Annie Dorsen's THE SLOW ROOM to Play Performance Space New York
Performance Space New York kicks off its second themed season of performances and events-the Posthuman Series-with the world premiere of Annie Dorsen's The Slow Room (September 27-29). Dorsen has taken the idea of technological theater further than most artists. While productions that address the digitization of everyday life often stop at the inclusion of, say, video and computer-generated imagery, through the last decade Dorsen treated algorithmic processes as her collaborators in her acclaimed works of "algorithmic theater" (Hello Hi There, A Piece of Work, Yesterday Tomorrow, and The Great Outdoors). The Slow Room diverges from these works: Dorsen has moved on to a new nonhuman collaborator, a "playwright," of sorts, with a knack for pairing deadpan comedy and melancholy: the lobby of a virtual sex chat room.
The Slow Room pulls its texts directly from transcripts of hour-long sessions of screen-time in the chat room lobby, and funnels it back into human voices and bodies in a performance featuring 30 actors. Some users pass through this space momentarily, dropping pleasantries and light innuendo, on their way to the promises of a more explicitly sexual environment; some are like recurring characters, returning every so often to the lobby; and others linger the whole time-even if only to announce their presence with a "hi everyone" and departure with a "goodnight folks." While Dorsen's works like Hello Hi There and A Piece of Work featured no (or nearly no) human performers as they revealed the dramaturgical potential at the heart of the digital code, The Slow Room realizes the anonymous, clipped communications of a transient digital space by overloading the stage with humans-their individuality diminished as they enact a digitized expanse of longing.
Dorsen says, "There's an incredible waste of human resource in this piece-to have 30 actors, some of whom have, you know, two lines. That waste of human creativity and spontaneity and capacity and intelligence is intentional-it's related to how humanity is changing, or let's say how the conditions in which we find ourselves as humans are changing. All of our capacities are being wasted, by the economic and social structures that we're living within. I've been thinking a lot about the so-called diseases of late capitalism: isolation, depression, anxiety, alcoholism and opioid addiction, the whole cluster of maladies that have to do with a failure of the social. This piece is largely about the loneliness our conditions are creating, and the attempt of some people to find community, to be together, to get some attention, have a laugh, find some companionship and camaraderie, and how the very place they're looking to find all that is structurally incapable of satisfying those needs. In the chat room, you can see the loneliness and the trying and the insecurity-you see it all."
Underlying the banal isolation of the chat room space, Dorsen sees traces of something culturally ubiquitous, deeper, and more unsettling. Dorsen conceived the piece while reading the writing of political theorist Hannah Arendt. In Arendt's works, particularly The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), lie alarming parallels to the political present: the pervasive social and political isolation in our culture, and widespread loneliness-coupled with a culture where capitalist structures have depleted thought and language-make the population vulnerable to totalitarianism and toxic ideologies. Dorsen explains, "Arendt's great insight (one of them) is that in such a culture not only do our public institutions suffer-but even as individuals, even within the privacy of our own minds, we bit by bit lose our capacity for self-reflection, for critical thinking, for imagination."
Dorsen recently received the Spalding Gray Award (presented by the Spalding Gray National Consortium, which includes Gray's widow Kathleen Russo; Performance Space New York; the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; On the Boards in Seattle, and Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio). The $20,000 commission from the consortium accompanying the honor has helped realize the performance in Performance Space New York's Posthuman Series; The Slow Room will also travel to each other organization in the Spalding Gray National Consortium. The Slow Room was also commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
The Slow Room's creative team includes Annie Dorsen (Director), Marsha Ginsberg (Scenic Design), Isabella Byrd (Lighting Design), Robert Croghan (Costume Design), Ian Douglas-Moore (Sound Design), and Natasha Katerinopoulos (Producer).
For the Posthuman Series, Jenny Schlenzka gathers artists who've taken an active approach to addressing nothing smaller than the morphing state of "humanity." Inspired by thinkers like Donna Haraway ("A Cyborg Manifesto") and Rosi Braidotti (The Posthuman), the Posthuman Series continues the legacy of Performance Space New York to defy categorization and broaden the meaning of "performance," through works that simultaneously seek to question and expand the very definition of "human." The potential impacts of climate change on human populations demonstrate the very absurdity of considering "human" as separate from "nature." And as technology blurs the boundaries between the individual, the collective, and the artificial, the idea of a fixed "human condition" or human "self" continues to lose its logic.
