Paper Chair’s Art Show/Model show premiered Thursday, August 29, 2013 in East Austin’s Offshoot Theatre. The show is a creative conjoining of documentary theatre and alternative venue. The combination is quite natural, documentary theatre by its nature takes risks and so receives less support; producers of such innovative works seek alternative venues which charge less. Alternative theatres by their smaller sizes cannot attract larger, better-funded productions. So they charge less and embrace riskier and inherently more original works.
Art Show/Model Show at the Offshoot is a shining example of this beneficial combination. The Offshoot seats only about 40 ticket holders, but it offers air-conditioning to defray Austin’s sultry summer. The theatre is operated by The Rude Mechanicals, Austin’s most recognized theatre company. Art show/Model Show is a multi-media production exploring both the most exposed and the most invisible population in all of art history, the art models who’ve posed nude for art since Paleolithic cave paintings. In all that time, models have remained silent, at the insistence of artists, yielding to the expressions of the artists, not to their own expressive needs.
This situation has pertained, even with the acknowledgement by most figurative artists that their success has always been a collaboration between themselves and that silent model. The five actors in this show are all art models, and they all talk back. They give monologues and dialogues from the stage while modeling for painters at easels in the well, downstage front. And at a great saving in the costume budget, they model exactly as they model in art classes, strictly nude. So any non-artist wondering what goes on in figurative art workshops can come to this show and find out. Except for the part about models talking back.
The talkback, too, is a deeper revelation than merely skin. The models reveal the vexing, obsessive thoughts that run through their minds while en pose. They tell the tales of integrity and abuse they have suffered. In the end, the models reach across the gulf between the nude and the clothed and show, to those who may have forgotten, the truth of our common humanity, that it is glorious. Those who at first arrived for some impressive power-ogling leave in deep reflection, perhaps with a tear in the eye.
Plans are for the show to continue its documentary life with a video record of the production, the editing of interviews that didn’t make it into the stage production, and the development of more gathered material. The gatherers are the same producer/actor/models in this worthy show. The production company, Paper Chairs, has inscribed yet another innovative mark on the record of Austin theatre.