Office Hours: Alex Segade, Amy Ruhl, and Alisa Zhulina on "Popular Revolt"
November 13, 2018: Alisa Zhulina interviews Alex Segade and Amy Ruhl about "Courtesy the Artists: Popular Revolt"

Courtesy the Artists forms a working group out of theater, video and music makers to produce a contemporary, in-process variety show that includes the audience in a conversation about what we hate about today, and what we it to be like tomorrow. Using open source video technology in combination with office software, Popular Revolt, directed by Alex Segade and Amy Ruhl addresses an increasingly distracted public with the riotous, rebellious power of liveness. Popular Revolt re-invests revolutionary urgency into historic models of Marxist theater to dismantle Neoliberalism, the global economic force shaping our every day.  Popular Revolt combines “He Said Yes / He Said No,” (1930), a Lehrstück, or “learning play,” with online sensitivity training programs and the interactive interfaces of dating simulators to explore questions of consent within the spectacle of the contemporary now.

Alisa Zhulina is an artist-scholar, Assistant Professor of Theatre Studies in the Department of Drama, and affiliated faculty member in the Department of Russian and Slavic Studies. She holds a B.A. in History and Literature and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University.

Transcript

Alisa Zhulina: So welcome to the Office Hours of Courtesy The Artists: Popular Revolt! So, we’re just gonna introduce ourselves before the conversation. I’m Alisa Zhulina, assistant professor of drama. 

Amy Ruhl: I’m Amy Ruhl, co-director of Popular Revolt 

Alex Segade: Alex Segade, co-director of Popular Revolt. 

AZ: Great! So, I wanted to ask you how the idea for your project came and how the context of the Marx Festival worked with it? 

AS: Well, I guess it came out of kind of conversation between the two of us… the Marx festival invitation preceded the project, actually… I was gonna put a different project in, but for certain reasons, we were unable to do that one… so we talked to Jay about something else, and I wanted to work with Amy since we had put together a play called Future Street that we did the year before- Amy was assistant director on that and I- it was a play I wrote and directed and we both performed in it. And so this kind of came out of that conversation about like “Would you like to do something for the Marx Festival?” I knew that in terms of the kind of economic critique that was possible in that context, that we would be able to come up with something. But the actual shape of the show actually came from ideas that Amy had in terms of the projection and all that kind of stuff from your work, right? I mean… 

AR: Yeah a lot of it- I work as a motion graphics designer and operator on a TV show on BuzzFeed. And so a lot of the kind of office politics that we were talking about and neoliberal environment and their kind of solutions around making a happily integrated workforce really came from my experience working a day job. 

AZ: Yeah, so you talk a little about the idea for the consent that was present in the piece? 

AS: Well, you know there’s a couple of different things that kind of came together that we were lining up and making comparisons to when we were developing the work and on the one hand, you know, we had these kinds of like training modules that you do to, you know, learn about like workplace harassment or diversity sensitivity training, and we were looking at all these models that- but I had noticed a kind of resemblance to this one Lehrstück by Brecht called “He Says Yes He Says No”. And in that, you know, the whole question is consent and consent of course is central to the discussion around, you know, sexual harassment and sex abuse and all those things. But also the question of like, “What does one consent to even by entering into a situation where you’re working for a company?” or whatever was partly what the Brechtian kind of model makes you question, you know? So, I mean is it possible that we really give consent? Like how much freedom does one have to make a choice, given the limited options available- 

AZ: Right! In capitalism, how much choice do we have or is it all economic limitations? 

AS: Exactly! So I think that’s where we kind of like took it from there… and then one of the things I think that really gave this show its shape was when Amy suggested that we use some kind of technology that would, you know, operate sort of like Skype or something like where you bring different peoples cameras together from the laptop and then project it as one, right? That’s a kind of like virtual meeting space, but it seemed like it mapped on to the kinds of situations and technologies that we were talking about in the current moment that Brecht wouldn’t have had, but which in some ways still resembled those- the same kind of like weird system that he was making up with that piece? And of course, you know, that is just two options, “yes or no”, but we were thinking a little bit more along the lines of like a kind of like branching of different possibilities depending on what you say yes to; that other things come out in this sort of game design? And that ended up being the structure of the piece. Yeah, so like half the play didn’t get done that night because people didn’t say- didn’t consent to one thing or another- 

AR: We asked the audience if they consented to the situations and kind of the way the questions were set up were like both options are kind of not great… 

AZ: It’s kind of like Brecht’s play! 

AR: Yeah! You can either die or you can consent to dying or you know ruin your mother’s life, basically. So those- we posed kind of similarly problematic questions, but yeah. So half the play wasn’t actually seen because they had chosen other options…

AZ: I see. And do you ever explore in your work the issues of consent in social media? The way that today we sort of give consent or not or whether we even- or sometimes people forget that they kind of consent to like sharing information or…?

AS: I mean, one of the situations that ends up coming out of the scenarios is a person having basically the option between posting a kind of criticism of every- of their workplace on Facebook or going to this like Panera sponsored party at the office. And so there’s a point at which we’re like “Do you consent to Facebook or Panera?” And in a way, we are talking about how there’s not a whole lot of choice there. I mean one thing we were thinking about a lot- and we talked about a lot- was the interface of social media and thinking about that in relationship to the interfaces of these training modules. And we were also looking at things like dating simulators which are kind of video games that, you know, basically give you a few options about how to like, you know, relate to an imaginary person and maybe date that person in the imaginary world that it takes place in. So, those things are all about limiting your choices and your options and with- yeah. 

