Monday, February 3, 2014
When performance artist Brian Feldman lived in Orlando, I tried to sketch as many of his performances as I could. Nearly two years ago he moved to Washington, D.C where he has only done one performance piece, a "friend building" experience called "BFF" for the Capital Fringe Festival. I lost all contact with him after the move since my primary interest was always in sketching and writing about his performance concepts. Orlando lost an unusual and unique artist when Brian left, and I lost a major source of inspiration.
"The Feldman Dynamic" was first performed in 2003 and started Brian on the road to becoming a performance artist. I didn't start following Brian until 2009 when I started this blog. I knew about the Dynamic, but had never seen the original performance which was part of the New York International Fringe Festival. The members of his family have since moved in different directions. His parents are divorced. His mother is a breast cancer survivor and his sister has been married and now lives south of Orlando. Nearly a thousand miles separate the family's daily lives.
When I got to the Jewish Community Center in Maitland, I had to have my drivers license scanned at the security desk in order to enter. Outside the Harriet and Hymen Lake Cultural Auditorium I saw Brian putting fliers on a table outside the auditorium entrance. He was a nervous ball of energy. I was pleased to see signs that announced "No Google Glass allowed inside the Theater!" No aspect of the performance was permitted to be filmed, but sketching was strongly encouraged during the pre-show announcement. I laughed out loud.
On stage the dining table was being set up and Brian's mom, Marilyn Wattman-Feldman, was at the back of the auditorium warming up dishes in the kitchen. Brian's dad, Edward Feldman, was busy trying to get connected to the internet. He had me flip through a large portfolio full of his art work. Adrienne McIntosh, Brian's sister, was trying to get the internet password from JCC security. Brian helped me set up a crude barrier that would keep the audience from noticing me as I sketched from stage left. The resulting structure was rickety and I was afraid the whole time that it might collapse into the audience. Luckily it held up. An old radio was found backstage and placed on Edward's computer table. Brian let me know that it was the same one from the last show he had performed there, a JCC production of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs"15 years earlier. Both he and Adrienne were child performers.
At 7:15pm the house opened and the audience entered. The family walked on stage together and sat down for dinner. Edward spent much of the time standing and serving food. A bottle of sparkling cider couldn't be opened since no one had a bottle opener. Edward put the bottle on the edge of the stage and said, "I bet the bottle will magically open itself." Sure enough, Carl from the audience got up and opened the bottle with his utility knife. For some reason Brian was wearing a tuxedo he had rented for Amanda and Matt Simantov's wedding. I knew this because he had e-mailed me and asked if I wanted to rent the same tux for the wedding. I stuck with my suit which I discovered had paint stains on the pant legs. I don't think anyone at the wedding noticed.
Brian is a very private person. For one of his recent performances,he stayed off Facebook for an entire year. It looks like that performance lasted for four months. Then Brian explained that Facebook only lets events last for four months. Since he didn’t log on to the site for the entire year, he couldn’t keep changing the start and end dates to cover the full 12 months. Yet another hangup with the site. I had no idea what life in D.C. has been like for him. The family chatted about films they had seen. Brian has seen tons of films and his mother has seen maybe 2 in the last year. He stood up midway through the meal feeling he needed to make an announcement to is family. His father asked, "Are you getting married?" "Wow, that makes sense", I thought. Brian let them know that he had been fired from his job. He showed them the letter of termination. They read it in silence but Edward felt Brian should write a letter of apology and maybe he would be taken back. Brian had fallen asleep at a security job at 2am. "Well, they have to understand, maybe you were tired!" his father consoled. The audience laughed. Brian let them know that he wasn't asking to move back. He is getting unemployment and actively looking for another job. Performance art would have to wait until he got a full-time job. Adrienne had an announcement as well. She got a promotion at Disney moving from one department to another. She was even getting a raise. Talk about rubbing salt in the wound!
I had a strange dream last night. Brian and I were seated on the ground floor of a parking garage that had been converted into a women's prison. A woman in an orange jumpsuit had ankle cuffs with a noisy chain and was being escorted up a ramp by an armed guard. Brian was smiling broadly and giving me advice. "You should get a job," he said. "I work at Full Sail," I replied. "No, you need to get a full-time job. It has been too long." It was an odd dream. I have no idea what it means.
After dinner the family stood around the computer looking at family pictures and shots of Adrienne's dachshund. Before I knew it, they were taking a bow. The audience was maybe a quarter full with most of them being friends and local media. There were plenty of left overs. Edward served me some salad and beef brisket, which was delicious. I topped it off with some apple pie and got back to the sketch. Stage manager Sharli' Ward was having an animated conversation about Israel with Marilyn. If you didn't know about The Feldman Dynamic, you missed a personal, unplanned slice of life and some great food! It was theater as life.