This past Sunday, Kate Eberstadt (CC ’14) performed with Lady Gaga in “Applause,” directed by Bob Wilson. After working with Wilson on avant garde theater at the Watermill Center International Program, she was invited to work on Gaga’s opening performance. Experimental art enthusiast Julia Goodman reports.
How long have you been acting?
I’ve technically been acting since 7th grade in school productions. I’ve been in two plays at Columbia, both my sophomore year – ‘night, Mother in which I had the chance to work opposite the incredibly talented Morgaine Gooding-Silverwood (CC ’14), and The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, which also had an amazing cast and crew. I also acted in a short film, Just Talk, written by Ema O’Connor (CC ’14).
When did you start doing performance art?
Performance art as a medium wasn’t really on my radar until this summer. I applied to the Watermill Center as a composer and a writer, actually. While I was there, I was cast in a staging of La Traviata and was very lucky to have gotten the chance to train with Bob for that. Being surrounded by other performers from around the world and learning from Marina Abramović this summer opened my eyes up to the incredible potential within performance art. I was honored (and surprised) when Bob asked me to be a part of this Lady Gaga performance.
Was Lady Gaga’s performance the most unusual you’ve been a part of?
It’s a tie between the VMAs and being head-to-toe body painted for the annual Watermill Center Benefit this summer. My friend Walter and I were installed as a live art piece called “Magnolias” by body paint artist Trina Merry. We were put right in the front of the gala where the paparazzi and 1200+ guests (including Winona Ryder, Hugh Jackman, Lady Gaga, etc.) were passing through. I had never seen so many camera lenses before, and the excitement of it all plus the endurance of standing completely still for two hours caused me to faint. Said faint embarrassingly made the Wall Street Journal – but luckily enough for me, considering Bob Wilson’s avant-garde approach and Walter’s quick reflexes, most guests just thought that it was an intentional part of the act – “performance art.” (So I guess the first time Lady Gaga saw me, I was naked.)
How long did you have to rehearse? Was it difficult to do all of those costume transitions onstage?
I was in 12-hour rehearsals with Lady Gaga and her team for most of the week leading up to the VMAs. Most of those nights, I watched her rehearse; she was consulting with Bob and our team on details and conceptual ideas. Luckily, I was not responsible for the costume changes. Richie (Gaga’s choreographer) is an incredible artist. They were working up to the last minute on making all of those transitions smooth.
What was Lady Gaga like backstage?
I was so impressed by Lady Gaga as a person. She was professional, kind, and appreciative towards everyone who was working with her. Unlike some artists in her position, LG is 100% involved in all of her creative decisions—it was amazing to see the kinds of ideas she could come up with on the spot. She has a beautiful mind, and a rare social grace.
What is Bob Wilson like as a director? What’s the best piece of advice he’s given you?
I’ve never met someone like Bob Wilson before in my life – he is at once an artist, director, entrepreneur, producer, actor, dancer, architect, and truly inspiring mentor. Bob completely changed the way that I view art, and it’s hard for me to put into words everything that I’ve learned from watching him in his element this summer. The most important thing that he taught me in terms of performance was how to stand on stage. There are ways to stand that command attention, that allow you to radiate, or that make you disappear. He taught me to be aware of the space behind the body as well as in the front, how to use your body as an artistic medium, how to just exist in front of another pair of eyes. But beyond performance, he taught me the importance of diligence through example. There is no way that Bob would be able to produce as many projects around the world as he does without such an incredible work ethic, and it shows in everything he does.
Will Lady Gaga die if we stop clapping?
Let’s not risk it!