Sunday, August 6, 2017

Adventures in Edinburgh: Foreign Radical & Transmission Opening

I've been in Edinburgh, Scotland for about a week and a half now - about half my time here is gone. The festival opened yesterday and our show, Transmission, opened today. I'm not going to go into how many pages and scenes and hours of video and number of hikes up Arthur's Seat and broken feet and podcast episodes and renders and Skype meetings and bottles of Scotch and resubmissions of the app to Apple have gone into this. But I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this project and look forward to where we go in the future.

I am in love with this city and this country.

Theatre Conspiracy - Foreign Radical

My first Fringe show was today - I bought a ticket to the performance of Foreign Radical that was right before Transmission's first performance. The description was the only thing I knew about it: "Thirty participants are invited into an intriguing theatrical game exploring security, profiling, privacy and freedom of expression in the age of cybersurveillance. Mobile throughout the performance, the participants collaborate, compete, investigate, debate and spy on each other. Depending on personal and group responses, participants witness different perspectives on the action, gathering evidence from dramatic scenes and documentary media that colour their views and how they play the game." Really, it's subject matter is the ease with which a person can be marked a "terrorist" or be placed on the "terror watchlist" in the US, making it difficult to impossible for them to travel.

I feel like I say this ten times a year but - I see a lot of immersive theatre. And I absolutely love it when I see something that does something different. I feel like so much of what I see does the same damn thing as something else. The number of shows I consider "good" is not large. I've actually started really winnowing that list down to a small handful, and that doesn't even include Sleep No More at this point in my life. Learning Curve is on it, as is The Tension Experience (ARG included), The Day Shall Declare It, and Biography of Physical Sensations, and now Foreign Radical. Those five shows are radically different. They all do different things.

There will be spoilers for Foreign Radical in this blog post, so if you are planning to see it then don't read any further.

Early on the audience is introduced to the format of the show as a "game" with a "host." It's all flashy pink lights and fun and the host is wearing a white tux. He starts asking questions of the audience, after learning their names, and the questions start to divide them into quadrants - things like "if you change your passwords regularly, walk to this side of the room, if not, walk to that side" and then "if you use a messaging app that's secure, walk to this side, if not, that side" so that the entire audience is now in four different corners. Then, pointing to the corner of people who answered "yes" to both questions, he tells the rest of the audience to point to the one who looks the most paranoid. That person is called out and separated. This happens a few times. And then it was my turn, and I was labeled the radical. This was based solely on my answering yes to two questions, and - in all likelihood - the army green jacket I was wearing.

An hour later, the audience has played the "game," and decided the fate of one man, whether he's been placed on the watchlist or not. And it's then that a disheveled, not-having-fun-anymore host walks in, in complete silence, with a chair. He puts the chair down on the stage in a square of white light, and then stares at it. Silence.

And then my brain put it together, and just as it was putting it together and saying "wouldn't it be crazy if - " the host says:

"Megan, have a seat."

Immersive theatre has made me do some dumbass things. And I have a feeling that isn't going to let up with whatever The Lust Experience might do with me. The thing is, for all of the times I've gone to a show with shocking moments (Tension or Biography, for example) I was mentally prepared. I knew that something was going to happen, if I didn't fully know what. I knew to be guarded. This, I had no idea. None. No guard up, no preparation of sarcastic things to say, no control in the situation at all, just...."Megan, have a seat." Quietly. Without looking at me. No eye contact, no drama, just this chilling silence.

So I sat, and for ten minutes or so I was questioned by the man who had previously been the suspected terrorist. He didn't ask anything awful, or anything terribly prying, but it didn't matter. I hate being in that position, having to talk about myself in front of an audience, especially when it's seemingly inconsequential stuff. At one point I stopped the conversation and said "why are you asking me questions about Minnesota?" and he responded "you brought up Minnesota, you're the one who wants to talk about it." This was worse - way worse - than answering questions in the processing room in Ascension because I knew those were coming. Worse than being called out for things I had written while wearing nothing but my underwear. I might not have known that exact scene was coming, but I knew enough to know something would happen and I could prepare for it. Plus, it's a lot easier for me to stay removed emotionally and mentally when I'm being asked questions about things that most people find uncomfortable but I don't. Start asking me the personal intimate questions about things that matter, and I will look for a way out as soon as I can. Especially if I think that I'm doing it wrong ("are we supposed to be talking about Minnesota or did I mess that up?").

I did not expect to be sitting there at this piece, being questioned. Having to name a battle I'm fighting, or explain my feelings about Minnesota, in front of all these strangers, in a bright white spotlight. I was only sitting in that chair, I'm assuming, because I was labeled a "radical" by the audience, none of whom know me. They gave me that label based on two pieces of information they had with no context whatsoever, and more than likely my army green jacket. Because of those things, at the end, I was in the spotlight.

Ding ding ding - that's the point, right? To have seemingly harmless acts be the ones that end up hurting you?

Later my friend Michelle would say to me "I would *never* call you a 'radical.'" Nope. Never. Angry? Absolutely. But my actions and decisions and even the clothes that I was wearing had context, and once explained, that context would probably remove that edge. Of course there's one thing that couldn't change and that's the the fact that I'm white / not a middle-eastern male. It's much easier to give a white woman's actions context and explain them away in the face of fear than it is to do the same for someone perceived as perpetually "other."

Transmission Opens

We opened officially today, which means the app has been launched, we had our first mission briefing today and our first public performance of the window dance scenes. It was pretty great to see a crowd gathering to watch the actors perform in the windows of our hostel (as if they were the windows of the characters themselves).

I do need to take a day just to experience our show the way it's meant to be experienced, walking the city with the app and discovering everything. I've been so focused on my small corner of it that I haven't stepped back to fully take in the scope of the entire work. I do hope that we continue with this piece and move forward to the next stage  so that people in the US and Canada can see what we've been up to.

My first Edinburgh Fringe, first show seen, first show opened.

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