Why This Matters: Charlotte performance art collection XOXO is helping increase relevance and innovation with its groundbreaking and participatory production of ‘#CAKE.’
By Bernie Petit
“#CAKE,” the upcoming interdisciplinary work by performance art collective XOXO, won’t end where it begins – figuratively and literally.
At some point during the show, audiences will take a surrealist walking tour of uptown Charlotte from Goodyear Arts to another uptown destination.
The tour will include planned stimuli along the way, said XOXO founder Matt Cosper, “but it’s really more about forcing the audience to take time to process what they’ve just experienced and perhaps make some guesses about what they’re going to experience shortly.”
The walk will also further ground audiences in the work’s setting – a Charlotte 10 years or so from now in the aftermath of a devastating event that’s left the city in shambles and resources scarce.
Government is functioning, but barely. A gang of criminals is amassing power. The city manages to trudge along because of a few people with the power to make things happen.
Part crime story, part speculative fiction, “‘#CAKE’ is a play about power, it’s about Charlotte, it’s about the differences between the classes in Charlotte,” said Cosper, who wrote and is directing the work.
It’s rooted in nearly two years of reflection about what it means to pursue the American dream in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Commissions for Community Building Initiative, work with #OnTheHook and informal conversations with members of diverse communities helped inform the performance art collective about what that dream really means.
“The answers we kept getting back were things like security, community, opportunity,” Cosper said. “In taking those answers and taking a step back from them and seeing what might connect them, we kept coming back to power, access to power or proximity to power.”
In a way, the new work is a companion piece to “Bohemian Grove,” the 2014-15 experiential performance piece about the afterlife that XOXO mounted on remote South Carolina farm. (“If ‘Bohemian Grove’ is about Heaven, then ‘#CAKE’ is about Hell,” Cosper said.)
Still, “#CAKE” is more traditional than anything XOXO has done in a while, if ever. The interactivity in its performances is usually more explicit. Here, audiences enter a room – before and after the walking tour – and sit facing the same direction while actors re-create recognizable human behaviors, Cosper said.
“What we think is radical about the work is the proposal we’re making that proximity to power is not a good thing,” he said, “and the way we have chosen as a culture to think about power is in fact not healthy.
“That said, it’s still us doing realism so (actors) might be having conversations with a flower or doing a big dance with a birthday cake.”
A reason for what will be a more conventional performance, at least by XOXO’s standards, is that the piece tackles social issues like healthcare, gentrification and access to opportunity.
“The work we make is designed to be open to interpretation, so you want to help people navigate it without telling them what to think,” Cosper said. “If we’re doing our jobs and we’re doing it the right way, every single audience member is going to come out of it with a different interpretation or definitely a different experience.”
A Cultural Vision Grant from ASC is supporting XOXO’s production of “#CAKE,” which increases relevance and innovation by providing groundbreaking and participatory experiences that reflect the changing communities in which we live.
Let Them Eat “#CAKE”
XOXO presents “#CAKE,” a twisted thriller and an abstract meditation of what it means to pursue the American dream in 21st century Charlotte, June 1-24 in uptown Charlotte. For tickets or more information, visit XOXOPerformance.org.