Dalton Alexander began performing the moment he stepped into the performance space at SAFEhouse Arts in San Francisco. The audience continued their chatter, loud and irritating, seemingly not knowing that he was the performer.
Shush. Pay attention. Quiet your noise.
Dalton proceeded to painstakingly prepare the space for his performance, checking positioning and looking into the lights–cinematic and intentional–a preview of what was to come. It was evident that everything mattered and was carefully selected and well-planned. Even studying his costume of Dickies, work boots and a denim shirt, thoughts of the traditional laborer (the factory worker, the hardworking American dream) came to mind.
This piece, #whitenoise – A Neologism, is about America’s current political state and our fixation on the news. News stories played from Dalton’s phone. Newscasters speaking of Donald Trump and North Korea played over the speakers. Even people in the crowd were talking about the presidency while Dalton painstakingly readied the stage.
As the murmurs from the crowd mixed with the news video on Dalton’s phone and heightened to true cacophony level, the show really began. An 80s beat flooded in as Dalton strutted around the stage. It was extravagant, sassy, flirty. He was subtly arrogant and carefree.
This dreamy introduction came to an end and Dalton greeted the audience. The section that followed was an exhaustive study in which Dalton used printed tweets, written about his reactions to the superficial world around him, to represent the physical impact of these thoughts and stories. In an intricate exploration, the paper caused Dalton to feel oppressed, exhausted, curious, and hesitant. He attempted to control these thoughts, but did so with difficulty. Ultimately, the stories were unclear and muffled, as if they didn’t matter (as told via a final investigation with one of the pieces of paper).
Then with striking contrast, Dalton engaged with the audience a second time, collecting cassette tapes that we were given out upon arriving at the theater and placing them at random into a portable tape player. Finally, after several failed attempts, he found the one he was looking for to fulfill his needs: “God Bless America.” His expression was full of wonder and reverence, looking proudly to the distance, nodding softly and marching as if in a parade.
With a dramatic lighting shift, Dalton’s emotions slowly fell: he let his head gradually cock to the side, becoming crestfallen, disappointed, and concerned. His marching became faster and more forceful. The result was violent and furious, resonating through his entire body, his jaws shaking with the effort. In the physical explosion and the resolution that came afterwards, Dalton’s remarkable ability was fully witnessed.
The pacing of this piece was excellent, both in delivering the intention and in the physicality. The introduction was lighthearted and fun, followed by audience interaction and experimentation, and concluding with forceful artistry. Rather than slapping the audience in the face with the message from the get-go, Dalton reached that place after gaining trust and admiration. His piece was not only well-crafted, but certainly timely.
The ending may have been uncomfortable for the audience, but it was done with a purpose. We, as people, need discomfort in order to change. We need to face the difficult and dirty things in life, and art such as Dalton Alexander’s #whitenoise holds a mirror to help decipher complicated reactions and the power to convert those reactions into action.