"Welcome to The Lab... No, not THAT Lab!" Drag performer Sabine Jay, decked out in an imposingly ethereal silver headpiece with matching sceptre, greets a room full of attentive young Berliners who have packed into cozy Café Futura on a Wednesday night. The night's nom de guerre, The OTHER Lab, is a cheeky nod to Berghain's infamous subterranean sex club, and, indeed, many of the faces in the crowd can be seen frequenting the various nightlife hotspots the city has to offer – but tonight's Lab invites a different type of experimentation.
The OTHER Lab is one of many new nights being programmed at Neukölln's Café Futura, a self proclaimed "queer performance bar," but the Lab is unique in that it is an invitation for works-in-progress. Founders Sabine Jay and the Marquis de Shade, both members of the increasingly popular drag collective The Real Housewives of Neukölln, conceptualize the evening as a safe space where new performance work can be debuted, or established works can be revamped. Artists of all levels are invited to take part, from amateurs eager to try something new, to seasoned professionals workshopping their latest project.
The night's fare was diverse. Sabine herself opened with a dreamy drag performance, something perhaps expected in a bar environment, but immediately introduced the first part of performance artist Jasminka's three-part audio-visual experiment exploring the internal lives of archetypal, anonymous characters one might find on Berlin's UBahn. Throughout the night, Jasminka would enter in a different costume – an angry young man, a faded former glamour-girl, a bubbly teenager buried in her iPhone – as audience members read a series of cards containing phrases, thoughts and idioms that aligned with or subverted expectations of each correlating character. The effect was participatory and haunting. Between each of the acts, the audience were left wondering when the narrative would complete, and what the simple yet effective transformation would look like. This was perhaps the most innovative experiment in terms of transforming the space, but the other performances were no less arresting: Anthony De Bono's hypnotic punk set – seductively lethargic lyrics read from a notebook over original music – roused the room to a frenzy, and Marios Gavrilis and Catalin Jugavro both performed and reworked existing monologues from dramatic texts with intimate care.
The OTHER Lab embodies the merging of creative and social space. It isn't just a performance series – it is an invitation to collaborate. It is a chance for artists to introduce developing work to a receptive audience, and to encourage and inspire one another to keep building and striving. Even the DIY aspect of the night provides a chance for inspiration. At one point in the evening, one of the artists mentioned something about waiting for a proper performance light. The sound-board operator, another of The Real Housewives of Neukölln tribe, chimed in – "You want to talk about performance lighting? When we started the Housewives, we had nothing. We were performing in dusty warehouses and had to bring lights, sound, costumes... everything." And as the night progressed, the artists all presented their own inventive theatrical solutions to the limitations presented.
There are performance nights popping up all over the city, but nothing quite like The OTHER Lab. With its focus on collaboration, experimentation and embracing potential failure, the lab seeks to foster the growth of new work and to strengthen a sense of community between likeminded artists and patrons. Beyond the warm sense of an open stage, the hosts are literally inviting the audience to commune with them. A small donation at the beginning of the evening supplied each audience member with a stamp that would allow them free entry to a club that evening. In a sense, The OTHER Lab is an invitation to listen, share and connect before the party. Because, no, this isn't THAT lab, but... we will party. This is Berlin after all.
The OTHER Lab is hosted every other Wednesday at Café Futuro (Pannierstraße 12, 12047 Berlin)