May 15, 1997

Jung Americans: the Collective:Unconscious

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 anything as crunchy 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."

The B-movie-charged Manifestations series is now in its fifth season of full houses starved for the kind of grit, gore, pulp and paranoid plot structures that only the Collective offers in feature length. "Manifestations" are serial cliffhangers that run in monthly episodes for months on end. It is live theater with the look and feel of old movie serials or those Hammond horrors they used to show in the 70's on late night local TV (before the exercise ads took over). Outsized characters driven by global conspiracies or some such dark premise of the "unseen hand" variety. Not your basic black-box showcase for moody method actors. This is ghastly entertainment, and audiences are bubbling like fresh lava for it.

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, ├╝ber-dreddful Ethiopians, trashy Weimar vixens, American bogey-noir sleuths and scumbags, and hordes of mutants, slaves and mechanized legionnaires. Zeppelins and airships abound, with Nautilus-like stage sets, along with model airships wheedling on wires over the audience.

"Manifestations" is thinking theater-goers schmaltz. Each serial is based on a promethean stitch-up of themes that set up the story, the place, and the conceptual precipice over which the audience will be rudely pushed. Revisionist history and science fiction supplied the environment of last season's Roman epic. Fascism, giant insects, and the occult set the tone for the current serial.

Alicia Mikles in Manifestations: War is Cold, 1996

This season's occult mystery is called The Numinous Hand, and it plays its cards a little closer to the chest than past Manifestations. As usual, an unspeakably malefic Lovecraftian force guides the story.

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, aliens, ouija boards, Santeria, psychic friends, and, of course! ... the New York Gypsy prince who shames his family and breaks his mother's heart by becoming a cop.

Each episode of The Numinous Hand runs twice, with a show on the last Friday and Saturday nights of the month, 9PM, $10 at the door. 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 historical pulp, 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 the Collective's premier off-world company, with martial arts and crustacean robotics.

"The Sayanayas" is IFAM's 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 astounding work is performed as Kabuki theater, and narrated out loud by a mellifluous male voice, as an epic creation myth and tale of oppression, rebellion, and fratricide. The story is 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.