May 4, 2020

Last December, Yale students Dakota Sipp, Ross Wightman, YeQin Zhu, Cam Camden, and Kyla Arsadjaja put together a show called the I=N=T=E=R=F=A=C=E || Cabaret. The Yale Cabaret is a student-run basement theater that produces 18 shows a year.

Sipp explained that he had been introduced to Zhu in June of 2019 while both students were spending their summer here at Yale. Stipp works with sound and Zhu with dimensional and sculptural paintings. They originally talked about a gallery project that would involve some kind of interactive sound component, but they decided to take a step back and go more conceptual. After that, they brought on Wightman, a music student, and now their ideas were mostly centered on trying to connect with people in a virtual space. Eventually this became a performance idea, one that had events in it and created a virtual world. They began discussing the current mem culture and identity in politics, which became loosely connected with a theme of their idea. On a whim, they decided to propose a cabaret, giving themselves a finite deadline of December 2019 to complete the project.

They soon decided that they would need a few more people, and they were joined by Arsadjaja and Camden, who work in graphic design and theater tech respectively. At some point in this journey, they got a clearer picture of what their motivation was behind this project: it was about redefining and expanding their current art and their new collaboration because not everyone was accustomed to working within a gallery space. Once they settled on this trajectory, each person brought their own specialty to contribute. In fact, this became Stipp’s thesis project.

Finally, their worked paid off, and they were ready to open the show. One of the most exciting things for the creators was seeing how each member of the audience seemed to take away something different. The show itself consisted of two rotating fabric panels hanging from the ceiling with textural videos project onto them: this is what people would look into. The fabric ran on separate motors, creating a 90-degree pathway that goes through space in the shape of a backward “Z.” The show starts with four of the creators walking around the room with blinking lights and beeping on their phone. Then they sit down in a circle and a pre-recorded text, written by Zhu, is read out loud by the performers. After that, the show moves into a series of vignettes that go back and forth between wire structures. They cast shadows with flashlights as Wightman plays his custom-built drum.  At the same time, there are sounds of construction and destruction. There is also a moment where blankets wave in space resembling the movement of a human. Much of the sound was algorithmically generated using stochastic procedures for processing audio and video.

The four performers at the start of the show
Shadows cast by the performers
The wire structure

Looking back, there were moments of chaos, beauty, and confusion. On some level, it read as engaging with human connection whether or not this connection was virtual. People were talking about loneliness, group-thinking, and other things. The one thing consistent in the show was the text. The audio surrounding the audience was never the same because of the nature of the algorithm behind it. The shadows cast were never the same, and the performers and audience alike waited for those chance moments when everything would come together and create something beautiful.