IMPRESSIONS: Amanda Szeglowski / cakeface's "Stairway to Stardom" at HERE
A world premiere
September 16, 2017
Creator: Amanda Szeglowski / cakeface
Performers: Ali Castro, Jade Daugherty, Ayesha Jordan, Nola Sporn Smith, and Amanda Szeglowski
Set Designer: Aviva Novick / Costume Designer: Oana Botez
Lighting Designer: Amanda K. Ringger / Live Music + Video: Prism House (Brian Wenner + Matt O'Hare)
Lights, camera, action: you’re a star! Amanda Szeglowski’s Stairway to Stardom shines a spotlight on the journey to fame. All that glitters looks like gold, but we know better. Scratches on the surface reveal lackluster metal.
Three opaque white panels drape either side of a white floor. They mimic a cloud-like heaven, refreshing and crisp. Two men, also in white, approach two narrow platforms that house sound and video mixing software. Positioning themselves on either side of the space, they generate visual and sonic sounds of technological interference, sandwiched between a thumping beat.
Footage from the original Stairway to Stardom, a 1980s public access television show, glows in the background. Splashes of primary colors saturate patchy transmissions of auditioning feathered-hair hopefuls.
Five women in silver heels strut to center stage. Their silver-fringed capes rustle and shimmer. Each sports a unique version of silver; from jumpers to onsies, the costumes are reminiscent of a nostalgic disco era superimposed onto the future.
Despite their individual wardrobes, this quintet is a collective consciousness. They deliver lines in unison with mechanical she-bot voices. The narrative popcorns through one, two, or more speakers at a time. Their bodies accentuate the dialogue with head jerks, torso rolls, and arm shifts.
In between monologues, they whet our appetite with sassy dance moves. Jutting hips ripple into arched backs. Generous use of jazz hands complements precisely pointed toes. The dancers weave through group formations with sustained, emotionless confidence. They punctuate consonants with bobbing heads while video footage shifts to the performers in everyday clothes juggling, singing, and having fun.
The story line journeys from far-fetched dreams and aspirations to unused talent and menial, intellectually abusive jobs. The desire to be the center of attention — and the sacrifices it necessiates — appears soul crushing and sadistic. The women contemplate, “I wish I had or you’ve made it when,” suggesting the journey to stardom leads to a dead end.
Although inspired by a TV show, Stairway to Stardom gives us more than the standard fare of selling one’s soul for stardom. While the robotic execution can feel monotonous, the cast’s commitment is admirable, their talent evident. Entertaining and funny, Szeglowski gives us a space to laugh at the classic catastrophe of being an artist, perhaps, to keep from crying.