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Meet the Artist Who Translated ‘Waiting for Godot’ into an iMessage Conversation

Rob Walker
Tech Columnist
Yahoo Tech

GPDF093 : Sophia Le Fraga : W8ING from Gauss PDF on Vimeo.

At a recent event called Poetry Will Be Made by All in Zurich, Sophia Le Fraga and Trisha Low sat on a couple of chairs in front of an audience, silently poking at their cellphones.

Behind them, Le Fraga’s reinterpretation of Samuel Beckett’s classic drama Waiting for Godot — titled “W8ING” — scrolled by, staged in the Messages app of an iPhone, in text-y abbreviations and emoji:

“Nothin 2 b done.”

“word – I feel like yr right.”

“all my life I’ve been like wtvr b reasonable like you haven’t tried everything yet”

“but the struggle is real”

And so on.

It’s probably safe to say that this is not for everybody — actually watching two people swap messages as their text-English conversation scrolls by can be a challenging experience.

But that’s sort of Le Fraga’s point, and it’s of a piece with her many explorations of language and technology. Over the past few years, Le Fraga has boldly reimagined how an audience can engage with a work, especially a classic one, in real time.

Her work has been featured in a variety of galleries and forward-thinking journals, and her latest work has just been published by Gauss PDF, which makes public, via the Web, all manner of tech/text experiments.

TH3 B4LD 50PRAN0” takes the form of a video that lasts a little less than 9 minutes. It’s another reworking of a celebrated play for the new-media era — a Gchat “performance” inspired by Eugène Ionesco’s play The Bald Soprano.

That play is in no small part about the nature of dialogue, communication — and the failure to communicate. Le Fraga’s interpretation shows us a texting exchange on a desktop — where there’s also an open browser, and occasional pop-up alerts that an operating system update is available.

The onscreen commotion only adds to the disconcerting nature of the back and forth between two apparent strangers who may or may not be more connected than it first appears.

GPDF111 : Sophia Le Fraga : TH3 B4LD 50PRAN0; or, English Made Easy

To come up with these dialogues, Le Fraga rereads the source play and works up a script that she sends to her sister; they massage it “to make it read more like the way it would if these characters were chatting” digitally. Then Le Fraga has the actual exchange with a willing confederate (her roommate, in this case) and records it. That part can be tricky — “TH3 B4LD 50PRAN0” took three tries.

“My approach to poetry and art has always been about trying to underline what’s relevant currently,” Le Fraga tells me. (We conversed via email, the phone, and Gchat.) Like a lot of people, she spends a good deal of her day texting and Gchatting, and hijacking those forms to revise classic dramatic texts pulls together her interests in everything from basic structures of syntax and grammar to “sociolinguistic” behaviors at work, however we choose to communicate.

“I’ve always been interested in and enjoyed reading the Theater of the Absurd and absurdist fiction,” Le Fraga says. “The idea behind Theater of the Absurd, or as Ionesco likes to call it, ‘Theater of Derision,’ is that it’s a satire or mockery of ‘modern man’ — for Ionesco, man back in the 1940s.

“What with the way online interactions are and the excess of babbling and social-media oversharing, Gchat lends itself perfectly as a platform to reperform Ionesco.” 

And, yes, she intends to perform this one live, too. In fact, she’s working on a third, similar piece, and hopes that at some point her set of “3 Anti-Plays” can be performed as a group.

“I think performing [the plays] adds to the simultaneity of the experience,” she says. “The audience is questioning whether it’s happening live or not, time is accelerated (because the recording is sped up). It’s trippy & ridiculous!

“Also, I mean, this is how we talk now — glued to our phones or on our computers, and that’s what our daily experience is: going to a party or bar where there’s barely any point in being there IRL,” she says. “Why not perform that on stage as well?”

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