Martin Kushner: Honestly, I don’t know, I’m not a sociologist, and so on and so forth and I’m not a playwright who can put it clearly in those terms but one of the things that strikes me is that it may be coupled in part with the decline of reading and in other words, these shows that are so popular, and with memoirs being the biggest selling genre in books, it scares me that peoples’ imaginations are somewhere not happening. This imitation of reality, which is very accessible, but it doesn’t really challenge the imagination or provoke. It’s more about sort of internal gossip of some kind. It’s easy to grasp, at least on the surface, it’s a game. At first I thought when acting changed when Marlon Brando changed from the old being very formal and declaring the lines, into a much more naturalistic acting — and America is famous for its naturalistic acting — the whole method and business, and we’re famous for that, and it was a re-inventing of theater. But now, we’ve gotten to the point that we’re literally accepting various levels of reality in place of great stories and imagination. So you have the memoir being the most popular genre of book, and you have reality TV shows as the most watched, along with sports! which is another level of reality TV. And yes, there are fictional shows that have been successful , but it seems to me the dominance of this, in my opinion, may have something to do with people’s unwillingness in some way to use their imaginations or that it’s just easier.
Larissa Drekonja: It takes away from individuality a lot as well. I mean, identity and individuality get hindered in this.
Martin Kushner: Yeah, it sort of a mass acceptance of a certain level of reality or pseudo-reality. There’s nothing wrong with mass media, I mean the movies wouldn’t exist without it — theater is different — but with movies, radio, MTV, and the internet, it’s progressive mass media. A lot of what we hear is people can get any information they want, but what about processing that ? I think reality TV is another version of storytelling, isn’t it? It’s like soap operas — I’m just saying without even judging it in terms of good or bad, it is a form of storytelling. I don’t think it would work without it, there has to be a beginning, middle and an end for everyone. So the question is just another phase of popular culture, or is it — all of us have been talking about the fact that we get the willies watching this stuff and yet the most popular shows on television besides sports, are reality TV shows —
Larissa Drekonja: The interesting thing is when you see Cinderella, the original one from the Grimm Brothers, one of the sisters cuts off her toe and the other one cuts off the heel. When I was a kid, this was the story that was read to me. So I thought from the beginning this was the story, and I found out in America, that Disney sort of cleaned it up because they wanted to make it pretty and sort of not see what kind of sacrifices people have to make in order to keep their identity — in order to change identity, you’re going to suffer, you’re going to bleed. Or to certain truths about yourself. So the way Disney cleaned it up, I think that’s how we sort of clean it up with reality TV, but the funny this is with Disney’s Cinderella , something beautiful happens to her and the good stuff that happens to her because she overcomes the bad we all like to hear. In reality TV, it’s the opposite. If there’s good stuff happening on reality TV, it’s boring! And to actually make it interesting, you have to cut the toes off. You have to make your best friend clean a toilet — or I don’t know. You know? You have to do these horrible things to make people go “yeah!”
Martin Kushner: Yes, but at the same time, we also know that it’s not quite real, that these people have chosen to put themselves in an embarrassing, humiliating situation, and on some level they’re taking it seriously, but on the other level, it’s our entertainment. The gladiators had no choice, they had to go into the ring. If you think about cruel entertainment, this is voluntary.
Larissa Drekonja: Yes, also the characters that we’re dealing with, society today tells you who are beautiful, if you’re famous and you have money, this is what makes happiness, this is what you need in life. So technically, if you come to some girl, like the characters in our play, both women and men, who are struggling in life or coming from a background that is not New York highlife, and you tell them, “well if you go here, it will make you rich, and we’re going to make you famous, and you’re going to be a queen for a day” they’ll do it.
Martin Kushner: And it even goes back to the early game shows, it’s a staple of TV. It’s another level of sophistication in that kind of — you can be a winner overnight. Which is part of the American story, and the optimism that Disney represents, and that Hollywood represented for a long time, so in some ways it’s just a continuation of what’s been going on for a long time. I think the play looks more deeply into the consequences of this kind of entertainment both for the participants and the viewer. In a sense, since it is so popular, is it cultivating something in people that is actually unfeeling, cruel, unhealthy, immoral, perhaps if you take it all the way? I think the playwright, in some sense, is looking at the dark side of the reality TV worldwide phenomenon and the consequences itself. On the other hand I think also there’s a suggestion that in another way, this is a crazy bit of trivia that people take really seriously.
Larissa Drekonja: I don’t think most people realize that — the critics have said many times that it’s not real but still the writers for the reality TV, we all know that they’ve got them, there’s still not considered writers! They cannot disclose their names and one of the things that SAG has an issue with because they’re underpaid.
Martin Kushner: Because the writers are really peripheral. They’re just a token almost.
Larissa Drekonja: Because they’re not allowed to say that they’re writing for a reality TV show because it’s being sold as reality. So you can’t call it reality because really, it is politically incorrect, because it is proven it’s mot reality. I don’t know what kind of political relationship that has to do with this particular definition of it, I just know that if you probably go to Texas or New Jersey or anywhere, they think it’s real! I mean some people think soap operas are real -let alone…