John Lanou wrote Love in Three Scenes to explore “love in the age of rage.”The piece could stir controversy (on both the right and the left) as it tackles Muslim-American patriotism, climate change sci-fi, and Donald Trump’s heart. Here he talks about his upcoming Fringe show.
Tell us about the moment when you said to yourself: “I just have to do this.”
The morning after the 2016 election, I was paralyzed and couldn’t get myself to go to work. Even the idea of walking to the bus stop was too much. I decided to splurge and take a Lyft and when I got into the car I sort of collapsed into the seat and whispered to myself “just take care of us, okay, Donald?” It was this odd feeling of resignation mixed with hope that everything would be okay. There was a feeling of love buried in there. And I wanted to explore that.
Why is it important to you to do this show?
Well, I’ve never made art that is political. It’s almost always abstract, be it dance, music, or theatre. The Facebook echo chamber is usually where I express political views. But last year the band Tia Nina invited me to make a piece for the RESIST show they were hosting with Capital Fringe, and that’s when I realized I need to make art about the situation we’re in. I was tired of my Facebook rants (literally, tired). Politics can be boring even when it’s shocking. It’s shocking in a very predictable way, and often unproductive. I wanted to surprise people in a productive way.
I’m fascinated by internal contradictions. Almost all the art I’ve done features some sort of dissonance or conflict. For instance I choreographed a dance that featured a waltz performed in a jagged, contorted way. Where elegance and struggle coexisted. Love in Three Scenes features a lot of the same tension.
What story are you telling?
It’s actually hard to talk about without blowing the surprise. It’s about love hiding behind things you don’t automatically associate with love. Muslims’ love for America’s Founding Fathers, climate activists’ love for climate deniers (told in sci-fi fashion), and compassion for Donald Trump. Each scene carries an unexpected twist, a (perceived) contradiction.
Muslims and the Founding Fathers?
Can’t say more. But I doubt you’ve ever witnessed what you’re about to witness. We’re pretty sure this kind of thing has never been done before.
Sci-fi? Give us a hint.
Well that scene takes place in 2155 AD, where a professor is talking about The Great Lakes War of 2095. You can probably guess what that’s about.
And compassion for Donald Trump?
The zen of Donald, yes.
What have you been learning about yourself during rehearsals?
“I’ve learned that I really like making art WITH people, rather than doing purely solo projects. I’ve been producing most of this myself, and it can get lonely! But when I found Muath Edriss to act in the piece with me, it became more of a collaboration, and sharing the creative process with someone is such a bonding experience. Plus I’m not Muslim and he has been so gracious in teaching me about modern Islam and how it fits into Arab American culture. He performs all around the DC area, including various Arab-state embassies.“
If you won some award for this show, who would you thank?
The Arab-American community in DC has been so welcoming and supportive. Voice of America’s Wathec Salman really took me under his wing and introduced me to so many people who shared with me their experiences as Muslim-Americans. I would thank artist Ellen Roche, without whom none of this would have even gotten off the ground. And my mom, whose influence is behind all of this. She’s the one that taught me the values expressed in the piece.
When the performance is over, what do you want the audience feeling or thinking about?
Well it would be nice if they felt love, but who knows maybe they’ll experience hate. Maybe both. I’m pretty sure it will stimulate conversation, if not controversy. I want to probe people’s political views but not necessarily oppose them. If people walk away not knowing whether they agree or disagree, that’s a good thing.
John Lanou (creator) is a performance artist, musician, composer, and choreographer from Washington, DC. He has performed work at the RESIST series hosted by Capital Fringe, he has written music for theater productions at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, he plays bass (currently for DC band FORCES), and has shown his dance choreography at Dance Place. He’s also writing a screenplay about a professor obsessed with finding the African roots of Beethoven’s piano music.