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WHY CREATE WHEN YOU CAN BUY?

 

Theater Article

by Kestryl Lowrey

published December 5, 2007

 

Democracy In America

a theatrical experiment

 

Annie Dorsen’s new theatre experiment depends on a known truth of business and politics: money makes things happen.  True, money has always had some amount of influence in the theatre as well, but the relationship between production choices and audience member’s wallets tends to be rather indirect.  Any examination of the current theatre scene will reveal that many factors beyond what audiences really want to see influences what is produced and presented. 

 

But what if audiences had a more direct say in what was presented on stage?  What if audiences could, in fact, pay for exactly what they wanted to see?  What would happen to a production grounded entirely in open, free market forces?

 

The Foundry Theatre and Annie Dorsen intend to find out.  In their experiment, Democracy in America, the so-called “marketplace of ideas” becomes a literal reality—if you can dream it, you can buy it, and they can put it on stage.  The project brings to life America’s systems of capitalism and democracy in a theatrical microcosm, allowing anyone to buy a piece of the piece and decide what will be presented.  Alexis de Tocqueville must be rolling in his grave, but, then again, there could be few better tests of his classic theory that a commercialized, democratic society would fall victim to the “tyranny of the majority.”  This show will only be as good (or as bad) as whatever the public decides to put into it.

 

Democracy in America consists of two phases.  In Part I (November 26-February 15), the market opens, giving the public the opportunity to buy elements of the production at the show’s website, www.buydemocracy.com.  At this point, the consumers are the creators of the piece; everything is for sale, ranging from images to sound cues to actions to spoken material.  Beyond the options listed for purchase on the site, such as a musical theatre moment or what type of underwear an actor will wear during the performance, contributors can make custom requests and negotiate the price with the company.  Furthermore, product placement and other advertising opportunities are available to corporations, businesses, and other groups. 

 

The website launched with a celebratory live auction event at Joe’s Pub on Monday, November 26th.  Available for sale were a few limited time offers (the first word of the production, and who says it) as well as other options which are available on the website as well (songs, dances, and credit in the program).  The evening saw a sampling of what the final show may bring: given a theme (“the illusion of genius”) and a style (“sad Bollywood film soundtrack”), performer Okwui Okpokwasili sang what will be one of the show’s songs.  Given the phrase, “fish walking drunkenly,” dancer Philippa Kaye created a movement piece that involved the inventive use of tennis shoes.  And all this was merely a preview of the many things that can (and surely will!) happen in Democracy in America. 

 

After the market closes on February 15th, Dorsen and her creative team will work with all of the material that has been purchased, and assemble it into “a full-length performance collage.”  Part II of Democracy in America will open at PS122 on March 29th, 2008.  

 

The requests are already starting to stack up: a hand puppet opera, a rant set to double dutch, a twirl.  Follow the show as it grows by watching the “recent purchases” column at www.buydemocracy.com. 

 

What will emerge? A dada-ish multiplicity of nonsense, or a stunning reflection of meaning within a capitalist democracy?  Only time (and money!) shall tell.

 

kestryl.lowrey @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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