In & Of Itself by Derek DelGaudio: a deep meditation on the power of stories
Derek DelGaudio’s In itself and in itself quietly appeared on Hulu in early 2021. DelGaudio originally performed the one-man show over 500 times in New York City for in-person audiences. The filmed version of In itself and in itself Streaming on Hulu assembles these live performances, culminating in an in-depth exploration of identity, storytelling and self-perception.
Spoiler warning: I will do my best, in the following short paragraph, to describe In itself and in itself for you. But before you read on, ask yourself if you want to know what little spoiler-free information I have to offer. Derek DelGaudio’s show is best consumed without any preconceptions. The big lines won’t ruin your life, but I want you to have the chance to enter it completely fresh (definitely worth experiencing it this way, if you can!). Beyond the next paragraph, major spoilers follow.
In itself and in itself is part magic, part storytelling performance based on oral tradition, part mentalism. DelGaudio blurs the lines between art forms and engages audiences on a deep, philosophical level, tapping into an array of emotions along the way, with moments of heartbreak and regret as well as humor and joy. (You can watch the trailer hereif you want to get a sense of how it all works, but again, I recommend going cold!) Taken as a whole, the final product explores identity, stories, and how our experiences – real or imaginary, factual or fictitious – shape us.
Despite my attempt above, In itself and in itself escapes explanation. Your viewing experience and reaction will be different from mine, just as the first time I watched was different from the myriad people I recommended the performance to.
The first of these people was my mother. I texted her, stunned, after I finished In itself and in itself. “Watch it as soon as you can,” I told him. Later, she called me sobbing. “I…don’t know why I’m crying,” she said, then breathlessly, “Thank you for sharing it with me. »
The stunt started and she told me the stories of her various friends and colleagues who watched In itself and in itselfthe final moments with tears in their eyes, still processing their emotions. They could not identify Whybut the show had touched them, affecting them on a deep and visceral level.
A year after it debuted on Hulu, I watched In itself and in itself a second time, and a clear message emerged. Stories shape us. When we suspend our disbelief for the latest big-budget novel or movie, we unlock a part of ourselves that is normally hidden. We submit to new realities, releasing our worldly bonds for a short time. In doing so, we allow fiction to stitch together the fabric of our beings. When we close the last page of a book, we come back to our changed world, even if the transformation is slight.
In itself and in itself validates what we, as readers, deeply know to be true: stories have power. And we can use this power to improve ourselves. The change triggered by a story can be as real as the growth we experience in real life through loss, grief, love, and friendship.
We flip the cover of a book as if it were a door beckoning us to another world, where explanations don’t really matter. We devour world-building and detail, but we don’t seek out the veil or the hidden mirrors that make us believe what we read. Instead, we let our guard down and allow ourselves to bask in the story before us. Reading is an act of vulnerability, and we must accept that consuming a story can change the way we think and feel.
In the first minutes of In itself and in itself, DelGaudio announces that the public – in our case, the viewer at home – is not likely to believe everything he says. That’s why, according to DelGaudio, he will tell the truth. There’s freedom in knowing that your audience won’t really believe what’s about to happen. He undermines expectations early with magic tricks and sleight of hand. He asks us, by actions and not words, to leave our preconceptions at the door. Suspend your disbelief and allow In itself and in itself to open doors within you.
DelGaudio builds… trust? Maybe the wrong word. A report, certainly, a non-verbal temporary contract. His audience understands that they are “cheated” to some extent. But that’s not the point. In a simple magic show, maybe it is. But not here. Instead, In itself and in itself asks the viewer to dive deeper, to ignore questions about how DelGaudio performs the tricks. If you look at the performance looking for explanations, trying to figure out the mechanics – a hidden device, an accidental reveal, a mistake – you will come away disappointed. In itself and in itself reveals its plans from the start. Your belief in this thing has no importance. What Is matter then? How you react to the stories inside, and if you allow them to work their real Magic.
During one segment of the show, DelGaudio promises (and delivers) onstage transformation. He brings a random audience member onto the stage and has them choose from a pile of letters. Turning to the audience, he states that we are about to see the transformation first hand.
