Welcome to Word Vomit Wednesday! A series of blog posts about a specific topic from current events that I, and sometimes the rest of the Internet, ruminate obsessively about. All thoughts/opinions/experiences are my own; I don’t claim anything that I write to represent anyone other than myself.
You know what I’m going to write about today. I know that I have to write about it today. We’re all fucking exhausted about having to rehash the same shit over and over again. So, I’m gonna ease us into this topic from another entry point. This weekend I went to two pieces of immersive theater. The first was a piece about well-known serial killers and the second about Cleopatra. And, to clarify for anyone who doesn’t know, immersive theater is basically when the wall between the audience and the show itself are broken. The audience is able to interact with or even become a part of the show. The first one was set in an enormous brownstone in Harlem where one was able to walk up and down various flights of stairs and in an out of multiple rooms, happening in on actors in various scenes. This sounds pretty cool, as most of the shows trailing on the heels of Sleep No More, which catapulted this type of theater-going experience into the mainstream, do.
Except, in the case of this show, it was a horrible idea. Sleep No More, for example, is a retelling of Macbeth. A very well known story that even if people have never read it before they’ve at least heard of Shakespeare. This serial killer show was not a story. There were no metaphors. There was no self-reflection or nuance to call upon. It was people brought into a house to relive young boys and women being raped and murdered by glorified white men. I’m shaking as I write this. This is not edgy. This is not pushing the envelope. This is exploitation of our minds, bodies, money, not to mention, the victims of the brutality of these men.
To contrast, I could not have looked more forward to The Cleopatra Experience the following night (not least of all because my friend Talia Thiesfield was slaying as the queen herself). The venue was morphed from black box to nightclub with pink lighting and an Ariana Grande remix playing to set the mood. I sat on a silver cushion and immediately felt relaxed. I’ve never been a club kid, but being surrounded by music with people who were ready to have a good time and hear a story about one of the greatest leaders in history as the audience became citizens of Alexandria, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. The story was told through topical club bangers and pop-melody perfection, a catwalk competition down The Nile and the exploration of love, betrayal, leadership and the difficulties faced when a leader is also a woman. It was a fun, thought-provoking, and moving piece.
The fucked up thing is that a real-life Octavian could have marched himself into the theater as we danced in celebration of Cleopatra’s victory over Rome with guns a-blazing and snuffed us all out. That seems to be the normal thing, right? We can’t do anything enjoyable without fear that we’re going to be gunned down. Our kids can’t go to school, we can’t go the movies or concerts or clubs or our places of worship. Nothing that makes us feel connected and alive. And we’re expected to be ok with that. We are so oversaturated with violence that it doesn’t even occur to some people how fucked up it is to put on a show where the audience is immersed in identifying with the killers while hearing and watching the brutalization of people. As I wrote about in the first WVW (Comedic Complicity), the art that is made is a microcosm of what is happening culturally. It’s fucked up that people won’t name white men that terrorize people as terrorists and make any and all excuses to not do that when all evidence points otherwise. It’s fucked up that the focus is on them and not on victims and survivors and they’re families. It’s fucked up that many politicians refuse to stand for comprehensive gun control even when children are murdered.
We can talk all day about the 2nd amendment and the misuse of mental illness and a million other talking points until we’re blue in the face. But until those things from the previous paragraph are seriously reconsidered, this will happen again and again. People who want to kill people will always find ways to do so, but we can be responsible and compassionate to the rest of us who just want to live by setting up society to make it more and more difficult for those who would harm to actually do it.
Katie Louchheim is “Free Fallin’”