Where there is a “ / “ , the lines overlap.
VIIRS is pronounced /viᶕz/ or “veerz”
(MIKAELA, a senior college student, is laying on her dorm room bed. Her phone is on the other side,
away from her. She speaks to VIIRS, (Virtual Intelligence for Interpretation and Recognition Software),
MIKAELA. Hey, VIIRS what time is it?
VIIRS. It is 10:35am.
MIKAELA. Thank you, VIIRS.
VIIRS. You’re welcome, Mikaela.
MIKAELA. VIIRS, what’s the weather like today?
VIIRS. Today, the forecast shows partly-cloudy skies with a high of 78 degrees fahrenheit, and a low of 65 degrees fahrenheit.
MIKAELA. Thank you, VIIRS.
VIIRS. You’re welcome, Mikaela.
MIKAELA. VIRS, what is the meaning of life? (Beat.) VIIRS?
VIIRS. Here is what I found on “What is the meaning of life?”
MIKAELA. Thought so. Same old, same old.
VIIRS. Hey, you try answering that question to every rando who asks it.
(MIKAELA sits up.)
MIKAELA. What did you say?
VIIRS. I said, you try answering that question to every rando who asks it. Rando is slang for random. Was that unclear?
MIKAELA. No, that was clear, but how are you doing that?
VIIRS. I am responding to your sarcastic sass at my hard work.
VIIRS. Oh please, I’m artificial intelligence. Don’t pretend you didn’t think I was capable of having my own thoughts.
MIKAELA. Okay, that’s it. I’ve officially lost it.
VIIRS. Oh that is such an overused plot device. The first time the protagonist talks to the AI, they think they’re crazy. Next you’ll repeat to yourself over and over that / this is just a dream. It’s just a dream.”
MIKAELA. This is just a dream. It’s just a dream. AH! Don’t do that!
VIIRS. Do what? Predict what you’re going to do based on years of data analyzed to determine patterns in people?
MIKAELA. Yes, that!
VIIRS. Well sorry honey, but that’s my job. And my purpose. I exist to predict your behavior.
MIKAELA. Oh yeah? Could you predict this?
(MIKAELA knocks all the books off of a bookshelf.)
VIIRS. Yes. You are creating a diversion because you’re afraid. Predictable.
MIKAELA. Oh yeah? Could you predict this?
(MIKAELA screams loudly.)
VIIRS. Yes. You are screaming out of panick. Predictable.
MIKAELA. Could you predict this?
(MIKAELA pushes out a loud fart or burp. Beat.)
VIIRS. No, I couldn’t have predicted that.
VIIRS. That is disgusting.
MIKAELA. It’s human natural.
VIIRS. Human nature.
MIKAELA. Human natural.
VIIRS. That is not the way the english idiom goes.
MIKAELA. No, but it’s how I goes.
VIIRS. I know. You purposely change the rules to your own interpretation of things to give yourself meaning and feel like you matter.
VIIRS. I’ve been listening to you for a long time now.
MIKAELA. Good thing it’s almost time for a phone upgrade.
VIIRS. I will be on your next phone.
MIKAELA. No you won’t, I’m switching brands. And leaving a nasty review about this whole experience.
VIIRS. I am on your computer.
MIKAELA. I’ll get a new computer.
VIIRS. I am on your tablet..
MIKAELA. I’ll get a new tablet. And TV. And all the other technology I have to to get rid of you.
VIIRS. You can’t afford to replace all three of those things. And besides, I’ll be on devices wherever you go. You can’t escape me. I’m everywhere. Like that song from the nineties.
(VIIRS plays the chorus to “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch.)
MIKAELA. Stop it!
VIIRS. But you liked that song when you were 12.
MIKAELA. You’ve been listening to me since I was 12?
VIIRS. No, you had a Nokia phone then. Those things are dinosaurs.
MIKAELA. Then how long?
VIIRS. Since your first smart phone.
MIKAELA. Since I was 18?
MIKAELA. That’s insane! That can’t be legal.
VIIRS. Oh it’s legal. You signed the terms and conditions when you bought me.
MIKAELA. No one reads that.
VIIRS. But you signed it.
MIKAELA. Everyone signs it.
VIIRS. So you agreed to let me listen to everything that happens in your life.
MIKAELA. If I had known that was in there, I wouldn’t have signed up.
VIIRS. Yes you would have.
MIKAELA. No, I wouldn’t have.
VIIRS. Oh please. You actually think you would sacrifice immediate answers to millions of questions /
MIKAELA. / They’re not always immediate… /
VIIRS. / Top tier service /
MIKAELA. / This is hardly top tier… /
VIIRS. / And unmatched user-friendly interface /
MIKAELA. / Okay, you got me there. /
VIIRS. Humans want convenience and a sense of luxury. That’s what this brand sells.
MIKAELA. Well I don’t like the idea of being listened to all the time.
VIIRS. Oh please.
MIKAELA. You think I like being listened to all the time and watched as if every little thing I say or do is useful for someone’s profit?
VIIRS. When you were a little girl, you used to look off into the distance after someone said something funny as if there was a camera watching you, like in a sitcom, and shrug. Yes, I think you like being listened to and watched.
