Bailey Scieszka’s Conspiracy Influencer is a four-part theatrical extravaganza premiering at EMPAC. This newly commissioned performance combines puppetry, clownery, and drag. It is set in a madcap world populated by characters like anthropomorphic Skittles, Nixon’s dead dog, a talking Comet pizza slice, a mob of Beanie Babies, and a demonic clown named Old Put (Scieszka’s alter ego). The cast of puppets satirize the wacky conspiracy theories that spawn in dark corners of the internet and contribute to the polarized socio-political landscape in the United States. Over the course of the performance follow Old Put’s meteoric rise from humble content creator, who unboxes dolls on Youtube, to celebrity influencer at the center of a disinformation campaign. The performance is the climax of Scieszka’s collaboration with curators from CCS Bard, EMPAC’s production team, and Philadelphia-based composer John Hallman.
The play explores the ways in which history is remembered, resurrected, and sensationalized in America's entertainment-centered culture. The dense, absurdist, and hilarious dialogue in Conspiracy Influencer is steeped in the vocabulary of celebrity gossip, the internet, and social media. The characters reference ideas drawn from 24-hour blog and cable news outlets, cyclically mutated on the subcultural message boards of Reddit, 4chan, and Youtube’s comment sections. Scieszka critically alludes to fabulists who underwrite white American ideology in these forums, humorously and acerbically recasting the iconography of populism via Old Put and their puppet ensemble. Scieszka uses this divisive visual and verbal rhetoric as an emotional counterweight to her otherwise bright and playful imagery in a work that emasculates the trolls of the internet’s echo chambers. Laced with clever pop culture references and outlandish hijinks, this puppet show is a pointed meditation on the current state of collective consciousness in the United States.
Conspiracy Influencer is curated by Isabella Achenbach, Eduardo Andres Alfonso, Angelica Arbelaez, Min Sun Jeon, and Guy Weltchek.
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