitude is too! A truly revealing moment that we don’t see in her documentary or in her GQ interview.
So why now?
While the actions described above are performative social interventions of sorts, it is in the theater where we can simultaneously reflect, metabolize, comment and learn from their effects. In a culture of George Zimmerman mistrials, NSA watching everything everywhere (here!), queer issues with gay marriage (assimilation!), children shooting children (it’s their right!), all in a declining empire attempting to maintain control by threatening challengers and knocking off leaders of weaker nations… many of us are wandering through this American landscape while wondering what the hell to think. Discontent and confusion are abounding, of this we are sure. In the live poetic play of the allegory there may be hidden faults of potential, waiting to be cracked open. So, let’s break the damn thing.
100 Years of Noise: Beyoncé is ready to receive you now, New Original Works Festival, REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St. (corner of W. 2nd and Hope streets, inside Walt Disney Concert Hall complex), LA 90012. August 1-3, 8:30 pm.
Full REDCAT NOW schedule: Week 1 (July 25-27) Christine Marie & Ensemble, Mecca Vazie Andrews, Samantha Goodman. Week 2 (Aug. 1-3): Jennie MaryTai Liu, Tyler Matthew Oyer, Waewdao Sirisook & Ronnarong Khampha. Week 3 (Aug. 8-10): Daniel Corral; Morgan Thorson & Meg Wolfe; Paul Fraser, Genevieve Gearhart & Deena Selenow. Thu-Sat, 8:30 pm. Through Aug. 10. Tickets: $18; Festival Pass, $36. www.redcat.org. 213-237-2800.
Called an “interdisciplinary gospel immortalist” by Kembra Pfahler of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, Tyler Matthew Oyer was born in Pennsylvania and currently lives and works in Los Angeles. He received his MFA from California Institute of the Arts in 2012 and recently toured his performance persona TMO LIVE! throughout Europe with his show Gone for Gold. His work has been presented in cities including Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Miami, Berlin, Copenhagen, Kassel, London, Amsterdam, Oslo, and Varna, Bulgaria. His one-man performance of Hello, Dolly! was part of Andrea Zittel’s 2011 High Desert Test Sites event. Marta Becket of the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction once said, “Tyler looks like a performer”. In September he will have his first solo exhibition Shimmy Shake Earthquake — an operetta, at Cirrus Gallery in Los Angeles.