Miskatonic University Press


john.cage theatre

“You just happened to be sitting in the right seat.” So true.

Tonight I went to see Cage at Soulpepper. I didn’t know anything about it except it starred Diego Matamoros and had something to do with John Cage, so I couldn’t miss it. It was wonderful.

Seats were set up in two rows in a square around the set in the middle. The set was a very large clear box.

Cage cage.
Cage cage.

On all sides and in the corners were tables with equipment: computers, radios, a violin, a mixing board, and more things I couldn’t see, some of which turned out to be ping pong balls, an abacus and an egg.

Cage displays.
Cage displays.

There was an upright piano with the front taken off, which looked interesting, and it had an empty seat beside it, so I sat there. It was on my right. A man was moving around checking things. Here he is at the violin.

Cage preparation.
Cage preparation.

A test pattern, or something like it, was being projected on displays made up of large index cards with drawings and what I think were John Cage quotes and Zen sayings.

Cage index cards.
Cage index cards.

Three people in grey came in and sat at desks. The show began. The lights went out, then neon bulbs flickered off and on and slowly the stage lit up. A wild seventy minutes began: closely miked sounds of water being poured, ping pong balls bouncing, an egg being whisked, an abacus being shook, and a lot more, all to what seemed to be a very tightly arranged score; Diego Matamoros in a white suit telling us, with increasing entropy, an anecdote (true?) about his childhood; Diego Matamoros being a gorilla in the cage; people running around; smoke; a kettle boiling; hundreds of ping pong balls being poured onto the stage; and much more.

Midway through one of the three, the one who’d been checking things, and later played that very violin, was walking around the cage, taking pictures on his phone of Matamoros inside. He showed some to some audience members on the other side. When he got over to my side, he took a few, then asked me if I’d take a picture of him in front of the cage. “Sure,” I said, and snapped a few. “How about we get a selfie together in front of him?” he asked. I got up (limping a bit because my leg had fallen asleep), smiled, and he took a few. I sat back down.

Cage selfie.  Photograph © Richard Feren (2017).
Cage selfie. Photograph © Richard Feren (2017).

My first thought: I wasn’t expecting that. My second: I trod the boards with Diego Matamoros!

A few seconds later that image was being projected on the displays on all four sides of the stage, on top of the index cards. It’s surprising enough to be pulled into a performance, but it’s even more so when your digitally manipulated face is all around you in a theatre.

My third thought: What a night!

Later Matamoros began moving the cage, spinning it on stage, at one point knocking into the theremin that was across from me, but an audience member grabbed it. The cage got painted. By the end of the show, it looked like this.

Cage cage at end of show.
Cage cage at end of show.

Matamoros made tea and set four small cups out in squares of light. He and the three sat down by them. The displays read 4’ 33”. A triangle sounded and the clock began to tick down, second by second. We all sat in silence. One by one, the four left. The clocked ticked down to 0. The lights slowly came back to normal. We sat, unsure, then eventually began to clap.

A quote from Cage was on the screens:

Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.

Cage quote.
Cage quote.

We clapped for quite a while, but of course after an ending like no one is going to take a bow.

In the lobby I saw the man who’d done the selfie with me and asked if I could get a copy. He said sure, and sent me a copy. I told him what a great show it had been, and asked him to give my congratulations to everyone. He thanked me for pitching in, and said, “You just happened to be sitting in the right seat.” Damn right I did.

When I got home and looked in the program, I saw that man was Richard Feren, who was behind @TOMayorFrod and @WKRPinTO!

I checked my email to look at the photo, and my old friend Andrew Kines had emailed to ask if I’d been to see Cage and maybe had my photo taken during the show. It turns out he was at university with Feren and has known him for decades, and had seen the picture when Feren posted it on Facebook.

This was a night of many coincidences and chance arrangements. This was a John Cage night.

Between the show and getting home, I was on the streetcar. Passing Yonge and King, I saw a woman, panhandling, sitting in the intersection. It was night, she was in dark clothes, sitting on the street, smoking a cigarette and waving an empty coffee cup around. People were walking by. Cars were pulling away to avoid her. I called 911. A woman answered and said something I couldn’t make out, but I knew she was asking which emergency service I needed. “Police.”

“What is the emergency?”

“There is a woman, a panhandler, sitting in the street at the southeast corner of Yonge and King. Not on the sidewalk, in the street.”

“You mean in the roadway, where she might get hit by a car?”


“We’ll send someone right over. Thank you.”

I made it home all right. I hope everyone else did too.

(Credits: the show was created by Diego Matamoros (performer and writer), Richard Feren (composer and sound designer) and Lorenzo Savoini (production designer). Feren took the photo of me and him. He posted it on Facebook, which I gave permission for, and said I’d post it on my site too. He said OK. I hope they don’t mind the other photos.)