AR: I also think that question- “Either go to Panera Bread sponsored party or post on Facebook”- about how you’re disgruntled about your work situation kind of was getting also to how people- where people go for resistance now… or where they feel like they’ll get the most response- whether it’s just anger or you know… 

AZ: So where do, you know, where do you think the promise of the popular revolt lies today? And that’s a loaded question with how do we- like where can we revolt if social media is corporate…? 

AR: Mmm-hmm

AZ: And democracy’s struggling? 

AS: I mean, I think for us, the performance space was as close as we could get at this point for us, you know? That was like the place we had and so making your work within the context that it actually happens in is one thing that I think is resistant to a lot of those other forces? But you know, not to say it’s not compromised! I don’t know, the piece- like the sort of conceit of the pieces that were startup and we are developing a- an app that will promote a social democracy… so there’s a lot of irony baked into that. And I think we both had like slightly different ideas about that… 

AZ: What were the differences, if you don’t mind me asking- the creative differences?

AS: Well, I don’t know. Maybe you should say because I never totally- 

AR: Well I think I- I’m a little bit more optimistic or I don’t know if that’s even the word… I- you know, I really want to live in a socialist democracy!

AZ: Yeah me too.

AR: It was hard for me- it was a little hard for me to have the same kind of like ambivalent “joie de vivre”? You know being like making fun of it in a way? But we talked it through and realized and that it’s more the way the media talks about social democracy that you feel is problematic.

AS: Yeah I mean, I think there’s a couple things like, yeah I was never making fun of that as a goal necessarily. 

AR: I think I was getting sensitive about that. 

AS: Yeah, well cuz the app that we had to make- we made this animation that sort of like you, know, it’s all using anime characters and then it’s the language is actually adapted from a New York Times quiz that they made that was like “Are you a social democrat?” You like answer these questions… and so for me, it did have to do with the media’s representa- like simplification of it? But also I think- and this is something I got actually after talking to people who are in the audience- I meant to talk to you about this- one woman who I saw at Ethan’s Marx musical thing? She had seen the piece, and she talked to me before, and she grew up in Soviet Union, and she had a lot of ideas, but she was interesting. But one of the things she said was, you know, that her interpretation was like, “We want the world to change, but we don’t want to do anything” and I think that that’s part of what I was trying to get at- the notion that you could download an app and that would solve a problem that’s already baked into the entire system that gives you the app, right? Even like that to me is kind of what I was trying to get at and at the same time like I do think there are ways in which, you know, the so-called like “left” has a lot of work to do internally in-house to kind of figure out priorities and how to talk about things… and so I was also kind of thinking about like what would it take to make the messaging like work, you know? 

AZ: Wait- like simplifying it? Like I know like Bernie Sanders’ book got criticized for a sort of flattening- but how do you explain certain concepts-? 

AS: Exactly! But I wonder if simplifying- is it because people can get really into very baroque thinking? So I don’t know if simplifying is the key. I don’t know what the key is, but I just- from like watching what’s, you know, it kind of was responding to what was going on and I do think like if there was- like I feel like an anime that was promoting socialist democracy could potentially work in some way, you know? Why not, right? But for whom? And like, well it’s probably a multi-tiered process, but i just thought the anime characters seemed perfect because they are these kind of globally empty like avatars and they have a kind of like weird naughtiness to them, even though they’re all like so cute! So there’s just something kind of perverse about them, but it seems like that’s the angle I would take- 

AZ: Well what was the copyright issue because I know there was this performance called Ang Lee? There’s an anime character that they took because you have to buy them? Or who owns the copyright to the anime characters that you-? 

AS: Okay well these- I mean, I know where they come from and I’m sure that they wouldn’t be happy about what we did… 

AZ: You revolted! 

AS: Yeah, I mean whatever, you know. But they’re good animes- I only took from the good ones. 

AZ: And besides the woman who grew up from the Soviet Union, did you get a sense of the reaction of the audience to the app or to the performance or to social democracy? 

AR: The reaction I got the most were people saying that they related so much to the kind of bad choices that they had to make every day, like a couple professors, I feel like, said that they really felt very close to it and because of like the corporatization of the university and like I didn’t expect to hear that. I expected to hear more from people that work in offices. Like I feel really close to this, but it was actually a lot of university professors that said they really related with it. 

AZ: Right- sometimes I’m like afraid- I’m always like, “What do I say in the classroom?” This- how to be politically correct- not to trigger any of my students, but also to allow them to get out of their comfort zones and read new texts and see new artists without- 

AS: It seems hard. 

AZ: Yeah, and while still being sensitive, it’s very different. Like back in my day, they were just- professors would just show performances without saying, “Here’s a trigger warning!” so- so that I can relate to as well- what choices do I make? And I feel I’m always asking- I’m always asking for consent and there’s a lot of positive things that came out of this conversation, but yeah. I was like, “I’m asking my students for their consent to introduce new material or see something new-”

AS: Yeah, that’s- I mean I identify with that, I’m also a teacher and it is something I consider not always as well as I should… there was like a Shirley Clark film- “A Scary Time”- you know that film? 

