Dan Green, Patrick Daniels, Amy Shapiro, Milo Barasorda, and Christiaan Koop in Manifestations: War is Cold, 1996. From an album by Eva Schicker. Also see my album on the Collective:Unconscious.Jung Americans?
Not exactly. No one who goes to the Lower East Side theater Collective:Unconscious need worry about walking in on a group therapy session or a circle of mandala worshippers or any such crunchy fare as that. "The Collective," as it is more commonly called, may be known for cannibalizing every archetype known to humanity, but its affinity with Jungian psychology is not much more specific than that.
The savagely hypothetical worlds created at the Collective have blown a bit of a black hole in the downtown theater world over the past few years. At least four separate companies have been spawned here, each with its own uniquely "Unconscious" spin on various different genres of theater and performance. Most have branched into other venues beyond the battleship-grey storefront on Ludlow Street.
But the most well-known Collective production to date is undoubtedly the home-based, vat-grown compilation of lurid repertoire that goes under the label "Manifestations."
Say goodbye to room-sized realism as well. The scale of these productions is vast. Last season's serial took place throughout the solar system, in an "alternate universe" in which the Roman Empire never fell. An interplanetary empire is peopled with space age Centurions, Ethiopians, trashy Weimar romantics from 20's Berlin, American 40's-noir sleuths and scumbags and hordes of mutants, slaves and mechanized legionnaires. Zeppelins and airships abound, both as Trecky interiors and as scale models wheedling on wires over the audience.
For all its folly, "Manifestations" is thinking theater-goers schmaltz. Each serial is based on a general theme that sets up the story, the place and the conceptual precipice over which the audience will be rudely pushed. Revisionist history and science fiction were the themes of last season's Roman epic. Fascism and the occult set the stage for the current serial.
Alicia Mikles in Manifestations: War is Cold, 1996
But the twists and turns have been sharpened, and some fairly well rehearsed esoteric jargon thrown in. Not, however, to the exclusion of what salivates the masses. It's all here — Nazi vampires, "The Blitz," Long Island Goth chicks, Ouija, Santeria, psychic friends, and a protagonist New York Gypsy prince who shames his family and breaks his mother's heart by becoming a cop.
Each episode of Manifestations' "The Numinous Hand" runs twice, with a show on the last Friday and Saturday nights of the month, 9PM, $10, at the Collective:Unconscious, 145 Ludlow Street. Run and see it. No matter if you've missed an episode or two. Believe us, you'll catch on.
Milo Barasorda and Christiaan Koop with an alien. Manifestations: War is Cold, 1996. Photo courtesy of Alicia Mikles.
If the Manifestations plays are postmodern in their use of history and pulp culture, the Collective:Unconscious "Sub Group" IFAM (Institute for Aesthetic Modulation) is neo-modern or hypermodern. Or else it is just unfathomably ancient. Stylized, sleek, dorsal-backed, timeless and unworldly, the myth-mongering IFAM is one of the Collective's genuine multi-media performance companies. IFAM makes much of martial arts and crustacean robotics.
"The Sayanayas" is its crowning achievement to date; an "off-world mythological cycle" which premiered last fall at the Soho Arts Festival in a public garden in the East Village. This riveting work is performed as Kabuki theater, narrated as a creation myth and a tale of oppression, rebellion and fratricide, and set in what seems to be either a parallel universe or some incredibly distant galaxy. Too exciting to be called performance art, call it conceptual theater for the Babylon Five generation.
Check out a CNN story on a 1995 IFAM production in Soho, NYC
And this great B-roll of interviews with IFAM members after the event
Visit the Collective Unconscious facebook page
The Sanayayas, IFAM, Lower East Side, May 1998
This story was originally published in 1997 on the Sandbox Magazine website under my byline Medea de Vyse.