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When my therapist recommended Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself on Hulu, all she said was “it’s hard to explain, you just have to see it.” I have watched this special twice now, and both times have left me shocked and in awe.
Created and written by the enigmatic interdisciplinary performance artist Derek DelGaudio, directed by Frank Oz, and produced by Stephen Colbert, In & Of Itself is an allegory of a man fighting to see through the illusion of his own identity, only to find out that identity itself is an illusion. I am still trying to make sense of this show, and how to classify it, but I do know that the emotional impact of what transpired on that stage goes far beyond sleight-of-hand.
The soft-spoken DelGaugdio has the unassuming demeanor of a traveler who has visited the far ends of the Earth. He captivates the audience with storytelling, magic, existential philosophy, and relational aesthetics to explore the complexities and contradictions of identity. Though the show has DelGaudio’s name on it, to call this a one-man show would be an understatement. The show’s trajectory and merit depend on audience participation, helping create a truly shared, and evocative, experience.
DelGaudio has described In & Of Itself as a theatrical existential crisis; a notion that deeply resonates with me, a mixed-race, racially ambiguous American, who was born in The Philippines and grew up in South Korea and Germany. Growing up, I searched for labels, literally asking my parents what I was, desperately trying to make sense of a self that felt foreign to me. Despite my efforts, this unsettling feeling always crept back into my psyche.
This dilemma worsened when I left Germany to attend college in Spain and Boston. Conversations about my life, specifically where I am from, were often met with confusion, dismissal, or frustration. I remember a classmate who was flabbergasted when I didn’t know an American commercial she referenced. An ex-partner denounced my support for Germany during the 2014 World Cup, as well as my support for the Seahawks (my dad is from Washington State), like I didn’t earn or deserve my fandom.
My ethnic ambiguity has led people to question, and correct, how I identify myself. After revealing that I am half Asian, I have been told on several occasions, with absolute assuredness, that I am white, period. Having your identity continuously questioned, or dismissed, negatively affects your mental health. We have been socialized to slap labels on people because that is the easiest way to comprehend who they are. I used to think that simplifying how I identified myself would make it easier to navigate the world, and my place in it, but instead it just further reduced who I am.
Defined by what you’ll never see
The idea of “being seen” permeates our society, with phrases like “I see” being a synonym for “I understand.” But what does it actually mean, and feel like, to be seen? “True identity is that which exists within one’s heart, and is seen by another,” DelGaudio says.
There are extraordinary moments on this theme that provoke a surprising emotional response in me. I understand the power of these segments and feel a visceral connection to the audience members’ emotional reactions. To be unsure of who you are, or to be denied who you are, is painful, and these moments prove that being seen in a way that matches how you see yourself is actually a rare experience; I know it is for me. I had become content with my inner conflict, comfortable with my ambiguity, and downplayed my experience because that was the easiest thing to do. In & Of Itself reassures me that thnking was a mistake.
When I see a magic trick, I’m not the type of person who goes home, Googles it, and tries to determine how it was done. The unknown and unseen is part of the experience, and why would you want to ruin that? I will never fully understand how DelGaudio pulls off what he does on that stage, in the same way that we can never fully know or understand other people, or their experiences. As DelGaudio puts it, “I am not defined by what you see. I am also defined by the things you will never see. We all are.” In & Of Itself is a theatrical contradiction that illuminates the shared identities, and experiences, that connect us. The show cannot be classified as just one thing, but neither can we.
Image description: Derek DelGaudio, a white man wearing a stylish brown suit, poses on a ladder that leans against a wall of weathered wooden boards. The wall has six glass windows in it, each opening on a miniature scene or object in a mini diorama, like the scales of justice, a human figure holding a handgun, and tiny shelves full of filed papers.
What, When, Where
Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself is available to watch on Hulu.
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