The lights dimmed and a man dressed in a black tuxedo entered the room singing “Ave Maria.” Around the room were photos and life-sized images of the same man wearing a wedding dress, and even some of him in underwear.
“This Hour Forward” is an installation of live performance with video, sound and photography. Created and performed by actor, director, theater-maker and teaching artist, Ryan Conarro; the show was presented at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon, Oct. 2 – 4.
Reverberating throughout the show was Ryan Conarro’s story of being gay as it relates to his brother’s wedding. Conarro counted down from 104 to zero during the performance to represent the days between the breakup of his five year relationship to the wedding day of his younger brother.
Shortly after seeing the show for the first time, his brother commented that it enabled him to put himself in his brother’s shoes. “It’s been really good for me and for my family,” Conarro said. “It led to some really great conversations.”
The purpose of “This Hour Forward,” Conarro said, is to pose questions for the audience to consider, rather than provide answers or provoke actions. The 2013 Supreme Court ruling invalidating the Defense Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to legally married gay couples was also featured in the show; the art in the room included newspaper clippings of the repeal.
Wedding magazine covers with Conarro placed conspicuously in the shots in his wedding dress or tuxedo made up more of the artistic static elements of the show. Throughout his performance Conarro changed back and forth from a wedding dress to a tuxedo as he walked among the members of the audience.
Conarro’s presence in the room was both as the solo performer in the show and as an audience member. Sheer curtains held multiple projected images of Conarro with him standing behind them at times mimicking his own life-size video movements.
The mood in the room was one of deep reflection. “It had a meditative quality to it,” Dr. Brian Hainback lead theatre faculty music, dance and theatre arts department Lane Community College said. “It gave you plenty of time to think.”
Despite his personal bias against autobiographical theater, Conarro pushed through his reservations and anxiety to produce the show. As it developed, he incorporated a character into the show, also played by him, to voice the criticism he still feels towards self-indulgent art.
Conarro’s show explores personal questions about identity and divisions of labor that Conarro believes don’t necessarily serve us. He is a proponent of holistic thinking and interdisciplinary art encompassing visual, auditory and kinesthetic elements both static and mobile.
The original five minute version of “This Hour Forward” premiered at the Juneau Arts and Culture Gallery in October 2013. Conarro then developed the concept into an hour-long show giving people the opportunity to view the static elements for thirty minutes prior to his live participation.