J Street was transformed last Thursday when 70 students opened umbrellas and ordered lunch.
Confusion mounted among the unsuspecting diners: Was this a protest? A psychology project? An effort to defy seven years of bad luck?
“We feel a little out of the loop. Nobody quite knows what to think,” freshman Kate Smith said.
The mystery was actually an effort by students in the class Understanding the Theatre, an introductory course for non-theatre majors, to push the boundaries of performance and create a visual spectacle inside J Street.
Inspired by the New York-based group “Improv Everywhere” – which is famous for pantsless subway rides and food court musicals – the class tried to put a GW spin on the group’s “mission to create joy and chaos in public,” professor Brent Stansell said.
The students carried different types of open umbrellas, from standard black ones to those with purple polka dots, as they ordered at the Wendy’s counter or sat in Columbian Square. The performance art aspect of the event was highlighted by the fact that it was held indoors, and on a clear and cloudless day.
Faced with confused onlookers, the students in the class were instructed to merely justify their umbrellas by saying: “It’s raining.”
“We wanted to wake people up and shock them a little bit. I think a lot of people were expecting us to say we were doing it as a demonstration for some kind of charity,” sophomore Kaiya Lyons said. “But it was just raining.”
Once patrons looked up from their sandwiches and sushi, nobody quite knew how to make sense of the sight.
“I’m confused. I honestly have no idea. It must be some kind of movement or protest,” freshman Pranav Sethuraman said.
One J Street employee joked that the umbrellas may have represented a more specific grievance.
“They’re carrying umbrellas because when they get to the cash register, these prices rain down on them. Have you eaten here? It’s expensive,” cashier Howard Everett said.
Before agreeing on the final idea for the performance, class members also suggested turning Kogan Plaza into a beach or Gelman Library into a dance rave.
“We then decided we’d do something in J Street because it’s a very public space with a lot of people in it; we’d get a lot of attention,” said Stansell. “I thought it’d be cool to see all those different umbrellas in a closed space with the sun shining.”
Stansell said although the class project was on a smaller scale than the demonstrations performed by “Improv Everywhere,” the GW community should be ready for more public performances.
“You should always be aware of what potentially is fiction or non-fiction around you. So be on alert,” Stansell said.