By Julie Shapiro
BATTERY PARK CITY — An interactive performance that conveys the frustration of being trapped in a cubicle is opening this week in the World Financial Center.
Called "The Attendants," the installation features two people stuck in an 8-foot, plexiglass cube, acting out their responses to text messages from the audience. The two actors will wear corporate-looking black suits and will respond only physically, not with words.
"It speaks to the way we live now," said Chance Muehleck, co-founder of The Nerve Tank, which is producing the show. "The way we're connected, and yet the distance that exists with all the technology."
From Thursday through Saturday, the clear cube — which has an open top to allow the actors to breathe — will sit in the World Financial Center's Winter Garden, in the middle of one of the largest office complexes in the city.
"I think people will be intrigued by it," said Debra Simon, artistic director of Arts World Financial Center. "I think they will be puzzled [at first] and then they will be intrigued."
Muehleck hopes the installation will attract tourists and residents in addition to the thousands of office workers who pass through the Winter Garden each day, because the more people interact with the cube, the more interesting it will be.
"The context of the piece is the piece," Muehleck said. "It is informed and changed by the people who interact with it."
Seven actors, who will rotate into the cube in shifts, have been rehearsing for months to improvise responses to the text messages they expect to receive, from the zany to the mundane.
"They might get anything from an abstract question to more of a direction, like, 'Jump up and down,'" Muehleck said. "They're ready for just about anything."
Two flat-screen TVs will display the text messages as they come in, and a live webcam will capture the performance, enabling people from all over the world to text instructions and watch the performers respond. The Nerve Tank will not post risqué or profanity-laced messages, since Muehleck expects children to be in the audience.
In between the improvised sections, the actors will also perform a choreographed piece that includes a modified soundtrack of a conversation between two people.
The Attendants has been performed only once before, at the chashama arts space on E. 42nd Street in 2007.
"I'm most interested in what people bring to it," Muehleck said as rehearsals wound down recently. "I'm hoping people will meet it halfway."
The Attendants will run May 12-14 in the World Financial Center Winter Garden, from noon to 6 p.m. each day. The live feed will be available at www.nervetank.com.