What’s the Catch?

Performance art featuring an array of constantly ringing analogue telephones and an overhead transparency projector.

Performance at the Charm City Art Space. Part of the Projection Series. Baltimore, Maryland. 2013.

  • Date:

This is a work of spoken word performance art. I think of its script as a Fluxus score and of its performance as a “routine” in the manner of William S. Burroughs. A Fluxus score, like a musical score, is a sort of recipe for a performance but it is not a set of strict instructions. For more information, read The Fluxus Performance Workbook . A Burroughs routine, like a vaudeville routine, is a spoken word performance that is theatrical, improvisational and which changes with each performance.

I’ve performed this routine a few times before: first was on the Ed Schrader Show, then as a featured performer at “Speak Your Piece” with the use of actual telephones telephones, then in Knoxville Tennessee with a larger variety of telephones. With this performance, I was able to add the ability for the old phones to actually ring, along with the use of an overhead projector for added imagery and atmosphere.

My script calls for a single performer although it depicts multiple conversations. A slash mark “/” indicates a shift from one telephone conversation to the next. These are snippets of a conversation that seems to happen over and over again forever, each time with only slight variation.

There are two sides to the conversations here. The first: things that a telemarketer would say on the telephone, such as “you’re eligible to be entered into our fifty thousand dollar sweepstakes” and/or “how would you like to buy a subscription to TV guide?”. The second: a series of responses, like “what’s the catch?” or “I can’t talk now, I’m busy” or “he isn’t here right now. Can I take a message?”

Instructions for the actor are simple:

  • Pick up a ringing telephone. Say part of the script.
  • Hang up the telephone.
  • Answer another ringing telephone. Say more.
  • Hang up, repeat as desired. Use various speed and tone.