The revolution will not be televised, as Gil-Scott Heron said. Revolution Now!, however, will. But don't check your cable listings. This Friday and Saturday, sometime after 8 p.m., the happening will be broadcast—though perhaps "narrowcast" would be a more apt term—to a single two-way TV monitor just off Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.
Well, one has to start somewhere. For Gob Squad, a performance-art collective based in Berlin, the transmission of their live performance from inside Current, Carolina Performing Arts' new space, is what company member Simon Will calls "the first step in inciting an uprising ... or at least rehearsing one so we can be ready when the time comes."
For twenty-four years, the seven-member collective has been mixing theater with media to radically rethink the relationships and boundaries between art, artists, and audiences. The group's projects have ranged from staged productions and interactive live films to what they call "urban interventions." Revolution Now! qualifies as one of the latter. It's a chaotic, engaging, and funny work in which the company takes audience participation to the extreme.
The premise is that Gob Squad has seized control of the performance space and isn't going to leave until the world shows that it can change direction. The members solicit content from the audience, developing a collective message to the world in the form of a live underground TV show. Props and musical instruments are distributed throughout the room. Visitors are cast in reenactments of revolutionary moments from history, and after very little rehearsal, the show goes live. If Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, and Howard Zinn raided a public-access channel studio, the results might have looked a lot like this.
Gob Squad avoids works with a single meaning or agenda. "There's as many revolutions in the room as there are people," Will says. "We tend to be a prism." But Revolution Now! was originally created in response to an issue our region has also faced in recent years: unchecked development.
When Gob Squad was commissioned to create a new work at Berlin's People's Theater in 2010, the area around it was undergoing rapid gentrification after the city's rent-control laws were changed, leading to protests in the square where the theater is located.
"Over the last hundred years, the square had been occupied by Communists, fascists, and other factions," Will says. "Again it had become a flashpoint for demonstrations. We made the show with this in mind."
Revolution Now! looks at how electronic media changes social movements and how our identities change when we're in a collective circumstance. As the group staged the work in subsequent years, revolutionary movements from the Arab Spring to Ukraine and Brexit became an ongoing factor in world news. The United States had the Occupy movement and candidates for public office calling for "political revolution."
"It's surprising how quickly in the last seven years the world has changed," Will observes. "Revolution Now! has a different kind of value now than when it was conceived. Revolutionary language is very powerful, but it's slippery. It can exist without content or context and can be colonized by a very different ideology. When someone says, I am for the people, it's potentially an empty phrase. Which people? Why?"