Team Sunshine’s 24-year performance experiment — THE SINCERITY PROJECT
Team Sunshine Performance Corporation is a Philadelphia-based theater company founded by Alex Torra, Makoto Hirano and Benjamin Camp. Their latest creation, ‘The Sincerity Project’ is a two-and-a-half decade experiment, with iterations to be performed every two years through 2038. The company describes the project as an “anti-play” co-created by the seven performers: Aram Aghazarian, Benjamin Camp, Rachel Camp, Makoto Hirano, Jenna Horton, Melissa Krodman and Mark McCloughan under the direction of Alex Torra. Iteration #1 was performed in December 2014. Elizabeth Stevens ate breakfast tacos with Alex and talked about what it might mean to mean what you say and say what you mean for the next 24 years.
Q: So let’s start with the title.
A: I had started to feel like I hated theater because it often feels like a lot of lies, or people trying to tell a truth and failing at it and that makes me bonkers. I thought, why don’t we make a piece that starts with the true stuff? So one way we used the word “sincerity” is to mean speaking and acting “truthfully”. We started by researching the concept of sincerity, but it led us to something that I am far more excited about, and what I think is the most sincere act — a commitment to each other and to a project for a long long time; the promise to try to be truthful, to bring to the world something bigger than our individual selves every two years for a long time.
Q: What did you do in the early development of the project?
A: We were trying to figure out how a person could be truthful on stage. So there were times when people would just narrate their actions in real-time — “Ben is doing this right now because he is trying to accomplish this” or “to elicit this response”. We also worked on how to make the body be as truthful as possible by subjecting them to highly intense, highly physical tasks.
Q: You were trying to be transparent?
A: Yes, and that transparency began to include not only trying to be present onstage in that moment but also how to be transparent about ourselves and our personal histories. We tried to make a piece in which there are no lies onstage.
Q: I can tell parts of it are rehearsed and sometimes they explicitly acknowledge it, and sometimes they are playing as if it were spontaneously created. This lack of transparency was disconcerting.
A: Well, we are in the theater, which is the realm of fiction, the realm of the lie. That’s our heritage in the theater. And so there’s a friction there, of the truth and the lie rubbing against each other. It’s important to wrestle with it, our heritage – as makers, as an audience.
Q: In the piece there was a considerable focus on sexuality, long-term relationships, and the possibility of raising kids. It felt remarkably unqueer given the people involved- (not all straight, artists- outsidery people).
A: Yeah, I think that many of us consider ourselves ‘outsidery’ in some ways, but as we crafted the presentation and when we got to their honest imaginings of the future, most of them wanted kids and a partner, so yeah, there are aspects of these untraditional people that are traditional. But we were also trying to present them in the relation to other things too – parents, truth, sex, siblings, death, theater, how they present themselves publicly, etc etc
Q: When did you make the decision to transform and re-perform this piece so many times over such a long period of time? How did this come out of your investigations into sincerity?
A: The way we develop things is by doing short intensive periods of work interspersed with a lot of time off, and we started to become aware that each time we began a new phase, we had changed a little bit, truths had shifted. And so we joked about the notion of – we can do this forever and it’ll just keep changing— what if we did that? And we talked about it as a joke and then we just decided to do it.
Q: Everyone went all in?
A: Yeah, it kind of just snuck up on everybody. Most of us thought, ‘we’re just saying this- it’ll be good a way to do research for this particular piece.’ We said we would do it over a 24 year period because saying that we were going work on it forever just seemed silly. And the more we wondered what it would be like to do a show for 24 years, the more it became a reality. And no one signed anything. But most of us are choosing to get tattoos. We are literally getting tattoos! The Sincerity Project is doing a lot of great things for me artistically but beyond that, the commitment of it is enthralling. We are asking ourselves to commit to art-making, to theater-making, to Philadelphia, to each other. We are even asking our audience to commit. I sometimes talk about replacing church and in a way it does this for us and hopefully for our audiences. It accesses our humanity and helps us function better from day to day.
It’s the largest proposal I’ve ever made. It’s going to be ugly and messy and it’s not going to work all the time but that doesn’t really matter. The journey is what we are interested in.
Elizabeth Stevens is a free-lance director and a professor of acting and directing at Swarthmore College.