practice: POLE POSITION #1 (5 MAY 2010; DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES, CA)
We conceived of this first game as a kind of rehearsal test-run. We therefore limited our development of scenario sketches and cues to the few basic ones below. These were developed over several weeks around issues and topics that we wished to explore, as well as some other memories and ideas that we found relevant.
1. "Where's My Dad?" [text message cue: DAD]
PLAYER 1: "Where's my dad? Have you seen my dad? He was just here a second ago, right here, standing in this exact spot...." etc.
-Describe appearance; focus on dad's appearance vs. Player 1's appearance.
-Describe him as Mexican, as immigrant (both of us have Mexican fathers), ("like me but not like me"). Play with issues of identity and appearance.
-Bring in some childhood stories, trips downtown w/dad, etc.
-Be sure to mention that you live in Indio—not sure of the "big city," both you and dad not from here maybe, worried about getting lost.
PLAYER 2: "I'm trying to get to Union Station, how do I get there from here. I need to get to Indio, do you know if the Metrolink goes out there? Amtrak? Is there a Greyhound station around here?"
-Mention that dad is out there in one of those retirement homes, supposed to go visit him.
2. "Stolen I.D." [text message cue: ID]
PLAYER 1: In agitated search for Social Security office because someone has stolen ID; needs to fix it.
-Mention how the guy who stole ID has been traveling all over the U.S., name popping up in _________ [fill in blank with various improvised cities/locales].
-Express annoyance that you've never traveled yourself, never left L.A. whole life, and here this identity thief is traveling all over the place as "me." "I would like to travel! I would like to go to Miami!" etc.
PLAYER 2: In agitated search for a place to make copies.
-Has passport, birth certificate, driver's license, in plain view; doesn't handle them very carefully. Basic premise is that he lost them all somehow (make it up) and has just replaced them all, and now he has to make copies of them in case he loses them again.
-But the way he handles them makes it seem like he will probably lose them again really quickly.
-Variation: Hold a coffee cup as well, so it sloshes around; create a sense of carelessness and sloppiness with these documents juxtaposed with agitation and anxiety to make copies and have backups.
3. Directions [text message cue: "DIR LA" or "DIR CATH," depending which one you do]
Player 1: "Can you tell me how to get to L.A. Live?"
-General premise is to talk about how everything here is "dead"—junkies, zombies, office workers, nothing to do, nothing good to eat, no entertainment, everybody just going to their office jobs around here, so boring—"I want to get to L.A. Live, I hear that's where all the life is, everything is going on there, lots to do, lots of fun, it's totally alive there," etc...
Player 2: "Can you tell me how to get to Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels?"
-General premise is to talk about wanting to reserve one of the underground mausoleum tombs for self... "It's thousands of dollars, I don't have it yet, but I will, just want to see about reserving one, putting a down payment maybe, maybe they've got a layaway plan..."
-"Also, I want to see about getting buried next to a celebrity or something, there must be some famous Catholics here in L.A. and Hollywood, do you think it would cost more to be buried next to one? Maybe someone not so famous. Like Pat Sajak maybe? Is Jay Leno Catholic? I think he's Italian, right? Mel Gibson. Christina Aguilera. Bela Lugosi was Catholic! You know, he played vampires and monsters in those old movies..."
"Wild Card" Text Message Cues
-Cake: "Do you smell...cake? I smell cake...Reminds me of childhood, when mom would make carrot cake..."
-Toilet: "Where's the public toilet? I need to use the bathroom bad, I hear there's a public toilet somewhere around here..." Use this abruptly, to end a conversation; right in the middle of talking, start acting all jumpy, like you have to go really bad.
Cell Phone Conversations
-"Where are you?" "Here." "Where?" "Right here." "I thought you said you were over there." "Where's here?" etc.
-Cell phone conversations can be improvised, maybe around the scenario topics (i.e., we could talk to each other on the phone about trying to find dad, or stolen I.D., place to make copies, directions to L.A. Live).
-Conversations loud/noticeable; players move positions to stand by same person, carry on conversation, only other side of it.
-Cell phone conversations can be combined with interactions. For example, Player 1 could begin asking directions to L.A. Live into cell phone, then turn to nearby person and pose same question, then lead into further interaction.
-In fact, this may be a great way to start these interactions in general—it will bring their guard down more if we shift from cell phone with someone else first, to "live" interaction with them. Tell caller to hold on, or hang up phone ("Hold on, I'll call you back") and then shift attention/conversation to interaction.
Despite limiting the amount of time and the scenario sketches, we were able to interact with a number of individuals in interesting ways that provoked participation and that inserted a few unexpected images, concepts, and interactions between strangers, into the urban fabric. This happened through both individual interactions with different people, and through the interweaving of our interactions with the same people. I (Ruben) managed to make several people smile and laugh (particularly with my desire to reserve a burial spot next to celebrities "on layaway," and my annoyance at someone traveling all over partying and living it up using my stolen identity). Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the most engaged interaction that I had was with two inebriated individuals. The first was a man who pulled up in a car and asked me for directions to all the srip clubs. Of course, this was an interesting reversal on the "Directions" scenarios, so I grabbed the opportunity to give him and his voluptuous (and apparently equally inebriated) driver some convoluted directions to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The other fellow, an older, heavily tattooed man, went on at length about his reserved burial plot in West Covina, as we discussed layaway burial plans while HE gave ME convoluted directions to the Cathedral (even more interesting, his directions actually would have directed me to...L.A. Live). His parting piece of advice to me: "Man, don't ever let them put you in the ground, make sure they bury you above, in one of those drawers."
