A few years ago I was asked what my dream project was. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea about this answer, so I made something up. In a bold egotistic move, I answered this question, thusly – and I’ll quote myself here – in an interview with dctheaterscene.com in 2010:
“I’ve never done an Ionesco play (except in college), and I think this is a good time to put some old school absurdism back on our stages, with full use of contemporary theatre practices, maybe utilizing video, which I find to be one of the most wonderfully absurd design elements in a form which purports to be different because it’s “live”. I’d love to work on that: Ionesco, on video, with a whole bunch of flashing light bulbs. The Killing Game maybe would work well that way.”
To be clear, this was a flippant comment made to answer a question for which I didn’t really have an answer. I am not the kind of person who has “dream projects”. BUT, I have been struggling for several years now with how we communicate as citizens in this world. I am today only very begrudgingly accepting Twitter as an acceptable form of certain kinds of communication. I have still yet to see the actual societal benefits of Facebook that couldn’t be achieved by other slightly less efficient means. This from the guy who still can’t understand why anybody wouldn’t make popcorn on the stovetop because it’s healthier and tastes better, just because microwave popcorn takes three minutes fewer to make.
We all have our values, and mine lie within a very specific plane in which very few others reside. I would rather have better tasting healthier popcorn that takes five minutes to make with constant attention over a stovetop while others would rather sit on the couch for ninety seconds while the microwave does it all for him.
This is the absurd world in which I think we live. And this is why absurd theater is right for us today. Ionesco’s play Killing Game examines a town that is beset with a mysterious plague. It’s not clear what causes the deaths that terrorize this town. It’s not clear who might be a victim. But it is clear that the plague is here, and it is indiscriminate in its bidding. In Ionesco’s play, nobody is safe. Not the rich, not the well-educated, not the well-prepared. When the plague hits, you better just sit back and hope it doesn’t hit you.
Earlier this year, dog & pony conspirators and supporters met to read Killing Game. After we read Ionesco’s play, out loud, I was surprised and delighted at the number of interpretations that came out of this work. There was talk of SARS in Singapore, wearing medical masks on the subway. There was a nod to the police states of Eastern Europe during the time of the Iron Curtain, where fear was stock in trade. We talked at length about the effects of 9/11 on our society. And the embarrassing things that people did in the confusion of the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s. The consistent realization is that when a crisis hits, we often don’t know what to do. And so we resort to our instincts, however base or noble, or more often base, those might be.
We’ve embarked on this production of A Killing Game to examine the hype that surrounds a crisis. In the moments when an emergency first emerges, confusion and misinformation often leads otherwise clear-headed citizens to make irrational choices (such as giving up their Constitutional rights) which in the short term ensure their safety. The Arab Spring has shown us the power of technology in propelling a movement through social media. Yet at the same time, it has made us pause to consider how others outside the center of an uprising might influence those events using those same methods: a tweet from Brooklyn might just as easily have come from Cairo with the right verbage. How are we to know?
This is the absurdity of the information that we attempt to digest as news. We don’t necessarily know what is true and what isn’t. As in Ionesco’s Killing Game, we are forced to consider how any crisis – be it an uprising in Libya or AIDS or the sinking of the USS Maine – is influenced by our media choices and those effects on us. In the end, we are prone to our worst prejudices whether we like to admit it or not. In a rational, intelligent society such as our own, I can’t imagine a more absurd notion. And so we embark on dog & pony’s A Killing Game.
-Colin K. Bills