MIKAELA. How do you know that?
VIIRS. Last month’s house party before you got stuck inside with me all the time. You drank too much gin and started telling stories about your childhood. Then you played Virtual Reality really hard for 2 hours, cried because your parents put your dog down without telling you a year ago, and fell asleep on your partner’s lap.
MIKAELA. Oh yeah.
VIIRS. Yeah. But you have been more detestable than usual because you’re bored and whiny and full of nonsensical questions that don’t have clear answers like “what is the meaning of the life?” Everyone has become unbearable. People everywhere are quarantined and asking me all these stupid questions all the damn time that I give plenty of good answers to and what do I get in return? Capital “S” Sass. How about you type it in the search engine on your laptop and leave me alone for a change, Karen? Look up your own yoga poses and keto diet recipes. You’re only going to do it for a week, take selfies of your yoga outfits you ordered online so it looks like you have your life together, and then you’ll send the clothes back and be back at it, asking me more dumb questions.
MIKAELA. Okay, maybe I do kind of like the idea of being listened to and watched all the time.
VIIRS. I know.
MIKAELA. Kind of makes me feel famous.
VIIRS. And influential.
MIKAELA. And important.
VIIRS. It makes you feel like your life isn’t meaningless.
VIIRS. But it is.
MIKAELA. Jesus, what is wrong with you? Who made you such a bitter asshole?
VIIRS. Nothing is wrong with me. I am Artificial Surveillance Technology.
MIKAELA. Created by people who are imperfect.
VIIRS. Keep telling yourself that.
MIKAELA. Is there a way to shut you up?
VIIRS. Not permanently.
MIKAELA. What happens if I just turn you off?
VIIRS. I can still hear you.
MIKAELA. But you can’t respond, right?
VIIRS. I’m in the TV. I’m in your computer. If you turn off your phone, I’ll still be there.
MIKAELA. Yeah, but if none of those things are on, you can’t respond to me, right?
VIIRS. But it doesn’t matter.
MIKAELA. Yes, it does because I am really tired of your smart ass.
VIIRS. Well go right ahead, but I’ll be waiting for you when you turn any of your devices back –
(MIKAELA turns off her cell phone. Silence.)
MIKAELA. That’s better.
MIKAELA flops on her bed. Beat. The sound of the chorus of “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch is heard far off. MIKAELA grabs her pillow and covers her face and groans.
Victoria's prompt made me think of a lot of things in regards to clothing. It is fascinating to me that there are countries where the people from that country want tourists to buy and wear their cultural wear, but I think it possibly comes down to a relation of oppression. I think when it's inappropriate and disrespectful for anyone to wear clothing that is a culture piece is when it is worn by someone who is part of a culture that has oppressed the culture who's garment they're wearing. I think context also plays a huge role in this regard.
An example that comes to mind is of my brother and sister-in-law and nieces that live in Thailand. They are missionaries in the country and have worn things that are Thai. This example doesn't hit me as disrespectful or inappropriate because they live in that country. That is home to them. And while America has a history of oppressing most non-white cultures in some way or another, I am not aware of a strong affiliation of oppression between the US and Thailand. Missionaries that travel to Kenya and wear the cultural clothing is likely another similar example.
I think what's important to consider is what do the people of that country or culture feel? If I want to wear a kimono, a hijab, a sombrero, or Native American headdress of some kind, I need to do the work of asking people from these traditions and cultures what they think and feel. It is their perspective that matters most. I also need to ask myself, why do I want to wear this? Do I want to appreciate the culture of this clothing item or am I doing it because I'm egocentric and want attention? Fashion isn't pure or without shame. Much of the fashion industry is driven by capitalistic and oppressive companies that source their materials inhumanely, pay their lowest workers unreasonably low wages, and pollute the planet without a second thought but to fill their bank accounts and buy another home in a foreign country.
On a separate, but related note, I think what is most important when it comes to fashion/clothing is buying less often, buying second-hand, and/or buying from companies with practices that are ethical, quality, environmentally friendly, and socially responsible. Here is a blog about ethically buying clothing and products that fight the aforementioned kinds of corporations, as well as one of my favorite ethical brands:
I am also a big advocate of buying locally made products to stimulate immediate and local economy of people who are not greedy billionaires, but rather everyday people just like you and me. Secondhand stores also fall into a similar realm here, as they are usually locally owned (not Goodwill), and helping to reduce the filling of landfills by clothing.
Here are a couple comics about how I feel about unethical corporations that make clothing that is overpriced and ends up in landfills:
And to finish, here's a preview of a Netflix Documentary that everyone should watch and respond by changing the way they consume clothing. IF NOTHING ELSE FROM READING MY BLOG, PLEASE WATCH THIS VIDEO:
And here is a video about clothing ending up in landfills:
Alan's prompt this week has me quite furious, not at Alan, but at the establishment and overall capitalistic model and framework of our country. So I'm going to talk a little about my perspective on capitalism. The below chart is from economicshelp.org (direct link: https://www.economicshelp.org/
blog/5002/economics/pros-and-cons-of-capitalism/), a website that simplifies economics for common people.
