Fiona is a white, Jewish, dual-citizenship carrying feminist. Creator/performer/thinker. She is excited about the future.
Tracker is a cis male theatre practitioner. He likes West Philly more than any other part of the city.
Tracker: So what was in your pockets for this production?
Fiona: Not a lot – I had heard quite a few people talking about the concept, but I’m new to Philadelphia, and so hadn’t seen their show two years ago. What about you?
Tracker: I had quite a bit more in my pockets: I have seen the first iteration in 2014. I know a couple of people in the show personally. I also tangentially worked on the technical side of The Sincerity Project 2016.
Fiona: Oh wow, cool! A lot more involved than me, that’s interesting. How did you feel after the show?
Tracker: To be completely honest, and speaking as someone who saw the first iteration: I felt underwhelmed and disappointed. For those who aren’t/weren’t familiar with The Sincerity Project, it is a 24-year-long experiment in devised theatre, where the performers of the piece come together every two years to try, as best as possible, to honestly tell an audience, and each other, where they are in their lives. How did you feel?
Fiona: The same way. I was super intrigued to see a show with that amount of theatricality in its sustained length, but by the end of it, I felt forgotten about as an audience member. It seemed so clear to me that the artists are making this piece for their family and friends. Meanwhile, I don’t know them, and I still didn’t feel like I knew them by the end of this performance.
Tracker: That was a major criticism of the first iteration, as well. Some people found it quite resonant (moreso for folks who know the performers personally), while others felt like this piece was geared towards family and friends only. I had a very strong, personally resonant reaction to the first iteration. This iteration, though, felt hollow to me, and fell flat.
Fiona: On the website it said that you didn’t need to see the first performance to understand this second one. But I was completely lost – when they started it by saying that they were going to have fewer personal stories, I was intrigued, because that meant the artists had an interesting job ahead of them to get me to understand and know them without sharing their stories. But that moment never came. What was resonant to you about the first instillation?
Tracker: I think it came down to where I was, personally, in my life at the time. I was coming to a place where I realized I needed greater honesty and sincerity from myself, and seeing that production at that time struck a chord with my personal intentions. Also, in 2014, they had a great choir, composed of other performers who don’t form the core repeat performers of The Sincerity Project.
Fiona: Yeah, I’ve heard about this choir.
Tracker: Let’s talk more about some aspects of this iteration. I wanted to talk about Ben Camp’s baby opening the show. What did you think of her being introduced?
Fiona: Yes, let’s talk about that, because I went to the 10pm show and she wasn’t there! They used a pillow!
Tracker: How intriguing! That makes sense, since at the 8pm show I went to, Ben said it was past her bedtime already.
Fiona: Yeah, so in a lot of ways, I feel even more swindled because I was robbed of that kind of sincerity. Substituting a pillow for you daughter is, on a purely functional level, insincere.
Tracker: They could have cut the bit, or explained it away maybe.
Fiona: Or not had a 10pm show.
Tracker: But in actual practice, I found it distasteful, or at least the optics were bad. At the 8pm performance, Ben entered onstage with a baby in his arms. He introduces her as his actual daughter. Then he passes her off to his actual sister, Rachel, and continues on his monologue. To me, it looked like a man having a baby but then giving it away to the only woman left onstage to then take care of it, while he talked.
Fiona: Ohhh, interesting.
Tracker: Then his other sister, Elena—not involved in the show directly as a performer—takes his baby away to put her to bed. Also? Maybe don’t bring your baby to Plays and Players. It can be a dangerous space. While Ben’s daughter was running around the bare plywood stage and into the aisles, I was distracted with the terror that she’d get injured somehow. (This is just my personal opinion, but it was a bad start for me.)
Fiona: Yeah, for sure, that kind of distraction/worry can’t be great for the start of the show. And that’s an interesting point about passing the child off to a woman. But honestly, my distaste for putting an 18 month old in the show is wondering whether she actively asked to be in the performance, or if Ben put her in the show because he wanted to.
Tracker: What point did that serve that a picture on his smartphone couldn’t have?
Fiona: Yep. An 18 month old can’t give consent to something they don’t fully understand. There’s a difference between a toddler saying “I want to be with daddy onstage” and a toddler saying “yes” when you ask them if they want to be with daddy onstage. One is active and one is potentially manipulated. But because it was a pillow in my performance, I wasn’t dwelling too much on that, because other things were bothering me.
Tracker: What bothered you about the piece?
