Most theatrical performances simply require the audience to sit back and observe. With her performance piece “First Person Shooter,” artist Suzanne Bocanegra wants to make the audience part of the experience.
The performance, which combines music, visuals, dance and percussion, will premiere at the Plumb Hall Agricultural Arena on Friday at 3:30 p.m.
Bocanegra has spent much of her artistic career in painting, but with “First Person Shooter” she said she wanted to take the experience of painting and turn it into performance art.
“It’s sort of a collage of many things,” she said. “It’s part music concert, part dance, part performance art. A couple years ago I started doing projects like this, and in some ways I think about them as live paintings.”
Bocanegra said one of the things making this performance unique is its inclusion of the audience in the performance. Before the show, the crowd will be taught eight different cheers, which they will be encouraged to scream out during the performance.
“It’s a way to sort of make a painting that you walk into and participate in,” she said.
This aspect of the show was inspired by the Yell Leaders, a group of cheerleaders at Texas A&M University.
“They trigger cheers or phrases that the student body participates in,” she said. “I’m using them as my model.”
Another inspiration for Bocanegra was her experience attending Catholic Mass as a child. While only a select few lead Mass, those attending are asked to respond both verbally and physically to certain cues. With “First Person Shooter,” Bocanegra said she seeks to replicate that environment.
“First Person Shooter” was inspired by the Battle of Marathon, which took place between the Greeks and the Persians in 490 B.C. While Bocanegra does not tell the story of the battle literally, the show is meant to feel like two sides are warring against each other.
All music for the performance was composed by David Lang, Bocanegra’s husband and New York composer.
“David writes all kinds of music,” she said. “This is music that can form sort of a structure or a bed or a canvas for everything else to build on top of.”
On Wednesday night, Lang’s music will be performed by Ohio State students at Weigel Hall Auditorium as part of a free concert.
Susan Powell, associate professor and director of percussion studies at the OSU School of Music, said in an email that Lang’s music presents an exciting challenge for student musicians.
“Lang’s music is very rhythmically driven,” Powell said. “He often overlaps complex structures, but leaves enough space for the listener to hear silence as part of the rhythmic drive.”
Powell said that while the percussion ensemble is part of the “First Person Shooter” performance on Friday, the musicians have yet to receive any music from Lang. However, this is not an unexpected development.
“The score is largely based on improvisation and reaction to what is happening around us,” Powell said. “All of the students are going to be relying in large part on instincts, listening skills and reaction time. It will be a very different musical experience than what our percussion ensemble usually encounters.”
Bocanegra said Lang tends to work until the last minute, but in the case of “First Person Shooter,” this is by design.
Ann Hamilton, a professor in the Department of Art who has helped plan the event, said the improvisational nature of the performance means there isn’t much preparation that can be done.
“It isn’t like a theater piece where you practice and there’s a lot of rehearsals,” Hamilton said. “It’s like really setting something up to come together in the moment.”
Hamilton said the performance will be worthwhile because of the unique environment Bocanegra is looking to create.
“It will be unlike anything you have attended,” she said. “It’s really about coming for the sake of the experience itself.”
Bocanegra said she hopes that every audience member gets something different out of the performance.
“There is nothing written in stone that I expect anybody in the audience to get,” she said. “I expect it to be very individual.”
“First Person Shooter” is a free event and is open to the public.