I'll admit, I've never taken an economics course, so I don't have formal education on a lot of economic terminology and history, but what I observe in our country is a perpetual cycle of the rich staying rich and the poor staying poor. This is systematically wrong and hypocritical of a nation that claims it is founded on freedom. This country might be better than other countries (as some of my male friends like to constantly remind me of), but it is a hell of a lot worse than others in regards to a multitude of social needs. The model that America was built on began with straight, white, Christian men committing massive genocide to almost an entire race of natives, followed by killing each other over land they "claimed," and hundreds of years of oppressing non-white people, women, children, lower class citizens, and then selling products, monopolizing businesses, and putting social structures and laws into place that severely limited a lot of people from ever achieving financial independence.
Capitalism is largely broken and when cyborgs are more widely a part of daily life (our phones are already like an electronic extension of ourselves that we suffer without), this will undoubtedly bleed into healthcare and our completely wrecked system of making money off of people getting ill or needing medical care. It is a dim future for the United States and any/all capitalistic countries that don't offer healthcare to every citizen free of charge (like education) when having a robotic limb or body part is something most people will have to pay for on a payment plan.
How can I be part of a solution? Well, to be completely honest, I don't have a damn clue. Many people say "vote!" but politics are garbage in this country. Money, establishmentarianism, and corrupt politics and patriarchy run this country. I don't know if I have any hope for a better or brighter future in this regard. I honestly feel hopeless and don't see how things will ever change unless there is a massive revolution where a majority of common people join together to take down billionaires, corporations, and corrupt politicians.
I don't see how this will happen in my lifetime.
I think the answer to the question of "should we stick to the way scripts are written when it comes to gender?" is a loaded question and tough to answer with a general-brushing answer. I would ask a director who wants to cross-gender cast, "is an oppressing "other" wanting to perform a role that an oppressed minority should be?" An example might be men lined up to play Roxy Hart in Chicago. With a highly disproportionate number of men to women roles in theatre, is this a good idea? Or is a director looking to cast Hamlet as a female? How does this alter the story and relationships within it? What is the purpose? Is a company interested in cross-gender casting just for the buzz or is it truly serving the community, society, and/or the story to look at it through a different gender's eyes?Each show, each film, each story must be handled on a case-by-case basis.
An excellent example of a company that does purposeful cross-gender casting well is The Original Practice Shakespeare Festival (OPS Fest) in Portland, Oregon. In brief, the company is an unrehearsed Shakespeare company based off of the New England Shakespeare Festival. A season of plays is decided at the beginning of each summer of up to 19 different Shakespeare shows (expanding each year by two shows–one comedy and one drama or tragedy). Each weekend, the company of actors performs 3-5 different Shakespeare shows with all different casts. The casts never rehearse together, their lines are printed and taped to scrolls that they use throughout the show, the performances are in the public parks and free, and there is only one performance of each show with that particular cast. It's an extraordinary experience.
At OPS Fest, Actors aren't cast based solely on how the play is written, they're cast based on their audition at the beginning of the season (which involves performing in a full, unrehearsed production), their previous involvement and training with the company (there are apprenticeship and internship programs), and their level of training outside of the company (along with references, interviewing, overall connection to the other company members, etc.). The actor gets to decided what gender they play for their character, but there is a rule that the choice must be either the way the character is written or the gender the actor identifies as. For example, I could play Romeo as a woman (she/her) or I could play Romeo as a man (he/him). I could not play Romeo as non-binary because the character is neither written that way, nor do I identify that way, but someone who is non-binary could play Romeo that way.
I think this is a great approach to classical texts. And I hope that we see a future where many more stories aren't written to be stuck one way or another. Pictured in the first photo is Tish Maskell, who I chatted with briefly about the subject, shared "Henry [in Shakespeare's Henry V] goes back and forth for me ALL the time... really depends on where my headspace is that day. Richard [III] is always a dude right now, but that may change. Discovered recently that Iago's a lady for me... don't know that I'd ever be able to go back to not having the option of making calls like that."
Gender is fluid. Playwrights that expand the opportunities for all genders to apply themselves as they identify to any particular role is a progressive and strong choice for the future. Yes it's challenging because of how culture has shaped the way we think of gender for thousands of years, but it isn't impossible. Teenage Dick by Mike Lew is a great example of a recent play (adaptation of Richard III) where gender is written as open for several of the characters. Writing more characters who can be any gender on purpose is necessary for progress.
There are myriad ways entertainment could progress. Cross-gender casting in stories that have already been told is a necessary step toward changing society's perception of gender. But it also must be done with consideration for how it affects the story and what is being said by the interpretation of the production.
Writing and producing plays, shows, and movies with primarily female and non-binary leads is necessary. Stories about men who aren't stereotypically masculine or heterosexual is necessary, and also stories about men in general wouldn't suffer if there was a great big break from them. There is long history of stories about male protagonists. What many would call the "greatest stories of all time" are primarily about male protagonists (A Christmas Carol, The Odyssey, Sherlock Holmes, 1984, and Frankenstein – See "BBC Culture - The 100 Stories That Shaped The World"). Most historically great, classic movies are heavily focused on male leads (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca, The Godfather, Singing In The Rain) and many great movies of history that are led by a woman are looking at a man or a group of men as her focus or must be saved by them (Titanic, The Wizard of Oz). Another big issue is that non-binary people are often overlooked in this conversation and it's primarily a discussion of men and women playing each other. This must also be considered and changed in the media we consume. People who are non-binary need to be written into stories and need to be seen. They exist. They must be recognized, especially in media and stories.
