Before their Pilot Show, if you asked any of the members of That’s All There Is — TATI, for short — what their show was about, they would shrug their shoulders and urge you to find out.
For this reason, it was challenging to explain to my roommate why we had to go to a dorm basement on a Friday night in April. “It’s improv! I think!” I told her. I had no expectations in mind — and TATI completely exceeded all of the ones you might associate with the words “experimental” and “theatre.”
After a successful first performance, That’s All There Is, a student-led experimental theatre ensemble, is hosting their second show at the Blackbox Theater in the basement of Ogg Residence Hall on May 7.
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Coming up on their second show, The Nostalgia Show, I still couldn’t quite get a straight answer about what the recently formed ensemble is all about.
“In its purest form, TATI is an eclectic selection of hectic conceptions,” co-founder Isaac Yang said.
In my attempt at an explanation, TATI is a sketch comedy group meets variety show meets long-form improv meets one-act play… you get it, right? It’s a hodgepodge of the best parts of comedic theatre with unexpected turns and sassy social commentary laced throughout.
As an audience member, I took part in a percussive utensil concert, watched a silhouetted strip-tease and received a new seating arrangement based on my Wordle score that day.
Still confused? That’s All There Is is a Neo-Futurist inspired theatre ensemble co-founded by freshmen Carly de la Masa and Isaac Yang and rounded out by “Neos” Annika Hall and Jacob Shipley as well as crew members Palmer Papson and Gavin McGowan.
But, let’s back up — what is Neo-Futurism, anyway? Originated by a collective in Chicago, Neo-Futurism is an experimental style of theater that “seeks truths.”
“It means we are literally trying to get to the root of reality,” Yang said. Still, you wonder, what the hell does that mean? To break it down, Neo-Futurism rests on four tenets.
Tenet one — “We are who we are, we are where we are.” Every Neo plays themselves. There’s no suspension of reality. In the performance, a stage slap is a real slap, a prop fish is a real fish, and the birth control pill Isaac took — well, that’s real too.
Tenet two — speed and brevity. With a large digital clock ticking backwards from 40 minutes, the Neos successfully performed 20 plays in the short amount of time during The Pilot Show. If time runs out before the plays have been performed: “Too bad — the show is over!”
Their next feat is 30 plays in 60 minutes. This setup keeps the energy high (and a little anxious) and is perfect for a Gen-Z audience with a short attention span.
Tenet three — scripted and planned. The four members wrote, directed and workshopped their own plays. Though it seemed like moments were spontaneous or improvised, this scripting makes the fast-paced, sometimes chaotic environment even more impressive.
Tenet four — reliance on chance. This last tenet is what makes TATI such a unique experience. At the end of each play, the actors shout “curtain!” Then, it’s up to audience members to use their “menu” — a list of the 20 plays — and “order” a new play number — AKA shout new number. Audience or actor, no one knows what might come next.
“It’s kind of all bullshit. It’s just us trying to have fun on stage,” de la Masa joked.
And fun they had. As an audience member, I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what ridiculous concept they had next. But it’s not all fun and games with TATI.
“A common misconception for our show is that it’s a comedy show, which kind of works against us in a few aspects,” Yang said.
While the show was mostly humorous with sardonic nods to slacktivism and toxic masculinity, TATI used their stage to talk about more serious issues too. In one play called “R1CE W4R,” the cast took turns pouring out bags of rice, comparing the number of grains poured to the number of lives lost to violent conflicts worldwide. They ended by discussing Ukraine, stating that perhaps “the color of the rice” plays a role in the international tragedy — metaphorizing colorism’s role in the coverage and attention of the Russia-Ukraine war.
But then, “curtain” was called, and the Neos quickly shifted back into their comedic gears. One minute they’re talking politics, the next minute they’re hurling Kraft Singles at each other. With tastefulness and ability to push things to the edge, TATI does it all.
“You kind of go through like a roller coaster of emotions when you watch the show,” de la Masa said, likening the experience to “emotional whiplash.” Yang added that the Neos can experience this whiplash as well.
While TATI isn’t innately a comedy troupe, it helps that the Neos are a group of innately funny people. The ensemble of truth-seekers and story-tellers said they plan to add more serious content to future shows, but they recognize that humor is an important way to connect with their audience and put an optimistic spin on their sometimes dooming subject matter. (The climate crisis is funny with TATI!)
“The weird and the funny is a good envelope to put a deeper message in. It makes it palatable so you’re not being too preachy, but you’re not being too surface level,” Yang said.
In this sentiment, TATI once again hit the nail on the head for their Gen-Z viewers. Nearly an hour and 20 plays later, I walked away feeling like I consumed something worthwhile. Something that made me think… and something that made me think, “what the hell?!”
You can see TATI perform Saturday, May 7 at 7 and 9 p.m. at the Blackbox Theater in Ogg’s basement. Check out TATI on Instagram to learn more about upcoming shows and auditions.