Beyond The Slow Room, the series includes performances from Mette Ingvartsen (October 3-5), Underground Resistance (October 20), keyon gaskin and sidony o'neal (October 26-27), Ron Athey (November 17-14), and more; a group exhibition with Sondra Perry, American Artist, Caitlin Cherry, and Nora N. Khan (October 19-December 16); a special appearance by Donna Haraway (October 21); and a performative conference, The Permeable Stage - Reimagining the Social, organized by Ingvartsen, featuring Carolee Schneemann, Che Gossett, Isabel Lewis, Patricia T. Clough, and Annie Dorsen, among others (October 7).
The world premiere performances of The Slow Room will take place at Performance Space New York (150 1st Avenue, NY, NY, 10009), September 27-29 at 7pm, as well as September 29 at 2pm. A post-show talk will take place Friday, September 28. Full price tickets are $25, and student/senior tickets are $15; they can be purchased at performancespacenewyork.org.
The Slow Room runs 60 minutes.
Annie Dorsen is a director and writer whose works explore the intersection of algorithms and live performance. Her most recent project, The Great Outdoors, premiered at Noorderzon Festival in Groningen and has also been presented at Kampnagel Sommerfestival (Hamburg), Crossing the Line (NYC), and Théâtre de la Cité (Paris), and others. Upcoming performances of The Great Outdoors are planned at Kaaitheater (Brussels), Museum of Contemporary Arts (Chicago) and Black Box Theater (Oslo.) Her previous algorithmic work, Yesterday Tomorrow (2015), premiered at the Holland Festival, and has been presented since at Berliner Festspiele as part of Maerzmusik, Ultima Festival (Oslo), PS122's COIL Festival (NYC), and Festival d'Automne (Paris), amongst others. Other algorithmic theatre projects, A Piece of Work (2013) and Hello Hi There (2010), have both toured extensively in the US and Europe. The script of A Piece of Work was published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2017, and she has contributed essays for Theatre Magazine, Etcetera, The Drama Review (TDR) andPerforming Arts Journal (PAJ). She is the co-creator of the 2008 Broadway musical Passing Strange, which she also directed. In addition to awards for Passing Strange, Dorsen has received a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2016 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant to Artists Award, and the 2014 Herb Alpert Award for the Arts in Theater. She is a Visiting Professor in Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago.
Founded as Performance Space 122, in 1980, from an explosion of radical self-expression amidst the intensifying American culture wars, Performance Space New York is the birthplace of contemporary performance as it is known today. The early acts that defined the organization's unique role in New York cultural history asserted themselves as living, fleeting, and crucially affordable alternatives to mainstream art and culture of the 1980s and early 90s. Emboldened by the inclusive haven of a tight knit group of artists, performers like Penny Arcade, Ron Athey, Ethyl Eichelberger, Karen Finley, Spalding Gray, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Holly Hughes, John Kelly, John Leguizamo, Tim Miller, and Carmelita Tropicana, among many others, engaged in radical experimentation and created hybrid works that existed somewhere between dance, theater, poetry, ritual, film, technology and music.
With the renovation and reimagining of its original abandoned public-school building in the East Village completed, Performance Space New York is entering a new, bracing chapter. Under the leadership of recently appointed Executive Artistic Director Jenny Schlenzka, and with state-of-the-art, column-free, high-ceilinged performance spaces, the organization is poised to make a case for the cultural vitality and relevance of performance for the 21st century. Schlenzka brings the idea of themed series to Performance Space New York. As part of a larger multidimensional whole, individual works are juxtaposed to evoke further meaning and push audiences to engage with our contemporary world in illuminating ways.
Returning to a rapidly changing neighborhood during a time marked by divisive and oppressive politics, Performance Space New York builds on its own traditions of integration, political involvement and vehement interdisciplinarity, embodied by artists like niv Acosta, Big Dance Theater, Annie Dorsen, Elevator Repair Service, Tim Etchells, Maria Hassabi, Emily Johnson, Young Jean Lee, Taylor Mac, Richard Maxwell, Sarah Michelson, Rabih Mroué, Okwui Okpokwasili, Reggie Watts, and Adrienne Truscott.
Performance Space New York's lasting presence from the pre-gentrification East Village neighborhood fervently aims to create an open environment for artists and audiences, and thus foster community through performance and discourse-to be a countering force to the often-exclusionary nature of urban development.