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Have We Met in Real Life? My Date With a Stranger for Sarah Rudinoff's NowNowNow Mar 31, 2016

by Tessa Hulls

When Sarah Rudinoff found herself at the funeral of an acquaintance whom she mostly knew through the internet, she realized she had made a mistake. She had cast sweeping judgments about this person based on their online persona and dismissed them as someone who was not worth the effort of truly getting to know. But as she listened to the eulogies given by their close friends, by the love overflowing from their words, Rudinoff was forced to confront the fact that she had given nothing to someone who had deserved a great deal more.

But in this age of social media, this ceaseless barrage of information about other people's lives, is it really possible to do better? In the scenario of this deceased acquaintance, Rudinoff poses this question, asking, “But what am I going to do? Connect with every single person?” NowNowNow is a solo show that takes a gut-punching look at how social media and technology have altered the relationships we hold with ourselves and with others. 

Fittingly, my date for the show is only a quasi-stranger: Sara Everett and I are Facebook friends who have never met in person. As working artists, we have known each other's names for years and even communicated over email (and, apparently, she once saw me rather drunk on a beach out at Smoke Farm when she was a volunteer and I was the volunteer coordinator—I have no recollection of this). But when I put up a Facebook post saying I need my next stranger for my ongoing On the Boards social experiment, Sara responds. “I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit after 10 years in Seattle I've yet to make it to On the Boards,” she writes, “And although we know a lot of the same folks I'm not sure we've ever officially met in real life. Hmmm.”

I Facebook stalk Sara after this post, leafing through her pictures and wondering, Do I know you? Have we ever met? She looks familiar, but the internet has that insidious power of letting us believe that digital proximity creates genuine association. These are the things that, from our superficial internet friendship, I already know about Sara: she is an artist, she had volunteered at the Smoke Farm LoFi Festival, she does something with CoCA (Center on Contemporary Art), and she does some sort of curatorial work involving real estate developments. Full stop.

When we meet in the On the Boards studio, Sara does look like someone I vaguely recognize—a face among the amorphous crowd that I collectively label “Art World” in my head. The format of the social experiment feels different with a peer, like we have to pretend that we know each other because that's just the way the game is played. I find myself uncharacteristically hesitant to bluntly interrogate, more obligated to keep to the topics of the arts. 

I begin by asking what has kept Sara away from On the Boards. “Queen Anne,” she replies, succinctly acknowledging the unintentional way in which our overextended lives become geographically stratified. “There's only so much time, only so much you can do,” she elaborates after a pause, “and I'm so busy with other mediums that I don't put myself in front of a lot of performance.” Sara used to be involved in performance and did theater in High School—“It traumatized me. The first show we did was The Beverly Hillbillies. I played Granny and it was awesome. But then we did Oklahoma. And it was awful.—and has begun to feel like maybe it's time to come back to it. 

As we chat before the show, Sara fills in some of the blanks in the loose sketches of what I know about her. As her day job, Sara manages construction projects and works part time as a curator for real estate developments. She is also a member of Core gallery, and serves on the board of CoCA. When I ask her what, specifically, she does for them, she laughingly replies, “Too much.” Our conversation roams across topics, finally settling into the rut that none of us seem to be able to avoid these days—that Seattle has become too expensive for artists and all our peers are jumping ship—before it's time for the show to begin. 

NowNowNow opens with Sarah Rudinoff scratching her crotch while cooking an imaginary dinner. She's a master of physical comedy, and it only takes a few minutes for the audience to begin giggling uncontrollably. She begins to let us in to the mundane rambling of her inner monologue, and then she pulls our her phone—the screen of which is cast onto the back wall of the theater such that we can watch her thumbing through her apps and Facebook feed. “My favorite thing to do on Facebook,” she tells us conspiratorially, “is to look at my own profile and imagine what it looks like to someone seeing it for the first time.” 

It's difficult to explain what, precisely, Rudinoff shows us; she pulls up random internet searches, music playlists, podcasts, Facebook— the usual shit you find yourself sucked into on the internet. But all the while, she keeps up an effortlessly coquettish, scattered batter that clearly rested upon blisteringly calculated foundations. Rudinoff prances around the stage taking selfies. She leafs through meditation podcasts—“I want something mellow, with some wisdom... but no dogma.” We become lulled into the superficial narcissism of her words, and we recognize ourselves in the aimlessness of her self-gratifying internet roaming. 

The brilliance of NowNowNow lies in the soft contradictions of its structure, in its ability to be at once understated and painfully exaggerated. There is nothing pedantic to Rudinoff's delivery, and yet she drills her point home time and time again by tucking nuggets of startling insight amongst her idle ramblings. At one point, she looks at her own pictures on Facebook and says, “I don't want to live in the present.... When would I get to remember?” 

But before we have time to digest this, she has prattled on to... cats? Celebrity haircuts? Smooth Latin Jazz? Being an altar girl? I honestly cannot remember most of the specifics of the show; that's how successfully Rudinoff creates the morass of lost time that happens when we enter the internet. All I can remember are impressions, emotions, words that drifted through my thoughts against the subtext of what Rudinoff does on stage: overextended, scattered, lost, insecure, confused, searching, grieving, hopeful. 

The piece ends with Rudinoff falling to the ground against a projected montage of mementos from her life—later, Sara points out that this looks like a video tribute we might see at a memorial— and as we experience the first true moment of silence in the show, I find one of Rudinoff's lines blooming in my mind as the stage goes dark: “With all this fake reality, what if the subtle expression of our humanity gets lost?” 

Sara and I wait for the rest of the audience to file out and have our decompression in our seats. I ask for her first impressions, and responds without hesitation: “Loneliness. It left me with a sense of deep longing and loneliness that stems from our extreme need to put ourselves out there and connect.” She pauses and adds, “Damn. She is fucking good.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Sara's assessments, and we both leave feeling as though we want time to digest. And as I leave the theater I find myself wondering which would be the better response to NowNowNow: to jump on Facebook and loudly tell everyone that they should go see the show, or to simply hold it silently within myself. 

Note: in my post-show reverie, I forgot to take a picture with Sara, so I did something that seemed fitting and badly photoshopped us together from pictures I took off of our respective Facebook profiles.

Tessa Hulls is an artist/writer/adventurer who is fascinated by the concept of home.While in Seattle, Tessa is a compulsive genre hopper and has worked in various capacities as an illustrator, cartoonist, editor, performer, chef, muralist, conductor of social experiments, painter, writer, and teacher for The Henry Art Gallery, On the Boards, The Project Room, Washington Ensemble Theater, Vermillion, 826 Seattle, Annex Theater, Microsoft Research, Lit Crawl, Hugo House, Sprout Seattle, Canoe Social Club, City Arts, Smoke Farm, Cafe Nordo, The Breadline Performance Series, and others.Tessa also writes narrative vignettes about the hopes, dreams, longings and fears of Honeybucket portable toilets, and when not in Seattle, she can often be found (or deliberately not found) in Alaska. The Adventures of Honeybucket | www.tessahulls.com

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