The Extremists’ C.J. Hopkins interviewed

Aug 14 2013 | By More

Perversity and the state of fringe theatre

Carol Scudder and David Calvitto in The Extremists. Photo William Burdett-Coutts

Carol Scudder and David Calvitto in The Extremists. Photo William Burdett-Coutts

Introduction by Thom Dibdin
Interview by C.J Hopkins

The fringe is a wonderful beast, full of strange delights and tortured ideas being ejected onto stages in all sorts of emotional states.

Over the last 25 years of reviewing the fringe – that is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – some of the most enthrallingly strange delights I have had the privilege to witness have been the product of the work of John Clancy and Nancy Walsh. New York-based theatre makers, their Clancy Productions has brought such wonders as Americana Absurdum to Edinburgh.

And when it comes to the torturing of ideas, up there in the role of chief inquisitor has to be Clancy’s sometime collaborator, the playwright C.J. Hopkins, whose Horse Country and Screwmachine/Eyecandy have made lasting impressions.

When those ideas are spat out onto the stage for an audience to take up, a certain David Calvitto has often been in evidence. More often that not, in a raw, tumble of language and subversion of conventional wisdom.

After a three year hiatus the Clancys are back with a pair of shows.

John and Nancy are directing each other in Genesis/Golgotha. Which in itself is enough to make it a Must-See. That they are going for a major double-whamy and tackling both the Old and New Testaments – Nancy as Eve, mother of all humanity, John as a certain Jesus of Nazareth, son of God – just adds to the possibilities of disruption. I’m surprised it’s not being picketed by angry God-botherers daily.

Over at Assembly Roxy, the madness is taking over. Here Clancy directs Calvito and fringe newcomer Carol Scudder in Hopkins’ latest play: The Extremists.

Sadly I was not able to interview C.J. Hopkins myself to find out what the show is all about. But here is the next best thing: an excerpt from an interview he recently conducted with himself.

The interview took place on the porch of what he says “appeared to be a former boathouse or something converted into this low-rent German-type pub overlooking a really only quasi-scenic canal more or less infested by huge vicious swans.”

Speaking of the interview he adds: “For the record, I had, prior to this interview, never heard of myself, or seen or read any of my plays. Thus, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. So I expected the worst. Surprisingly however, once the interview got going, I found myself to be quite pleasant and engaging, if at the same time a bit long-winded and overly repetitive, but all in all not at all as completely self-absorbed and up-my-own-ass as many other middle-aged pony-tailed theory-spouting playwrights I had never heard of.”

Here is what I understand to be a rough transcript of just the “ass-end” of the interview, which they finally got to sometime after midnight.


C.J. Hopkins interviews himself.

Q. So, The Extremists is really just a perverse satirical rant, right?
A. Not exactly. It’s more about what we’re doing than what we’re saying. It’s about what happens.

Q. Oh yeah? So what happens?
A. Well, basically, two Poetic Terrorists attempt to deprogram the minds of the audience, and ruin a perfectly good show in the process. That would be the logline, pretty much.

Q. What about Norman Krieger and Jane Woolwraith?
A. There is no Norman Krieger and Jane Woolwraith. They’re just flimsy masks, the tools these Poetic Terrorists use to do their thing.

Q. So it’s like Revenge of the Return of the Bride of Horse Country, is all.
A. Yeah, pretty much.

Q. What about this ruining-the-show thing? How do the actors ruin the show?
A. By doing the play. The destruction of the show is built into it.

Q. So they don’t get to trash the set or abuse the audience or anything?
A. Uh, no. These are poetic terrorists.

Q. So how do these Poetic Terrorists attempt to deprogram the audience’s minds then?
A. By scrambling their brains until they short circuit and break out of their conditioned patterns of thinking. This takes a little while, and is one of the reasons the play is so long, and hard to memorize.

Q. Let’s get back to this ruining-the-show thing. Why do they have to do this?
A. Well, if they don’t, then the piece is just harmless satire, and we won’t have done anything new or terribly challenging. Basically, if we don’t ruin the show, nobody’s mind gets deprogrammed.

