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THE FUTURE SHOW: Q&A with Deborah Pearson

November 16, 2016

THE FUTURE SHOW, featuring UK artist Deborah Pearson, opens Artists Rep's Frontier Series with one weekend of performances Dec.1-4.

 “In THE FUTURE SHOW, Deborah Pearson attempts to tell the audience her entire future,” said Jerry Tischleder, Artists Rep’s ArtsHub Director and curator of the company’s new Frontier Series. “She starts by describing how the show will end and moves forward in time until the end of her life. It's a simple premise, but a daunting task as Deborah re-writes the show nightly to confront the new potential future that awaits each of us daily. I've seen it twice – in Austin and Vancouver B.C. – and was moved by how elegant, thought-provoking and beautiful her performance was each time. It's been a hit all over the world and I'm sure Portland audiences will love it." 

Here the U.K.-based artist Deborah Pearson reflects on the unique premise of THE FUTURE SHOW, the aftermath of the U.S. elections, being in Portland for the first time and why she hasn’t performed this show in several years… 

ART: It’s not improv, it’s not a static script … It’s such a unique premise, what inspired it?
DP:  The piece is rewritten for every performance, so every script is unique to that particular venue and to that particular day.  It's a constantly evolving piece of writing – although the ending of the script is basically the same from performance to performance – probably around 40% of the script doesn't change.  

I had the idea for the piece when I was writing an application for my PhD (which I now, hopefully, almost have).  I wanted to write about narrative, and there was a definition of narrative that I kept coming across, as "the representation of an event."  I was very interested by that word – re-presentation, because it seemed to suggest that a story was always a re-staging or a re-telling of something in the past, of something that has already happened.  I wondered what would happen if someone endeavoured to write a story that was about what was about to happen – and I thought this would be most interesting if the story were purportedly true.  So this is where the idea of an autobiographical monologue about a person's future came from.  At the time I hadn't realised that it would mean I would have to rewrite the show for every performance, that only became clear later on, but that has also turned out to be a key aspect of the concept.   

ART: How accurate are your “predictions?” Is that what they are? 
DP: I wouldn't call the FUTURE SHOW’s text predictions – I've always understood that what I'm doing is creating a representation, a story, about what my future could look like based on my life now.  But the very act of speaking "predictions" out loud in front of an audience means that they can no longer happen – in a way by writing that particular version of the future and saying it out in front of an audience, I've basically undone the possibility of the future happening in the way that I suggest.  For example, if I predict a conversation that might happen after the show with an audience member, there is no way I will really end up having that conversation, because the audience will be too conscious to make that conversation happen organically, and even if a member of the audience does try to re-create the conversation I predicted after the show, they will be aware that they are basically performing or representing what I already predicted.  In terms of longer term things I predict for the future – some of what I say is inevitable – some isn't.  But in essence I'm telling a story about a possible future.  It's not real – it's a story.  And yet somehow elements of it are real, because certain things will just definitely happen.  Once I performed the show in Brighton, I was still living with my flatmates, and I said that when I got home there would be recycling bags out in the hall that my flatmates hadn't taken down to the bins yet – and I have to admit, when I got home, my flatmates (who hadn't seen the show) had indeed left recycling bags in the hall.  That was one of the few times the show creeped me out.  I was both annoyed because somehow my fictional future seemed to be coming true, and just because they'd left recycling bags in the hall.  :)

ART: Have you performed in Portland before? Anything about our city that you predict will inspire the performances here at Artists Rep?
DP: I have not performed in Portland before but I am really looking forward to it.  Every time I perform I like to spend at least a day in the city and the venue so that I can get to know it, take some notes on it, and make that particular script capture something of the spirit of that venue and place, as much as I can get a sense of a place in a day.  I have heard such great things about Portland – it will be a total pleasure to be there and to see how it impacts the script.  I have to admit I read an article about The Big One in the Atlantic that I've been debating mentioning in the script, but I think I probably won't, because it actually freaks me out too much!

ART: What do you hope audiences walk away thinking about after THE FUTURE SHOW?
DP: Their lives – how short our lives are, how uncertain, how precious.  

ART: Any thoughts on the results of our recent elections? Is there a certain poignancy to doing the work here and now?
DP: There's a line in the show that has been there since 2013 "I will never see a female president of the United States.  I will join a women's group who are also a book club."  I was really hoping I'd have to rewrite that line, but unfortunately, not yet.  What I found really moving about Hillary Clinton's concession speech was the moment where she said that no woman had yet broken the highest and hardest of glass ceilings, but that someday, someone will.  The certainty and the optimism with which she said that was really moving.  Now, more than ever, we need to be relentlessly optimistic about our long term future – to force ourselves to picture a world that is better than this one.  That's the first and most important step to beginning to build that world.  

ART: I heard you don’t really perform this show anymore, why not?
DP: The show is psychologically really difficult for me.  I find the process of writing a prediction of my future exhausting, particularly as I have OCD (which is mentioned in the show), and this performance is kind of exactly the scariest thing for me to do as someone with OCD, and tends to make the OCD a bit worse.  I got to 25 performances and then published some past scripts and felt that was right, that was where the show should then end and be put away.  Jerry was able to convince me to bring it back really by virtue of the fact that I'd just love to perform in Portland.  I've heard great things about the city and have always wanted to go, and I've heard great things about Portland audiences.  It seems like a good place to bring it.


ART: When was the last time you performed this show and what does it take for you to bring it back?
DP: The last time I performed the version where I rewrite was at the Malta Poznan Festival in June of 2015 – I also did a version that wasn't rewritten as part of a double bill of two of my old pieces called TIME PIECES at the Battersea Arts Centre in London in November of 2015.  So it's been a long time.  The show was just on with two Cantonese performers making their own versions of THE FUTURE SHOWin Hong Kong for ArtSnap, as part of the New Visions Festival there.  I "directed" them and gave them some tips on how to do the show, and that happened about two weeks ago, so the score and the process of the show are very much alive in my mind at the moment, but from the perspective of watching two other people do it in a different language.

THE FUTURE SHOW launches Artists Rep’s new Frontier Series on Dec. 1 with four performances through Dec. 4. The three-part series continues with WINNERS AND LOSERS March 24-26 and RODNEY KING April 21-23. More on the series and those shows here

by Jessica Gleason, Marketing & Publications Manager

Related Links

Click HERE to check out a video interview with Jerry Tischleder, curator of the Frontier Series.

Click HERE to check out an excerpt from THE FUTURE SHOW, the 19th script in 2014.

LISTEN HERE as Susannah Mars chats with Deborah Pearson about THE FUTURE SHOW for her Artslandia podcast "Adventures in Artslandia." 

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