On Saturday at 8 p.m., Roger Clark Miller hosted A Night of Surrealist Games at MASS MoCA. Unfortunately this ended up being a night I could have better spent doing a more productive or entertaining activity.
When my date and I walked into Club B-10, tucked away in a warehouse attic in the museum, Miller told us that “the walls to our subconscious would be unbound.” A member of the post-punk group Mission of Burma, Miller, was rocking the sort of get-up one would expect from an aging wannabe rock star. Miller also had the unbearable habit of repeatedly telling the audience that their “minds would be blown” and that they would “discover their subconscious selves,” promises he was unable to fulfill.
The event had no clear and discernible beginning. The attendees were all seated around four-person tables equipped with papers, pens and pencils. Miller, who was supposed to be emceeing the event, went around to each table in no apparent order to explain the first game “Exquisite Corpse.” In this game, we were instructed to fold a piece of paper into fourths. Each person would then draw a head on the top section of the paper. They were then instructed to fold back the head and then pass the sheet to the left. The person to their left was not allowed to look at the head that had been drawn on the sheet of paper in front of them. Their job was to draw a chest, fold the paper back, and pass it to the next person who would draw the lower torso and so on. The idea was not to draw anatomically-correct body parts, but rather to draw things like man-eating broccolis as arms and then to laugh at the result of four people drawing random things on a piece of paper.
The first game was mildly amusing. In addition to drawing ridiculous and misshapen objects on pieces of paper, my date and I had the opportunity to meet the older couple sitting at our table. We exchanged life stories and joked about how these games would be a lot more fun if we had been smoking whatever it was that the Surrealists smoked. We were still hopeful that the night would increase in intensity, but that hope was soon dashed. First of all, we had to wait about 10 to 20 minutes after we finished playing each game before Miller came around to explain the instructions for our next mind-bending activity. The people at an adjacent table left at around 9 p.m., after the emcee had neglected to stop by their spot for almost half an hour. The games that followed were even less amusing than the first one.
After “Exquisite Corpse,” we played three more games. These games involved writing words or sentences on sheets of paper and then folding the paper back and passing the sheet to our left. The person to the left would then add a word or sentence, depending on the instructions of each game, and pass the sheet on. At the end, our haphazard collaborative masterpiece was supposed to yield entertaining or enlightening results. During the two hours that we played these inane games, we did get a few interesting phrases about “dumb Nimrods” and “woolly orifices,” but the best part of the night was when the older gentleman we were sitting with got bored and started crumpling up our pieces of paper and throwing them at the other people at the event.
Although the event was interesting and promising in concept, in practice it fell short of all its potential.