Ten years ago on a freezing snowy January day, Greg Wohead and his then partner visited the home of a traditional Amish couple amongst the cornfields of rural Illinois. Call It a Day, a show that will soon be performed at Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre is about that unlikely encounter and the contemporary cultural reverberations of a conversation between the progressive and the traditional, the liberal and the conservative, the artistic and the practical.
The show explores that remembered conversation in a looped retelling, repeating the idea of the original conversation, attempting to explore the possibility or impossibility of ever really understanding one another across great divides.
Call It a Day is performed by its writer and three other performers who take turns standing in for the four people involved in the original conversation. It unfolds as an exchange that includes linguistic misunderstandings and awkward questions about each other’s lives. Through these repositionings the audience gets a sense of the queer, the plural. Power structures that reinforce divisions in our society are explored while our complicity in their continuation if confronted.
Speaking with with Wales Arts Review, Wohead reflects upon the circumstances that led to the show’s creation:
‘In January 2009 on a freezing snowy day in central Illinois, my then-partner and I visited the home of Samuel and Martha Herschberger, an Amish couple. The memory of that meeting forms the starting point for Call It a Day, a show that explores the possibility or impossibility of ever really making contact with another person, especially someone with a very different view of the world. The Old Order Amish who live in that area of the US exist without electricity, cars or any modern technology. I had encountered the Amish many times growing up whilst visiting family in that area of the country, but never really got to know someone who is Amish or had a conversation with them
‘The show is performed by myself and three other performers. We take turns standing in for everyone involved in the original conversation: the 2009 version of me, my then-partner (Hetty), Samuel and Martha. We then repeat the idea of the original conversation on a loop, injecting ourselves and our ideas into the idea of what the conversation might have been, so that it becomes something quite different to the reality of the original conversation. I like to call the show a live art Amish ‘Groundhog Day’. Repetition and looping is something that, fittingly, recurs over and over in my work. I find myself particularly drawn to exploring memory through repetition. We all go over and over events from our past, always thinking of them in relation to where we are now, who we are now. Sometimes giving them a greater importance than perhaps they seemed to have at the time. There’s a quality of turning a memory over and over in the mind that is present in Call It a Day’
The previous two shows that Wohead has presented at Chapter (where Call It a Day will appear) are The Ted Bundy Project and Comeback Special, and you can see this way of working in those
performances; reconstructing a murder scene in The Ted Bundy Project and reenacting a legendary Elvis TV special in Comeback Special.
‘Call It a Day is a progression of these ideas’ Wohead reflects, ‘only this time I am inviting other people to perform in my memory and to have some agency. The show is semi-improvised so even though I have lead the making of the show, I don’t have total control over what the other performers will do or say. Hopefully this all makes the show a close analogy for what it’s actually like to have a conversation with someone who is in some ways an unknowable mystery. You listen, you respond, you try to assert your own identity and point of view and you allow space for other people’.
‘In reality, the original conversation was interesting, but a little mundane. We talked about the crops Samuel and Martha grew, how many kids they had, and the food they like to make. But in the performance we spin these threads of mundanity into something extraordinary and hopefully meaningful. Something like what happens when we actually do dwell on something from the past—we make it mean something about who we are today. I think we tell people memories from our past in order to communicate something about ourselves. Maybe the actual facts don’t matter as much as a certain quality or essence we want to communicate, but hopefully in this way we can get at something deeper as we try again and again to understand each other.
Greg Wohead is a writer, performer and live artist originally from Texas. He makes theatre performances, one-to-one pieces and audio work. He has shown and developed new work in the
UK and internationally at Battersea Arts Centre, Oval House, Mayfest, Northern Stage, Chapter Arts Centre, Forest Fringe, MC (Amsterdam), Orchard Project (New York), MAKE (Ireland), Bios (Athens), LAX Festival (Los Angeles), Fusebox Festival (Austin) and ArtPower (San Diego). He is an Associate Artist at The Yard and Shoreditch Town Hall.
Call It A Day can be seen at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff on April 6th.