Wingman – Jason H. Thompson

Mark Gindick’s “Wing-Man” is a laugh-out loud hilarious and surprisingly poignant “one-clown show” that explores our obsession with social media and its impact on achieving “real” connections with other people. In the tradition of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Bill Irwin, and David Shiner, his clown persona battles a veritable tsunami of unexpected 21st century obstacles.

Projection designer Jason H. Thompson, 3-D animation designer Ryan Cushman, set designer Stephen Marsh, original music/ arrangements by Matt Stine and Justine Levine, and costume design by Mattie Ullrich and Sylvianne Shurman have created a stunningly unique virtual world which at key points uses weather as both a symbolic and an actual force that alters the course of the piece.

At one point, digital rain projected on the set transforms from an expression of Mark’s dark and gloomy mood into a joyful celebration in an homage to the classic “Singin’ in the Rain”. Mark brings the “rain” out to the audience by placing a simple water bottle atop a spinning umbrella allowing the audience to share in the experience of the delightful, refreshing actual as opposed to virtual water. Mark’s “avatar”, an animated doppelganger who is his guide through the wonders of the social media world, displeased with Mark’s connection to the actual audience and the joys of the real world, changes the weather app to blow away the rain, the umbrella, and focus Mark’s attention away from the actual people in the audience to the virtual realm.

Later in the piece, when Mark becomes trapped inside the projection within the virtual world and the “avatar” is let loose in the theater, Mark again uses a weather app to unleash real-world natural force on the avatar. As a result, he defeats the avatar and shuts down the entire social media site transforming the dynamic set into a simple white wall. At last he is alone with the audience and realizes the value of real human connection.

In a broader sense, the piece as a whole embodies the curatorial vision of performance as a “living breathing whole organism”. It is filled with elements of “forecasting”, “front disturbances” and seeks to create an audience-altering “storm front”.

Utilizing ground-breaking technology, Jason H. Thompson’s social media world is interactive in a way heretofore unseen in a theatrical piece. Both Mark and audience members can interact in real time with the video wall,

entering text and creating completely unique experiences for each performance. Mark’s humanness is at the center of piece and in his desire to connect, he is increasingly drawn into to the slick allures of the virtual world at one point literally being sucked into the rabbit hole that divides the virtual and actual worlds. Only once he comes out the other side is he able to recognize that he achieved a real connection with the actual people in the audience through his performance.

Throughout the piece, Mark brings audience members on stage to play roles as varied as his dream date, assistant in a daredevil act, and his father-figure psychiatrist. The audience members are not chosen ahead of time and have no prior knowledge of what they will be asked to do.

This creates an electric feeling of spontaneity that reaches the entire audience and the audience members are empowered to be the “front disturbances” that make each performance utterly unique.

Through his loveable “everyman” (or “everyclown”) persona, Mark hopes to demonstrate that the power of live theater to connect an audience with a performer and with each other continues to be a bond that cannot be shattered by the unending proliferation of 21st century technology and social media.

The piece uses sophisticated, cutting edge technology to hopefully create a “storm front” that reaches the audience and inspires them to find the time to occasionally turn that very technology off and really see each other outside of a screen.