In general, people were approachable and were willing to engage and be helpful, at least initially. In one case, Luis was helped with directions by a man who became impatient after his initial positive response, at which point, he walked off, insisting that he couldn't help him.
Perhaps for this reason, we limited our interactions more than we had originally envisioned, as we could tell that people would either become annoyed, or would start to suspect that something "funny" was going on. For future games, players need to develop ways to strike a careful balance between fast interaction and attempting to drag the interaction out with elaborate details and "unnecessary" narrative. Or, players may simply push the interaction and let the person suspect something funny going on. Annoyance, however, is something that should be avoided.
Afterward, Luis provided the following poetic response to the experience:
"We created the fact of participation. We(anyone): Re-forced/awakened public comfort zone; we graciously asked strangers to expel personal energy in communication. Today's flâneur is reintroduced as a presenter/activator in life, to assemble more interactions—political, intimate, etc. All internal/intellect/headings humans present (their faults), are difficult—much private/public space is often trapped with hurtful emotions, memories, etc... The interactions/results would be dense with information if this project were done for at least five days. Documentation has to be constant. Learned: That theatricality at times can be difficult because public waits for no cues and exits life's immediate/present stage, because movement/action is ongoing. Certain subjects/issues cannot be addressed so quickly. Your flâneur is an activist in life to reintroduce the point of really savoring human presence."
Some issues arose that helped us to better sharpen our approach and focus:
-As Luis points out above, things move very quickly, and unpredictably, in the city. The city operates according to a complex matrix of fast-moving timetables, and the city's practitioners are all tied to these tables in various ways, and along various vectors that intersect in unpredictable ways. Players must therefore operate according to the speed of the city in order to be playing within its flows. In fact, they must exceed the pace of the city in some ways. We found that many people who appeared relatively stationary could, in fact, move, shift, disappear, in the blink of an eye. For example, a man standing in the doorway of his building might suddenly retreat into the building after the first interaction. People at bus stops would board buses that seemed to come out of nowhere, sooner than expected. In one case, a man who seemed fairly well planted on the sidewalk with nowhere to go suddenly got into a car that pulled up to the curb (his ride home) right in the middle of an interaction. All of this made it more difficult than expected for both players to interact with the same individuals.
-For future games, players should keep this issue of speed in mind. Players must always be moving quickly, and keep moving as much as possible. Players must also more accurately assess the possibility or lack of possibility of an individual staying in the same place long enough for both interactions to take place. One way to deal with this would be to interact with individuals who are on the move walking. Player 2 can always follow and catch up to the individual, or can intercept them along their trajectory. Bus stops should probably be avoided.
-We had initially planned to rely on text messages to keep each other informed after interactions. However, we found that given the pace of events, it actually made more sense to just call each other on our cell phones. Besides being more effective in communicating information and keeping each other in a "real-time" flow ("Talk to that guy walking toward you with the briefcase, ask for directions to L.A. Live"), using cell phones also proved to be an unexpectedly effective decoy behavior as well. At some points, players had to stop and wait for an interaction to end, or for the other player to move. Standing and talking/listening on a cell phone makes the momentarily immobilized player less conspicuous. For future games, we suggest that players maintain an almost constant cell phone contact and simply avoid the use of text messages altogether. This includes contact with Player 3 (documentarian).
-For Alejandro (Player 3), a few interesting issues arose. He found that at some points, he couldn't tell which player was which (Player 1 or Player 2), which made it difficult to figure out how/where to position himself. The blurring of roles and identities here was an interesting problem, though. Cell phone contact helped to address this. Alejandro also found that he had to conceal his activity in order to make sure that the individual in the interaction did not become aware of the photography (see below).
On the question of "constant documentation" that Luis brings up, we disagreed on the nature of it. While Luis argued for audio (and possibly video) documentation, I argued for photographic and textual documentation only. This is a question of aesthetic approach and purpose that may be resolved however players see fit for their particular game. In our case, documentation consists of these narrative texts that Luis and I have provided here, and the photographic images of the game that Manuel Alejandro Rodriguez captured as Player 3 (follow link below). As Player 3 (documentarian), Alejandro quickly realized that the biggest challenge was to not let the "non-player" in the interaction realize that they were being photographed. This involved masking his activities with the decoy activity of photographing architecture and other urban elements while "sneaking" interaction shots.
To view images, please CLICK HERE (page and images may take a few moments to load).
-I. PER:MUTATION / D N A
-II. PATHO / LOGIC / BI / POLARITY
-III. PROPOSED GAME #1: “POLE POSITION” (A.K.A. PARTNER ANTIFLÂNEUR)
practice : text: "POLE POSITION" #1 (5 MAY 2010, DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES, CA)
practice : images: "POLE POSITION" #1 (5 MAY 2010, DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES, CA)
Ruben R. Mendoza (concept/performance/text)
Manuel Alejandro Rodríguez (concept/photo image)
Luis A. Vega (concept/performance/text)
This project was completed in partial fulfillment of Dr. Richard W. Mitchell's Spring 2010 English graduate seminar, "Drama, Performance, and Everyday Life" at California State University, Northridge.