AR: I’ve never seen that. 

AS: Oof! It’s so amazing! But I forgot that you had to warn everybody about it… And as it was going on, I started feeling like this like creeping dread that I hadn’t said, you know, “Watch out there’s gonna be something disturbing!” Anyway, I think that we were trying to trigger people a little bit and like not in the- not in the sense of like, you know, the way that that term is necessarily used, but like kind of force us to confront some of the ways in which these problems are sort of diminished by the language that we’re using. But then you still have to refer to them, you know? And we weren’t depicting particularly traumatic events. They’re actually really banal, but they’re all like on the edge of it, you know? And one training that I didn’t- that we didn’t go to, that I think if we do this again that I’m really interested in- it’s like the training that’s going on in elementary schools and in high schools around gun violence and how to survive gun violence. Because, you know, we were looking at it, like examples, from you know like Starbucks when they had the day that they closed all the Starbucks and did their training around, you know, diversity- what they were calling diversity? And we were looking at, you know, of course, Title IX training, which we’ve all done! And then I- but I had kind of overlooked, there’s this other one you know, that I haven’t had training in though I suspect that’s just around the corner at some point, you know, and that would be- that would change the tenor I think of the show.

AZ: I just recently went through that- they were doing gun- or not gun- fire safety on the floor of the building that I work in? And this year, there’s this added element which if there’s a shooter in the building… and I remember I could see everyone’s reaction like, “Wow this is now part of a routine…” you know? Fire- this is where the exit is! Now, we’re talking about, in terms of fire safety on the floor, where- how to run and what to do for active shooters. 

AS: Which is like the term “active shooter”- even that I’m kind of…

AZ: Like how did they kind of end up on that? Because is it like an attempt to not offend the inactive shooting community- who literally just have guns on them? 

AR: They’re just carrying and concealing… 

AS: The concealed carriers…

AZ: I wonder how that would change the tenor of the piece… 

AS: I mean it would’ve changed it a lot, but I think it’s like the other step. Like I think that that would have to happen at some point if we were really gonna go through like, “These are the protocols that we’ve been inundated with!” and “This is the world that we’re kind of like-” you know? Because I think on the one hand, we could talk about triggering as like a kind of violence, right, you know? But then I’m also- I’m wondering like- and this something in the show- like what’s violence? You know, like what’s this little miniaturized violence that we’re talking about?

AR: Well often that word is really referring to a past violence, you know? It’s like- so you’re trying to say this might remind you of a violence that happened to you… 

AS: And as an artist that’s a really- I mean, a teacher one thing, and I think you know we have our ways of navigating bureaucracy as teachers, so that’s kind of something we knew we were getting into… As an artist, it’s really very different and I don’t want to put the kinds of limitations on my work as an artist that I would as a teacher. But I do think that the art space is one where we can talk about those limitations- the ones that you’re having at Buzzfeed, the ones that I have in the classroom, but I also worked in the tech industry during the “.com” boom in the 90s- that was my first job out of college, so we kind of were like- we were processing a lot of stuff that I think as an artist you’re almost taught never to talk about which is like the day job or the corporate kind of like- how you use the skills that you use for your art in a corporate context, like you almost as an artist- you’re sort of taught not to talk about that, which I think does have a kind of weird economic- you know, like artists are supposed to somehow magically exist without-

AZ: The danger of- 

AS: Yeah, without bread and butter jobs! And those jobs do take up time and they are compromising, but they’re also like interesting. They’re a window into- as an artist you can actually look into this other world and then reflect on it, yeah.

AZ: So how did your experiences in tech and BuzzFeed inspire or teach you something about the work that you’re creating as an artist- what is that relationship? 

AS: In this piece, we just were really- we just- this was the “mise-en-scene”.

AR: I mean, I was sending him emails from my work and taking pictures around my office- 

AS: Yeah, I mean it was like research for the world and the thing is we’re the- we probably had the most experience with corporate world of the cast, right? We were mostly telling them- well Sing- Sing also has worked as an assistant to the C-class executives, right? But she’s the only one. So I think for a lot of the others it was like an exotic- but we also based our charac- like we played characters within it, and I was the chief operating officer and Amy was the head of HR and those are both internal positions within. It wasn’t there high up in the company, but they’re like internal. They’re about how’s the actual company as an operation work and in office and that kind of thing, as opposed to like CEO, which the more glamorous- or CFO, which is more important. Because we were kind of just interested in like, this may be where the Marxism came in- It was like, “Let’s talk about the contemporary worker in these environments that we’re familiar with!”

AZ: It’s more like a managerial position where you actually deal with workers? 

AS: Yeah, exactly- its internally focused. 

AZ: So you’re dealing with sort of labor- Do you find that the art world is becoming more corporate? Or there are certain trends that you’re seeing in the corporate world kind of- or or just still or it still plays a revolt- revolt in the art world against corporatization?

AR: So, I think there’s still spaces to revolt that lead to you not having a very successful career… I think that’s the outcome, but yeah I mean, you know, avoiding spaces that have, you know… like going to Fringe, more outside venues and spaces where you’re gonna avoid like problematic politics of corporate sponsors and things like that- 

AZ: Participating in the Marx festival! 