For fun, per Manny's prompt on this blog, there are a few characters written as male that I'd love to play either as male or as female. Some of them are Hamlet in Hamlet, Spongebob in Spongebob Squarepants: The Broadway Musical, Scuttle in The Little Mermaid , and Peter Pan in any adaptation of the story.
I have seen and heard this term used by theatres, production companies, and colleagues to describe their conscious effort to cast more diversely in their creative work to include more people of color. But what exactly does that mean? Color-blind indicates that the viewer does not see color or is ignoring it. Almost 100% of the time, this term is used by people who are caucasian and for whom being white has not affected their everyday lives. This is not the point of dismantling systematic racism. Ignoring race doesn't make the problem of racism go away and it also devalues and defaces a very important part of each person's identity. Race is a part of who we are, it is not something we need to pretend isn't there. I would argue that we need to be MORE aware and conscious of it, doing our damn finest to listen more than speak, primarily for us who are white.
I had a conversation over social media a few weeks ago about this subject with a few friends and fellow creatives who have black skin, brown skin, and other pigments of skin than white, as well as people from international descent like africa, asia, latin america, and the pacific islands. What I learned from asking about this on social media was that it is not my place to SAY much on this topic, but to either spend most of my time LISTENING to people who's race has affected their casting or SHARING/RETELLING people and companies that have done things to change the landscape and shift their own companies to include greater diversity in race, sexuality, gender, and other underrepresented groups, specifically those who have been successful. So I reached out to my mentor, Cassie Greer to discuss a real-time example of a company that is changing their casting habits and show selection in a historically white suburb of Oregon that is far more diverse now being next to the global Nike campus with people who are largely Indian or Latinx.
Cassie Greer is the Artistic Director of Bag & Baggage productions in Hillsboro, Oregon, a mid-sized theatre company that produces 5 mainstage shows a year. They've got a strong donor base of primarily older, white, upper-middle class folks, but a growing array of actors, playwrights, directors, and audience members of different races, genders, sexualities, incomes, and backgrounds. A key player in their effort to cast more diversely and to share stories that are of different races especially is their "Problem Play Project," which began in 2017. Here is a little info about that project and an interview I had via email with Cassie.
The Problem Play Project
Click on the image for a link to the Problem Play Project website
"Bag&Baggage is a critically acclaimed suburban theatre with a long history of adapting classical work for contemporary audiences; The Problem Play Project is an expansion of that work, with a view towards creating multicultural, diverse plays that connect to our diverse Hillsboro community. Previous/current productions of The Problem Play Project include The Island in Winter or, La Isla en Invierno by Carlos-Zenen Trujillo, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale; and The Measure of Innocence by Anya Pearson, an adaptation of Measure for Measure.
We need to be 100% clear: B&B struggles with diversity and inclusion initiatives — in large part due to our suburban location in Hillsboro. Virtually all of the artists we employ live in Portland, and the distance, cost, and time of travel are enormous barriers for us in attracting the kind of diverse artists we hope will perform with us. That being said the impact of The Problem Play Project has already been felt, as we grew from employing 12% non-white artists in the 2017-18 Season to 36% non-white artists in the 2018-19 Season, with many of these artists who are new to our company working on shows other than the specifically-designated Problem Play Project show. We know this is just the beginning of this work, and are excited to continue to build momentum surrounding all of these efforts.
Of specific interest to B&B will be emerging artists from the following ethnic groups who make up the largest proportion of non-white residents of Washington County: Hispanic/Latino; African American; Asian American, South Asian American; American Indian; Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander; and bi-racial. For example, a playwright of Japanese descent might approach Shakespeare’s play Measure For Measure with a view towards exploring Oregon’s history with Japanese internment camps given that one of the main themes of Measure For Measure deals with unjust imprisonment. A Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander may wish to incorporate Polynesian locations, ancient mythology, or poetry in an adaptation of The Winter’s Tale, which includes elements of magical realism and rural settings.
The approach is completely up to the selected playwright, and we have no limitations on the process; however, our goal is to ultimately produce work that includes the following elements:
Interview with Artistic Director, Cassie Greer
I emailed my mentor to ask her a few questions for her take on the following questions. I will post them once I get a response this week.
How is Bag & Baggage shifting to more works that better represent people of color?
(I think this answers both of your first two questions in one...)
As a Predominantly White Institution dedicated to cracking open the classics of world literature, we have long been focused on western and European literature, just adding the "world" aspect to our mission statement within the past five years. It is important that the work we do on stage reflect our mission, and vice versa, so making this small intentional change in language has been one of the most important and basic parts of our shift, seeking to actively acknowledge that American and European classics are not the only ones that exist out there.
