When reading the website blurb for Thought Experiment Production‘s 4’33” in Baghdad, playing as part of the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival, I wasn’t sure what this show actually was. Having seen it, I’m still not quite sure? Something about an “immersive and interactive academic striptease” which is certainly clickbaity enough if you ask me. Intrigued, I went. And then I left slightly baffled.
4’33” in Baghdad is a one-hander featuring Nicolas Royer-Artuso who addresses the audience in a TED Talk fashion. He begins by briefly explaining that “academic striptease” line in the blurb is exactly as advertised. Que music.
Which, thankfully, that ‘striptease’ bit is more tongue and cheek than actually literal. He uses it as breaks between chapters of his talk, rather awkwardly I find, and, again thankfully, there’s nothing remotely close to a full monty.
The actual nature of his talk focuses on a piece of “music” (air quotations necessary) by American composer John Cage entitled 4’33”. 4’33” was a piece composed to be played by any instrument where the musician is instructed NOT to play their instrument for the 4 minute 33 second duration. Yes, John Cage’s 4’33” is entirely silent.
I can only imagine how long it took for this piece to be composed.
The purpose, as Royer-Artuso explains, is for the audience to listen and enjoy the silence. Knowing that silence is never just silent, it is about finding the music in background noises.
Which takes on a whole new meaning when 4’33” is performed in war torn Baghdad, Iraq, where the ‘silence’ is usually filled with the sounds of screams, air raids, guns and explosions.
Ultimately, Royer-Artuso’s talk is filled with sarcasm, puns and humour taking plenty a jab at the notion of avant garde “art” in the face of atrocities and good ole American imperialism, that the audience simply ate right up. This production appeals to the heart and soul of everyone who has ever enjoyed a good political newspaper cartoon.
Royer-Artuso is engaging, once he gets into the flow of his talk and gradually, his little “striptease” interludes become less awkward. I do wish he had a microphone, in the beginning his voice was competing against his background music and losing.
And maybe I’m not the perfect audience member for this particular thought experiment as though I understood the concepts behind his talks, I didn’t laugh nearly as much as everyone else did.
That’s not to say that 4’33” in Baghdad is not a good show. Cause everyone else certainly seemed to enjoy themselves. I’m still slightly baffled.
- 4’33” in Baghdad plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warning: Gunshots.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Friday July 6th, 3:15 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 7:30 pm
- Sunday July 8th, 10:30 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 1:15 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 9:45 pm
- Friday July 13th, 5:45 pm
- Sunday July 15th, 3:30 pm
Photo of Nicolas Royer-Artuso by Ülfet Sevdi