On Feb. 11 the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance will be bringing a one-night only performance of Arguendo by the external company Elevator Repair Service (ERS) to campus. Deemed “full of supremely naughty charm!” by The Village Voice, the production focuses on the question “Does a state prohibition against complete nudity in public violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of Freedom of Expression?” It navigates the Barnes v. Glen Theatre, a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case. The case featured the complaint of a group of go-go dancers and the establishments which housed them against an Indiana law banning public nudity. Ultimately the decision ruled that the state has a right to regulate expressions of nudity in the moral interest of the order of society. But in coming to this decision, questions about the definition of art, dance and morality arose.
Arguendo is a dramatically staged word-for-word reading of the entire oral argument of the court case, staged dramatically. Intermingling with the precise dedication to the text are interviews with justices, lawyers and an exotic dancer who traveled from the Déjà Vu Club in Saginaw, MI. It all makes for what Entertainment Weekly called a “Boisterously entertaining!” night.
Elevator Repair Service is no stranger to gushing reviews. Founded in 1991 by Artistic Director John Collins, ERS stages original pieces with a constant ensemble. They are a well-known company whose trademark is performing exact texts rather than their interpretations. They are perhaps most famous for their recent production, Gatz, a 6-hour-long verbatim reading of The Great Gatsby. Randall Fippinger, manager of performances and events at the ’62 Center said of the performance “it was just stunning.” Arguendo is receiving similarly rave reviews, with an entirely sold-out run in New York City and upcoming performances in Chicago, Washington D.C. and New Haven between now and June. As Fippinger said, “When ERS brings a show, it’s a really big deal.” The ’62 Center considers it quite a coup to have ERS performing on the College campus.
Fippinger brought the company here as a part of the Center Series. It’s the third of four shows this year that are part of this ongoing feature of the ’62 Center program. The mission of the series is to bring art and performance into the intellectual discourse on campus. A committee exists specifically for the series with around 8-10 people, including the dean of faculty and two College Council appointed students. Each year they organize two dance and two theater performances that touch on whatever is happening on campus at the moment. Next year’s series will appropriately revolve around the theme of the book in keeping with the opening of the new library. This year’s particular series was devoted to re-imagining classics, showing plays that work with the theme of rethinking what performance is supposed to be. Arguendo does this particularly through a legal framework, asking questions such as: What is art? What is performance? What are audiences? How does the law fit into our lives? Can the law and art be compatible?
All these questions are particularly pertinent to any college student navigating their way into a possible future in the arts. Fippinger recommends that any student to whom these questions apply order tickets ahead of time. So far, he says that “sales are going pretty well” but that “students tend to order tickets very late. I suspect that there will be a very long line and I suspect that when word trickles out that there is male nudity in this performance that those lines will grow even longer.” Fippinger can barely contain his praise and excitement about the upcoming performance, saying, “In all seriousness this is my favourite show that we are doing this year…this is a really well-performed, provocative show. You will just see the show and go “WOW!” Fippinger muses that the performance plays perfectly into the overall goals and conceits of the ’62 Center, saying “it recontextualises really large issues and puts them in a broader framework … it’s putting very complex issues in a different context and allows students to have a different perspective. That’s what we do here – try to change your perspective a little but still allow you to retain your own thoughts and opinions.”
There will be one performance only, on February 11th, 2014 at 8:00 PM on the ’62 Center’s MainStage, located at 1000 Main Street, in Williamstown, MA. Tickets are $10/$3 students.
For tickets, visit the Williams ’62 Center Box Office Tues-Sat, 1-5 pm or call (413) 597-2425.