Corporations in our Heads (2000)

 

Corporations in our Heads poster

Poster design: Flick Harrison

 

Final Report

September 21, 2000

Attendance: 20 Seating capacity: 60 ( 33% )

Opening night of this experiment that explores how Corporate voices have taken up residence in our collective psyche. Its also opening night of the Vancouver Film Festival and the Fringe Festival closed three days ago, but still, considering there are about 150 organizations who said they would help with networking, the turnout for this first of four nights is a disappointment.

Having said that, the people who were there seemed to have a entertaining and valuable time. There were insights for me.

I was nervous starting this first night because there were things I had no way to know would work without trying them: The evening is based on Augusto Boal's Cops in the Head -- an exercise that looks at internal voices that
have taken up residence in our heads, but that are other people -- friends, relatives, etc.....real people in our lives. In this event I am wanting to look at the voices of Corporations that have taken up residence in our heads, voices that try to get us to do things that may not be in our best interests, in the best interests of the planet, the ones we love, etc. Can we use the theatrical exercise to do this? Can/will people be able to manifest the voices onto the stage and play them as characters? Yes. The people in the room did this wonderfully tonight.

The story that was chosen: A woman who is an activist is walking down Robson Street and she comes to The Gap. It is the only place that sells jeans that fit her. She knows that the Gap makes its jeans in sweatshops. She ends up going in anyway. In the improvisation (which is a monologue...there is just her.....no antagonist) there is a moment where she looks around the street (which is filled with people who I have asked to walk back and forth) and wonders if anyone she knows will see her....checks her watch...and decides it is "safe" and she will go in. I froze the scene at the watch.....while she is concerned, and about to decide.

The first voice is vanity -- the Gap itself -- and tells her that she knows she is fat and these jeans will make her look thinner.. The second is Eddie Bower who is telling her that the Company is changing....its OK now.......the third is the Gap again, but this time telling her she deserves these jeans because she is beautiful and they will make her more beautiful. The fourth (I can't remember the Brand) is telling her she is a Loser if she doesn't go in and buy the jeans.

The audience loved the exercise. There were lots of interventions on the Corporate voices. Something that happened over and over again....people needed to argue, sometimes vehemently with the voices....and we came to understand that they really wanted us to engage with them on this deep level......that "getting into it" with them, was not necessarily a solution. On the other hand, one intervener pointed out that as he found out more and
more about the character of the voice, as the voice was less and less of a "powerful stranger" .... as he understood the tactics of the voice more, he felt more empowered to disarm the voice's control over him.

This was very interesting to me....the various ways we think we can know the Corporate voices. We hear them constantly, and this makes us THINK we know them, but do we? We know the short message they have for us, but we don't know them. If we take the time to know them perhaps they have less power over us.

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September 22, 2000

Attendance: 56 Seating capacity: 60 ( 93% )

Almost a full house tonight. The stories came very, very fast tonight, as did the voices, and it was a really intimate evening.

The story: a young woman (early 20's) is getting ready to go to a party. (A hot tub party!) She is in the shower, alone, and is assaulted by voices telling her that she has to remove all her "extra" body hair in order to be feminine, attractive, acceptable. The brands she identified were: Nike (being a fit woman is for some reason equated with being smooth S. Do you ever see hairy athletes on Nike ads?) Cosmopolitan magazine and Chanel.

No men entered the stage area all evening, although it is true that many, if not most men shave every day.

One thing for me: it occurred to me a couple of times tonight what a privilege it was for me to be "in the shower" with all these women, working on this issue. I do not mean this in any kind of sexual way -- it is a political / gender / generational thing. The theatre work takes me into the most amazing places.......

I discovered something last night that worked well, so I tried it again tonight. When asking the storyteller to let the Voices know what they are telling her. I also asked her to give them a Brand name. This was easy to do both nights. We know what Brands the voices belong to. We know.

One of the really interesting things that came out of tonight was the sense of powerlessness that people feel in the middle of the assault from all the Brand Voices. It is apparent, though, through the theatre experiment, that if we take the time to focus on one Voice ­ give up the need or the desire to solve the entire problem all at once, and just try to change our relationship with one Voice, this can crack the assault. The more we do with a Voice, the more we learn how to cope. What's important is not whether or not a woman shaves her body bits ­ its whether or not that decision is truly hers, or whether it is imposed upon her by corporate/cultural programming. Of course the symbolism of this can be applied to many things in our lives.

Once again the audience was very, very appreciative. I think that for some, even the IDEA that corporations have taken up residence inside our heads is an important concept, let alone that we can do something to combat them.

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September 23, 2000

Attendance: 42 Seating capacity: 60 ( 70% )

A smaller house than last night, but respectable. One thing I really loved is that, this being the 3rd one I am confident that I can do this now....this "new" idea....and I am not nervous in any way. It was Saturday night and many of them tonight were a "theatre crowd"...there, they had come to see a play....and as I started to explain what was going to happen they got more and more shocked, but, I KNEW it would be OK and that we would have a great time, and we did -- they were deeply engaged, laughed and laughed and applauded lots............and I really enjoyed this...knowing.

