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MASS VENTRILOQUISM


Notes: This text was originally published in: Shifter Magazine 16 special issue on Pluripotential. Edited by Sreshta Rit Premnath & Warren Neidich

AUTHOR’S NOTE

MASS VENTRILOQUISM was originally read on February 7, 2009 in San Francisco, California at Southern Exposure. The author approached
newly acquired friends from Portland State University, Otis College of Art and Design, old friends from California College of the Arts and strangers hanging out after their participation in SFMOMA’s “Social Practice West” panel discussion.
“Would you like to read a part in this play for the 2 Minute Presentation Series*? The part is less than a page and you don’t have to act. Just read the words as you understand them to sound in your head.”
The play was cast in under an hour.
MASS VENTRILOQUISM premiered when the panelists reconvened for the 2 Minute Presentation Series at Southern Exposure.
The script for MASS VENTRILOQUISM was handed out to one man and fourteen women. The parts were spot read in front of a small audience.
The portraits of AUGUST WILHELM MALM and CAROLINA (as shown on last page of the script) were projected on a wall. The readers stood in a semicircle in front of the projection, facing the audience. The play was read in roughly two minutes.

DIRECTION

The script for MASS VENTRILOQUISM should be handed out to people who are strangers or recently acquainted. Parts should be spot read,
out loud, and never rehearsed. There should be no direction other than, ‘read this out loud, un-theatrically, likeas words that you are first coming
across for the first time’.
COSTUME PLOT: No costumes should be worn other than the clothes that the readers wear upon arrival.

CASTING: Ideally, all parts but AUGUST WILHELM MALM should be read by female readers.

SETTING: An additional audience is not required, but in the case that there is an additional audience the photos on the last page of the script should be projected on a wall behind the readers.

BLOCKING: The readers should stand in a semicircle in front of the wall being projected on.

CHARACTERS

NARRATOR #1: The town adopts a whale
AUGUST WILHELM MALM: It is with great honor and pride
NARRATOR #2: The traveling host
NARRATOR #3: You give a centimeter they take a kilometer
NARRATOR #4: A much needed hiatus
NARRATOR #5: Some super-imposed character development
BARBARA JOHNSON: Thoughts on muteness envy
NARRATOR #6: Incredible shrinking women
NARRATOR #7: Speak when you are spoken through

FOOTNOTE #1: Homonyms
FOOTNOTE #2: One hundred thirty-two million, five hundred eighty thousand, ninety-six
FOOTNOTE #3: Role reversal
FOOTNOTE #4: Whales > dinos
FOOTNOTE #5: Long distance singers
FOOTNOTE #6: An ending
NARRATOR #1: There is a quiet whale in Sweden.
They call her Carolina.
She was named after the wife of a wealthy quartermaster, August Wilhelm Malm.
At a young age, she was taken from her home at the Isthmus of Askim Bay and was brought to Gothenburg.
Two gentlemen, Carl Hansson and Olof Larsson escorted her with three steamboats.
In a trade magazine dated August 13, 1892, Malm was quoted as saying,

AUGUST WILHELM MALM: “Everything, everything I have thus put at stake…Everything has gone on my risk. But now, thanks to Providence!, I also arrived at the truly great goal. Victory is mine. I share the honor with all the arms, assist, and to repeat some of the words I spoke to thousands of spectators: this equally wonderful, colossal animal may not only be the single most precious adornment of our museum; it is, if all goes well, to be a pride for our town, not to say our whole nation, Whereas, if I know, no museum in the world can produce anything in the way, or value to compare with as
this can to behold.”
NARRATOR #2: Aware of the responsibility that came with her approval, Carolina did her best to serve her nation.

Made herself utterly available to her people. Went to lengths to see that they were comfortable. Furnished a salon with benches and tapestries for their visits.

In the summer of 1866, Carolina traveled to Stockholm. There she attended the Industrial Exposition, where she hosted over 36,000 visitors. Hamburg
and Berlin followed.
In 1923, she moved into a new hall built specifically for her in Slottskogen.

She continued her role as a public host. Entertaining visitors; serving coffee. Punch.
NARRATOR #3: It was some time later that Carolina had to close down her doors and retreat to a more private life.
This was due to the indiscretion of some visitors who confused her hall for a hideout.
(Carolina’s place was later referred to as “… a hideout for loving couples,
and then a special couple were surprised in a too intimate situation.”)
Carolina could no longer host. She became publicly inactive.

NARRATOR #4: The transition was a pleasant one. It provided her the quiet contemplative time that her youth was lacking. She was no longer a public servant.

NARRATOR #5: In her seclusion, she became a bit of a mystery.

BARBARA JOHNSON: “Women with expensive and artsy tastes can, of course, be idealized, but probably only if they project an image of graceful muteness. One has only to think of the outpouring of feeling around the death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to realize the genius of the adoption of
the role of silent image from the moment of the assassination onward. Prior to that time, the woman with a taste for French cooking, redecoration, and
Oscar Wilde was a far less idealized figure in the American press. And the contrast between Jackie O’s muteness and Hillary Clinton’s outspokenness
only served to give cultural reinforcement to the notion that grace, dignity, and class could only be embodied by a woman who remains silent.”

NARRATOR #6: In the same camp as Jane Wyman, Holly Hunter, and Samantha Morton, Carolina’s role as a mute should have brought her
an Oscar. But civic duty made her an exception. And although she was only acting as a medium, the fact that she wasis vocal at all disqualified her from the award.

NARRATOR #7: Carolina is silent and inaccessible for every day except election day. And on that day a small voting booth is erected inside of her
and citizens come to cast their vote. Sweden speaks through her.

FOOTNOTE #1: From Swedish, the word “valen” can be translated twice. It can be translated to mean ‘whale’ and it can be translated to mean ‘election’.
Both words speak of enormity.

FOOTNOTE #2: In the 2008 U.S. General Election, 132,580,096 voters left their house to voice their opinion in public.

FOOTNOTE #3: “In Book II, Chapter 2 of his book ‘The Spirit of Laws’, Montesquieu states that in the case of elections in either a republic or a
democracy, voters alternate between being the rulers of the country and being the subjects of the government. By the act of voting, the people operate in a sovereign (or ruling) capacity, acting as “masters” to select their government’s “servants.””

FOOTNOTE #4: The blue whale is the largest creature that has ever existed on earth. It is bigger than 25 elephants; bigger than a Brontosaurus and a
Tyrannosaurus rex combined. A blue whale calf is about 7 m (23’) long at birth.

FOOTNOTE #5: The sounds a blue whale makes can travel thousands of miles in deep water, leading to speculation that the whales may be able to
communicate across oceans.

FOOTNOTE #6: Whales have long been a source of food, oil, and crafts’ material. A famous Japanese Proverb quotes: “There’s nothing to throw away
from a whale except its voice.”

Left: August Wilhelm Malm, Right: Carolina

Left: August Wilhelm Malm, Right: Carolina