Five Friends: One Radio Station
In the shoes of local Silver Lake legend Sue Carpenter, I enter my apartment ready to put on a radio show. Or, rather, myself and my four co-conspirators inhabiting Sue’s shoes do. And surprisingly fluidly we find ourselves telling her story with our hosts through our shared headphones and radio broadcasting technology.
In this immersive documentary, the rules are crystal clear to us before we enter the space: this story has happened, and we can’t change it. Together, we’ll all be telling the story of radio pirate Sue Carpenter. Live in the moment, and enjoy this final broadcast. Introduce your songs, and don’t allow for any dead air on the broadcast. And some details about not locking our hosts out of the space, and not creating puzzles for ourselves that don’t exist. Tricky stuff.
Settling into this style of immersive exhibition took me a minute. Perhaps it was within the many rules that I lost track of the main objective of putting on a pirate radio show, or perhaps it was based on being accustomed to puzzle- or task- based experiences. Whatever the reason, initially I found myself looking for a “right option” or a clear next step. And especially at the beginning of the show, the piece is much more easy going than that. The show relaxes you into its location, allowing you to pick from a comprehensive collection of music to play on your radio show. Each of us got a set of headphones to listen to our broadcast through, as well as provide feedback on how we were doing and if the microphone was on at any given moment (we may not have been quite as professional at this as the real Sue Carpenter). We enjoyed the interactions with introducing our songs on the microphone and playing songs from an eclectic mix of vinyl and CDs. Our “best friend” and host provided playful commentary through the headphones, and then began to tell us more about Sue -- or rather, our -- life.
As we unfolded her story and learned more about Sue’s life, we kept our radio show running and continued selecting music from the packed walls. During our songs, our best friend would chime in and narrate, telling us what “we” (Sue) did next, and more about what was going on in our life. For the most part, the experience was freeform and laidback, as we could pick whatever music we wanted to and listen to Sue’s story. We had one climactic moment of togetherness, where we viscerally inhabited different aspects of Sue’s struggles, and each person took on a task related to her situation. While I found my task a bit impossible, the collectiveness of the moment with my other four “Sue”s and the chaotic emotions of working together on this huge radio station swept us away in a musical frenzy.
One of my favorite aspects of this piece was the way it cast the collective participants as the singular Sue Carpenter, having us share control of her station and experience her life together. One of our hosts described the piece as being built to be played together by 5 strangers, and while I enjoyed playing through with friends, I could also see the definite fun of sharing the experience with strangers. While we weren’t given explicit instructions for sharing control of the station, I imagine most people signing up for an experience like this would fall into a sort of turn-taking as my group of friends did, alternating who picked the next song. I additionally enjoyed the intimacy that inhabiting this shared perspective provided, as our host would speak to us into our headphones in a second person perspective (“You remember starting up the station”, for instance). These instructions gave us a mix of things we could do in the literal space or not, so we occasionally had a collective realization that we were supposed to actually take an action rather than just kick back and listen. I enjoyed these collective moments. They changed up my laidback mindset in a fun way, and regathered us as a collective if we had split up between the station and the main room.
Overall, I found this a heartwarming way to experience the life of a local history. Though I’ve noted a couple of spaces I found myself lacking a precise next step, I wouldn’t necessarily find these out of place within the larger goals of the piece’s tone, since there was so much of a focus on enjoying living in the moment while it lasts. Getting the chance to physically interact with the broadcasting technology gave me a new experience and made me feel connected to Sue in a way through these shared physical actions. And, on the whole, it captured the feeling of living through an unchangeable memory, as we learned her story together. I could see local history buffs or music enthusiasts getting into learning about Sue or putting together a perfect cohesive playlist. And the piece was also a whole lot of fun for those of us looking to share a gentle evening together, and have some fun putting on a wacky broadcast of Greensleeves, the Pink Panther, Like a Virgin, and several songs we intro’d with one title that absolutely played a different song.
-Sabrina Sonner, Literary Lead
Editor’s Note: This was written in regards to our experience in December 2022 with myself, Last Call Board Member Ashley, and our friends Liviera, Jack, and Madeleine. While that run of the show has since closed, the company has announced an encore run from January 19 - January 29, 2023. More information can be found on their website: https://misterandmischief.fun/shows/40-watts-from-nowhere.