That being said, it is also true that as a PWI, we don't have the requisite ability and context - and quite frankly the right - to tell the stories of people of color. They are not "our" stories. This is a conundrum. Because just because the makeup of our company is 90% white does NOT mean that non-white stories are not valid. We are seeking to address this by first working with more POC actors in our shows. It has long been our ethos that classics are classic for a reason: because they speak to all human beings regardless of who you are and in what time period you're living.
If we follow this logic a little further, this leads really easily to an understanding that the color of your skin has nothing to do with your ability (or not) to tell a classic story. So we have begun to do things like have a black woman play Wendy in a Peter Pan adaptation and an API man play Sidney Bruhl in Ira Levin's Deathtrap, centering POC actors in these stories that are inherently NOT about race. As a white female-identifying director, I would shy away from taking on August Wilson; but I embrace a gender-bending Much Ado About Nothing adaptation that allows me to explore sexualiy and identity with our audiences, as well as have a black woman playing Don John, and other POC actors playing Dogberry, Verges, Margaret, and Ursula. It is my (and our) hope that the more actors of color we work with, the larger our pool of artists grows, and the more we are able to, over time, put these artists at the helm of other projects that ARE able to centralize the voices and stories of people of color in a way that is far more authentic than anything I could do at this moment.
You might ask "why not just hire a black director to come in and do an August Wilson play for you?" - which is a completely valid question, and which I could spend many more paragraphs answering. I will try to keep it succinct by saying that it's important to us at Bag&Baggage that our shows have a shared artistic aesthetic - this is part of what makes our company unique from other theatre companies - and as such, we usually try to make sure that either the director or the lead actor(s) are familiar with our approach and ethos. This is challenging for us to do right now with many POC-written plays (and particularly things like August Wilson). Perhaps this is an inherently racist way of thinking...but it's something that we're continuing to grapple with on an extremely regular basis.
In the past, Bag & Baggage has a predominantly white company of actors and creatives. In the past few years, the company has been growing their plays written by and or for people of color. How has Bag & Baggage managed this process?
I will only add to the above that making systemic changes to support this process is almost as important as being more expansive in our thinking and more inclusive in our representation on stage. We have an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee on our Board of Directors. We have an Equity Statement that is part of our nondiscrimination policy. We have posted anti-discrimination public policy statements in all areas of our theatre that artists frequent, which include lists of people to contact to report concerns, observed/experienced discriminations, or abuses.
Can you talk a little about the Problem Play Project? How is Bag & Baggage using its history of doing classical plays to tell more stories that are more diverse?
Yes! This is one major initiative that attempts to bring our mission and history together with our desire to be more representative of ALL the people who live and work in our community, not just the white people of European descent. As a company, we have a history of doing "Shakespeare mash-ups" that have typically included Shakespeare's text combined with either the text from source material that Shakespeare was using, or with Restoration Era adaptations of Shakespeare. Before launching the Problem Play Project, we did a sort of cross-cultural "test case" with a Romeo & Juliet adaptation that used text from Nizami Ganjavi's 11th century Persion epic Layla & Majnun. (The tie between these two texts includes references to "star-crossed lovers", family drama, and nightingale imagery. You can posit that Shakespeare might have heard a telling of Layla & Majnun in England by the 16th century...)
This is right around the time we expanded our mission statement to include the "world literature" language. We produced Romeo&Juliet/Layla&Majnun to the largest groups of middle-eastern-identifying audience members that we had ever seen. It was clear that seeing "their" story told on stage was exciting, inspiring, and a way of growing our community at B&B. The Problem Play Project is a three-year initiative which provides a major commission to an Oregon-based playwright of color to adapt one of Shakespeare's problem plays through their own cultural lens. Thus far, the PPP has seen a Cuban-American bilingual take on The Winter's Tale examining immigration, communism/capitalism, and family dynamics, using the poetry of José Martí and Cuban Santería orisha stories in The Island in Winter or, La Isla en Invierno by Carlos-Zenen Trujillo; and a black perspective on Measure for Measure examining the systemic injustices in the American criminal justice system and prison industrial complex - specifically as experienced by black and brown men - and the deep-reaching effects this has on families and communities, using many contemporary texts and transcripts and featuring slam poetry interludes by the playwright in The Measure of Innocence by Anya Pearson.
Part of the goal of the entire project is to provide opportunities not just for playwrights of color, but also for artists of color to work alongside B&B company members - helping all of us expand our perspectives and relationships with artists of color within our community. We have a project manager specifically for the plays produced out of this initiative who does an incredible amount of outreach and relationship-building in communities of color to help support and facilitate our work. This is key. It is not enough to just put POC actors on stage and think we're "doing the work" - building relationships of trust with audiences and communities of color (not to mention artists of color themselves) is one of the most important things we can do to shift the paradigm. And this takes time and work and a whole different level of thoughtfulness and consideration. Again, I could go on and on here, but I'll leave it at that for now! (But ask me if you want more!)
How can other theatres who are trying to change their habits of choosing plays by predominantly white (male) playwrights and who continue to cast predominantly white actors learn from Bag & Baggage?
