March 21, 2012
Popularity is a weird thing in the arts. After Yuri Lane, the Chicago-based performance artist and self-styled "human beatbox," placed video clips of his work on YouTube, he quickly scored, he tells us, almost 9 million views. With his video now officially viral, Lane's phone immediately began to ring with offers from talk-show producers, TV shows looking to license his work and exploit his talent, even a communications giant wanting to use his stuff as a ringtone. Google (the owner of YouTube) even called, asking Lane to perform at its party during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Lane has gone from Davos to Wicker Park. On Saturday night in the Flat Iron Arts Building, I sat in an audience of fewer than 40 people watching a show about how all of this sudden attention messed with Lane's head and his art.
"MeTube," Lane's new show at Collaboraction, is a fascinating idea that Lane has yet to figure out how to really develop; he should go back to work and find his truth. This is a killer idea. For there are so many fascinating issues in play — I spent a lot of the hour pondering why, if 9 million people signed up to watch Lane on YouTube, I was sitting in a half-empty theater watching the very same man do much the same thing, instead of fighting back rabid crowds.
Was the $20 ticket price really such a barrier to consumption? Does he work better inside your computer? Did people want to consume Lane's work (which, in essence, involves him making a dizzying variety of sounds entirely in his own mouth) only in bites? Is viral fame that transient?
I could go on — but, alas, Lane's show hints at these issues without fully exploiting them or even taking them as seriously as they demand. He aptly satirizes the absurdity of those people in this firmament who sit around their offices wanting to snag the next hot thing without necessarily having any clue what to do with the next hot thing. (For the record, I did not take Lane's witty re-creation of the dumb rhetoric of the Ellen DeGeneres booker as precise truth, lest we run into a Mike Daisey problem). And he also brings up the issue of how surprisingly limited and unreliable compensation can be for an artist who performs on the internet (as distinct from being the entity owning the channel), an issue with which all writers and performers are very familiar.
But the fractured and awkward "MeTube" doesn't cohere into a fully cogent analysis, mostly because it is severely underwritten by Rachel Havrelock (who also directs, with John Wilson) and it is insufficiently revelatory. The show flits around — Lane does his singular human-beatbox thing, fiddles with an on-stage computer and has a conversation with a video image of himself, which, like many theatrical conversations between live performers and video images, does not work at all. He asks the interesting question as to whether a live performance has really happened anymore unless it is filmed, embedded, sponsored and Tweeted (much the same could be asked of modern life). But he does not seem to have figured out what he really wants to say about all this, even though we really want to hear his views. However many sounds they contain.
This needs to be a very personal show, and yet Lane does not seem comfortable putting himself at the center and really exposing the compromises necessitated by his own ambition. He has to be willing to show us his raw soul for this piece to work.
At the end, Lane says he is returning to what really matters — live performance in Chicago, harmonica-friendly home of the blues. Couldn't agree more. But where there once 9 million or more, there now is 40. Anyone who claims they easily come to peace with that as they do their show isn't being honest with themselves or their audience.
When: Through April 8
Where: Flat Iron Arts Building, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Running time: 1 hour
Tickets: $15-$20 at 312-226-9633 or collaboraction.org
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