“Billy Mullaney is a Minneapolis-based contemporary artist rigorously and empirically intervening in the conventions and practices of spectatorship in the fields of theater, choreography and performance art. Beginning by theorizing models of how audiences watch art based on various representational and aesthetic practices, Billy proposes changes to specific elements in these models, manifesting them in performances intended to push against assumed ontological boundaries of discipline, engagement and aesthetics.” by Samantha Johns

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Billy Mullaney does this thing. The thing he does is that he finds his way into these little spaces, these tiny areas that we can’t [yet] see, just out of reach. He gets to those areas, the ones hiding deep, and once he is there, he kind of… levitates a bit.


Billy Mullaney does this thing where he levitates under the small parts of your flesh/heart/brain/history that you forgot you had. And kind of props them open. Like the way peppermint can do to the tongue. Fresh and prickly.

Billy Mullaney is one of this town’s greatest scientists and greatest artists. He makes it seem like everyone else is asleep at the wheel. Sorry, everyone else. He is Strategic. Clear. Concise. Thoughtful. And Eager. I am thankful for the manner and technique that Mullaney uses when holding art. Never walking around saying, “Look, look here! hey you! look how fresh and prickly I am!” He is subtle and yet fully charged. Kind of…. like… Mr. Rogers.

What does it mean when you stage Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Episode #1718: “Be Yourself, That’s the Best” in 2015, in Minnesota, in a theater? Why does Billy Mullaney do such a thing, how are we to watch it, what are we to take from it? I have a list of thoughts.

#1.  This action is speaking to our time. Someone has staged Mister Rogers. It has now been done. Now, we all live in a world where Mr. Rogers has been set on the theatrical stage. This action is speaking to our time. I am not sure if we can see the time we are in, I have always thought we need to be a few feet away and few years ahead before it can come into focus; Mullaney makes me think otherwise. His work is asking, what is our here and now?  He is asking us to look at how we assume, how we perceive, how we prefer.  By “pushing against assumed ontological boundaries of discipline, engagement and aesthetics” he is proposing a change. The change has something to do what how we are learning to be human beings. I cannot tell you directly. I cannot even try and tell you sideways, all I know is that a new way of being is happening right now, we are breathing in time, and space, and cosmos, and Billy Mullaney is talking to that.

#2. In the traditions of Uncreativity, I will use another’s words to make up my words. “Contemporary art’s job is to wreck whatever came before it. And from the very beginning after the Old Masters, from then on, each generation wrecked that. That something is pretty and beautiful is probably the worst thing that you could say today in contemporary art about something, unless it’s so pretty it’s nauseating. […] Contemporary Art hates you. And it does. It does hate you because you can’t see it. You don’t know the magic trick. You haven’t learned the vocabulary, you haven’t learned the special ways of seeing at something, that changes it.” — John Waters.

#3. Who doesn’t love Mr. Rodgers?

#4. His search for theatricality outside the theatre leads to a peculiar re-discovery of theatricality inside the theatre. During the piece I was really spoken to and it was terrifying. It feels like an ancient practice; being spoken to. Looking at someone in the eyes and honestly talking to them. How Simple. Is this what makes Mr. Rogers magic? And what does it do to attempt this gesture in 2015? Apparently, I recoil. Between the puppets (which have always haunted me) and the leisure tempo we never leave you become overly transfixed; of what I am not sure. I know Fred represents love and kindness and goodness and my wariness of it all ruffled me. When did I become suspicious of gentle kindness? Why is your care frighting me? We can feel it when we stand next to it, its rawness comes across too exposed, we walk away. A comfortable distance now has a screen in the equation. A comfortable distance is a commentary. A comfortable distance. This theatre is not theatre. This theatre is too real. This theatre is too close. Thank you for taking the theatre out of the theatre, and thank you for putting the theatre back into the theatre. I cannot point to what you are trying to do because you are doing it too well. Like a skilled ice skater.

#5. How do you make a copy without making a comment? You don’t, you always make a comment. The evenings counterpart, That’swhatshesaid, looses all it’s everything with its loud voice. When you yell, you lose your voice. Interpretation is always a political act, it is always propaganda, don’t worry Mallaney is not yelling.

Billy, you made me uncomfortable by applying the techniques of comfort from 30 years ago. You showed me what comfort doesn’t look like now. You made me sad about the loss of something. I can taste it, but I can’t name all it’s parts. You theorized models of how audiences watch art based on various representational and aesthetic practices. You proposed changes to specific elements in these models, manifesting them in a performance that pushed against assumed ontological boundaries of discipline, engagement and aesthetics. Thank you.

Thank you for doing that thing where you levitate under the small parts of our flesh/heart/brain/history and prop them open, like the way peppermint can do to the tongue. Fresh and prickly.

Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood & That’swhatshesaid. Presented by Billy Mullaney

Open Eye Figure Theater – 506 E 24th St Minneapolis, MN 55404

August 13-17th, 2015

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