AS: At NYU…

AZ: Right right 

AS: And also… yeah I don’t know. I mean I think yeah. I think that’s about right. Like I think there’s still a lot of space in art for a kind of resistance, but you know, you are often compromised in different ways. I don’t know I’m not sure how the kind of like working from within works at this point cuz it just like- it means the “capitalism thing”- everything can be absorbed. 

AZ: Right. Co-opted. 

AS: Yeah, and so when you say “to the corporate world” I can’t remember what I was thinking of, but there are so many words that kind of like float out from our discourse and end up in corporate- 

AZ: Right, creativity… 

AS: Disruption… I mean like all of these like theoretical terms that can just easily be like mapped on to some kind of market idea… 

AR: Do you think they feed back into our art discourse though or do you think we take from the corporal…?

AS: We certainly did… 

AR: Well we did! Self-consciously… but I’m trying to think about like “critz” and things like that… Do you think we use? 

AS: Oh yeah! I think so. I think so- well it was particularly intense around the time that like art students were discovering accelerationism and everything was becoming like this muddy, Julian Assange-tinged like disruption. And like yeah, we can definitely like- “Let’s just increase capitalism until it like explodes! And maybe I can get rich while doing it!” And yeah, I mean, you went to school with some students who were very much invested in that  model as I recall… but yeah, I think now it’s kind of a weird feedback loop… maybe this has to do with social media? I don’t know, but like words can slip so easily from place to place…. 

AZ: I’m always so amazed, you know by like the language of love- you know there’s this sort of Laura Kipnis’s argument- it’s so now in capital! So you have to “love” your job, have “passion” for marketing, and which corporation really wants this creativity and you have all these artists who, you know, put their designs on, you know, shoes! And it becomes like this product right? So there’s definitely a loop… I just was gonna ask a question about your choice of Brecht and the lehrstück and whether or not you think that theatre performance can be a rehearsal for revolt in the real world… kind of a preparation- what happens after- what happens to the audience after they leave this show?

AS: Yeah that’s a good question…

AR: I mean I’m certainly very interested in that idea I mean we both- I think we connected artistically and specifically around this piece because we both have an interest in like the carnivalesque and the idea of collapsing the kind of artist into the audience and, you know, how I mean popular revolted term is even like acknowledging that. So, I think that’s what I get most excited about thinking about the potential of theater and live performance- I don’t know. 

AS: Yeah! I mean that’s a very important point- I mean you know, like I don’t know. I mean my previous work- a lot of it has been particularly with this group- My Barbarian, that I work with. You know. we spend a lot of time trying to kind of grapple with things we have learned from Augusto Boal and Theater of the Oppressed and seeing to what degree some of those strategies and methods could be applied in our context, to trying to kind of engage the audience in a productive way, and also engage other artists who we collaborate with, and we use the same- And so, in somebody’s- this grows out of that like the idea of collaboration and working with other people because I think the work itself- whether the audience sees this or not- like the work itself can be that model… like the process can be the model, in some ways a rehearsal for a better way of working. For example giving people space- and we were talking about it earlier- that we didn’t like every single thing that the other performers did… like we created the framework and some of them responded in different ways and like we stood behind it because it’s what they wanted to do in that moment and it made sense from their point of view, but it wasn’t like all of it was stuff that we were like “It’s my favorite I ever saw!” you know? But part of what was important about the process was creating the space for people to do what they were gonna do and though we were directing, we weren’t like controlling. So I think that’s one way that I think about like this revolution that theatre can be a rehearsal for. It’s actually like, yeah, in the making it could be that. I am always like, “I’m so unsure about how I feel about some of the like promises that are made by things like the “verfremdungseffekt”. Like how-” I don’t know, I mean, I read the Benjamin’s, you know, writing on Brecht and I like Brecht’s writing on Brecht better, but Benjamin’s is very like clarifying and very like, “This will happen, you know, like the audience member will be awakened and then they’ll go out and change the world and you’re like “Hmm…”

AZ: Yeah it’s like my- 

AS: See? 

AZ: Yeah- we talked about the empathy argument where audience members will feel empathy and then something will change- it’s so hard to control audience reactions because you have so many theorists- so that’s like the dream of a theater theorist. Like I will have a formula- like Brecht- like, “I will have this formula- I will do ABC and there will actually be D!” And same in film like “After I finish my montage, if I I do A plus B, the audience members will get C!” and I’m wondering like, how much of your work is kind of speculating what the audience will do and how much will be like okay- this is a- you have freedom for it to go in ways that we’re not planning? 

AR and AS: Yeah… 

AZ: So could you envision what the audience- what will be the work of the audience? 

AR: Well, we certainly talked a lot about how to address them- 

AS: And it was really an issue…

AR: It was an issue for a while… because you know I’m an audience member that sometimes I just want to sit and passively watch something- you know? 

AZ: Right, right, right. 

AR: And that is all I gave my consent for by entering the theater so… you know? Leave me alone please! So, I was very nervous about how do we do this in ways that don’t make people feel like, “Oh are they gonna come talk to me…?”

AS: Or worse like make me do something stupid that I didn’t-

AZ: Or take away my stuff…

AR: “Let me borrow this!” 

AS: Or like make me make their art for them? I was worried about that one it’s like you paid- you know, this was free, so it was whatever but yeah you pay X amount of money and then you tell them like now they have to go do your work? 

