Ask me about Return to Oz!
  • PICA/Ian Douglas
  • "Ask me about 'Return to Oz'!"

"I never wanna stay for the Q&A." That's how Jack Ferver opened his TBA performance, "Mon, Ma, Mes," at Ecotrust last night. And why would he? At worst, post-show Q&As can seem like exercises in cruelty*. So I have to admit, the conceit of Ferver's performance—an artist Q&A that isn't really an artist Q&A, also a retrospective of his performance work—seemed like a tall order. How do you mimic something so universally understood to be boring, and make it interesting?

By making fun of it, obviously. Which is exactly what he did, selecting unsuspecting audience members, giving them pat, dull questions to read aloud for him to answer, then acting surprised, and going off on absurd, self-mythologizing tangents in response. For example:

Question: "How did you achieve so much at such a young age?"
Answer: Rumination over childhood drawings, and how great they actually are, but he didn't know it at the time.
Question: "How old are you?"
Answer: No answer. Lengthy pontification on what it's like to be any age, and connecting with his inner child, so sometimes he feels three years old, and sometimes "a million!"
Question: "What was your favorite film growing up?"
Answer: Return to Oz, followed by a lengthy, highly detailed plot summary of Return to Oz.

You get the picture.

When you're at a post-show Q&A and hear questions and responses like this, it's frustrating. But when the audience is in on the joke, when everyone present knows exactly how softball the questions are and how batshit crazy the responses—it becomes something else. On some level, it becomes broad comedy. For 45 minutes, Jack Fervor embodied every embarrassing self-serious art world cliché, and the audience loved it.

Then there was a shift. Ferver stopped taking questions, and launched into an autobiographical litany about his childhood, about abuse, trauma, about his anxious mind and exchanges with doctors, a raw monologue implicating his totally engaged audience as witnesses to cruelty. Ferver punctuated these almost confessional moments by dancing frenetically, with repetitive, laborious movements, with the performance style so intense it's gained comparisons to exorcism. At one point, he asked Jordan Kindell of the Oregon Ballet—helpfully planted in the audience—to physically carry him. It was a weirdly tender moment. By the end of Ferver's performance, the room felt deflated, and also electrified.

I left with more questions than answers, which is as it should be.

*I have also been to great, productive Q&As where I definitely even took a lot of notes and chuckled along with the audience over art jokes. Those totally exist. I have been to them. Just not as frequently.