|The American-born performer Mary Pearson takes her multimedia physical theatre performance to Liverpool’s LEAP Festival, Omskirk’s Edge Hill Arts Centre, and finally London’s Chisenhale Dance Space on 5th May 2017. FoMO, mofos! examines the impact of technological advances on our relationship to time, space, and ourselves, drawing on classic pop culture references to connect with her watched and watching audience.
In preparation for this tour, Pearson discussed her show and inspirations with Theatre Bubble over email – an appropriately virtual fashion.
1. How did you set about physicalising this all-consuming relationship with technology when you began work on this piece?
‘FoMO’ or Fear of Missing Out, came into the picture after I’d designed the creative process. I invited 5 research collaborators, who I’d met in various international residencies and festivals, and who were living in different places – Rotterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Leeds. I created an opportunity for each of them to come to Liverpool for 1 week to live and work with me. My invitations became offers to share a life, or trade lives. My guests would experience my daily life, and I would find out more about how they think and work.
I decided to make a solo where each new chapter of the solo would be made after one of my guests left Liverpool. In other words, after we experienced being present together, I would make something in their absence based on their presence. I called it ‘part homage, part identity theft’.
I wanted to understand my own FoMO: what is the agitation I sometimes feel on social media, when I am peering through virtual windows into other people’s lives? There is that anxiety that life is better somewhere else, for someone else.
I also read books about digital age life: Pressed for Time, You Are Not a Gadget, Alone Together, The End of Absence.
I can’t say how I physicalised those ideas exactly. I began to create a world of images that were inspired by feelings of rootlessness, the illusion of infinite choice, and a sense of vigilance and identity loss.
2. You draw from cult classic films and popular music in your performance. How do you seek to connect with this iconic material, and how do you want this familiarity to affect your audience’s engagement with FOMO mofos?
Initially the idea to use cult films came from my first collaborator, Stéphanie Auberville who is a total film buff. We were playing with film soundtracks in order to create absence – if you hear the dialogue, but cannot see the picture, it creates a sense of absence. During her week she spoke of Blow Up, which I had never seen before. I watched it after she left to find that it was about invasion of privacy from a 60’s perspective, which I thought was a brilliant start to the piece. I took it as a sign that that film was made the year that this particular collaborator was born.
After that, I worked with Lea Kieffer, who is obsessed with Tarantino and David Lynch films. She told me that she saw me as more Lynch than Tarantino. After she left, I watched Mulholland Drive, and again found the themes peculiarly befitting. Mulholland Drive is the story of an identity swap, much like my project. A woman with amnesia becomes someone else, and trades lives with her. From this film I was very inspired by the aesthetics, particularly the colour palette of pinks and reds, and the sinister tone.
With either film, I don’t mind whether the audience have a relationship with the source material. If you’ve never seen Blow Up or Mulholland Drive, you’ll just hear retro 60’s film dialogue and the tone of a David Lynch soundtrack. The dialogue I’ve selected is used out of context, and ‘speaks for itself’. If you know the films well, there are many references to enjoy, but not getting them will not take anything away from experiencing the piece. I like that the films give a sense of early technology, and it changing through the decades. Our concerns have shifted along with those technological advancements, yet there are similar themes.
The music was suggested by another collaborator, Tony Cairns. Free Will and Testament (Robert Wyatt) and Watching the Wheels (John Lennon) have lyrics resonate with the themes I was exploring. By that point, sampling had become part and parcel of the process I was using to collect material. It speaks to the abundance and availability of human generated culture. I have also used many recorded sounds from the location I worked in, (Edge Hill station).
3. You’ve lived and trained around the world. Has this influenced your understanding of the ways technology influence and connect people’s lives, and if so how?
I identify with the theme of rootlessness, and this is the heart of the piece. I think that changes in global mobility increase restlessness and rootlessness. Many people can look at other places on the Internet, and think about going there. While some distances and expenses have been bridged by budget airlines, and it has become more common for people to travel by air, young people anywhere can dream about the future via the Internet if they can get access to it. I know about many socially engaged art projects that seek to create stronger connections, and a sense of pride and investment, between people and the places they live. This may be so that younger generations don’t flee their communities in search of something better somewhere else. I would say that increased connectivity to each other via the Internet, while also a very positive thing, can also disrupt and disconnect many people’s sense of home, place, and belonging.
4. It’s 2017; Donald Trump is the US president (after a campaign in which social media and ‘fake news’ played no small part), and the UK is leaving the EU (leaving a similarly heated social media scene in its wake). While your play deals with the personal, how do you see personal involvement in technology as drivers of larger sociopolitical movements?
All of this has happened midway through the process of creating this work, and it has taken a toll. The current version is much darker in tone than the work in progress. I have the feeling that we are living in a time of reckoning, where we humans must face the consequences of historical actions. I feel like the invisible demons of history are walking among us and society can not survive ignoring them any longer. It is not helpful to deny the realities of climate change and global migration, and the damage caused by legacies of colonialism, slavery, and the military industrial complex. Information spreads so quickly on the Internet. My mind space gets filled, I get overwhelmed and I have to fight for hope against despair on a daily basis. What is the point? Where are we headed? How did we get here? What is going to happen to us? I am sure that the mind battle is real for many right now. I was given Hope for the Future by Rebecca Solnit as a gift, and some of it has made its way into the show as well. hope + action = change
5. What is the one theme that you want your audience to take away from your performance?
I want them to contemplate the state of their own presence, and see if they can locate their desire. Are you really here now? Do you see me, us (humans)? What do you want?