Watchface: The Spring ’87 Collection, La MaMa, NYC April/May 1987
Additional performances: May 1987 – Tweed Ensemble Fourth Annual New Works Festival, Teatro La Terraza, Charas, NYC September 1987 – Fringe Festival, Oranges/Sardines, Los Angeles, CA October 1987 – Village Gate, NYC (excerpt) November 1987 – Barnard College, NYC (excerpt) December 1987 – ACT UP Benefit, Siberia, NYC (excerpt) December 1987 – Nuclear Waste Benefit, Brooklyn, NY (excerpt) February 1988 – Get Down!, PS 122 Benefit, NYC (excerpt) March 1988 – Smith College, Northampton, MA (excerpt) March 1988 – Avant-Garde-Arama, PS 122, NYC (excerpt) September 1988 – The Bessies, New York Dance and Performance Awards, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY (excerpt) January 1989 – Watchface: 2½ x 5, First Street Playhouse, Ithaca, NY (excerpts) February 1989 – Watchface: 2½ x 5, Galerie SAW Gallery, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (excerpts) Dates unknown: The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, NYC (excerpt) Barney’s Department Stores, NYC, Dallas, and Chicago (excerpt)
New York New York
Watchface: The Spring ’87 Collection brought the seven members of Watchface – Chazz
Dean, Kurt Fulton, Kim X Knowlton, Melanie Monios, Iris Rose, James Siena, and Maggie Siena – together for the first time within a repertory format. La MaMa had asked the group to open a new performance space within their East Fourth Street complex and later offered the group two weekends. Ultimately, the run would present three different works on the three nights of each weekend – a total of nine shows. Three of the performances were revivals and six were premieres. There was a consensus within the group to create an original piece with all of its members for this engagement. House of Jahnke, the show that brought the seven together in a performance for the first time, was among the revivals. The new work that would include all of Watchface for a second time was titled Septaphonic*.
La MaMa flyer
La MaMa card
Septaphonic was the next logical step in the progression of Chazz and James’ popular club
show Stereotype. Stereotype had already morphed from the two original players to four in
Stereotype in Quad with the addition of Melanie and Iris. James, being an original
performer in both predecessors, led the seven-member version for the dates at La MaMa.
With subsequent input from the other members, it eventually became a full group effort.
The origins of Stereotype came from both 1984: The Future Repeats Itself and Boys Will Be
Men. Small segments from those shows, made up of repeating rhythmic units of movement
and text – the Remblem – evolved into performances of multiple sections based on various
subjects (for a description of the techniques in green, see METHOD ). As the title Stereotype
implied, each section presented both factual and fictional associations of its selected theme.
The high energy and humor of the vignettes added to their positive reception, especially for
club dates where these attributes were essential.
After exploiting various topics, such as fathers in Boys Will Be Men, artists, police, and the
broader themes of service and religion in Stereotype and Quad, James’ first proposal for the
new show was to use the Remblem technique as the building block in a purely abstract
presentation. James conceived the piece as a song with its own accompanying dance. He
first asked the group to create Remblems with a musical instrument in mind, with the vocal
mimicking the instrument and the movement non-representational, inspired by only the
vocal sound. As with the previous shows, the rhythmic units were performed to a 4/4 beat.
Aba-aba-ow-a-ow-a-ow (Jew’s harp)
For the next collection of Remblems, James invited the men to create several versions with a
masculine tone, again with the abstract vocals and movement. He requested the same of
the women, but with a “high pitch” and “light movement,” according to Melanie’s show
notebook. James next took these various sound and movement units and arranged his
composition. Blending and repeating the diverse sounds, he created melodies and
harmonies with opposing beats and accents. The first half was composed of the instrument
inspired elements while the second half had the men in unison, and in contrast to the four
women, all performing their gender appropriate Remblems. Since this new piece used the
same technique as both Stereotype shows, but without the layer of subject matter, James
gave it the simple name of Structure. Structure chart
For the premiere at La MaMa, Septaphonic was made up of three sections. Structure, the first,
was followed by a longer, more contemplative piece named Memory. With Iris assisting
James, Memory became a unique vision, without utilizing the reliable Remblem.
