WHY CREATE WHEN YOU CAN BUY?
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
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
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