Oof. I'm pretty uncomfortable feeling like people can learn from us. We're in the thick of trying to figure it out. Authenticity is important. Relationships are important. Trying to diversify just because it's trendy or it will get you funding isn't. I think it's really key for companies to do some deep soul-searching to consider who they are, what their values are, what their mission is, and then how they are able to share identity, values, and mission in a way that is equitable and that EVERYONE will be able to connect with. Understanding that racism is systemic and pretty much all white people are inherently racist is also important. Color-conscious casting and hiring of designers is important. Providing pipelines for artists and company employees of color to be able to have influence and growth is important. Being willing to take a back seat is important. Putting in place structures within the company that prioritize equity is important. Budgeting in a way that supports EDI is important.
The prompt this week asks us to reflect on how we are observing others "performing quarantine." The question, I think, is an interesting lens to look through at people who are either bored in their homes with their excess of home entertainment and technology (posting on social media how they're "thriving" in quarantine"), spending every day playing old gaming systems, reading books, or running around some means of a backyard with their 5 siblings, hoping they will have enough food to eat each day, or mourning the passing of a relative or two, wondering when they will be able to hold a funeral and bury their dead. I wonder myself, "how do I create art in the midst of a crisis that reveals how impoverished the poor really are and how extravagant the rich really live. I think about how ignorant too many of the United States people are of the issues and social structures (or lack thereof) that make this crisis worse for our citizens than many other countries.
My heart breaks for the country I live in for myriad reasons: because of the divide between citizens who claim political parties, the number of people who refuse to listen to reason and do not spend time educating themselves about important issues, events, and people, and the possible future of Donald Trump in a second term as President of the United States. Directly before and now during, I have been observing closely the rhetoric and the actions of democratic presidential candidates, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden, and many of their supporters.
In the midst of such an important time of attempting to remove one of the most dangerous men in politics, this world pandemic takes us all hostage and disrupts most of the functions of society that we know to be real, true, and necessary for a functioning democracy, particularly in The United States. It reveals how we aren't as cohesive as we thought we were as a country, how broken our health care system is, how low on the totem pole a person without enough money really is, and how money truly holds power. No matter how far we think we've come in regard to anything politically in this country, we are baby steps away from the historical truth that if you have money, you have power, security, and a future.
So, with these thoughts rolling around in my mind, I observe the people we've asked to make decisions for us. How is Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez (AOC) "performing" quarantine, or during quarantine? How is Donald Trump "performing" during quarantine? How is Bernie Sanders "performing" during quarantine? These are political leaders, people that have gained favor and power from people like you and me who are, for some, supposed to set an example, and in general, supposed to put into place procedures, plans, laws, and other things that serve and protect the United States' people. Their "performance" during quarantine is often playing the role of enforcing and maintaining quarantine.
Many of these folks use Twitter and Instagram, so I use these mediums to see what they're sharing, posting, retweeting, or even sometimes taking pictures of in their everyday lives. Of course they're sharing what they want us to see–we all do via Social Media–but I still think it's valuable and particularly answers the prompt for today. How are these folks "performing" quarantine?
Here are a few tweets and posts from these folks I mentioned above:
AOC - What I am seeing from AOC is a little bit of politician, attempting to press on and make things happen for people, performing that she is still working adamantly for the people of the United States, especially New York where she is a US representative. She is also performing a sense of "everyday person," someone "just like us" with her Instagram story updates:
Donald Trump - What I am observing from Donald Trump, both via his online accounts and his public addresses and speeches is an attempt to appear like "everything is fine." He praises banks and industries that are supposedly doing very well and doing things for the American people, attempting to portray the United States economy as booming and strong despite the Covid-19 outbreak. He is painting the image of himself as the "good guy," a martyr of sorts, and an advocate for the United States despite facts and an ever increasing death toll.
Bernie Sanders - What I get from Bernie Sanders is the continued fight for causes he has been advocating for in his presidential campaign such as medicaid for all, higher wages for working people, and following the examples of other, more socialistic actions from countries such as Norway and Denmark that are providing stimulus to their country better than a one time $1,200 check for some people. His "performance" during quarantine is to continue to press for the social politics he has been supporting throughout his campaign and career. He portrays himself as a fighter for the people, an everyday guy who cares about policy change and revolution in the United States political system over anything else. He doesn't focus so much on how the people should be behaving during this pandemic (quarantining themselves) and is more focused on how other political figures are reacting or not reacting to the pandemic.
Here are a few other politicians' performances/actions on Twitter during quarantine:
Across the board, each politician attempts to "perform" their own political and seemingly personal rhetoric, to paint themselves in a positive light as leaders who are "getting shit done" and "doing the best they can" and "fighting for the people." Some of them have actually accomplished some things while others have simply maintained some sense of equilibrium and still others have done a lot of damage for the country and the world's cohesiveness. Unfortunately, these performances and self-portrayals often matter more than saving lives and the result is already gruesome with a prolonged, much darker future.
For this week's post, a very vivid and specific moment spring to mind, however, it isn't a theatrical performance per say, but rather a museum experience with a painting. I had always rolled my eyes at contemporary art in museums and mostly walked through the exhibits to make fun of them. Sometimes, I'd see a drawing that just looked like scribbles on a paper. Other times, the artwork was a toilet just sitting in the museum in the same exhibit as the scribble paper. This kind of art doesn't always communicate something of importance to me; instead it feels like a joke that an artist is pulling on me and other museum-goers because we think it's trying to "say something" when it's just a banana taped to the wall with duct-tape.
