Review: Barnard Movement Lab’s Cathartic Let’s Exorcise! 

The immersive performance, described as a “performance ritual,” was open from March 21-22.

“Let’s exorcise, bitches!”

With this bold proclamation, Barnard alumnae Amy Shoshana Blumberg and her fellow creatives from the after-image movement-theater company transported audiences into the vibrant and emotionally weighty world of Let’s Exorcise! A Community Catharty Party at the Barnard Movement Lab last Thursday and Friday night.

Brightly colored lights and 80s jazzercise videos along the walls immediately set the energetic and friendly atmosphere of the performance, which is described by Blumberg as “a participatory performance ritual.” 

Structured as an interactive and immersive experience, Let’s Exorcise!, conceived and and directed by Blumberg, and co-written by Blumberg, Kate St. John (Creative Director) and Zahydé Pietri (devisor/performer), deviated from traditional performance norms, relying heavily on the audience’s creativity and vulnerability to propel the night forward. The experience was divided into two main components that encouraged attendees to actively participate in shedding their emotional baggage: the “snacktivation” and group devising/The Exorcism.

The crux of the performance came from the exorcisms of personal objects brought by attendees. The audience, in tandem with the Catharty Captains (a title given to the performers), breathed new life into the mundane items by reimagining their stories.

Throughout, Catharty Captains continued to remind participants that it was always okay to “step up or step back.” As Pietri, who performed in the show, put it, the purpose of the experience was offering “a safe space to let go of something.”

“As performers, a lot of what we do is make people comfortable and let them know that they are participating on their terms,” says Pietri. “They don’t have to do anything that they don’t want to. We model the ritual, and we also let them know, ‘we are here with you, we are leading you, but you are also actively participating in the way that you want.’”

At times, the experience felt a bit silly and childish, as audience participants pretended to be a giraffe in a zen-garden or a dog playing with an old watch. But using an active imagination seemed to be at the heart of the performance.

“[The exorcisms are] not going to be the best piece of art you have ever seen. It is ok. The point is to make it,” says Blumberg.

The performance completely broke down the traditional distinction between audience and performer. The audience did not just idly watch the Catharty Captains as they brought new life to the exorcised objects; they actively engaged, too. 

The experience almost felt reminiscent of summer camp, with the Catharty Captains acting as energetic counselors (albeit ones that swore) and the ‘exorcisms’ as a fun group activity. 

Let’s Exorcise! was not solely about “letting go of the shit that is holding us back,” as Blumberg says. It was also about finding a community in vulnerability. “It doesn’t have to be this sort of arduous lonely process, but it can be something that we celebrate together and envision together,” says Blumberg.

“If we can see each other as human beings, what is possible?” says Blumberg. “If we take the time to witness ourselves and witness one another, there is potential for something to happen.” 

The experience culminated in a free-form destruction sequence, with audience members and Catharty Captains alike taking turns to destroy the remaining objects. Whether the destruction and reimagination of the exorcisms were joyous, grief-filled, or just plain fun, one thing is for certain: it was one big catharty party!

Join ‘the after-image’ team from April 5-7th in the Movement Lab for Flow Up! The Catharty Quest Continues, as they continue their “quest for catharsis.”

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