Fiona: I feel like this idea that the artists are making a show for their family and friends is probably the root of what I find annoying. The 24 year period is totally fascinating, but I would have loved for the show to be ABOUT something that NECESSITATED a 24 year period. Like, if they made a show about aging that required them to check in every two years. And sometimes they did stuff that kind of landed on that accidentally…like with Aram and the cooler of beer. But the show wasn’t actually ABOUT anything…except for making a show that lasts 24 years. And ultimately that means it’s ABOUT the artists, and I don’t know them. And they didn’t do a great job of getting me to know them.
Tracker: Yeah. And in the performance I saw, they said that they weren’t going to repeat certain pieces that in the first iteration they said they would.
Fiona: Right! And at that moment I was like, “Well, what’s the point then?”
Tracker: Whatever the point was, this iteration did not make it.
Fiona: Agreed. There were moments that I found, purely on an aesthetic level, to be really interesting, but aesthetic never does it for me entirely. If there’s nothing of substance underneath it, I lose interest.
Tracker: Aesthetic for me can really do it, if it’s executed well enough. There were so many moments like that in the first iteration. Somehow, transplanting it to Plays and Players (the original was at FringeArts) and adding two years, things just didn’t seem executed nearly as well.
Fiona: How did you feel about the production design?
Tracker: It was merely functional in set and lighting and didn’t amplify or detract from the rest of the show.
Fiona: Yep. I liked the space. I thought it was interesting. I kind of felt it was underused.
Tracker: Did you understand the point/idea of the circle on the ground downstage? If you could see it anyway.
Fiona: I think I vaguely associated it with truth telling, or confession.
Tracker: Yeah, I thought it was odd they didn’t explain it. In 2014 they explicitly stated it was a zone where no artifice was allowed
Fiona: Hmm. That’s hilarious, because my presence as an audience member instantly creates a theatrical artifice. I get what they’re trying to do now (I didn’t when I saw it), but I don’t even know if it’s possible to make theater in the way they’re striving for. Even with two human beings sitting together and talking, there’ll be artifice.
Tracker: And in 2014 they used the circle a lot more. Hence the “there’s going to be less personal storytelling” caveat.
Fiona: Ahhhhh. Okay. One of the many things I would have no understanding/access to without having seen the first show. Well, I did not find this project sincere. And I kind of forgot that was the starting point after the first few minutes of the piece.
Tracker: Me too. What did you think of some of the repeated movement pieces? Like the strip-down, jumping-jack, re-clothe bit?
Fiona: It oddly enough served as one of the only guide posts that I had through the piece. It was a repetition that oriented me, serving a more structural function than conceptual. Maybe there’s something there about literally stripping away artifice, but I fundamentally do not believe that by being naked you are automatically more truthful. I think it’s kind of silly to assume it’s that simple.
Tracker: Yeah, I didn’t get the “why” but I liked that it was there. It lent a sort of communal/ensemble feel to the cast, that most of them engaged in it. But yes, being merely physically naked can be and is in itself a performative act.
Fiona: Totally. One of the more “performative” segments was the one that worked the best for me, which was the ending, when Jenna went through her sort of ritual of getting naked and checking in with the different stations onstage. Having Rachel talk for her was definitely theatrical, but it was the first moment I felt like I was seeing something real.
Tracker: I did like that storytelling moment, but personally was also put off a bit by how many circle confessionals were actors talking about other actors. That was a new thing in 2016’s iteration. Maybe that was an intentional change.
Fiona: Oh, interesting. Yeah I kind of wonder what it’ll be like in 2018. Do you think you’ll see it then?
Tracker: In complete disclosure, I’m personally invested in seeing this whole project through as an audience member, or as much of it as I can. I will be seeing it in 2018, and for as long as they can run it. It may continue to disappoint, or it may blow my mind. So much changes in two years. So much stays the same.
Fiona: I know. I ultimately think that it’s unfair for me to say that I’m turned off of seeing the next instillation based on this one – if the whole point is that it continues for 24 years, then how could it possibly be the same show? Ergo, how could I possibly decide not to see a new version? I am curious about some of the things that turned me off of this performance – if they’ll be there next time.
Tracker: I actually don’t think it’s unfair if you or anyone are turned off from this iteration. That’s a risk that Team Sunshine should be aware of. If they said you didn’t need to see 2014 to enjoy or appreciate 2016, that’s on them if they lose audiences.
Fiona: Yeah, that’s fair. I guess if I enjoy myself more in 2018 than I did now, that may be a sign that they’re not doing a good job of welcoming new audiences to their shows. But I have a feeling (especially after talking to you, who HAS seen the first production), that that’s not necessarily all that’s going on here.