Jeff McGrory

Taking It to the Streets

The mission: to save New Haven—but how? Gob Squad, a band of four video improvisors, hit the streets of New Haven to find out how, in a show called Super Night Shot.  Brought to New Haven as part of the Yale Rep’s No Boundaries series, Sarah Thom (location), Mat Hand (PR), Berit Stumpf (casting), and Bastian Trost (the hero) tape their experiences, each armed with a 60 minute tape in a handheld camera.

What the audience sees, after giving the group a returning hero’s welcome as they enter from their mission, is what was taped on the cameras, synched and playing simultaneously.  It’s not nearly as chaotic as that might sound, thanks to some skillful planning.  There are moments when each camera records its respective owner doing something in tandem with the rest: a dance routine with an umbrella, for instance, or donning an animal mask.  Then there are the moments when one camera dominates, making the others provide side stories.  What’s key is developing a rhythm of part to whole that Gob Squad has got down cold.

Speaking of cold: it’s not that much fun to be wandering the streets of New Haven on a February night.  The extremities of the situation are real.  Each member of the group must kill the hour doing something that they will relentlessly tape.  And each has a task, stated at the outset: Trost has agreed to kiss a total stranger.  Thom must scout out a location for the event; Stumpf must find a willing participant off the streets; Hand must promote the event, pasting Trost’s face around town and boldly entering commercial establishments (such as Starbucks on High and Chapel) to proclaim the coming of the hero.  Meanwhile, Trost wanders about exuding the “naïve blind faith” that is the collective modus operandi of the group.

Watching the show, the audience only knows one thing: the four members made it back with their recordings.  What they did and how each will align with the others is part of the magic of the spectacle.  The effects—wonderful, comical, eerie, sad—of the overlap is what drives the show.

It helps greatly that the four have mastered the skill to remain on camera without losing direction.  Rather than watch cameras move through the streets, we watch the players move about, interacting at random with other people—a charming incident on Friday night was when Trost told an arguing couple to kiss and they did—or following a solo course that at times made Thom seem as if she were trapped in a Blair Witch Project.

Hand has to be the most outgoing, and his dance, in chicken mask and shiny body suit, in front of Basta is silly in all the right ways.  Trost is the most charming; finding out from a random person that he must free New Haven of politics he persuades a student of political science to agree to leave town.  Stumpf, shyly enthusiastic, manages to find a young woman who agrees to “kiss a rabbit” (“I’d go for it,” her friend advises), and so the night’s shoot ends happily, with Trost, who wears a rabbit mask for the kiss, stripping to his skivvies in honor of the stranger who “has given me everything.”

The best thing about the show, besides the qualities that make each of the four participants engaging, is seeing our town through a stranger’s eyes.  As the four wander about—on Chapel Street from York to the Green, mostly—the familiar sights in the background both estrange us from our environment and make it seem welcoming.  Even the police officers are friendly, Hand finds.  And Stumpf converses with a man waiting for a bus who seems simply to enjoy the conversation without caring about the camera.  Thom curls up on the street near Wave and we watch indifferent New Haveners pass by.  Meanwhile, Trost, after changing into a white suit with bowtie and cummerbund, asks strangers for messages—“take a left” he’s told—and for tasks—“help me find a job as a male escort,” he’s asked.

In the end, the star of the show tends to be the city that hosts the shenanigans.  The show has been done nearly 200 times in distinct locations.  No two shows are the same, but the satisfactions of seeing the foursome pull it off—like some vaguely transgressive but benign social act—is exhilarating and suggests, indeed, that all the world’s a stage.


Super Night Shot By Gob Squad

Devised by: Johanna Freiburg, Sean Patten, Elyce Semenec, Berit Stumpf, Sarah Thom, Bastian Trost, Simon Will On the Streets of New Haven: Mat Hand, Berit Stumpf, Sarah Thom, Bastian Trost Live Sound Mix: Jeff McGrory

Sound Design: Sebastian Bark, Jeff McGrory; Production Management: Eva Hartmann; Touring Management: Mat Hand

Yale Repertory Theatre February 1 & 2, 2013