TAPS’s ‘For Now’: A theatrical respite from toxic productivity

Dec. 3, 2023, 10:59 p.m.

This weekend, the Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) department delivered an immersive experience with their devised piece, “For Now.” The production was inspired by Jenny Odell’s New York Times bestseller “How to Do Nothing,” a required reading for all first-year students through the COLLEGE program.

Odell’s book serves as a field guide to resisting the attention economy and winning back our lives from capitalist narratives of efficiency. Accordingly, “For Now” encouraged audience members to pause, reflect and reconsider our relationship with intangible moments that often evade measurement.

The performance did not have a continuous plot; rather, it served as a multimedia, gallery-style production unified by themes of productivity, our relationship with time and the pursuit of meaning in an age fixated on constant achievement.

The theatrical journey began as audience members exchanged their tickets for an MP3 player and headphones at the door 20 minutes before the show began. Attendees were invited to wander outside the Harry Elam Theater and perform meditation exercises based on instructions in the MP3. In the courtyard, against the backdrop of violin music, an actor adorned with countless clocks (Baxter Bartlett M.S. ’25) walked around the audience members, already inviting contemplation about time’s relentless march and our struggle to find stillness within it.

Directed by Erika Chong Shuch, a cast of seven actors weaved elements from Odell’s book into the performance, from direct quotes to allusions to Odell’s art practices. One standout moment was “Whatever Will Come,” a poignant song written by performer Rachelle Weiss ’26 and produced by Andrew Shuch. 

Weiss’s musical exploration of her anxieties about the future as an artist within the culture of productivity was both personal and universally resonant. The constant repetition of the phrase “whatever will come” over the three-minute song highlighted the necessity for acceptance of the unknown.

A white panel on a turntable served as a versatile backdrop for the production, enabling the actors to navigate and explore the space in innovative ways. The backdrop was constantly evolving throughout the production: people broke out of hidden doors and windows, the stage lights fell off their hinges and actors even tore off pieces of the set to throw around the stage. 

The actors, primarily dressed in solid black and white jumpsuits, occasionally changed into striking costumes designed by TAPS senior lecturer Becky Bodurtha. This created a fun juxtaposition of uniformity with bursts of vivid visual chaos, such as when actors quite literally embodied beachgoers, flowers and even a snowman.

Some highlights of the night occurred when the cast broke into a chant-like song, repeating “fuck fuck fuck no,” in response to a staged technical glitch. This added an unexpected yet authentic layer to the performance, emphasizing the raw essence of devised theater. 

In a particularly meaningful twist, Margarita Belle Jamero ’24, acting as an influencer on livestream, delivered a tutorial on how to quickly make yourself cry. The tutorial turned into a touching story about her relationship with crying and her mother, adding a tender moment in the fast-paced show. 

Taking place within the context of Stanford’s productivist culture, “For Now” was a compelling narrative that explored the themes of love, space, time and environment. It questioned society’s relentless pursuit of efficiency, urging audiences to value being present in the moment. 

“For Now” was a testament to the power of theater to provoke thought, challenge norms and celebrate the beauty of the creative process. It was a respite from the hustle and a celebration of the essence of a theater artist.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

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