During the pandemic, we all turned to digital forms of entertainment. Theaters began streaming their shows, both live and prerecorded, while members of the artistic and creative teams hosted Zoom roundtables and talkbacks. But with the exception of the crowd-created Ratatouille, companies tended to ignore the burgeoning social media platform TikTok.
“Rather than just having the content housed on the app, we’re creating specifically for the platform; the interaction with TikTok content is part of the show itself,” Leos says.
And what better work to do this with than the 105-year-old play, Turkey and Bones and Eating and We Liked It by Gertrude Stein?
“The literary style of Turkey and Bones (among Stein’s other works) can be highly alienating and isolating to the reader, performers, and audience,” says director and ensemble member Kelli J. Howard. “It lacks clear structure, context, character development, and narrative, forcing the reader to make their own connections and come to their own conclusions. Paradoxically, everyone who reads or views it is simultaneously struggling alone to try and attach meaning. So, we’re going to let this style, coupled with our current reality, inform the framework for our own Leos Ensemble individual-yet-collective-interpretation of this piece.”
“After the explosion of new ideas for online theater last year, we want to make digital theater content a regular part of our season planning,” he says. A full version of the piece will also be available on YouTube and Instagram after the June 24 premiere, though obviously those won’t be interactive.
“TikTok exploded during the pandemic, and it seems part of the reason why is that people were and are using it as a way to process their own individual experience while simultaneously seeking the connection, comfort, and validation of the collective,” says Howard. “It’s a patchwork of individual content and perspective that is creating a new collective landscape, and this ties in quite nicely to Stein’s style of literary collage and the idea of an excess of consciousness and all elements being of equal importance—this whole idea of alone but together.”The TikTok platform also lends itself to the encapsulated, sketch-like, episodic, rapid-fire nature of the script, they point out. Stein herself described her style (in rebuttal to being labeled absurdist/stream-of-consciousness) as “an excess of consciousness … [in which] every element matters as much as any other… [when reading] the important thing is that you must have deep down as the deepest thing in you a sense of equality.” You could say the same for TikToks, in that each is as important as the next.
“The general idea is that the individual cast members, after being assigned scenes or ‘meditations’ (which are quite short), will apply their own interpretation of the text and use that subjective view to create context, characters, performance style, and the general aesthetic of each scene through shot style/visual perspective, props, costuming, and, in some cases musical underscoring of each scene,” Howard says. “Directorially, the idea is to lean on Stein’s style and artistic philosophy, especially in regards to utilizing the individual, subjective interpretations of the cast in order to construct a collage of collective meaning.”
Turkey and Bones and Eating and We Liked It will be available on TikTok for free beginning on June 24, at the handle @LeosEnsembleTheatre.