Again, a story of a person alone. This is three nights out of three and indicative, perhaps of the nature of the issue. Is this something we struggle with ourselves? Not with other people? Also, all the stories chosen so far have been from women.

The story: a young girl, 15 has started to notice Club Monaco advertisements in her school. She and some friends are outraged at this -- not against Club Monaco (CM), against advertisements in the school. They organize, but, inevitably, more and more CM clothes start appearing in the school. Months later, she is in the Mall, not intending to buy anything, wanders into CM and buys a pair of pants. At the checkout, she is wondering how she got there and why, but makes the purchase.

I froze the moment just before making the purchase, at a second when her eyes were fluttering (hiding something) and her body inadvertently lurched forward across the counter.....she did all this without knowing, in the improvisation!

There were four voices which she named as: The Gap (You want these pants, they make you look fabulous!), General Motors (I will crush you if you will not submit) Air Canada (??? don't understand why) and at the moment I can't remember the other........

The improvisations and interventions were very lively. One of the profound moments for me tonight was an ending moment where both the intervener and the Voice finished with the same "chant"...."They're only pants". From the Voice this meant, what's the problem, its just a pair of pants, you want them, buy them. From the intervener this meant, its only a stupid pair of pants. I just want them, I don't need them. Same words. Opposite meanings.

In the same way as happened last night, the audience had an easier time dealing with Voices that they could personalize. The voices that remained distant were the hardest to cope with. There are big clues in here I think
about tactic. We have to take the time to understand specific corporate messages, underlying meanings, before we can hope to exorcise the control they have over our lives and our collective psyche.

Another moment highlighted how, when we do manage to stop buying, the response from the Corporation is sometimes that we are robbing them of something, like their "right" to make a profit, their "right" to do business.....inside the culture in which we live this is difficult to combat. It puts us in the role of oppressor, when really we are trying to liberate ourselves from oppression.

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September 24, 2000

Attendance: 38 Seating capacity: 60 ( 63% )

Lots of walk-ins tonight. We went into the evening with 13 reservations.

There were a few very interesting moments for me tonight, mostly to do with the process. The room picked this story:

A young woman (yes, all women) is a student teacher in a grade 2 class. She has noticed one shy girl, and at the end of the day, tries to reach out to her as the kids are leaving. She doesn't know what to say, though, and uses the girl's clothes, which are a frilly dress a pink hair pin and red patent shoes, to compliment her on...."I really like your shoes" became a mantra for the evening.........as the woman is doing this she is also asking herself "WHY? Why am I reinforcing these superficial things in this little girl. Can't I reach out to her in a way that has more to do with her?"...And in this moment, of course, there are lots of Corporate voices.

As we started to develop the improvisation, it started to occur to me that the choice of story might have been all wrong. I didn't see the Corporate Voices (immediately) in the woman's story........and neither did some audience members -- one of them in particular asked this question during the set-up and I shut the question down, saying (hoping) that we would get there..........I did this because I knew that the answer would "name the Images" and didn't want that to happen. It was the right choice.

The Voices were very powerful. Calvin Klein, Fluevog, Esprit and the Body Shop. The Body Shop was also very interesting, played by an elderly man, his monologue was all about "caring for the child". it could have been the most powerful voice. Trouble was the man playing it couldn't do it. It was obvious that he understood the surface of what we were doing, but he couldn't "play" the underneath of it...."What's in it for the Body Shop? -- are they REALLY concerned for the Child or do they want something?" I asked........but he didn't understand. I let him out of the improvisation -- and we went to three voices.

The interventions on the voices were wonderful. The very last one, with Esprit, is something I want to write about: All the previous interventions had tried to reason with the Voices, with varying degrees of success.........one woman had tried to actually walk away from a Voice (Calvin Klein) but when the time had come to move had walked TOWARD the Voice instead!!). This intervener with Esprit, who was encouraging the intervener to be happy, to live life (to consume), to dance...."Dance? OK." The intervener took off his shoes and started to dance, and his dancing became more and more intense...and the more intense the dancing got the harder it was for Esprit to talk at all, let alone get her message across.

In discussion of this intervention, of the symbolism, it was clear that if we got the Corporation "jumping around", then we had more power. But we also had to be vigilant, because we knew that as soon as the Corporation understood what we were doing it would appropriate it and market it back to us. The symbol, though, of "dancing one's own dance -- to one's own music" was very powerful.

There was discussion after of how great it would be to take Corporations in Our Heads into the schools. People in the audience found the evening very effective because of the creativity, many voices being heard, the symbolic nature of the event.........Kevin from Check Your Head and I are going to discuss this further -- both of us thinking it is a good idea.

 

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Directed and joked by
David Diamond

Havana Gallery / Theatre
September 21-24, 2000

 

A Cops In The Head Interactive Theatre event

A mind game exploring how corporations operate in the public psyche. By using a unique technique of interactive theatre, the audience will investigate ways to exorcise the corporate spirits. Based on YOUR life experiences.

DVD Available

 

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