Have you ever had to wait on hold for 20 minutes, only to be transferred to another department and then accidentally hung up on? How about the time someone promised they would get back to you within 24 hours – and then nobody ever calls, and you had to spend 20 minutes explaining the situation all over again to someone new? Have you had an exceedingly frustrating conversation with the Support Desk that made you want to bang your head against the wall? Or suffered through someone filling out one tiny form incorrectly – which left you without health insurance for four months while they tried to remedy their mistake?
If you can answer yes to any of those questions, or if they just feel eerily familiar, this is the play for you. If you’ve ever heard the condescension in the operator’s voice as she explained that she’d be happy to help you ‘if you would just calm down’, then this is the play for you.
If you’ve ever wished someone could just give you the shortcut to avoid the endless cycle of automated menus and repetitive hold music— well, you already know what I’m going to say.
In Julia Holleman’s The Paper Game, playing at the Capital Fringe festival starting July 10th, four contestants must fight a system that rules all players – no matter how much power they think they possess. It’s the ultimate Japanese Game show, where the host is just as much of a participant as his guests. In this satirical comedy about a system that decides the fate of disaster victims and bureaucratic rescuers alike, Holleman’s absurdist administration draws uncomfortably close to reality. The power can be in your hands, the question is—what concessions are you willing to make in order to win? Will you agree to pay the fine you know is inaccurate? Will you spend 30 consecutive days using your lunch hour to call the support desk and complain? Will you pay for a lawyer to back your case? Or will you give up your own comfort for the sake of someone else’s?
Directing this production, I found myself balancing between the absurdity of the game, and the reality of the world it satirizes. Who are these people that willingly play a game instead of using common sense to help others? Why don’t they break the rules? Why did they create these rules to begin with? At its heart, this is a show about privilege: the privilege of knowing the rules and knowing when you can break them. As Holleman said about her own battles with the bureaucratic healthcare system: “I realized how relatively well-equipped I was to navigate their labyrinth. My basic knowledge of the system meant I knew my rights and their responsibilities…For many people playing bureaucracy’s Kafkaesque game, the stakes are much higher and more obstacles are stacked against them.”
Our challenge was to visualize what bureaucracy looks like. Quite literally, in fact. Because the more I looked at the script, the more I realized it needed to be a presence on stage. Who is that automated voice? How does she make her decisions? And what does the game look like that she wants us to play? Through movement, music, and a lot of gameshow research, the artistic team began to build a physical world in which this game could exist. At once colorful and mundane, organized and messy, hopeful and dreary, the final product is an angry love letter to the bureaucratic system. A system we hate, and yet a system we seem unable to destroy.
So come, take a moment to laugh with us. Because the alternative is to cry. And that’s not nearly as fun.
July 9 — Aug 2, 2015
The Paper Game at Atlas Performing Arts Center
starting July 10
Capital Fringe 2015
1358-60 Florida Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20002
and other locations
Fringe details and Tickets
Renana Fox is a director, actor, and arts educator. She has worked with Inkwell, Source Theatre Festival, Page-to-Stage, Spooky Action, Lean & Hungry Theater, Imagination Stage, and Duke Ellington School for the Arts among others. http://renanafox.weebly.com/