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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thursday Night in Bushwick: What We Know So Far presents "The Hannah Complex," "Meme Factory" and other works at 3rd Ward


We've just walked back home to Dumbo Books HQ from 3rd Ward, the member-based design center for creative professionals; its ZIP is 11237 and we see it's called Bushwick but if we can walk home, we call it East Williamsburg. Whatever. It's a great space and tonight we saw an engrossing, thoughtful, bright-eyed and frequently hilarious collection of works by What We Know So Far, the talented group of performers whose residency at 3rd Ward ended tonight.

Tonight's works included The Hannah Complex (Hannah as in Miley), an updated version of the performance piece which last was done in April; New News, a video piece made to look like a local news broadcast, only with nonsensical footage and reports made up of text from spam email; Loan Words, a comic video based on the conceit that other nations are asking English-speaking Americans for compensation for words loaned from their languages; and a new, very funny MemeFactory show with reports on the latest stupid viral online memes.

Despite some technical glitches - we actually thought for a while that one was a brilliant improvisation that improved the performance - we definitely feel we got our money's worth and actually would have paid more than nothing to see it. (We did pay a dollar for Diet Coke and when the bartender told us she'd give us free refills, we gave her a dollar tip.)

Before the performance, we explored 3rd Ward, which seems like a nice place which might well be worth the membership fees for someone interested in taking its classes and other activities.

Tonight's WWKSF performance took place in Studio B, which was a decent-sized space, although the audience was larger than the number of chairs (about 5 each on one side of an aisle), and people ended up sitting on the floor pretty much where they could. Inveterate fretters, we thought this was a fire violation and briefly imagined us turning into a hipster Happy Land Social Club, but the show was good enough so that we stopped worrying and learned, etc.

The Hannah Complex is described as "a lecture in one act for two vocalists, chamber orchestra (or pre-recorded music), and slide-show" that aims to ask the questions:
What is reality? And how does it work? How are we able to make sense of the differences between it and fiction? But wait… what is sense? We all share it - there is a “common sense” - but how did it develop? Can there be more than one common sense?

The two lecturers were dressed staidly and formally, and they spoke, sometimes very fast, sometimes overlapping, as transparencies (a technology that we've always hated since it was basically all that was available to us for classroom displays when we were teaching college courses in the 1970s and early 1980s) were shown with mildly amusing pictographs and keywords and assorted ephemera.

The piece explores these issues in the context of the phenomenon of Hannah Montana's incredible popularity. We were worried because we know of Hannah Montana only vaguely from mainstream news tidbits and random talks with our friends who have pre-teen daughters, but there was a helpful recorded audio summarizing Hannah Montana, Hannah Montana, and the mind-blowing stats she and she (and she) have accumulated.

One of the disadvantages of being about thirty years older than the intelligent hipsters in the audience (with the exception of a few people, including the mother of Mike Rugnetta, co-director of What We Know So Far with Patrick Davison, for whose arrival via airplane and taxi the performance was slightly delayed), we've seen stuff like this before.

Specifically, The Hannah Complex reminded us of a performance piece we saw in the 1970s at a SoHo art gallery/space dealing with similar issues, employing more primitive technology, but with also a concern about what we then called "information science" (this was pre-PC, maybe pre-VCR) and centered around Farrah Fawcett-Majors.

We remember that piece only vaguely, and we suspect that thirty years from now we'll have no memories of The Hannah Complex, either because we're dead or nearly 90 years old and probably suffering from dementia, but it was a worthwhile and interesting performance, executed effectively.

Here's a video of the earlier incarnation with Patrick and Mike instead of tonight's lecturers:

The Hannah Complex, Excerpt from Mike Rugnetta on Vimeo.


What we loved about The Hannah Complex was the last ten minutes, where the lecturers draw some conclusions about reality and the creation of identity and there are slides of them - it took us a minute or two to make the realization - doing mundane tasks, shown in familiar New York settings, etc. The piece ended on a high note. It's both clever and thoughtful.

The two short videos shown afterward were also well-crafted, although we found New News slightly arch and would have preferred the fake news anchors to be a little more deadpan as they "reported" the nonsensical "news." But it was definitely hilarious at points as weird footage of totally inappropriate material joined with the kind of blather, often sexually suggestive, typical of spam email.

