Mail order brides. David Bowie. Clip It and Office Assistant personified — all aggressively soliciting your attention in a maze of hanging sheets, neon lights and two-minute iTunes clips. No, it’s not that acid trip you had last weekend. It’s producer Su Ching Teh’s ’08 exploration of our complex relationships with technology and with each other, manifested in a 15-minute journey through cyberspace.
PS I <3 U, which will take place in the transformed interior of the Off Broadway Theater this weekend, begins when participants arrive with the address of someone they would like to write a letter to. The guests are then guided through an obstacle course of computer challenges — Microsoft Word, iTunes and solicitations from a porn star and a recipe-reciting housewife, to name a few — before they can finally write their letter.
Party, theater or something else entirely? The production crew is not entirely in agreement as to what categories, if any, PS I <3 U falls into.
“I guess it qualifies as performance art,” said Sean Owczarek ’11, who is working on sound for the show. “It is certainly a non-traditional piece of theater – it abstracts the way we think about technology. It is more than just a performance.”
Teh explained that the trip is a physical enactment of the distractions and temptations any technology-user encounters each time he or she attempts to accomplish a basic task on the computer.
“We go on intending to research our paper, and end up on Facebook,” she said.
The performance also explores, in a broader sense, the relation of humans to themselves and to each other in the digital age. The experience is simultaneously outrageous and organic, funny and terrifying, unbelievable and incredibly familiar — take, for example, God’s oversized Facebook profile. Teh describes technology as a “totalitarian” force, one that captivates, addicts and overwhelms. This relationship is displayed through the larger-than-life characters, the bright lights and bouncing music and the sheer ferocity of the performances.
Another theme in the piece is privacy, or lack thereof. Traditional letters — a medium that is inherently slow, physical and private in nature — have been supplanted by whirring Internet culture with much less security. The piece juxtaposes letter writing with the crazy challenges of modern technology.
Teh explained that her fascination with “watching and being watched,” while a subtle force in the work as a whole, is most directly represented in a large pink elephant that stands as witness to the entire event. This spectator, one who “never forgets,” reminds participants of the lack of privacy in the perceived freedom of the Internet.
While Teh admits she “sound[s] like [she’s] on meth” when she explains her concept — advertised on Facebook as “Group Trip” — the idea originated not at a party but in the classroom. Taking a computer science class last semester forced Su to examine the digitalization of contemporary society, an idea she explored in a science fiction story written for her “Orientalism in Literature and Film” course. These ideas formed the backdrop to Teh’s realization that after her graduation in May, most of her correspondence with friends scattered across the globe will be through e-mail. The piece grew out of an enquiry about what reliance on this type of communication might mean.
Others were quick to jump on board for the project, contributing ideas, energy and design plans.
Elizabeth Resor ’08 describes the team as a “sounding board” for Teh’s ideas, a diverse group of “theater people, non-theater people, and Teh’s friends who she convinces to dress up in crazy costumes.” Many members of the team, including co-producer Yonah Freemark ’08 and Resor, have worked with Teh before on themed parties such as Gatsby in 2005 and BlowUp in 2006.
Teh calls the experience “a much sweeter project” than those she has tackled in the past, a sentiment underscored by the proximity to her class’s departure from Yale. After two days of guiding her peers through a unique letter-writing adventure, Su will present her own voice in a staged reading of a show she wrote last semester, which she describes as “my letter to my American friends here and to America.”