To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Here, artist John Fleischer shares his perspective on Quizoola! by Forced Entertainment, presented by the Walker at the Soap Factory last weekend as part of the Out There 2018.
Are you ready to start?
Quizoola! is Forced Entertainment’s deceptively simple and spare quiz show in the guise of theater. Basically, one clown asks another clown a series of questions. The second clown responds to the litany with a series of answers, and occasionally they swap roles. Somewhere “offstage” a third clown sits at a desk reading a book. Every couple of hours, the reading clown stops reading and swaps positions with one of the two asking-and-answering clowns. The game continues for six (and sometimes 24) hours.
Although Forced Entertainment has been collaboratively creating a diverse range of works (theater, performance, installations, books, videos, etc.) for more than thirty years, I only learned of their existence in the last 10 or so, during a brief attempt on my part to make sense of the terms postdramatic, structuralist, and formalist theater. After reading about the group in a number of essays, I began watching excerpts of their performances online, and immediately found myself captivated by their sly, humorous, and economical productions. I was especially drawn to a half-hour video highlighting fragments of the long-form presentation of Quizoola! at the 2013 SPILL Festival. I watched this video repeatedly, sometimes actually saying out loud “how did I not know about these folks?” as I hit the play button again.
All of this is to say that I am thrilled about the opportunity to finally see Quizoola! in person and, in my excitement, I arrive at the Soap Factory early, wanting to be sure I witness the performance from beginning to end.
As I make my way to the “stage” in the far gallery, I pass by one performer (Jerry Killick), already seated at a small desk, wearing headphones, and reading a book beneath a single lamp. The quiz show’s soundproof booth? He is in slapdash clown makeup—white face, red blob of mouth, black vertical lines above and below each eye—but otherwise casually dressed. In the next gallery, the stage set is equally spare and unadorned: two chairs, a string of lightbulbs looped into a circle on the floor around the chairs, a couple of work-lamps, bottles of water, a loose stack of papers (presumably a long list of what must be thousands of questions), and the word “Quizoola!” chalked onto the brick wall behind two more performers (Claire Marshall and Richard Lowdon). Claire and Richard are similarly clowned-up, and both are dressed in what appears to be this-is-what-I-happen-to-be-wearing-today attire.
Wait. Is Richard wearing the exact same outfit he wore in the previously mentioned video clip?
Yes, I think so.
Over the next six hours Claire, Richard, and Jerry are enchanting as they move through politics and aesthetics, physics and literature, economics and pop music, reptilians and ghosts, asbestos and cunnilingus, truth and lies, and so on. What is your favorite building? Which Beatle would you sleep with? What is the male gaze? What is money? Why is honesty more important than people’s feelings? Where is the name of a thing? Have you ever betrayed a country? Why are you here? Have you ever raped someone? Are you sure you haven’t raped someone? Who would win in a fight between Jeff Koons and Tracey Emin? Why at the Last Supper did all of the people sit on one side of the table?
The pace and tone of the performance shift continuously. A curious and friendly interaction becomes a loud, sharp interrogation. One response seems honest. The next feels like over-the-top acting. Fast becomes slow. Funny slips into serious. Quick sets of yes or no questions race by, punctuated by pauses, natural lulls, seemingly personal stories, and extended answers. Five famous Americans? John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, Justin Timberlake, Donald Trump, and George Washington. Five famous black Americans? OJ Simpson … uh … Louis Armstrong … uh … Tupac … uh … Obama. Can you count to five?
Occasionally a question is repeated and a new answer is tossed into the mix, calling into question the previous answer, calling into question the truth of any and all answers. We are bombarded with stories, half-truths, and outright lies. Does Jerry have a tattoo or not? Is Claire really a nicotine fiend? Many of the personal stories read as authentic individual expressions, but the longer the game is played the more truth, lie, fact, and opinion blend into a thick morass where honesty becomes indistinguishable from deceit.
Where do rabbits go to get their eyes checked?
Chuckles. Over the course of the evening, laughter regularly erupts from the audience, but it is often the same few people who are laughing. Many in the audience seem—like myself—engaged and sometimes amused, but also conflicted. When I do laugh, the laughter is usually paired with something else. Anger? Disgust? Sadness? Anxiety? Urgency? Shame?
What is the structure of society?
Monsters at the top, poor people at the bottom.
Watching Quizoola! live, I was reminded of a moment in Jim and Andy, the 2017 documentary film that follows Jim Carrey as he continuously channels the duplicitous Andy Kaufman on the set of Man on the Moon. In the documentary, Carrey tells the story of his obsession with the question “what do people want?” His nutshell revelation: people want to be free from concern.
And herein lies the brilliance of Quizoola! Yes, it is thoroughly entertaining, but it also sidesteps freedom from concern. Instead of offering a break from violence, injustice, and inequality, Quizoola! mixes these realities up with trivia and one-liners, and then throws them all back in our faces. As a form, it deftly balances potential contradictions. Casual, yet highly considered. Comical, yet gravely serious. Deceitful, yet brutally honest. Trivial, yet strikingly relevant. The six hour performance certainly left me entertained, but also implicated. The whole thing would be funnier if it didn’t reveal so convincingly the game unfolding offstage, where freedom from concern is a luxury that, as this performance suggests, should be vigorously avoided.