This year, we’ve learned that the most terrifying thing some people can imagine is a clown slowly stalking them from a forest. For others (me), it’s the thought of this election being stuck in a Twilight Zone-ish scenario that actually doesn’t end on Nov. 8 and carries on forever until the earth is mercifully swallowed by the sun. But for others, the most terrifying thing they will face this Halloween is having a service industry job. [Warning: mild spoilers ahead if you’re planning to see Doomocracy.]
Being forced into a catering gig is one of the standout parts of Pedro Reyes’s Doomocracy installation at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, an immersive horror house that’s part dystopian political satire and part Sleep No More. At one point, you’re shunted from sitting around a table in a mock Halliburton conference room, forced to climb four flights of stairs and immediately handed an apron and serving tray as you’re berated by a catering manager in English and Spanish. Then, you’re shoved through a door into a mock art gallery party, where you’re forced to circulate among socialites, who, by design, treat you like animated furniture. The experiences is disorienting, humbling, slightly annoying — and too much to handle for some guests.
“The first night we ran people through was for patrons. People were really mad,” director Meghan Finn told Brokelyn. “It is strenuous to get all the way up to the top. … There are people who protest, refuse to serve.”
The idea is to flip the script on art patrons and drop their status from attendee to server. But thinking that some people being too freaked out to hold a catering tray for a few minutes is actually scarier than the scene itself.
The discomfort is part of the point, of course. Doomocracy is a forced perspective kaleidoscope of political issues, taking visitors through the underbelly of things we sometimes only hear about through political discourse. It’s smart (though a little on-the-nose at times), with high production values and just enough emotional strain that you’re glad when it’s over an hour later.
At various stops, you’re are forced to wait in a health clinic while a desperate patient begs you for pills; sat down among ladies from the neighborhood who want to show off their gun collection; stuck at a desk in a “classroom of the future” and made to pull a bulletproof blanket over yourself for protection; and made to cheer as someone seeking an abortion is burned at the stake.
Doomocracy is the latest creation of Pedro Reyes in collaboration with Creative Time, designed to be a more of a funhouse of political commentary than an actual haunted house, though there are a few frights along the way, especially if you are one of those people with a fear of being forced to play sports (the end involves a soccer match between people in Hillary masks vs. people with Trump masks.
The experience of this scene actually starts back in the Halliburton board room. You’re asked to vote on taking a bailout and golden parachute, or to save jobs. Anyone who votes for the bailout (just two bros in my group on Friday) gets whisked away to an elevator; those who vote to save employee jobs are sent marching up the stairs, where they meet a chocolatier/catering manager, played by Andrew Butler, a frantic redhead with a manbun who nails the self-important “don’t fuck up my culinary art” you find in pockets of the artisanal food world (Reyes specifically requested a “redheaded hipster,” Finn said). He’s particularly mean and condescending, speaking to the guests/wait staff in slow, loud Spanish, with a clear resignation that they’ll still fuck things up. He places two chocolates on each tray and informs you the first words out of your mouth should be “these are gluten-free.”
“Tell everyone the chocolate is gluten-free,” he says, according to a copy of the script provided to Brokelyn. “Sin gluten. OK? Say gluten free with me. Say it.”
Then you’re shoved through the door and into the art party and the stark disconnect between service industry staff and the art patrons becomes clear. You’re given little regard by the guests at the gallery party, who, it turns out, include the two bros who voted for the bailout. They’re smartly dressed people who come by and pluck a chocolate off your tray without looking you in the eyes before returning back to gaze at the art collection.
“I’ve had curators tell me that they’ve been in that room so many times,” Finn said. “Where you’re with patrons of the arts, who don’t really get it and maybe have objectionable political viewpoints.”
When Creative Time ran test audiences through the exhibit, they kept getting the same note: When you’re serving, you don’t get to actually watch the scene.
“I kinda chuckled,” Finn said. “Well no, you don’t get to watch the scene, that’s the whole point. You’re missing out on something.”
The scene lasts just a few minutes before the workers are shunted off through a “washing machine” — a tight metal tunnel — and into the next scene.
I’ve had my share of waiting jobs, and one very short-lived catering gig, but this experience is designed to evoke something different, to force art patrons onto the other side of the catering tray and show the working-class cogs that keep an art show running. Finn said Reyes knew he wanted to incorporate an experience where visitors had to serve rich people. He stocked the gallery room with faux-highbrow art to undercut his point: the actors play patrons who are not quite as high class as they want you to seem.
“Pedro’s kinda taking the piss on certain things,” Finn said. “This kind of idea of ‘crapstraction.’ He loves making fun of Frank Gehry. It’s his favorite thing.”
Finn hopes people walk away from the scene with a jolt in their system about how we treat minimum wage and service industry workers — especially since it’s implied the “workers” here are Hispanic.
“People are feeling when they’re serving, there is a sense of you’re invisible,” she said. “We do it in a very comedic way.”
The scene only lasts a few minutes, yet some people still refused to take part. Butler sequestered those people off from the other participants or shuffles them off to the next scene. Reyes and Finn gave their guests a chance to see the art world through the eyes of the humans who make it run, who aren’t as concerned about the Gehry rocket ship sculpture as they are about not getting yelled at by their boss. And yet, some people still opted out.
We don’t necessarily have a lot of Trump supporters in the city, but we certainly have some people who dwell in the environs of the 1 percent and just can’t wrap their minds around serving gluten-free chocolates for a few minutes, thereby missing something greater than the faux-art on the walls of the room. That is truly scary.
Doomocracy runs through Nov. 6. Tickets are sold out but you can get on a waiting list here.
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