Performance Man: Doug Hayko And His Art in Motion
by Kim Carpenter (Encounter Magazine / November/December 2014 / Omaha)
BY DAY HE'S a mild-mannered assistant director learning and development at Omaha's Hyatt hotels. By night and during weekends, though, Doug Hayko is one of the city's most well-known--and perhaps most infamous--performance artists, one who frequently makes people uncomfortable in the most thought-provoking ways.
The 44-year-old became interested in performance art while studying theatre at Creighton University. "It was pretty basic," he remembers, "but I had an affinity for unique performance pieces." He continued his studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he again focused on theatre as well as the history of theatre and its more academic side. "I was interested in techniques that did something to engage the audience in different pieces," he explains, "and I was really interested in doing and embracing and watching pieces that were fused with societal issues. Here were really profound, engaging issues."
But Hayko found that performing in a university environment was doing so to a limited audience--one who already understood what performance art could deliver intellectually--rather than to the general public, with whom he could more profoundly engage. For that reason, he left graduate school and put performance art on hiatus and instead moved to southern California where he began working for Hyatt.
In 1998, though, Hayko returned to Omaha and in 2005 staged an ambitious adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard at the Bemis Underground. It involved layers upon layers of text, with each audience member taking something different from the experience. That's something Hayko strives for with every performance he gives. "Even though we can't catch it all," he emphasizes, "we all carry away something unique."
Since then, Hayko has offered numerous such experiences, each exploring a situation designed to create provocative encounters, such as East of 72nd: Disrupting the Omaha Landscape in Six Acts (2007), Toxic Lawncare (2010), and Experts at the Museum of Alternative History (2013), each of which represents a small selection of his work. At times, Hayko's performances have been controversial, such as Sickened at the Shelterbelt Theatre in 2008, which featured the artist curled in a fetal or a kneeling position smeared in fake blood while holding a doll.
Controversial or not, each piece has Hayko's inimitable sense of intensity. The artist remarks: "Even if it's a one-time performance, my hope is that it sticks with people and continues conversations long after the piece is over--not the next day, not the next month, but something they recall, and talk about. Isn't that what any artist wants--for art to have legs and continue to be talked about?"
Stage Notes: 'OT 08'
by David Williams (Omaha City Weekly / March 5, 2008 / Omaha)
If monotony can be majestic (and trust me when I say that it can be), "OT 08," Doug Hayko's entry in UNO's "New Ways/New Works Festival," is a work of maddeningly mesmerizing monotony.
Based loosely on Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," Hayko seems to revel in making an audience uncomfortable with the benign banalities of everyday life in this play within a play.
The artist, perhaps best known for his Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts "East of 72nd Street" project last summer, brings his special brand of performance art to the most unlikely of settings, a formal stage.
Painfully slow pacing, usually the ban of any production, is at the hear of a piece that practically lulls us to sleep (one front-row patron succumbed) as we wait for a cast of 12 to be set in motion like automatons who carry out the repetitive actions of daily life in a work that may have you asking "What the heck is this?" before it lures you into a hypnotic trance.
A stage manager (Maria Vacha Pittack is spellbinding) and her motor-mouthed assistant start with a barren stage that slowly becomes populated (oh-so-very-captivating is this slowness) with a host of props and a cadre of 10 actors who line up below the huge video screen that projects text from the Wilder play.
One by one, the stage manager sets them in motion, "Text," she barks, to cue an actor to step forward to read (ad infinitum) a scholarly work on Wilder. "Sleep," she snaps, to cause another to begin an endless loop of stripping, jumping into bed and jumping back up again to dress (repeat, ad infinitum). "Morning Ritual," she commands, as yet another begins to brush her teeth (rinse, repeat ad infinitum).
All the while, the assistant yammers on (ad infinitum) about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches until all 10 of their actors are engaged in perpetual play in a min-numbingly marvelous mélange of motions.
Oh! And just wait for those umbrellas! Mesmerizing! (Note to editor: Please fill the remainder of every page of this issue with the word "mesmerizing"...ad infinitum.)
Disrupt and Destroy: Artist Doug Hayko aims to shatter your schedule
by Sarah Baker (The Reader / October 18, 2007 / Omaha)
Routine is about comfort. Art is about breaking routine.
Doug Hayko's Bemis Underground show East of 72nd is the best example of this that I've seen. It's even worked on me.
I thought I knew what to expect: an installation of a few pieces of work, maybe paintings or photos, and some videos of his happenings, which he's been staging since January all around Omaha. I did see videos, but I didn't see any run-of-the-mill artwork.
Once I left, I found myself pondering the show and what I was gong to say about it. It wasn't simple, nor was it my regular way of going about things. The show broke my routine as a writer.
East of 72nd is subtitled Disrupting the Omaha Landscape in Six Acts. It's Hayko's second turn in the Underground; his first was a reworked production of Anton Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" during the Underground's inaugural season. (This production is one I won't ever forget, and was so disturbing to my younger sister that she got up and left before it ended. That was a first.)
Hayko's aim with this show, co-curated by Sonia Keffer and including performances by many others, is to expose our daily habits and then shatter them. The images of the six staged happenings all depict surprised viewers being ripped from the usual by witnessing something new and unexpected. In this case, it's usually something pretty weird. Their surprised, sometimes serious, sometimes smiling faces are key to the documentation's success.
I won't go through every performance because part of the fun comes through reading about each act while viewing the images, props and videos carefully arranged in the gallery. Act six is probably the most shocking.
"Rage and the Microbus" took place a few weeks ago outside the Bemis. A man driving a tattered white van proceeds toward the Bemis, and another man, armed with a baseball bat, starts banging the van, shattering windows and splattering red paint (which looks like blood) everywhere. The van careens toward the Bemis and the man with the bat opens the driver's side door, pulls out the driver -- a blood-covered Hayko -- and drags him into the Bemis. No one interrupts; no one stops the scene.
The violence plays out and the driver is submissive to it, as is the helpless audience, who has no idea what caused this or what happens to either of the bloody men. Disturbing images of the encounter hang in the gallery next to a bloody shirt, bat and a pile of broken glass sitting in a pool of dried "blood."
The other happening explore equally serious themes: fear of the unknown and terrorism, the art of the short story, the impact of marketing and advertising, movement, dance, performance and protest.
Juxtaposed with the six acts' documentation are three installation pieces of rooms drawn from the lives of three people: a teen-aged boy, a middle-aged man and a retired man. Titled "Rules of Engagement," "Aging" and "Aged," the pieces first threw me for a loop. Were they separate from the exhibit? All employ television sets. Were they a comment on apathy?
These pieces show our routines, employing actors each Saturday to play the role of a teen-aged boy playing video games, a middle-aged man painting a wall and an elderly man writing in a notebook. They show the lives Hayko works to disrupt. And sitting next to his happenings, they make one think about their own routines, their own blindness, their own lack of engagement with the outside world, which Hayko wrote in his show notes, "becoming a backdrop."
On the surface the show seems to be nothing more than videos, photos and a bunch of junk strewn about some rooms. Beneath the surface, themes emerge: loneliness, fear, and mostly of the human condition that allows many of us to put our heads in the sand and ignore what goes on around us. This show illustrates, harshly and clearly, just why that's a bad thing.