• redtheater.org
  • The Fourth Wall: A Red Theater Documentary

It’s been a quarter century since I set out to change the art world. Teaming up with a small group of like-minded students from Northwestern University’s performance studies department, I dedicated myself to creating a lifetime of nonlinear, non-narrative performance pieces that would beautiful, enigmatic, and occasionally brutal (in one of our pieces, a man slapped himself on the face—hard—with a pair of raw steaks for an hour). We’d build work around the most dire, pressing social issues we could think of. We were serious artists, and on the nights our internationally renowned troupe appeared in Chicago, the city’s traffic would be gridlocked.

Five years later, saddled with hypertension, angioneurotic edema, so-so work, and generalized exhaustion, I said to hell with it.

I’ve never been nostalgic for those heady, absurd days until I saw The Fourth Wall: A Red Theater Documentary. It chronicles the exuberant travails of a performance collective forming at University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2008 and nearly imploding within a year. Their efforts to create visceral, presentational, achingly autobiographical theater pieces are met with increasing enthusiasm from the student body and increasing consternation from the faculty. By the time they close their third show, Obscenity. Nudity. Honesty. Poop., they’re banned from the school. According to the troupe’s cofounder Aaron Sawyer, who directs the film, he was also banned from saying the words “red theater” on campus.