AR: Yeah…

AS: What’s that about? I mean I think in this case we kind of did limit the interactions, so that it would be like relatively painless… like we had an applause-o-meter- by the way I broke my iPad yesterday… 

AR: Oh no!

AS: I dropped it… this is my third one that I’ve shattered… but anyways on my iPad… and it was just an app that would track the applause, you know? So that’s not asking a whole lot from the audience, you know, but it really is just asking like, “…are you paying attention?” And then we had these small moments where different cast members would go out and talk to one person in the audience about the dilemma and then they’d come back and report and based on the sort of votes of those three audience members that the actors talk to, we would figure out whether we were consenting or dissenting. So we wanted to make it really just about extending this question to them, but it wasn’t about them having to perform because then I think you are asking for a different kind of labor from the audience?

AR: I totally agree… and they were impacting how, I mean, literally what we perform so it’s kind of exciting to see what they would choose…

AS: Yeah, yeah and honestly it wasn’t how I thought… 

AR: Yeah me too.

AZ: Well, what surprised you the most about this audience?

AR: I thought that they would- our first question is basically we lay out these terms of, you know, you can take a $35 an hour job guaranteed for six weeks- 

AR and AS: No benefits! 

AR: And so we pose that question- “Will you take this job or do you not consent to neoliberal capitalism?” 

AS: Right those are your options…

AR: And our crowd decided to dissent.

AS and AR: Right? 

AS: I think they did yeah… 

AR: Yeah, which I didn’t expect because to me, like if I have to or if I need to take a job $35 an hour I would- I mean I have done that before… you know? It’s like- but you know we probably had a lot of independently wealthy people in the audience… 

AS: Yeah, I don’t know what happened there…

AR: It’s always the audience! 

AS: It was weird yeah… like every time we would test it, we would get like slightly different answers. And then with this one, yeah it was, yeah, like that one was one and then later- I can’t remember what the second one was, but like they- I think- they decided to bring cake to the white people.

AR: Yeah.

AS: That was the weirdest one… 

AZ: What was that? 

AS: Well the second second tier is sort of a roundlike- First one is really like “do you consent to neoliberalism?” And then the second tier questions were more about identity and one- and we kind of create a scenario in the office which was sort of based on something that had happened in your office where it was like a diversity party happening, so all the people- and this was about sort of the misuse of the term “diversity” or like kind of like way that it’s come to stand for non whiteness but like nobody knows how to talk about it. They just say “diversity”. 

AZ: Right. 

AS: And so sort of like everybody in the office who has diversity- “Go to the main room for a cake party! Everyone who does not have diversity has to stay at their desks!” And so he wrote two scenes- one was just the white people at their desk, the other one was the people of color at the people of color party, and in the white people one, somebody wanders by who’s like, “Can you tell me where the diversity party is?” You know, “Where’s the cake?” basically and they’re like, “Well you can’t go there because you’re white!” And that person’s like, “No I’m actually not white…”

AZ: Mm….

AS: “Anyway where is the party?” And then as the person is leaving for the party, the other- the white people are kind of like, “Can you bring us back some cake?” And so the question becomes like, “Do you bring the cake back or not…?” And the audience said, “Yes!” Which I was surprised by- I don’t know that I would’ve, but I think- I don’t know.. Malik said he would totally bring the cake back… 

AR: I could see where they would because it’s like who cares about this cake?! This cake is not doing any- actually doing anything for me… 

AZ: Is it the entire cake or a piece of cake? 

AR and AS: Piece of cake! 

AZ: Okay! So not all of the cake…

AS: It’s a yellow and red and green cake that you- they put like a little white piece of paper over and they like take it back to the desk, you know, just that, in the elevator- like you have take it in the elevator with you, so it’s sort of embarrassing… but anyway, yeah. They all decided like- there were a lot of them- but to me that’s like the opposite of saying, I don’t consent to neoliberalism… you know what I mean? So it’s also kind of like, whatever happened in that moment… you know? Who knows why those decisions were made… 

AZ: Do you think audience members acted a certain way because they knew they were attending the Marx festival? That is- some of their decisions were like you know, I want to be the best Marxist in the room! 

AS: Yeah, that’s probably why the first one happened but the second was not the best Marxist- 

AR: Yeah, I think that’s why the first one- 

AS: Well maybe it is! Maybe it’s like cake for everyone! Regardless of your whiteness…

AR: No identity politics! 

AS: Yeah! It’s very Bernie Sanders…Yeah..

AZ: Yeah, because there’s that DJ Marxist party…

AR: I wanted to go to that! 

AZ: And then the slogan was “Let them have cake? Let us eat cake?” It was something that. Everyone gets cake… So maybe that was- everyone was thinking about the sharing of the cake… 

AS: Yeah… maybe, I mean, there was a line in the diversity scene where the person said that they felt bullied by cake and I want to be able to like live truly and authentically without having to eat cake and that’s kind of where I am on that one… especially in offices… all the sugary food that are like used to like

AR: Lure you into… 

AS: Lure you into worse and worse situations…

AZ: Right… and all these big corporations like Facebook, Google… now we know Amazon? 

