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EDINBURGH 2019: FOUR WOKE BAES Q&A

EDINBURGH 2019: FOUR WOKE BAES Q&A

A conversation with Whitney White & Jonathan Caren on cultural appropriation, The Edinburgh Fringe and what's exciting in the theatre right now.

Whitney White:

Right now I am really excited by fractured performance structures. And finding a way to create live performance that more closely refracts how I experience life.

Which is to say: fragments of memories, bits of the past and present, music, dialogue that is sometimes realistic, sometimes poetic.

I just have a general theory that our experience of life is maybe more fractured and non-linear and that audiences can handle a style of performance that reflects this.

Jonathan Caren:

I feel you on that. I'm always trying to find a better way to mine to the core of what is most true-to-life in the text, which often means pairing down any fixings or trappings imposed on the material that get in the way of that - and that doesn't always mean making something more linear per se.

Whitney White:

What about you? What are you up to and what is inspiring you?

Jonathan Caren:

Well, I'm working on a play right now that was born out of a deep wound-- learning that my parents were in an open-relationship for most of my upbringing, and ultimately coming to terms with how I learned from their behavior. I want to discover what is universal in the singular experience but it's terrifying to watch it in rehearsal actually. I thought I was a relatively self-aware person, until my life exploded in my face.

Whitney White:

I love that "life exploded in my face" very accurate. Your last piece I am familiar with, from having had the honor of working on it, CANYON also had major explorations of intimacy and marriage, is this a larger theme you are trying to crack or curious about?

Jonathan Caren:

This is probably an extension of that as I was engaged and the relationship fell apart, in part, because we were getting married for the wrong reasons... just like my parents?

Whitney White:

That is incredibly intimate.

Jonathan Caren:

Errr.... I mean, why else do this? I become interested in personal material in a play when I see a larger, systemic fracture in the culture at-large. This play, Four Woke Baes, is about a group of liberal men that believe they are evolved, and must come to terms with just how far from "woke" they truly are.

Whitney White:

This term "woke" is really permeating western culture right now.

Jonathan Caren:

WELL LET'S TALK ABOUT THAT.

In this context, I'm referring to the "woke bae" memes that emerged from our internet culture making fun of (mostly) white liberal guys who think they're evolved.

Whitney White:

What does the word mean to you?

I think this is interesting- because the internet has kind of taken over a term that was strong for the black community and thus given other groups license to use this- which is neither good nor bad. But it's something that could have deeper meaning but could also be reduced to a meme.

Jonathan Caren:

Of course. I want to comment on that in this play --the way that people think they know something or are in the know and connected to something just because they've read it on the internet when they truly know NOTHING about it.

I'm inspired by your willingness to put yourself out there in your work too.

Whitney White:

I hide with nonsensical time jumps and odd language though ?

Jonathan Caren:

I never want it to be navel gazey, but I am drawing from lessons learned, and ones that I'd like to share.

Whitney White:

I think it's really brave when writers explore their own issues and stories- like what you are doing with FOUR WOKE BAES, do you ever have reservations about exploring your issues in public?

Jonathan Caren:

The most exciting work that I've seen lately lacks any artifice and goes straight for the personal. I had a point in my life when I ended up confiding in a bunch of my guy friends about a relationship in crisis and they all had SUCH different opinions on what to do, and their own compartmentalized infidelities. It made me so aware of the secrets that everyone are walking around with. That alone felt like something to write about.

Whitney White:

I love this theme of "compartmentalizing" because we all do it to survive and no one is perfect, yet so often we advise each other as if our way is the BEST way. It's very hard to see your own flaws and limitations.

Jonathan Caren

YES YES YES

Whitney White

How would you describe the style of dialogue you are cooking up for FOUR WOKE BAES

Jonathan Caren

It has a sparseness and rhythm to it that leads to the kind of discomfort and anxiety I'm examening in the play. It starts with four guys who accidentally take over a woman's campsite and over the course of the night she dismantles their preconceived ideas about intimacy, monogamy and marriage. They actually grow incredibly intimate, but there's a danger by placing a woman in nature with four somewhat unstable men.

Whitney White:

Very fascinating.

Jonathan Caren:

It's quite a simple play on one level, and I like that, in that I'm trying to examine strangers melting into each other over the course of a night. I hope audiences feel a little less alone in their private struggles around relationships and feel more connected to each other coming out of the theater.

So my question for you -- is around cultural appropriation, the internet, and the term "woke bae".

Whitney White:

Sure.

Jonathan Caren:

And wokeness in general as you said.

It's all over our culture. Everyone wants to be WOKE.

Whitney White:

Yes.

Jonathan Caren:

But what, to you, makes someone woke? And how to you feel about the term "woke bae" to comment on this?

Whitney White:

I think the term itself is really indicative of the time we are living in, and of western society's current cultural landscape. We are living in a time during which marketing, memes, quick phrases, and just the process of "naming" is really important and has proven to have large impacts on populations

If you can "coin" something and it can catch on it can give you fame, attention, or attention to an important issue

Jonathan Caren:

Things move SO FAST these days. What has one meaning one year takes on a completely different meaning or interpretation thereafter

Whitney White:

For example: the term "Woke" speaks to issues of racism, societal oppression and marginalization. And to be woke is to be "alert" to it. Aware of it. And even maybe brave enough to call it out when one sees it and act on it. But most internet sensations or memes rarely have serious impacts on peoples' social political actions.

Jonathan Caren:

Sadly, this is true.

Whitney White:

So in "coining" this and people being able to like a button that says woke I think it gives us a false sense of action or understanding.

I liked a post on Instagram: I am woke.

Jonathan Caren:

I can't stand how we self-identify as one thing online, but behave in such a different way in our lives.

Whitney White:

but a black person is denied work in front of my eyes and I don't do anything about it.

Jonathan Caren:

It's how Trump was elected. So many people voting in shame against their online identity politics.

Whitney White:

So it's like "false politics" and action.

Jonathan Caren:

YES

FALSE POLITICS are everywhere.

We're using "woke" as an identity. Literally, a t-shirt.

Whitney White:

BUT then again, at least the term is out there so is it ultimately positive that it's now on tee shirts. In songs, and all over the web? Does that one click help?

I'm not sure.

Jonathan Caren:

I hear you on that.

At least it's "cool" or "popular" to be aware, or at least to try to be.

Whitney White:

I think on using this term in your play you are brilliantly activating a very large population of people that will come into contact and have immediate understandings to the term "Woke Bae".

So it will draw people in and leave them with the deep meanings of it potentially.

Jonathan Caren:

Half of Scotland won't even know what the term means.

Whitney White:

But that's kind of wonderful

Because you get to teach them a new term; how it fails; and let them make up their own mind on how to wake themselves up!

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/four-woke-baes



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