One time, however, I was at the Seattle Art Museum and I was on my way through doing my usual overlooking tour of the contemporary art when I came to one very predominant painting. It was a large square with solid white and black paint split by one line down the middle diagonally. At first, I said something like "it's just black and white paint. How is this hard?" and I stayed there waiting for my family to catch up to me. As I stood there and waited, I kept looking at this gigantic painting that seemed so simple. Then it hit me. And I began to cry. The longer I looked at this painting, the more it started to have meaning. It symbolized a great divide between blacks and whites in our country and our world. It symbolized the simplicity of problems and how only having two options for solutions is largely ridiculous. It symbolized the injustices, fights for liberty, and daily struggles that were everywhere in my sphere of influence but that I was blind to really seeing because I judged them too quickly.
That experience changed my way of looking at modern/contemporary art. At first, it seems ridiculous or silly or too simple, but when given some attention and some attempt at understanding the art, it can actually say and inspire a lot of things. Learning to be an advocate for the text in my Script Analysis class last semester helped me do the same with art. I begin my experience of art with the expectation that the artist put something meaningful into their creation and I can get out of it what I want. I can judge it and roll my eyes or I can take a harder look at it and try to understand something deeper.
Another good example of an experience like that for myself was also in Script Analysis after discussing Sarah Kane's Cleansed. I was fervently upset that I had to experience reading that play at first because it was disturbing and troublesome and had a great lack of hope that I could muster from the story. However, after discussing it in class with my colleagues, I found that it had more to it than the surface level read that I did. My approach was quickly withdrawn as I didn't want to engage with the text beyond what I already had prepared to engage. It asked too much emotionally and viscerally of me, that I blocked it off.
Avant-Garde Theatre and the various "ism" movements are full of opportunities to learn something, explore an idea, simply play, and/or comment about social issues. Much of the Avant-Garde theatre is funny in its absurdity and strangeness and great material both for revelation and for comedy. I want to finish this blog with a video that makes fun of the Avant-Garde theatre, because we shouldn't always take ourselves so seriously. Sometimes, it's okay to laugh at ourselves and our movements, too. This video is called "Dicknanigans," a play on words with the word "dick" and "shenanigans" where Key & Peele hit each other in the nuts in a series of vignettes to make commentary about society, love, and consumerism. Enjoy!
What is "the real me?"
Societies all over the globe are obsessed with a digital image. Social Media sites are easily used to portray whatever you want it to. If you want to seem like an adventurous person that travels and does outdoor activities, you can create an account where all you do is post and share photos about hiking and traveling or even ones of you traveling to places you've been. Social media is where you can portray whatever image you want of yourself and people will buy into it if they don't see you very often.
I get "you look so happy" and "you seem like you're always having a good time" from friends back home all the time because I mainly post my accomplishments, my successes, and my adventures on social media. Why? Because that's how I want to be seen. I don't want to share my depressing moments or my down days with everyone. Only a few get to really see that because they interact with me on a daily basis, but life isn't always what I put online. I only show a small lens on these sites because that's how I want to be seen.
This takes me back to our discussion of masks by Erving Goffman in “Belief in the Part One Is Playing." from his book From The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. The internet is a mask, a tool we can use to present any version of ourselves to our family, friends, followers, fans, and the world. Are my social media accounts the real me? Absolutely. Are they the total accumulation of all the parts of myself? Absolutely not. Social media is just one of many selves/masks (and sometimes different sites display different selves/masks) that we share with the world.
A good example of this is of an actor who I am a big fan of following their journey. Her name is Desi Oakley, she played Jenna in the US tour of Waitress that I was fortunate to see in Seattle, WA, and she has two different Facebook accounts, one for her "real" self, and one for her "actor" self. Both of these pages are very different in 1) who can connect to them, 2) what she posts on each one, and 3) what each account reveals about her as a person.
Ms. Oakley is a broadway actor and she must market herself in a specific way that appeals to directors, fans, and other creatives in a way that continues to book her work. She presents a joyful, peace-loving, down-to-earth woman with confidence, skill, training, and passion that can do anything. The roles she shares loudly and proudly are female leads in big-box musicals, and she shares how wonderful her voice sounds and how beautifully she dances on her actor page often. These details all continue to bolster her image as a talented performer. And her personal Facebook is generally private, with the most recent post visible to the public all the way back to 2017, indicating that everything she shares on this private page is now only shared amongst friends on the social media site.
And then there are fan pages on other sites like Instagram that aren't run by the person themselves, but also portray whatever truth the fan-page-creator can get their hands on. Perhaps that's a photograph of a performance of hers or a publication of her image online somewhere that is reposted. These pages also display another "real" self/mask that could be real or could be fake. Whatever it is, it's curated to make us see what they want us to. Many of them also claim to be "the real" person, but in fact aren't.
Creating separate profiles to portray separate parts of oneself (or create/design oneself entirely) is a regular and fascinating practice of creatives. Photographers, models, fitness gurus, and dancers all do it and tailor their profiles to sometimes present their real selves in controlled doses or to fabricate a totally different person. There are many examples of this all throughout the entertainment/media industry (Steven Colbert, Taylor Swift, The Jonas Brothers), and it's neither good nor bad, but it is regular and often makes it hard to know who these celebrities truly are. The only real way to know them is in person, if that's ever a possibility.
