Performing about Performance: Karen Sherman’s Soft Goods

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For most of my childhood, I grew up a dancer. As I’ve grown, I find my mediums move around, but somehow my history as a dancer pokes its way through. I think this is why I was so intrigued and drawn to Soft Goods by Minneapolis-based choreographer Karen Sherman. Soft Goods is a new performance showcasing the intricacies of life in the black corners of the theater: backstage. In a brilliant effort to flip the script on what most audiences view as “entertainment”, Sherman manipulates the behaviors and labors of theater tech to form, of all things, a dance. Soft Goods so eloquently addresses many issues present in this field, but especially mental health and substance abuse. Even as a dance, Sherman manages to develop characters that present a unique relationship with each other in the ways they work and move. This relationship stayed ambiguously between that of a good friend and that of simply a co-worker, but never both. 

Within the context of Sherman’s portfolio, the objects used in Soft Goods stand out in comparison with past works. In most if not all of Sherman’s past works, the artist utilized fabricated sculptural objects in the performances. However (to my eyes), Soft Goods only utilized objects already on hand at the Walker. Seeing the “WAC” spray painted on the side of the Genie lift used in the performance re-contextualized the work for me. By utilizing these objects and choosing not to re-fabricate or manipulate them in any way supplies the viewer with a new level of realism. This is actually what backstage at the Walker could look like on the night of a production. Not only does Sherman take the fourth wall and dismantle it, the audience is invited to reconstruct it with the cast, behind the curtain.

Soft Goods was shown on the Walker Stage Dec 8-10th and will be heading to P.S. 122 (NYC) and The Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA (LA) in 2017.

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