As audience members silently read the letters (the Hulu montage treats us to a handful of attendees), DelGaudio delivers on its promise, and we see displays of raw emotion in front of an amazed audience. He gives the participants time to recover, then asks them if they are ready to share the contents of the letters.
In the letters, loved ones of readers graced the pages with words of praise, love and appreciation. We see participants internalize the words written for them by the people they care about and who care about them. We also watch them wondering, sometimes aloud, how DelGaudio got his hands on the letters, how he could have known, or arranged or prepared for them to be in the public. “I don’t understand,” said one participant. “I know,” DelGaudio replies. Understanding is not the goal.
Maybe some viewers will look for an explanation, as a friend of mine did while we were watching In itself and in itself whole. “Maybe he took a deep dive into social media,” he said, then spitting out various other possibilities. But in my mind, chasing the “how” is missing the “why”. In this case, the “why” is a moment of purity. A human being reacting to the kind words of another. A person who basks for a moment in the love that surrounds him, summoned seemingly out of nowhere by DelGaudio.
Wanting to know how DelGaudio did it was the furthest thing from my mind. Instead, I watched in tears as real people undergo the makeover he promised.
In itself and in itself overflows with these moments. At another point in the show, DelGaudio tells a story about his upbringing, and he does so largely without the aid of illusions or sleight of hand. He talks about his mother and how her sexual orientation caused him to hide things about his family life from children at school. He explains how he took drastic measures to keep his mother’s identity as a proud lesbian a secret.
In describing his actions, DelGaudio clearly feels shame and regret for the way he acted as a child. But he uses the story to make the same point I’m fighting for here: stories have impact. Audiences, upon hearing her story, likely assign her certain identifiers, none of which are flattering. I certainly did. Flip the script, though, and ask yourself how his the story has changed you. DelGaudio’s unflattering story (whether it’s true or not) has shaped your perception of him, and perhaps also made you think in a new way…
The distinction between stories that make us think of others and allow us to look within is thin but important, and DelGaudio plays in this nebulous area to wonderful effect. He guides us masterfully, collecting the manufactured yet meaningful moments of the entire performance throughout the duration of the show, allowing connections to build and resonate. Then, in the final moments, he indulges in a feat of mentalism that unilaterally leaves the studio audience (and me, at home) in complete shock.
One last time here, I urge you to turn away and return after seeing In itself and in itself. The text below spoils the show’s biggest and most sustained surprise.
Before each performance, spectators had to choose an “identity” from a wall of hundreds. Each identity was a unique word or phrase that could describe someone – some practical, some fun, some more idealistic. Think of “reader”, “mother”, “cinephile”, “ninja”, “oracle” or “accountant”. In the last moments of In itself and in itself, DelGaudio asks everyone who chose something they think truly represents them to stand up. He looks each person in the eye and proceeds to recognize their chosen identities one by one.
Watching these final minutes of the performance, I felt an overwhelming wave of emotion. Some audience members broke down in tears when DelGaudio matched them with their identities. Others laugh. Others smile meaningfully, or even sadly. Each individual realizes, for a moment, that their identity, the card they have chosen, is the product of stories. The stories they have experienced, heard, told or read. The stories they made up, the stories they embellished, and the stories they didn’t or couldn’t quite believe.
Each person present in the room, and by extension each spectator of In itself and in itself, watch these people realize that they are the culmination of endless stories. Fact and fiction contribute to the human experience in equal measure, and it’s okay to let a story sink into your heart, even when you know it’s not true. We are allowed to feel deeply even when the source of the emotion is not expressed in reality. In itself and in itself lives and breathes this lesson, teaching and respecting it in a single, cohesive whole of emotion, epiphany and wonder.
Take the lessons available in DelGaudio’s performance, keep them in mind, and use them when playing your next fantasy obsession: with an open mind and a little fiction, change can be a welcome, refreshing thing. and truly vital.
Cole Rush writes words. Many of them. For the most part, you can find these words at The feather to live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He reads epic fantasy and science fiction voraciously, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with bookworm-like fervor. His favorite books are: The divine cities Robert Jackson Bennett Series, The long way to an angry little planet by Becky Chambers, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.