AS: Oh my God, Amazon’s coming… 

AZ: Yeah it’s coming… so in all this, right? That everything happens in the building- like you have the gym and the food and they order food and all these perks and you just never leave the building- and I don’t know, I wonder if one can do a performance piece to this like “in the building, you never leave…” 

AS: Yeah

AZ: And what happens… 

AS: I mean we kind of are doing that but yeah… I mean that was something we were thinking about for sure. We even got a karaoke party sequence sort of like office karaoke that’s like demanded of them… yeah because i think that’s your experience and mine too. 

AR: Yeah, I was very interested in how these, especially like tech and startup companies, they really lure you in by like free lunches and snacks and things like that and yoga classes and-

AR: Meditation… 

AZ: Meditation, yes! 

AR: And wellness and self-care tutorials and it’s like what- they’re just absorbing more and more of your time and to me, if I’m in an office, you’re getting built like you know that’s labor like- but a lot of these people- I’m freelance, but a lot of these people are getting paid, you know, a salary and like they’re living their lives at the office and it’s just insane to me! It’s like this constant addition of like flex time and like constant adding of labor hours through what usually would be leisure.

AZ: Right. 

AR: But it’s like we want your leisure inside the building! You’re gonna play ping pong with us! 

AZ: It’s like maintenance of the workers…

AR: Yeah! 

AZ: So the health- the mental health is not so much like, “This is what you do in your free time, so that you are the most productive creative worker!” 

AR: Absolutely.

AZ: We’re gonna give you this package, so that we can work you even more! We’re gonna get that surplus labor out of you! 

AR: Yeah exactly! And give you free food that really they could- they’re probably like saving money on giving you this rather than just paying their workers more… 

AZ: Right- eating at the desk! It’s become this… 

AS: Yup… yup… They have foosball at Buzzfeed? 

AR: Probably.. they’ve got everything…

AS: We had it at Yahoo… I don’t know- it was a certain kind of person who wanted to play that… 

AZ: What is that?

AS: It’s that one where you go like this and you play like opposite like soccer teams, you know, and there’s these little doll people… 

AZ: Oh okay… it’s competition- it teaches you competition so that you…

AS: Yeah, there was kind of like a foosball championship that my office… 

AR: I can imagine that… 

AS: I don’t know… That wasn’t one of the things I engaged in…

AZ: So what’s the future of this piece? 

AS: That’s a good question! 

AZ: What would you do besides- I know you mentioned that maybe introducing gun control case studies but um… 

AS: Well, we’re trying to figure out what we want to actually do with it- I mean we were just talking about the way in which it could work within a gallery context outside of theaters per se. The set up now that- it’s one of those things like now that we know how to make it work because it took really up until the day that we were doing it to really know what it was gonna be, and thankfully like everything worked out… Dress rehearsal was rough, but the actual performance was kind of great! And I think partly because dress rehearsal was rough… But technically we know what it is, thematically we’re much clearer around with how it happens, and the way that the cast operated- it’s not dependent on any of them necessarily being in it, so it’s kind of more flexible in terms of the cast is, so we’re looking at other ways to present it. And what that would do you know? And something like a gallery context- it would probably have to be shorter, you know? A couple of things like that, but the actual setup is really flexible and could work in different environments. The other thing we were talking about is like getting it out of New York because I’m curious about how it would resonate in other situations…

AZ: San Francisco?

AS: Sure… yeah absolutely! 

AZ: Well because you know… 

AS: Yeah for sure… yeah Marin County… Yeah, I mean, I think it would be interesting in California. I’d be curious to see how it would change depending on, you know, the kind of audience response that you’re getting. I don’t know. We have like a sense- right before, we had a little debate because I was like maybe- Somebody wrote to us asking like what the final email blast should say or something and I had this weird moment where I was like it should have a trigger warning…

AR: Yeah and I was very anti-trigger… 

AZ: Wait, what would the trigger warning be?

AS: That’s the problem though! We were like I don’t know… 

AZ: There might be a revolt! 

AS: I was like this- “You might get triggered!” It’s that trigger warning where this piece is about triggering so don’t get triggered by the conversation around triggering like-

AR: I said that the only people that might get triggered are socialists. 

AS: That’s true… so true… So yeah, we were like no trigger warning, but I am curious about like- I think it could do- it could be interesting to see it like do a sort of small tour of college campuses… this one place- but I also would be interested, yeah to see like in our context that would be seen because the video art element is actually really there with the piece and it uses the technology that’s being used for offices in a way that’s pretty interesting, so I think that would be an interesting context.

AR: Mm-hmm, yeah. I could definitely see… an interesting feedback that we got from a lot of people was they said I could have kept watch- I mean it was a long show, it was like two hours, and they were like “It felt like TV!” Like they could have just kept watching it and watching it, so like maybe it should just be longer?

AS: Right. 

AR: Just like… become endurance level… 

AZ: 24 hours?

AR: Yeah because it really is work!

AS: That’s true I like that idea… That’s better… 

AR: And I also would- I think the end we could- I think we could have alternate endings like maybe… 

AS: Fascism… 

AR: Fascism or maybe like… You have- now we’re just brainstorming you know- you have the kind of downloadable socialism0 which is like bullshit socialism basically- where you don’t do any work and then what is the actual popular revolt version where we’re like…what is the work? 

