The Art of Shit-Talking Featured
TrashTalk Theater places audience in the hot seat,Written by Ren Ebel
13 October 2011
On “The Muppet Show,” elderly, shit-talking theatergoers Statler and Waldorf always had something to say about the evening’s performance, be it amnesic non sequitur or snappy criticism (“That was the medium sketch. It wasn’t rare and it certainly wasn’t well done!”). But Jim Henson, who even voiced Waldorf, knew exactly what he was doing. There was something so satisfying about watching these two old bastards pour out their conjoined subconscious from the safety of their stage-side balcony — it lampooned criticism and performance in equal measure, prompting us to join in with our own stupid interjections.
Now, media artist Jason Ponce’s interactive TrashTalk Theater offers us that very opportunity.
“In some respects TrashTalk Theater plays out like a typical movie theater-type experience,” Ponce told the Guardian in an email interview. “People come together, a film screens and the audience takes it in. But that is sort of where the similarities end. At a TrashTalk Theater screening anyone with a web-enabled device such as a laptop, a tablet computer or a smartphone can send commentary directly to the screen during the film.”
And this collision of interactive media, improv comedy and Web 2.0 is the crux of TrashTalk’s growing appeal. A unique take on the “everyone’s a critic” adage, TrashTalk puts the critic’s own performative skill to the test, often to hilarious effect.
“It's a chance for people to have a hand in rewriting something that is usually presented to them in a highly regulated, locked-down kind of way,” Ponce said. “Pay me. Sit there. You laugh here, here and here. Begin. Now leave. I think with TrashTalk there is something slyly transgressive about how it reclaims some of that authority.”
A UCSD alumnus, Ponce’s experimentation with the artist-consumer relationship arose from his own frustrations at the restrictions of the gallery format.
“I have been very interested in using the natural interdynamics of groups as content for interactive artworks,” Ponce said. “The gallery is a very specific kind of space, and carries with it very specific kinds of meanings. It's a pre-loaded environment. So this lead to me making projects that were portable, relatable, not site-specific and, most of all, fun.”
Taking cues from shows like “Mystery Science Theatre 3000,” TrashTalk places the audience in a space between reality and the world created by the film, establishing “more of an odd social experiment than a night at the movies,” Ponce said.
In addition to displaying their snarky remarks for all to see, TrashTalk audience members can also vote to rewind particularly amusing moments of the film. They can even switch user names and play incognito.
“There was one person at a recent TrashTalk event who submitted all their comments from the point of view of the lead character's medulla oblongata,” Ponce said. “It was totally confusing. A winning strategy if I ever heard one.”
Though TrashTalk’s anything-goes format attracts its share of wildly left-field antics, the uncensored anonymity is not always a pretty sight.
“When I created the project it is true I was expecting a certain degree of peeling away with respect to how people's inner dialog was going to get represented publicly,” Ponce said. “But I'm not sure I was prepared for exactly how raw it can get. It is sometimes shocking how quickly a smart little back-and-forth or a series of astute observations can descend into utter depravity.”
But Ponce learned to greet this debauchery with open arms, echoing the chaos with his own arsenal of disturbing and demented B-movies. On Tuesday, Ponce will bring TrashTalk Theater, along with Charles Busch’s campy horror-comedy “Psycho Beach Party” to the Loft, providing UCSD students with our own balcony seats to a show that, for one night only, will encourage and even celebrate our dismissive elitism and off-color wisecracks.
“I chose ‘Psycho Beach Party’ for the event on October 18 because it's an outrageous, subversive teen comedy with tons of innuendo,” Ponce said. “Seems perfect for a college campus.”