The first step was to collect the memories that would be included in the performance. James
and Iris asked the other members to submit a descriptive line or two for their earliest memories, memories of school, memories of love, and memories of home. A second assignment was to write two vivid memories in a more substantial manner. Next were collective memories: each member described their personal experience of the Kennedy assassination, the first manned moon landing, Nixon’s resignation, and the day the space shuttle blew up. Finally, short-term, mundane memories, such as “Where did I put my keys?”, were also solicited.
Then came the chore of selecting what memories to use from all of the materials presented,
Memory submissions as well as putting them into a scripted form. The method that Iris and
James used to organize the numerous memories also established the choreography of the
piece. The first element set was the opening positions: all seven sitting in a line of chairs
across the back of the stage, facing the audience. The short-term memory lines were most
often spoken in the seated position, recited individually or in unison with others and acted as
segues between the longer and more personal memories. The briefer memories were
narrated standing while performing an Emblem inspired by that remembrance. Each
performer’s chosen vivid memory became a solo. Its movements, which again came from
Emblems, highlighted various elements of each story and were performed in the open area
of the stage in front of the seated members. samples of vivid memories For the collective
memories, the introductory line was divided into seven pieces; each member stood when
they spoke their portion. As each of the seven took turns revealing what they were doing
and/or feeling when they heard that the particular event had happened, all performed a
repeating cycle of simple actions, known to Watchface as Walter Kendal Fives, based on
those recollections. partial Memory script
The third and final section of the premiere performance was representative of the style of the
previous Stereotype and Quad shows. By a group decision, the theme of the piece became
“danger.” This topic, with its potential to be foreboding, was perfect for the sardonic humor
of the group. Danger consisted only of Remblems with the exception of a brief introduction
and closing. The opening was comprised of static poses representing a list of dangerous
situations or places. As each pose was struck by all of the performers, they recited the name
of the danger. At the piece’s conclusion, these same postures were repeated at a much
faster tempo, with each accompanied only by a horrified scream. For the ending tableau,
they held the final pose and emitted the loudest and longest scream. A partial list of the
After a collection of ironic and appropriately dangerous phrases was gathered, they were
redistributed for the rhythmic movement to be added. Again James organized these units
into the final order for performance. Examples of Danger phrases:
My insurance company? Why?
Cover me, Brad, I’m goin’ in!
Dear God, unplug the TV set – take off your metal bracelets!
Want some candy, little girl? Heh, heh…heh.
Danger! Poison! Avoid contact with mucus membranes.
The Emblem, from which the Remblem came, interpreted a word or idea into its most
accurate and succinct physical movement. More often than not, the physical expression of
the idea was an abstract representation. The Remblem, in contrast, was matched with a
spoken non-abstract rhythmic phrase or piece of dialogue. The movement matched the
text with gestures that suggested the essence of the character, action, or idea in the briefest,
most efficient way, a technique Watchface members sometimes referred to as “anti-mime.”
For “Want some candy, little girl? Heh, heh…heh,” for example, the first half of the line was
said with the performers standing to the side with their arms wrapped around their torsos, as if
keeping a trench coat tightly closed. During the second half of the line, the downstage arm
opened slightly for each of the four beats of the wicked laugh, gradually exposing the dirty
old man within. For irony, this action was performed only by the women.
After the La MaMa performances in April of 1987, the three original sections of Septaphonic
were presented together only twice more, at the Tweed Ensemble Fourth Annual New Works
Festival Tweed postcard the following month and as part of the Fringe Festival in Los Angeles
later that fall.
Fringe Festival calendar cover and listing
As was true with the earlier Stereotypes, the individual sections were perfect for clubs,
reviews, and benefits. The balance of 1987 and the start of 1988 saw many of these gigs,
including opening for the band They Might Be Giants at The Village Gate in the West Village.
