The Performant: Further

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Sugar High: Crystelle Reola, no marshmallow
PHOTO BY PATRICIA MILLER

You’re either on the bus, or you're off the bus at Popcorn Anti-Theater’s Fringe Festival revival

As lovers of art, adventure, and reckless shenanigans might recall, the monthly Popcorn Anti-Theater bus shows last rolled about eight years ago, and while plenty of other groups have used buses as vehicles to drive a performance since, none have managed it with the same regularity and broadness of scope.

The aggressively anything-goes vibe of Popcorn events of yore combined theatrics, live music, dance, poetry, gibberish, urban exploration, and plenty of oddience participation into a series of unpredictable occurrences. Since the shows were pulled together by different collaborators each month, it wasn’t always necessarily “good” art (a specious qualifier at best), but it was almost always good fun, so when I hear that Popcorn is making a rare appearance at the San Francisco Fringe Festival, I immediately resolve to check it out.

Although the pristine white rent-a-bus is only half full as we pull away from the EXIT Theatre, the morale is high. As we settle into our seats, an attractive young woman in a lab coat, Assistant J (Crystelle Reola) passes out index cards and pens and instructs us to write down our deepest desires as the grey-wigged Professor Murnau (V.N. Von Boom Boom) introduces herself as dead. As the bus noses along, en route to our secret destination, we are treated to video footage of a group of cute kids undergoing a test of their willpower ala the 1972 Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. We also receive marshmallows of our own, which some folks eat immediately, and others save for later.

We wind up on Treasure Island where we encounter the rest of the cast who, according to the script, were mysteriously instructed to show up at a secret location for undisclosed reasons. An unlikely trio, a wealthy businessman, a self-important socialite, and an aging radical, they fuss and squabble, their action framed by a bright string of distant city lights. Gradually they come to realize that they were all part of the original Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, and that the dead professor and the beguiling Assistant J. have brought them back together to “conclude” the experiment. The world, it seems, is divided into “Gobblers” and “Resisters”. The marshmallow still tucked warm in my pocket attests to my abilities in impulse control, but *what does it all mean?*

Written and directed by Patricia Miller, “Sugar High: The Four Marshmallows of the Apocalypse,” heralds Popcorn’s return to the (very) small stage and monthly social calendar. Originator and ringleader Hernan Cortez promises to roll out the bus rides every first Friday of the month, with an emphasis on unconventional performance structure and scenic site-specificity, or what he calls “the diesel-driven processional spirit of adventure.”

“The idea is to be short, sweet, and mobile,” he explains of the hit-and-run style of Popcorn’s “thea-tours”. “Most performance (can be) executed in less than five minutes, seven tops. Basically if you can’t communicate in a short time span, you can’t communicate.” But he emphasizes that almost any artistic discipline can be a part of Popcorn. “If anyone musician, comedian, actor, scientist , cook, burlesque , variety act  has had a hard time finding a stage to perform on, you may find a home here.”

As we pull back up to the EXIT Theatre, left to ponder the concepts communicated to us during our brief sojourn to a parallel universe, I realize I still have my marshmallow and look forward to my reward. Sadly it appears that the reward for not eating my marshmallow early is only the opportunity to eat it late. Fair enough, I suppose. Marshmallows don’t grow on trees. But I’m not entirely sure the experiential portion of the show can be called complete without the possibility to win a second. Maybe next time.

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