Origins of the Heat Death Universe
There is something fascinating and infuriating about online dating. And I will be the first to admit, I am no good at it.
In my few attempts to find “love” on OkCupid, I found myself in awe of the ways people described themselves. Whether they were honest, sarcastic, or clearly only after one thing, I would sit back in my frustration and think, “What if these people are really what they say? What if these people are just what they write about?”
Late fall of last year, I was trying OkCupid again while performing with Benjamin Stuber in foolFURY’s premiere production of Sheila Callaghan’s Port Out Starboard Home. During that run, I wrote the fated Facebook status that started it all. (As seen above.)
Benj is an amazing performer to work with. I wanted to collaborate with him on something and we had talked briefly about solo shows. During the last week of performances of Port Out, Starboard Home, we were stretching on the LaMama stage and I said, “You want to do a devised solo show?” He said, “Um, yes.” The next day he said he wanted to do the online dating idea I had posted about. The rest, they say…is a scary intense leap down the rabbit hole of OkCupid.
Cue scary music.
Creating Our Universe
Devising a one-man show was uncharted territory for both of us. We both had devised pieces in ensembles but to remain in the roles of performer and playwright while creating side by side was an interesting challenge.
When it comes to writing, I am always mindful of what makes my plays theatrical. I want my work to have a reason to be on stage as opposed to say television or film. The thing I knew from the beginning was I had to write a piece that rested on what was most theatrical about Benj as a performer: his extreme physical theater skills.
The other thing I knew was this piece had to be rooted in OkCupid at every turn. Nothing that went on the page could come initially from us, everything from character creation to plot had to be inspired directly from text and images found on people’s profiles.
We set up our dropbox and stuffed it full of screen grabs of text and pics from OkCupid. I would filter through those and send Benj a list of questions based on each jpeg. I would ask things like, “What music you think is playing in the background of this pic?” or “How do they order their favorite Mexican dish” or “What is the song that reminds them most of their ex?”
In addition to those first impressions, we had many long emails and coffee meetings where we shared our own OkCupid horror stories, various theories and philosophies about intimacy and what it was like to date in a maddening city like New York. From issues of loneliness to the pressures of never-ending busyness, those thematic discussions merged with his response to certain screen grabs led to the creation of 8 characters.
Since we didn’t want to miss out on all the fun, we also picked apart our own online dating profiles. Which of course had gems of ridiculousness in them. Eager to join the theatrical shaming of online dating, we created a Benj/Angela hybrid character. So that left the cast list at 9.
And then there was the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics
I knew from the beginning that this piece wouldn’t be an obvious spoof on OkCupid. (So many of us live it and to see it outright on stage…my dating wounds are too fresh for that.)
Staying committed to our OkCupid inspiration roots, I became fascinated by this man who spends time thinking about The Heat Death of the Universe AND burritos (among other things).
So I flew into research mode, figuring out what exactly heat death was and what it had to do with our universe. (I already knew about burritos. I am from California. And as to not confuse you, burritos didn’t end up playing a huge role in this piece.)
I spent hours watching YouTube lectures from MIT, trying to get to a point where I could share with Benj, in my own words, what heat death of the universe was.
Many hysterical emails and confusing conversations later, I found our plot, rooted in ideas of entropy and chaotic systems. Two ideas that were relevant to what it felt like to date online.
I had to make the idea active so I turned it into a super epic weather system, rooted in mind blowing chaos, which would threaten the well being of all the characters.
Bum bum BUM!
On Yo Feet!
Throughout the drafting process, we had a handful of studio rehearsals so Benj could play with the characters and also share with me more of his abilities and interests as a performer.
It will be exciting to see the madness we created on it’s feet. It is a solo show of endurance to be sure. Or as Benj said, “A real fucker here, an evil little gem.”
I can’t wait to keep working on this thing. If you around NYC on May 28th, come by Dixon Place and check it out!
Afterwards, we can all get a drink and exchange online dating horror stories. We all have them. Let’s show off our sweet sweet battle scars.