By Daniel McCloskey
The Waffle Shop is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants live variety talk show and restaurant. It opened in October of 2008 as a two semester social experiment for an art class at Carnegie Mellon University.
Two years after the experiment was scheduled to end, I found myself on the smallish stage tag-team ad-libbing a fantasy story with the local writer and zinester Artnoose while a man pantomimed our tale in a full gorilla costume.Carnegie Mellon professors joke that the Waffle Shop was made to prepare art students for working in the food industry post graduation, but the project is 50 percent food at most. The employees encourage the audience/customers to make their own talk show or performance, and often get onstage themselves. All the while a small crew is bustling around what might be called the “tech nook” between the stage and kitchen. The folks changing levels, cutting video, and clipping mics are as busy as the servers. They’re the ones maintaining the link between the physical shop and waffleshop.org where the performances stream as they happen in real life.
Outside artists who are attracted by the odd format and captive audience sometimes take it upon themselves to bring something different or special to the shop, which is why my friend Gabe McMorland (the guy sweating in a gorilla suit) invited me and Artnoose to bring an hour of off the cuff fiction to the middle of the late morning waffle rush.
Teresa Foley is another local artist who felt compelled to orchestrate a special performance along with her very shy ventriloquist’s dummy, Hector. Foley used the Waffle Shop’s pre-wired setup to participate in chat roulette with her dummy and the audience of the Waffle Shop. Foley and Hector’s performance in June was part of a larger project called “The Hector Can’t Talk Talk Show,” which was presented as part of the 2011 Pittsburgh Biennial at the Andy Warhol Museum in September.
The Waffle Shop project blurs the line between performer and audience member, between web presence and physical presence, and ultimately re-imagines what a performance venue can be.
Visit www.waffleshop.org for more information and a schedule of events and performances.
The Waffle Shop
124 South Highland Avenue
Hours: Fri – Sat Nights 11 pm – 3 am; Sat and Sun Days 10 am – 2 pm