TEXT CAMP is Next Wave’s flagship arts writing mentorship program. The latest post in our Text Camp Typewriter series is from Amelia Wallin who is mentored by Maggie Gray of This Is Tomorrow.
“Truth or Consequences”
Sixty years ago a town in America changed its name to Truth or Consequences. The host of the then-popular game show had announced that he would broadcast the show from the first town to do so, and Hot Springs, New Mexico responded to his call. Melbourne based playwright Louris van de Geer and director Samara Hersch are unravelling this story of transformation and identity in their new play Hello there, we’ve been waiting for you.
The narrative of Truth or Consequences is grounded in the specific, but speaks to familiar struggles of wanting to be recognised, remembered and significant. Writer Louris van de Geer explains: [this is] “a story of extreme transformation, on a large scale. You know, it wasn’t just one person changing their name and getting a new haircut, it was a whole town collectively agreeing to become something else, or at least appear to become something else.” The renaming of Truth or Consequences taps into a collective desire for immortality, van de Geer adds: “I think [this is what] we are all trying to do, personally, in our own lives, all the time.” This desire runs deep and is fiercely familiar. Philosopher Jean-François Lyotard proposed that the grand narratives of modernity have splintered into specific, singular events. For van de Geer and director Samara Hersch the local narrative of a small town in Mexico stands in for the universal. Hello there we’ve been waiting for you pieces together the fragmented narratives of a town in New Mexico and a dated TV show to tell a new local narrative.
This town, like any other, has had to constantly try to redefine itself as time passes. Van de Geer points out: “one hundred years ago perhaps they might’ve changed their name to the name of a great warrior, or a religious icon, but now it seems kind of normal that if you’re going to change the name of your town it’d be to something like a TV show.” But the decision to change the town’s name was not completely unanimous; according to van de Geer: “there are still people in the town who insist on having their mail sent to Hot Springs…But the name change brought a lot of money to the town and it certainly got them on the map. Each year they have something to celebrate, a reason to come together and remember who they are.” The community’s historical quest for immortality is cemented in an annual Fiesta that commemorates the name change, complete with parades, bakes-offs and prizes.
But the hubris of being named after a forgotten television show (the last season aired in the eighties to dwindling audiences) is still felt by the town. The citizens of Truth or Consequences are determined to stay relevant and propel their history into the future. Recently, they put Truth or Consequences back on the map with the development of a commercial spaceport just outside the town.
In Hello there…, multiple narratives play out at once: the story of the town is told through the story of the TV show; but both are ultimately being told through the play itself. “The story switches between the world of the town and the world of a television studio to explore the politics of identity, tradition and community,” van de Geer explains: “It’s very much in my created world, it’s not at all naturalistic but it speaks to the ideas and struggles of the town.” For director Samara Hersch the narrative of the town “represents the fragility of a fixed identity, as well as the complexities that come when one tries to rewrite their history.”
The ideas of transformation, identity and authorship become layered with double and triple meanings. Hello there… is a play written about a town that continues to write their own history. But just as the world of the television show, the town and play slot together, and the narrative seems to swell to become about something much bigger, Hersch reminds us: “These narratives [that] seemingly exist beyond ourselves, help us to recognise that which is familiar.” In a climate where the personal is political, the local is crucial. If everyone is an individual, grand narratives don’t have a place; instead people respond to the personal.
The story of Truth & Consequences reflects the trouble all communities face in creating a sense of identity. It’s about the local, the specific; a small town in New Mexico, or a city in Australia; our own communities and our own struggles. An audience member might connect the local story of the town with the poignancy of their own communities being forgotten or left behind. Hersch reflects, “Locally we are surrounded by pop up communities — whether that is a local cafe or a new yoga school — and how important they are to our contemporary survival. In a modern world where everything is increasingly globalised I feel that we are constantly seeking a sense of…’home’.”
TEXT CAMP is Next Wave’s flagship arts writing mentorship program. It aims to support the next generation of arts writers in Australia by providing professional development opportunities, brokering new relationships with peers and industry professionals and offering young writers the chance to see their work reach new readership. Next Wave’s emerging arts writers have been invited to respond to the theme of New Grand Narrative by seeking out alternative narratives within Next Wave Festival and beyond.
Amelia Wallin is an independent curator, writer and facilitator with an interest in site-specific, live and visual arts. She currently Co-Curator of the Tiny Stadiums Live Art Festival, Co-Director of Firstdraft and founder and Co-Director of curatorial collective Sydney Guild, a curated residency and exhibition program based in Sydney. As an artist Amelia makes collaborative performance works with Friends with Deficits. Her writing has been published in un Magazine, Runway and Art Monthly. Follow her via her website ameliawallin.com