The Disillusion Will Not Be Televised

I'm not so sure I want to be a performance artist after all.

As some readers, and readers of Gaia's blog, already know, there was an event last weekend in Chicago called Pilot TV.

This was a "transfeminist" media convergence of energies, talents, bodies, a fantastic warehouse space, and a lot of high-tech equipment, some of which worked.

I was working with the Feel Tank on a mock-talk show called "Feeling Good About Feeling Bad," a show about political depression. This "episode" was on the theme of "election time," With Your Host Noprah. Noprah, who is officially our hero, interviewed Eeyore the Democratic donkey, brought on a shrink to analyze him and talked with various other crazy personages. We interspersed this with video clips with person-on-the-street interviews, a glossolalic talk with the Body Politic, and words from our sponsor (Grave, Splenetic and Glum, P.C.: Emotional Investment Brokers) in the form of a series of Power Point presentations (the best one, if I do say so, was "Great Moments in the History of Melancholy").

By the day of the show I was completely exhausted. We had fantastic brainstorming sessions and promised ourselves much more than we could actually accomplish -- with one member having left town for a job, another recovering from surgery (though she did a great Body Politic) and one returning from abroad just in time to feel not-quite-caught-up on the plans. I spent about 40 hours preparing stuff the week before the show -- shooting and editing video clips, downloading images for the power points, pulling together things we'd brainstormed for the script, trying to corral potential guests. We lost our scheduled rehearsal time in the mainstage because events were running late the night before, so we really had to wing it, and it showed. A lot of people stepped into the breach and did amazing work on very short notice. But the unrehearsed tech was a really big problem (we were trying to project from VHS, mini DV, and computer). I ended up feeling let down by a bunch of people, too, and had a big fight with a friend over her participation. Someone for whom I felt somewhat responsible (though I shouldn't, because she's a grownup!) had her video camera stolen.

[That's another thing. Something in the air. Lots of people I know have (or know people who have) been mugged, robbed, hit by cars -- fortunately without major injuries -- etc., lately. I was really freaked out when I walked into my office one day last week to find my door had been left wide open (presumably by a new cleaning person; nothing was missing).]

Mainly, I had a big misunderstanding with the other Feel Tank member who was doing a lot of the work. She intervened at various times in the show, playing the role of chagrined "director." It turned out we had, sort of, discussed it -- but I thought when she said she'd play director that she meant she'd be staying literally behind the scenes. What she really meant was that she'd be acting out this interruptive role. I can see the appeal of doing something like that, but I wished I could have prepped the "actors" (and found a way to theatrically let the audience in on the joke). So in the event itself, I really felt waylaid. I think we'll have a lot of material we can edit into an interesting show (as long as the video footage that was shot comes out OK).

Some audience members said they weren't sure whether they were supposed to be real audience members or playing audience members. We had jokey segments but we also had serious ones. I think that put a lot of people (me included) off guard -- even feeling a bit vulnerable (as well as bored, annoyed, etc.). We ended on the discussion about protest that Gaia described. I was playing a devil's advocate kind of naive character trying to cheer up seasoned political activists who were frustrated and depressed about their experience at the RNC protests. I think this is a serious discussion, one I've written about before and will write more about another time. But what I find interesting about it is the weird mix of seriousness, boredom, and unseriousness that we produced...so people weren't sure whether anyone was being sincere when they sounded sincere, or what they were really laughing at when they were laughing.

So I'm not sure I want to be a performance artist. But I think I'm glad I did this.


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