AS: Yeah yeah yeah! I think it could be a lot more complex, the system that we were working with, and the way that we did it was really you know, because everyone’s on laptops and the audience was seated on the sides, so they’re just looking at people on their desks the projection is how you can see the faces of everybody. We had these scripts on the on each laptop, so depending on what happened in the scene prior, we would just pull one of those up in a PDF format, and so people would just be reading, and they’d rehearsed all of them, but they would- they didn’t have to memorize them. It’s kind of hard to imagine trying to get them to memorize two scenes that one of which might get done you know? So I was kind of like eh- I mean people have done that, but I didn’t want to have to do that, so in a way it’s like a tele- the thing is both a camera and a teleprompter at the same time and you really can’t tell that people are reading it. They’re familiar enough that they knew what they were saying, so what I’m saying is that we could- it could kind of extend infinitely, you know? You could build us a whole bunch of different architectures for you know, how this line goes potentially, or how it leads back over here, and it could go on for quite a long time. You could loop back there. There could be repetition which i think in the original Lehrstücke it was very repetitive actually.

AZ: If you do it for- I’m just brainstorming with you now- if you do it for several days, people will come back probably

AR: Yeah because they could see another- they could see a totally 

AZ: Yeah I wanna-

AR: different show. 

AZ: Or make other choices like that would be a chance to feel like, “I did this choice, now I want to not consent to this!” Yeah!

AS: I mean people do that with the dating simulators. They play it a second time and then choose other things to see what would happen. I don’t have the time for that…

AZ: It’s kind of like in real dating… like right? You come back! You text back!

AS: Try it again… some other way…

AZ: But that reminds me of self-help books too like I don’t know if that played a role in the dating simulators- 

AS: Probably… there’s certain rules like “you do this, you do that” and there’s different schools of how to do that…

AS: Yeah, I mean it’s funny because I think there’s a lot of space for dating simulators to get better, but because a lot of them are kind of adapted from anime and manga and stuff like that, and they’re pretty simplistic, and they’re thinking about like dating, I don’t know. It’s not very real, but the one that I was most interested in was Daddy- dream daddy, which is an American thing and it’s this dating simulator where you’re a dad who’s dating other dads and it’s kind of like- I don’t know- surprisingly engaging and kind of fun and very popular and one of the things that- one of the innovations it had was like you create your own avatar and it can be either a cis male or a trans guy and then you’re dating these other characters who could be kind of either way too- depending on how you think about that character, but just even the premise is so weird, in a way, like unusual, I guess. It’s like all these guys have kids and they’re all gonna date each other and it’s never really just like the word “gay” never shows up once in the whole thing. It’s just this like assumption that of course you’re gonna try to date Craig and the characters are kind of complex and there’s a lot of weird things you have to do. You can’t be too eager with some of the dads because you’ll scare them off… like you can’t sleep with some of them right away. You have to really build- 

AZ: Connections.

AS: A Connection to Craig… because Craig was my focal point… but yeah yeah. But anyway, yeah, I wonder how that one- I wonder how influenced it was by things like love language- the love language or whatever you know the five love languages or whatever… like it seemed like it had all that in there somewhere…

AZ: The language of work that seeps into dating and love… so we gotta “work” on our relationship or like I wanna “invest” in this relationship…

AS: Oh that’s good… we should remember that… 

AZ: “What’s in it for me?”

AS: Yeah, invest! 

AZ: Laura Kipness- “Against Love”- like she’s really good at showing this sort of how the language of love seeps into our workplaces and the language of work seeps- 

AR: I’ll have to read that-

AZ: into our relationships- or you go to therapy to work this out- 

AS: “We’re working on this… this is a lot of work…” I never really understood that- I’ve been in a relationship for like a long time and I’ve never understood when people said, “We’re working on our relationship…” I’m always like what…?

AZ: Is it working then? 

AS: Like how does that work? “How does that ‘work’?”

AS: I work with my partner on work, but then we have a very clear line like no work right now… because that would be hard! We will work on like a bookshelf together or something… but it’s like… 

AR: But not the relationship itself…

AS: No! Because I don’t even know how you do that… it’s fascinating…

AZ: Is there any- when you’re in the piece for exploring sort of what happens with free time because I heard from Marx- one of those things was that when we reach this Communist utopia we will have free time that we can, you know, build a new future and do what we want to do… 

AR: Yeah…and the part that always sticks out as one of the most beautiful things with Marx, for me, or beautiful ideas to get to- it’s like the idea that you won’t just do one job. 

AZ: Right that you can be a- you can fish- 

AR: You can be a fisherman in one hour and you can do- 

AZ: Like in theater! Yeah that’s interesting.

AR: I mean we really were kind of dealing more with the idea that all free time gets absorbed into the office yeah but that is an interesting thing to consider…

AS: I mean I guess that would be the Utopia because we never got to that part like we had on the original schematic for the for the play that it ends in Utopia after social democracy or fascism as the two possibilities but we never- we couldn’t figure out what Utopia was and we would like try to act it out and do all these things and it always kind of hit a brick wall and maybe that would be a kind of return to that, you know, because yeah, we’d never got there it was weird. Nobody could picture it- 

AR: Well you gave the the restriction though, that you still had a job, I remember.. 

AS: Yeah yeah- but it could’ve been multiple jobs…

AR: No that’s true! I just didn’t have any imagination around it, I have to admit. 