Q. And how do you know whether anyone’s mind does get deprogrammed?
A. We don’t. We can’t control the results. It’s all about the attempt.

Q. Alright then, smartass, how do you know if the attempt has been made?
A. If the play ends on a melancholy, quasi-Beckettian note, we haven’t made the attempt. If the play ends as a revelation, a reminder and a challenge, then we have made the attempt.

Q. Oh yeah? Why is that?
A. Because deep down we’re all really sick and tired of thinking and feeling and perceiving inside the sad little slavish reality construct we’ve all been conditioned to think and feel and perceive inside of by the first truly globally-hegemonic regime of military, financial and above all cultural power in the entire history of human civilization (i.e. global capitalism).

At the same time, we’re terrified by the idea of thinking and feeling and perceiving outside this little ontological box because we can’t really imagine any viable alternative. So that’s kind of uncomfortable for us, this fear/desire thing. But is part of why we sit there glued to our TVs when any vaguely apocalyptic-type disaster strikes, simultaneously thrilled and horrified by the destruction. And is also part of why the official bogeyman of global capitalism is the extremist, the terrorist, and above all the suicide attacker.

Unfortunately, they happen to be nasty little fascists, these people, which is neither terribly helpful nor particularly interesting. What is, however, interesting is the logic of terrorism, which is totally illogical and hopeless and doomed from the start. And therein lies its power. Because by attacking this inarguably invulnerable slash unprecedentedly hegemonic regime (i.e. global capitalism) from within (there is no out), with no real hope of winning or even surviving the attack, they weaken the power of the system to control reality (which every empire has always understood is far more important than controlling territory or trade routes).

Which is kind of exactly what we’re looking to do here (i.e. weaken the power of the system to control reality), artistically, though, you know, without all the mass-murdering.

Q. Come again?
Theatre is really old. Like almost 3000 years old.

Q. Yeah, so?
So we still go to the theatre for basically the same reason we used to go to the various gatherings that ancient peoples used to go to, where the shamans would poke a few holes through the fabric of reality in order to remind everybody to fear the gods, who were really huge, and not always so nice … kind of like these swans.

Which you can sort of get the same effect these days by ingesting let’s say 350 micrograms of unadulterated pharmaceutical grade lysergic acid diethylamide, or similar doses of various other entheogenic slash hallucinogenic substances, or having one of those really intense orgasms you get sometimes where your head just kind of explodes. Or, on the sociological level, you’ve got earthquakes, blackouts, riots, revolution, and so on. Basically anything that breaks down social order or shatters the ego.

Q. You want to try to boil all that down just a little bit there, Major Tom?
We go to the theatre to get our minds deprogrammed. Unfortunately, what happens most often is we end up getting our minds reprogrammed. But that’s not theater’s fault.

Q. This is that theater-as-ritual-thing you’re always going on about.

Q. Which you more or less just stole from Artaud.

Q. Which has what exactly to do with Terrorism?
Nothing, exactly. It mostly has to do with Tragedy.

Q. You mean like Greek Tragedy?
Yeah. It’s all about the gods coming down and ripping our reality apart for a little while. Reminding us who isn’t boss. This is what we want when we go to the theater.

Q. To have reality ripped apart?

Q. What about entertainment? Don’t we want to be entertained?
Of course, but not only. If that was all we wanted, we’d just stay home and rent a zombie movie. Not the new one with Brad Pitt, though, which I hear sucks.

Q. So you’re saying the audience actually wants these Poetic Terrorists to ruin the show?
Oh yes. Desperately. Although some of them may have forgotten, or become slightly confused, about what they want. On account of how it’s really effective, this programming we’ve all been conditioned by. Oh and I wouldn’t try to feed that swan if I were you.

For more of C.J.’s inquisitorial technique, check out the script for Horse Country. Click on the image below to buy it from one of the most hated and despised companies that Global Capitalism has spewn up onto our laps.


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