An invitation was extended to the group to perform at a benefit for the performance space
PS 122 that February. The benefit, Get Down!, spanned three weekend nights with an early
and a late show. Get Down! program Each of the six programs included a different group of 8
to 12 very impressive acts from the sphere of music (Lenny Picket, David Van Tieghem, They
Might Be Giants), performance (John Kelly, Steve Buscemi and Mark Boone Junior, Karen
Finley) and dance (Mark Morris, Ann Carlson, Doug Varone). The invitation motivated the
group to create a brand new section for Septaphonic, in spite of having only a few weeks’
notice. This time Kurt directed with James assisting. The theme chosen was New York City,
and the show would be made from personal stories and observations of their adopted
For New York New York, Kurt sent the members out on a veritable scavenger hunt for
situations, characters, and overheard bits of conversations, then assembled what they
collected into the new work. Once again, the Remblem was the primary technique, though
not the exclusive method, in building the show. Remblem assignments With the cast
mimicking the walks of characters they viewed on the streets, Kurt plotted paths that created
various formations. He also staged “intersections” from movements based on observed
street interactions. They resembled a square dance do-si-do, as a duo circled each other
performing the abstracted moves. Another oddity was a seven-piece Frankenstein, instead
of the usual four, for New York City itself. In place of one face, sound, and hand/arm
movement, there were two of each and a single body component. Each compiled his or her
own version, and when performed simultaneously, it conveyed the anarchic, noisy,
unpredictable nature of the city. These all acted as interludes between the groups of
Remblems. For a fourth break, as other stories were narrated, a repeating list of non-verbal
Emblems representing Chaotic, Stimulation, Isolation, and Home were performed.
partial New York New York script
As with Memory, each person had a brief solo section. Kurt recited several lists made up of
Have A Donut Coffee Shop
Eat A Donut To Go
Brew N’ Burger
Steak N’ Burger
Brew N’ Steak N’ Burger
Falafal N’ Burger
Bagel Store and More
Dizzy Izzy’s New York Bagels
Maggie’s solo was the plea of a subway performer she encountered frequently:
On the downtown #6 train, a young man in a rainbow colored afro begins to make the
worst and loudest noises possible on a saxophone. Most of the riders on the crowded
car leave. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am from outer space. I would like to return, but
I am out of gas. In return for your kindness, I will take Ronald Reagan with me. And
remember, when you ride with me, you always get a seat.”
The performance was a bit rough, since the limited rehearsals for New York New York were
squeezed in between those for their upcoming engagement of Sin, but the response from the
PS 122 audience was very enthusiastic.
That evening, Mark Russell, PS 122’s artistic director, asked Watchface to host the next
month’s Avant-Garde-Arama. A mainstay of PS 122’s programming that appeared quarterly,
the evening was a mini-festival of short performances by approximately a dozen artists in
dance, music, film, theater, and multimedia performance and installations. It was the hosts’
job to introduce the acts with very brief performances of their own. During this very busy
time of rehearsals and performances, the group mapped an outline for their hosting duties
on a long drive back to New York after an engagement at Smith College in Northampton,
Massachusetts. Short excerpts from Septaphonic were included in the lineup along with
several original vignettes appropriate to the acts they were about to present.
Several months later Watchface was asked to perform at The Bessies. A Bessie, named in
honor of revered dance teacher and promoter Bessie Schoenberg, was an award/
scholarship given out to members of the independent dance and performance community
for “exceptional work.” They had been established only a few years before, in 1983, by
David White, the Executive Director of Dance Theater Workshop. A large selection
committee drawn from this community chose those under consideration for an award and,
ultimately, the winners. The evening not only consisted of award presentations in the fields of
choreography, performance, music composition, and visual design, but various performers
were also highlighted. The Bessies program The event was held at the Brooklyn Academy of
Music in their main venue, the Howard Gillman Opera House. After the PS 122 response and
that of other audiences since its premiere, the group decided to present New York New York,
hoping it would receive as good a reaction from The Bessies’ audience. They also felt the
work and its anthropological method of gathering and assembling reflected a major aspect
of the group’s aesthetic.
