Questions: On Kleist and Heti

HATCH is a situation where new performance and new audiences encounter one another in the spirit of inquiry. This year, artists participating in the HATCH residency are sharing insight on their projects in relation to the other work playing here at Harbourfront Centre – thinking through and sharing ideas across our performing arts programming.

In this post, curator Evan Webber asks Ted Witzel and Lauren Gillis, also known as the red light district to share their thoughts on the World Stage co-production of All Our Happy Days Are Stupid written by Sheila Heti.

Evan Webber:

Ted and Lauren, I think there are some connections between the marquise of O and All Our Happy Days Are Stupid: some kind of middle class portraiture, and unusually non-moralistic representations of anger. For me, both of these texts, Kleist’s and Heti’s, manage to be charming without being likeable. This is an unusual achievement. “Technical charm” might produce statements that reveal jagged edges. But there’s 200-plus years between these pieces so why do you think I see this in both of them? Do you see any connections?

Ted Witzel and Lauren Gillis:

a portrait of the canadian bourgeois:

they have:
– a marriage and/or heterosexual relationship
– a salary of at least $100K per couple
– a house
– a cleaning lady
– more than one tv
– a phone and a personal computer for each family member
– dinner parties
– cocktail parties
– hors d’oeuvres
– purebred dog, non-aggressive breed
– an unplayed piano in the living room
– only as many kids as they have bedrooms for
– college funds
– an association of the taste of kraft dinner with comfort and good novelty times, not with necessity and limitation

their views:
– views on non-monogamy: bad
– views on children out of wedlock: a gossip feast, but not a travesty (tolerable, but not desirable)
– views on education: post-secondary is essential, college regarded as merely tolerable and only endorsed when the program is specialized
– views on money: as soon as you get past the point of worrying about money its indecent to talk about it, which is worse than bad
– views on morals and ethics: Decency (capital D) is of utmost importance
– views on religion and penises: it’s alright to have one, but don’t wave it around in public
– views on charitable donations: donate enough to get that tax deduction, make sure you can get a receipt
– views on buying things in bulk: not good, with a few exceptions – wine may be bought by the case, toilet paper can be purchased in bulk so long as there is a closet where it can be stored out of sight

acceptable drugs:
– alcohol
– prescription medications

unacceptable drugs:
– nasally and intravenously administered anything

acceptable canned food:
– tomatoes, tuna, coconut milk, chickpeas and other legumes

unacceptable canned food:
– chef boyardee, spam, chicken, cream of mushroom soup (especially when used as a sauce base for an entrée)

one of the spouses has a shallow dream that has come true, and the other had a dream but it died, and together, their lives are meaningless.

they have the luxury to notice mild existential unhappiness and the privilege to feel guilty about it.

it’s hard for us, ted, lauren, as members of an urban, “progressive” artistic community to accept viewing “first-world problems” with any kind of connection or compassion. we immediately go to detachment, irony, cynicism.

(except in the case of terminal illness).

in All Our Happy Days Are Stupid, mrs. oddi, a middle-aged (or nearly middle-aged) woman is leaving her marriage. she is dealing with an emotional problem / pain. but it’s represented as stupid and shallow, vapid, because it’s not a terminal illness.

kleist is also depicting members of the bourgeoisie with problems in marquise of O —, with a similarly ironic tonality. because it’s not a terminal illness?

what’s the worst thing that could happen to the marquise? she’s pregnant and either can’t or won’t identify the babydaddy.  people could think she’s a slut, or lying. but she’s experiencing genuine pain. as soon as we find out she’s a rape victim, we’re ready to pity her, but then she rejects our pity.

(so, except terminal illness and rape).

(and actually, also except missing children)

Heti and kleist are both subverting formal and generic tropes to manipulate our knee-jerk reactions to things (missing children and rape, respectively).

is our hostility toward upper middle-class-ness a product of our own class shame?  a lot of artists come from the middle-class themselves – family stability provides the luxury of pursuing such a stupid & indulgent career path as art.

how much of an arts organization’s annual operating budget has to come from private donations before said organization starts telling bourgeois stories with sincerity, or at least the gesture of it?

theatre tends to treat the bourgeoisie either compassionately or with hostile cynicism depending on factors like funding, donor base, age, scale and audience. but where exactly is the border between the two?  All Our Happy Days Are Stupid and marquise of O — seem to subvert this distinction, dancing on the borderline of our compassion and cynicism.

Ted Witzel, Lauren Gillis and their collaborators will be in the Studio Theatre for their residency April 6–11, 2015. Be sure to check here for more updates, and to join them at their presentation of the marquise of O — on April 11.

All Our Happy Days Are Stupid runs through Saturday at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre. Get your tickets here and use the promo code AOHDAS to get 50% off your ticket to The Cardinals, on through Sunday.