Second Place

performance and sound installation


"The world would be a better place if we were all more like Charlie Levin. SecondPlace, conceived by Levin and created and performed by her with Natalie Brewster Nguyen, inquires into the mythic and philosophical roots of contemporary dislocation. A voiceover informs us about the plight of refugees, the etymology of 'hegira,' and revisionist readings of Yahweh’s 'I am that I am.' Meanwhile, Levin and Nguyen, like nymphs out of Kafka, sport festoons of bureaucratic paperwork and interrupt the flow of information with fractured questioning and fragmentary dialogue. The performance’s good intentions are relentless. Even its most striking moments, when the performers invite audience members into their space or confront them with shifting configurations of Levin’s remarkable painted cabinets, never push beyond the limits of polite engagement. I left feeling like I’d visited a more advanced culture, where complex and difficult issues could be meditated upon in an atmosphere of mutual respect, and where intolerance is the only form of sin. Especially on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, few messages could be more timely. So why, when I got home, did I rush for my copy of 'Appetite for Destruction?'"


— John Beer, New City Chicago


Second Place describes the dislocated space between there and here and the momentum required to carry us through change. Using the hero's journey as a metaphor for people undergoing migration and change at large, the script weaves together a variety of texts, including true migration stories, scientific forces of motion, rules of navigation, myths, fairy tales, and other stories. This unique, non-linear text explores the parallels between all travels into the unknown ... and the dislocation, courage, and change involved in the journey. 

Audio samples and a copy of the script are available upon request.




It is always Sunday. Here. In my country. The country between the mirrors. There is no map for its borders are always shifting.  You can only enter it sideways and by looking the other way.  You have to run headlong into the sea or jump from a building and not hit the ground.  You must run for miles until the last familiar tree is long past.  It is always ten minutes beyond where you thought you were lost.

There are many citizens here.  But we don’t all know each other’s names and only run across each other by chance.  Except in the wells where thousands of us all live together for a moment.  Except the moment lasts a lifetime and children are born and die.

Sit for a while and rest.

We take what has been left behind and build houses and statues. Memorials to the Migrant King and The Woman Who Offered Soup and The People Who Died in the Crossing.  We have been left behind by the sea of time pulling the nations away from us.  We couldn’t run fast enough to keep up.

Sit for a while and rest.

I am afraid if I stop moving I will miss the tides of the border patrol.  If I stop the line may pass over me leaving me caught in another country.  A country on the other side of the mirror.  A country with stamps and bricks.  We have paper and rags.  You have stamps.  A paper without a stamp is squares and circles.  A country with paper but no stamp and you need a stamp to get to the other side of the mirror.  Here … take this (handing an envelope).  Mail this to me so I can find my way home …

There is a country between the customs officials, between here and there. It is a land of international terminals and customs officials.  It is hundreds of miles of temporary dwellings inhabited for years on end.  It is people together and people alone and people alone together.

So if I am caught in an infinite gap between the last moment and the next, what is to propel me across the border?  If each moment is truly separate from the ones around it, then there is no forward motion of time.  And yet I am exiled from both past and future.  Is probability enough?  How did leaving home turn into an existential disaster?  I am what I believe, I am what I do, but I am is still only about this moment, not the next.  --- [split and record with a different voice? ] ---So, if Descartes believed that as long as he continued to think he continued to exist, how does he account for the ability to continue?  I am.  (Blink)  I am.  (Blink) I ...  A crisis of faith.  Is this nihilism?  Sartre tells us we have the ability to choose to continue to exist.  And we repeat that choosing in each and every moment.  So, we move to the next moment by will of choosing to in this one.  So I can get out of this if I believe I can.

— excerpt from SecondPlace 



Natalie Brewster Nguyen and Charlie Levin, Athenaeum, 2004


Conceived by Charlie Levin
Created by Charlie Levin and Natalie Brewster Nguyen


PAC/Edge Festival, Athenaeum / Performing Arts Chicago / 2004

Staging by Natalie Brewster Nguyen
Performed by Charlie Levin and Natalie Brewster Nguyen

Nilofer Ahsan
Hilary Mac Austin
Mo Burroughs
Tina M Howell
Tanera Marshall
Lisa Tejero

Natalie Brewster Nguyen and Christine Heinisch

Sound Engineer: 
Monica Ryan

Recipient of Experimental Sound Studio Grant / 2005 / with sound artist Monica Ryan

Nilofer Ahsan
Malavika Banerjee
Lessa Bouchard
Maureen Burroughs
Tina M Howell
Precious Jennings
Charlie Levin
Natalie Brewster Nguyen
Lisa Tejero

Sound installations

Text re-recorded and adapted into ambisonic installation by sound artist Monica Ryan

SightSonic / York, England, UK, / 2005
SoundWalk / Long Beach, CA / 2006