Before the Rehearsal
HDV / 16 min. / colour / Los Angeles / 2009
The comedy group Slow Children Crossing meets in a private apartment to rehearse a new sketch between a microwave and a refrigerator. After the rehearsal the actors discuss marketing strategies for attracting greater media attention to their group.
The final work in my discussion, Maya Schweizer’s Before the Rehearsal, was realised without the involvement of a broadcaster. Despite its relatively modest form, as a single channel video work with a running time of 16 minutes, it brings into focus several of the themes that have recurred throughout my study. They include the issues of representation that have been raised, especially within the US context, by the form of television genres such as ‘progressive’ sitcoms and confessional talk shows, the modes of self-exploitation widely associated with reality TV and social media, and the performance of emotional and affective labour in the cultural industries. I am also drawn to this work because Schweizer does not purport to analyse the situation that she observes, or to resolve the contradictions that her video reveals. Shot in Los Angeles, while Schweizer was on residency in the city, Before the Rehearsal depicts the comedy sketch group Slow Children Crossing rehearsing elements of their television show in two different domestic spaces, and discussing strategies of self-marketing. Formed in 2006, and including mainly African-American writer-performers, this group describes itself as promoting a ‘take-no-prisoners’ approach to humour, dealing with subjects such as ‘politics, race, sex, slavery, celebrities’. The video developed as a relatively spontaneous response to Schweizer’s interaction with this group of aspiring television workers, and they participated in its production as a networking strategy. Schweizer was invited to record several of the group’s rehearsals and meetings, in return for copies of the master tapes, which Slow Children Crossing could then potentially use for promotional purposes. The members of Slow Children Crossing consciously and continually present themselves to each other (and to Schweizer’s camera) as savvy media professionals, in command of every aspect of their brand, despite the relatively limited material resources that seem available to them. So Before the Rehearsal features fragments of scripted performances, followed by moments of feedback and self-critique, in which the performers rapidly shift between the characters they are playing and other modes of equally constructed self-presentation. In these interactions, they demonstrate their knowledge of marketing opportunities offered by social media and discuss their individual personas as group members rather than characters, in the course of planning a reality-style video about themselves, which might be modelled on reality TV shows such as Survivor, The Real World and The Real Housewives of Orange County. The video culminates with a shot of several group members watching an old clip of (then Presidential candidate) Barack Obama dancing with Ellen DeGeneres on her TV show. As several of the performers casually mime Obama’s moves it is unclear whether this is a moment of relaxation, research or even the beginning of yet another rehearsal. Schweizer’s open-ended conclusion also underscores the fact that, while they may be watching this old video clip on a social media website rather than a TV set, these aspiring performers continue to interact with each other, and to structure their professional and personal identities, through reference to television.
Maeve Connolly, in TV Museum. Contemporary Art and the Age of Television
Published by Intellect Books, May 15, 2014.
Villa Aurora, Los Angeles