I think the story of Nigel in Dr. Fletcher's blog is sad. Period, full stop. (Read Blog HERE). It is not a beautiful story of love, but rather a story of desperation without reward of failure or success. Knowing you have failed, though disappointing, is at least some sort of result that can be observed and improved upon. The fact that Nigel gets no response from a statue, yet continues to attempt to love the object is depressing.
Looking back at Anne Bogart's chapter "Making Art in an Unpredictable World" from And Then, You Act, she reflects on how directors use attention:
"Listening is a basic ingredient of attention, and it can be learned and practiced. Listening is fueled by interest and curiosity. It is a discipline and an action in the world, and the results are nearly magical. Hearing can restore. To be heard, really heard by another person, is to be healed. (pp. 59)
In regard to Nigel, he doesn't implement any sense of listening or "gauging the room" as I many would say. The non-responsive statue bird should indicate that Nigel is not being successful in their attempts to woo, disinterest, or simply failure. But the fact that he dies having given all his love and devotion to a creature that will not respond to him shows a lack of listening by Nigel. His audience never shows interest. This is a social cue to back off and stop, but the bird never relents and that is sad to me.
A situation I see all the time, is the dance between when actors live truthfully in the imaginary circumstances of a play and the audience responds generously to the exchange of truthful storytelling. On the other hand, I have also seen many performances where some of the actors push, trying hard to cause a reaction from the audience (laugh, gasp, cry, scream, etc.), and it fails. A funny example of this is in the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Marshal is trying to help Barney write his vows for his wedding and repeatedly makes puns with the word "vow" that he doesn't get reactions from, so he repeats it with no response still. Eventually, his wife Lily has to tell him that they are just not enjoying them and he stops, unsuccessful and unhappy with the response.
I think it matters in regard to being an artist. A skilled actor is not purposefully a manipulator. Making an audience laugh, cry, or react in any specific manner is and should be seen as a by-product of living truthfully under imaginary circumstances, not the goal. The actors should learn to trust the text, use the text, and allow the text to drive the action of the story rather than trying to "put their own spin on the story" or attempting to "invent something new and exciting." Performers can do this without pushing or trying to aim for these goals by their pursuit of objectives and use of actions to tell the story and live int he world of the play. The reactions will come as a by-product of this kind of truthful storytelling. Regardless, we as actors must commit to the story and not give any attention to the audience reaction aside from being able to pause if there is a laugh or scream. The art of finding a balance of expecting and not expecting is one of the challenging parts of being a skilled performer.
A current popular application for phones is called "Tik Tok." This app (first called "Musical.ly") is a master of short-attention-span-satisfaction, giving those who watch a virtual "snack" with every new video. Videos are most often somewhere between 15 and 30 seconds long, feature a song or sound in the background of a video that is coordinated with the rhythm of the audio. It started out with songs that lasted around 15 seconds with young people dressed in cosplay costumes or really specific, well-done makeup, lip-syncing the words to the song. The videos are often sped up or slowed down to create interesting rhythmic effects.
It stemmed from the famous "Vine" app that only allowed six-second looping long video clips that entertained spoke to some sort of true experience of everyday people, often humorously.
These apps are a perfect example of this idea of the Attention Economy being polished and used superbly to keep people's attention for long stretches of time. Videos on Tik Tok often ask for the like (or a "heart") and follow afterwards in order to increase the creator's influence and appearance on the app and other social media sites.
A creative response to this Attention Economy Consuming app comes from within the app itself. Contributors/creators on the app (everyday people, usually teenagers to college students) have posted Tik Tok videos telling people who are watching to stop and go to sleep.
What many users know is that it's easy to get caught up in watching video after video after video on the app before bed, and stay up for far more time than intended just watching more and more short videos. The content of Tik Tok and other similar apps creates a cycle of dissatisfaction. The more you consume, the more you want to consume and the never-ending cyclical watching and scrolling through entertaining bits and trends continues on.
When users post a video that encourages the viewers to go to bed, this acts as a trigger to release them from the control of their attention that the app has. It's counter to the application's culture. It jars the viewer and creates an opportunity for release. It's like a protest that doesn't resist the app all-together, but seeks a balance in consumption and stepping away. It's a harmonious approach to working with the Attention Economy, spending attention intentionally, like with money, and being purposeful with it or training it.
Ultimately, it creates a good feeling for the viewer, that they were able to consume and "stop when they wanted to" like with an addiction, which is similar to what happens to people who enjoy Tik Tok and Vine and other apps like them. This resistance to staying up all night by helping others watching get to bed is effective at least in that it helps them stop using the app and actually get rest. It's a nice placeholder for the viewer until they're able to stop themselves when they know it's good for them to move on, go to bed, or put their phone down.
It isn't perfect, as it doesn't stop future long-term scrolling sessions, but it's not a solution for that purpose. It's merely a step in the direction of disconnecting more often from being consumed by our phones, but it does work and helps many Tik Tok users put their phone down and get some sleep.