Having taken two grad courses in the history of the English language (and the Romance languages, too), we loved the conceit of Loan Words:
The World Economy is down in the dumps. Nations are in trillions of dollars of debt, and are even going bankrupt. In the interest of scrounging what little capital they can, the governments of the world are calling in outstanding debts; the biggest earner? Loan words.

American English has thousands of them, and now we have to give them back. We simply cannot afford to pay the associated royalties to each respective motherland, but we’ve become so attached to many of them. Rendezvous. Ketchup. Akimbo. Goober. Zombie.

Loan Words details the list of words which - as English speakers - we can no longer afford to use, and makes suggestions for replacement words and phrases. Much in the way French Fries briefly became Freedom Fries and Sauerkraut enjoyed a stint as Liberty Cabbage in hard times, we might briefly (or permanently?) lose some of our favorite words; Loan Words hopes to provide some tips for dealing with the impending shortage of colorful vocabulary.

Its short length - purportedly it's just the first in a series of announcements from a federal government agency - prevented it from becoming tedious, so the cleverness seemed pretty fresh throughout the viewing. Also, the effective simple pictographs - as in The Hannah Complex - helped the video maintain our interest once we got the schtick.

After a longer intermission, we got to see MemeFactory (Or is it Meme Factory?), which was totally successful, quite brilliant and frequently quite funny. The start of the piece was delayed by a computer mishap and the non-arrival of the third performer - Stephen Bruckert in addition to Mike and Patrick - and frankly, we thought this was actually part of the performance, deliberate, and effective.

So when Stephen did arrive with his laptop and they started over with the material planned for tonight rather than that of the previous show's at NYU (we particularly thought it was great when Patrick, hewing to the older script, thanked people "for coming to NYU"), we were kind of let down. But not for long.

We suspect that MemeFactory is probably even more effective for someone like us, of advanced age, than the clued-in hipsters who made up almost the entire audience, if only because we presume they are already conversant with some of the memes that were new to us. We'd never heard of the imageboard 4chan and were grateful for the mini-tutorial and the slide show. We figure we were one of the few who was actually learning something because everyone else seemed familiar with this.

Despite committing the mortal sin of taking the lordly Richard Dawkins' meme in vain, this work - which obviously lends itself to frequent updates as new stupid stuff is posted online every nanosecond (we'll be posting this soon, but while it may be stupid, it's not as entertaining as anything we saw tonight).

We also learned about Encyclopedia Dramatica, /b/tards, You're the man now, dog.com, Something Awful, and what a weeaboo is and how to avoid becoming one.

Now we can amaze our baby boomer friends and confound our silent generation enemies. This is serious fucking business.

Admittedly, we did know about certain stuff, like wolf shirts and the grass mud horse, and we've actually met the people from Rocketboom at Podcamp. But girugamesh was new to us.

And how did we live without knowing about Autotune and rules like
One cat leads to another;
Anonymous is legion;
There will always be more fucked up shit than what you just saw;
There is porn of it. No exceptions;
If no porn is found of it, it will be created
; and
There are NO girls on the internet?

We didn't participate in the audience's "get down" lesson and performance at the close of MemeFactory. When the young woman sitting next to us looked at us questioningly, she was told, "I had chemotherapy this morning so I'm kind of tired."

She looked so horrified, we quickly said, "Just kidding."

But apparently she didn't hear this because she said, "I'm so sorry to hear that," looking sad and not ironic. Though it would have been ironic if she actually did hear our second statement and she was being sarcastic. Oh well. We applauded and cheered like everyone else at the close of the performance, because we enjoyed the show and it did not involve us doing any pelvic thrusts.


The Internet may not be their personal army, but the geniuses of What We Know So Far have been able to mobilize it brilliantly in MemeFactory.

According to WWKSF's website about tonight's show, "Personnel includes (but is not limited to, and in no particular order): Kate Reilly, Eric Grundhauser, Guy Snover, Matt Kugler, Stephen Bruckert, Karen Lanyi, Patrick Davison, Mike Rugnetta…and a bunch more."

As we walked home, we reflected that this was the third night in a row that we'd attended an event at which we'd listened to a recorded version of "Let's Get It On." Can life get any better? We're grateful to 3rd Ward and the talented What We Know So Far for tonight's performances.

1 comment:

str1cken said...

Thanks for the kind words! This is Stephen of MemeFactory. I'll have to check your blog for more perfomance reviews!