Actor, Puppeteer, and Teaching Artist


Over the course of a couple of days this week I watched a livestream of someone cleaning up his Facebook profile.

And it was riveting.
As part of the Austin-based performance/art Fusebox Festival Brian Lobel recreated his Purge performance art piece with two local performers.
The piece consists of the performer/subject sitting in front of a rotating panel of three people and defending their relationship with each of the people on their Facebook friends list for one minute. At the end of the minute the panel decides whether or not the person will remain on the friends list. It sounds like a really dull sort of game show. It sounds like the sort of pretentious grad school performance art that even folks on my performance art friendly social media feeds mock for being a sketch version of performance art.
I watched like 6 hours of it. It was spellbinding.
The premise absolutely sounds like a late night Millennial game show but it in practice there was very little irony, mostly it was intensely personal. The mechanism should have lent itself to being a jokey referendum on the clear obvious divide between Real Friends and Internet Friends but very quickly became an interrogation of kinds and depths of relationship. What is the value of a a friend who was life-savingly important at 14 (in the way that things are at 14) that you haven’t connected with in 20 years versus the value of a potentially important industry connection that you’ve spent a few hours with? What is the weight of history versus potential? What is the value of the contribution that this person makes via the website itself even if I don’t have a deep personal connection with them? We all have vitally important friends we don’t speak to on a daily basis and nodding acquaintances who brighten or inform our every day.
Jeff Mills in Breaking String Three - Photo By Will Hollis Snider
Jeff Mills in Breaking String’s “Three “- Photo By Will Hollis Snider
I was drawn in in the beginning because one of my nodding industry acquaintances was one of the performer/subjects. Jeff Mills is someone I did a couple of readings with and see around at other events. We’ve never broken bread or shared a beverage. Before this exercise I knew very little about his life. But as he moved through the list (alphabetically by first name – all those Adams) the circles and tides of his life started to fill out in one minute chunks. Family and friends and work and life and love.
All of these stories were told as defense of continued presence in his life tempered by the fact that every moment of the defense was being watched by an unknown cohort on the live stream.  For Jeff it really seemed like the eye of the stream began to increasingly weigh on him as time moved on.
How do you balance truth and tact and kindness?
He never got around to me (I had $5 on being cut) but of the nearly 600 he did get to about 15% ended up being defriended. The amount of Facebook traffic in and around this project among our overlapping friends was pretty high, and Jeff mentioned on air something like 2500 messages over the course of the two days.
The result if you are defriended:
What would your response be?
You haven’t been excommunicated.
You aren’t blocked.
You are merely not part of the ebb and flow on one website.
Are you angry because a friend’s defense wasn’t ardent enough to signify your importance to a stranger?
Are you angry because your relationship was being judged at all?
Do you buy your friend a beer if they look as shaken as Jeff did after 12 hours of publicly reliving his life in one minute increments?
I can say that I would have been sad to have been cut even knowing how tenuous our relationship is. But then maybe I’d buy poor Jeff a beer and talk about his time on the Muppets or the theatre he grew up in or about the roil of this project because I think that’d be a pretty good time.

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