AS: Yeah, it’s just funny because I’ve done- there’s like an exercise where you- it’s kind of based on a Boal exercise called Hours of the Day that is supposed to like break down how much time you spend doing what, you know. And if you just call out each of the hours of the day and you just act out what you’re doing on that day, then at the end you reflect on like how you’re spending your time. So we tried that with utopia and I’ve had varying degrees of success with this before. But this time it was really funny how- partly because we were- so all the performers were so immersed in this corporate world and I was like, “Okay let’s try to imagine a utopia, but you still have a job like you’re still- you still have to work in some capacity.” And I guess yeah that limitation just capsized the whole thing and nobody could get too much of a utopia or people would be like, “But I’m on a beach!” I mean it’s very vague, you know?

AR: “I’m working on a beach!” 

AS: “I guess I work on a beach!” It was super vague yeah… 

AZ: The imagination of Utopia… yeah…

AS: It’s not where people are right now, it’s funny…

AR: Well it’s limited… 

AZ: We’re trying to resist fascism! Like we’re almost like step one…

AS: Right, but that’s the thing it’s like how do- this is the problem right, because you’re in a position of resistance you kind of need the- it’s kind of Fassbenderian… like you kinda need the oppressor to be in that position, right? But if you’re promising something else, which is what often the kind of dictator is promising, like either, “You’re with me or everybody dies!” Right? But if you’re trying to resist without that promise- without his kind of shared goal, it is hard. Like that’s probably where we’re at, but I don’t- I’ve just even noticed this in like fantasy and genre fiction. Like the dystopia has displaced and almost become the Utopia. Like if we look at sort of trends in utopian fiction, for example, like there hasn’t been a lot lately and yet the dystopia is pictured as this like total rupture where at least you’re kind of free from certain structures. Or this kind of individualist figure can now emerge, you know? Which is not what I’m into, but that’s the thing that people think of in like utopia- the camera picture. Because it would require the cooperation of members and things you can’t even- nobody knows about- 

AZ: I see your point…

AS: I don’t know, it’s weird. I’m trying to figure out what to do about that but…it’s an uphill battle… yeah… cool…

AZ: Is there anything that we haven’t covered… about the work that I haven’t asked that you wanted the audience to know? About the process of the work itself? 

AS: Well I guess just that it was like collaborative on all kinds of levels… like Amy and I worked pretty closely on writing this text that was like a framework, but the other artists made their own pieces in response to that, and so they’re, you know, we had these sort of “interruptions” is how I saw them. But I think in some ways they were the work! They were the piece. And yeah and they kind of created their own- they created different meanings that we haven’t talked about, like different things came out of that. I mean LaTasha Diggs did a piece where she talked about housing very directly in New York City, Miguel Gutierrez’s piece was a dance piece with water bottles that I worked closely with him in developing, but like-  because it was dance work, it like sort of slips out of some of the like discourse that we’re talking about and yeah… and then Sing’s piece, I don’t know how you would describe that, but she was playing definitely with kind of like Fitness culture in relationship to these other things…

AR: And kind of the false promises of self-care language… 

AS: And then Allison Kizu-Blair’s piece was sort of like this poem/spoken word thing that was about being a bartender. So it was a different kind of labor that sort of like emerges in the middle of the piece and sort of reorients the conversation for a second, which is something that the piece was able to do by creating those little spaces we could have. In a sense it’s like they’re not the audience, but in a sense they were our first audience- these other performers, you know? And so there is a kind of like, you know, like some space to talk about what they were thinking about instead of it all just being like our experience, yeah. 

AZ: So, it starts with sort of your collaboration, then you sort of invite them… okay. 

AS: Yeah we invited them to- when we were really building the piece- like even the scenes themselves, we would workshop with them. Like we find- like the scene with the porn scene. Now Amy wrote a scene where there’s- somebody proposes- wants to propose a room in the office where people can watch porn that was kind of a break room, but it’s like one person at a time and it’s like dark room.. And we didn’t know- once that part was written, it was like, “Where are we going with this…?” So we kind of would have the actor/the performers come in like act out the scene and then started to ad-lib and from there we would generate the rest of the material yeah…

AR: Yeah that was very helpful actually. Just having people discuss each topic that we had and then it really- the dialogue started filling itself in.

AS: Yeah, it was interesting. Same thing with the healthcare one and definitely with both of the creepiness and the yeah… 

AZ: The creepiness? 

AS: Well we had that- it was kind of uncomfortable, but it was fun that day when we had them act out this whole scenario of like what if one of your co-workers is creepy? Like how do you even determine what that is? 

AZ: Oh! 

AR: Yeah what does that mean-

AS: What does it mean- like and who is this person, you know. What do you do? Because it’s like, on that line where it’s like it’s not quite determined yet that this is like anything it’s just something’s wrong and that paranoia that that creates… so on both parts you know, because the person’s like realizing all of a sudden that they are being seen as a creep. So acting that out created a weird tension in the group for a little while because the guy who played the creep kind of took it personally I feel like… 

AR: Oh, Lorenzo? 

AS: Yeah… like “Why do I have to be the creep again?” 

AR: “Cuz I’m the cis straight man…” 

AS: “I don’t know… you’re just really good at that!”