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Starbox: Where Our Obsession with Fame Meets Mysterious Public Art

Good science is all about cutting out variables—so what happens if that approach is applied to celebrity? The playwright Mattie Brickman and the New York performance troupe aim to find out with a new project called STARBOX, which takes the phenomenon of a celeb meet-and-greet and strips it of some of its basic features: features like actually knowing which celeb you’ll be meeting and greeting.

For two hours on four consecutive Fridays (the first performance was held last week), a different unidentified star will set up his/her fame shop inside an eight-foot by eight-foot Mylar box in Bryant Park. “Fans”—are they even fans?—can line up for the chance to spend two to three private minutes with whoever turns out to be inside.

“The piece is about belief and hype,” says the group’s artistic director, Mary Birnbaum. “The audience is surrounded by all the hoopla that accompanies mega-stardom.” How self-sustaining is fame? Can it still deliver its contact high with no name attached—or does that abstraction make it all the more powerful? As Birnbaum notes, “Until you go in, it could be any star in the world.”

In fact, the project’s most intriguing feature may come after your moment in the box: You now have to keep mum about the star’s identity (all visitors must sign NDAs). It’s a clever way of both keeping the secret live and undermining a key feature of any celebrity encounter: the itch to tell. And the final twist? Not all your linemates will share your genuine curiosity. “There are 30 performers who play all of the sycophantic surrounders of the star,” says Birnbaum, and it’s up to you to guess who’s for real.

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