by Sergei Burbank · February 16, 2014
Playwrights on New Plays #41 Sergei Burbank shares his thoughts on FutureMate playing at the Brick Theater FutureMate is a hybrid theatrical and performance art event, one that invites the full participation of the audience; it is less a presentation as it is a full immersion into world building; a genre-bending glimpse of the possibilities that arise when theater artists take an audience’s willingness to suspend disbelief and stretch that willingness to its very limits.
The events of the evening are set against the backdrop of an unspecified Cataclysm responsible for wiping out half of the population. The audience, pre-screened ‘fertiles,’ are assumed to be attending in the hopes of finding a ‘mate’ to help repopulate the nation -- and be in the running for such extravagant prizes as a can of coffee. Successfully matched couples will be granted a nine-month vacation in order, it is assumed, to help incubate new citizens; such a sojourn is also a welcome respite from the ever-present sirens, privation, and threat of “Nightwalker” attack. Using familiar ice-breaker-type games and more-or-less willing volunteers from the audience, hosts Matt (Brian Fountain) and Pam (Gyda Arber) try to set the non-infected human population back on track, fighting through power outages, interruptions from an authoritarian “Chancellor” via video, infiltration by subversives, and an unspecified breach of the perimeter nearby with tireless cheer and goodwill.
Billed as a “transmedia” production, the experience is fully immersive: audience members are screened upon entry by Matt and Pam (personal details are collected, as well as a swab of DNA) and there is active (and impressive) encouragement of cell phone usage throughout the performance. Along with the use of volunteers, the world-building exercise means that there is never a ‘safe’ moment for you: either you will be called up onstage, or you might discover that the person sitting to your left or right isn’t who they appear to be.
Arber and Fountain’s world-building, from cell phone tricks, to use of video, to the construction of multiple websites, is complete. (There are post-show texts that continue days after the show has completed; a completist, if disconcerting echo.) A remounting of this award-winning production during Valentine’s Week is definitely apt, as couples will thank their lucky stars that we still live in a world where fecundity is not the sole reason for pairing off; singles will feel grateful that their search for a soul mate doesn’t compete in their daily list of priorities with foraging for food and fending off zombie attacks.
While the play draws on familiar apocalyptic tropes to make an entertaining evening rather than a heavy-handed meditation on human nature (Pam and Matt’s enduringly upbeat attitude in the face of worldwide and personal catastrophe is hilarious), the larger performance event itself is just such a meditation. Asked to rise for a new, bleaker, national anthem and to stand at attention for repeated interruptions by the Chancellor, my house was more than willing to comply, and only sat again upon instruction. Even as an onstage bout of twister catastrophically fell apart, half a dozen strangers clasped uncomfortably around each other, forgotten by our hosts, but unwilling to move until ordered to do so. Cataclysm or not, the Chancellor would be pleased.