Along with the anticipation of performing on the stage of the opera house before this select
audience, other feelings were being expressed among the seven. The fact that many past
performers at The Bessies had received an award the same evening, and that Watchface
might also, was one supposition, but others were not as optimistic. There was some concern
about performing certain elements within the piece. It depicted homeless people and New
York citizens of minority ethnicities, and the audience was not going to be their usual,
accepting downtown crowd. After some discussion, the majority felt the choices within the
piece were valid and representative of Watchface.
On the evening of September 15, the group took their place on stage as the third
performance, placed between assorted speeches and awards. Other performers that night
were David Gordon, Valda Setterfield, Ann Carlson, and choreography by Bill T. Jones and
Stephanie Skura. New York New York started with Iris, who was very pregnant at the time
and not able to perform the choreography, walking across the stage pushing a baby stroller.
She stopped just before entering the wings, turned toward the audience, and set the tempo
of the piece by chanting “New York New York.” The performance began with an excited
and nervous energy. The first Remblem in the piece was an unintentional wink at this
I mean this is New York,
Think of all the foundations,
Think of all the resources,
Think of all the money!
Another Remblem, based on a ubiquitous homeless woman who begged for food in a high
squeaky voice, always received a response of recognition. When the portrayal of this
woman was repeated, a few whistles and hisses could be heard. As the piece approached
its climax, the Remblem was repeated twice more by all seven in unison. The disapproving
noises were clearly audible at this point. The conclusion was met with overwhelmingly
positive applause, but as it abated, the group was conflicted about what had just occurred
on stage. As the directors, Kurt and James accepted that this reaction had always been a
possibility and in some ways was an indication of its success. The found elements had been
taken from their usual settings, where they blended in or could be ignored, but when they
were presented within the piece, they were seen anew. The group was not responsible for
the audience’s reaction; they knew the character was not included for a laugh, but because
she existed on the streets of New York. The woman had made a strong impression on
Melanie, who saw her nearly every day and created the Emblem. Disturbed about how the
audience had responded, several of the members left the event and did not attend the
following reception. Kurt, who stayed for the festivities, recalls overhearing a conversation
led by a choreographer in current favor with critics. “He was saying it was exploitative to be
making fun of the homeless and hungry. I responded that including the woman was part of
a true documentation of the city, which was unconvincing to him. I added that her presence
exposed homelessness and did not exploit it. All of the other comments I recall that evening
were congratulatory.” A thank you letter sent to the group by David White, who also
produced the event, included his handwritten line, “Thanks for the evening’s most
‘provocative’ performance.” thank you letter
No part of Septaphonic was presented again until the following year. In the first months of
1989, five of the seven members of Watchface traveled to Ithaca, New York, and to Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada, for performance commitments. James and Iris were busy with their new
son, born in December, and did not participate. Two sections from Septaphonic, Structure
and Danger, opened the programs. Chazz and Melanie performed MissMister, and Life and
Times, which for this trip included Kim, Kurt, and Maggie. The evening was named,
appropriately, Watchface: 2½ x 5.
First Street Playhouse program
Galerie SAW Gallery program
Months later, Septaphonic showed up in the windows of the trendy clothing store Barney’s.
Simon Doonan, Barney’s creative director, asked Watchface to perform in their windows for a
reception celebrating a significant anniversary of the retail clothing store’s founding. That
night, their store windows represented various aspects of New York City’s cultural life. Simon
chose Watchface to embody downtown performance. Chazz, Kim, and Kurt performed
Danger over and over again, with short breaks, for the two hours that the windows were open
to Barney’s guests and the public. Simon called upon the performers twice more, with
Melanie substituting for Kim, for the store’s grand openings in Dallas and Chicago, when they
again presented their living New York City windows. The brief performance obligations
made for short, fun trips out of New York with all expenses paid.
Barney’s New York window
*In printed materials the show was written both Septaphonic and Septophonic. The exact
spelling of this made-up word was never established.