24 Jan TEXT | TITANIC @ COP21, J.Burr
Amidst All the Melting Icebergs, A Ship Still Managed to Hit One
Dopplegangster’s TITANIC @ COP 21
JANUARY 24, 2016
I have one more story from Paris. A fun one. About a Rose, an unsinkable ship, and a freezing Nazi warehouse.
During the second week of the climate talks, I met the dynamic performance art duo, Tom Payne and Tobias Alexander Edward Manderson-Galvin – i.e. DOPPELGANGSTER – and sassy, sacrilegious Irish artist Rachel Helena Walsh, their resident Doppel-co-conspirator. They are funny. They told me about their upcoming performance: a new interpretation of James Cameron’s TITANIC. Très intèressant. And with the group tagline “a cultural response to climate change, forced migration and globalization,” how could I stay away?
Dopplegangster’s TITANIC. Based on every sappy fool’s favorite ship-sinking, car-steaming, jewel-tossing, trans-Atlantic romance of star-crossed lovers. I admit to being such a fool. You know the movie, right? Picture that scene, Rose balancing on the bow of the Titanic, with Jack nestling up behind her supportively, affectionately, as notes of Celine Dion blow past on the sea wind. Now, let the colors and the salty breeze melt away. Let the bow of the ship morph into the second-floor railing of an old Nazi-boot-factory-turned-community-space-and-bar. Let Rose morph into a manically somber woman, with fear into her eyes, and Jack into a violent, screaming alcoholic. An impassioned James Cameron paces the gray, concrete floor below them, wildly shouting WHAT IT TAKES TO PRODUCE THIS EPIC MASTERPIECE OF A FILM. THERE WILL BE CASUALTIES. Jack borrows a lighter from the audience and the fireworks commence, singing off only a bit of Tom’s fingertips. Rose eats rose petals. The ship is sinking, as we all knew it would. I forgot to wait expectantly for Rose and Jack’s passionate kiss. Only yelling and burning, frantically running and frantically sitting still-as-ice as the projector reeled scenes from France’s 1960s student riots.
There’s a particular feeling that comes with laughing at funerals. I felt something similar.
From the front row – specifically the cold cement floor – I was partially laughing and partially sitting in semi-comprehending silence. The actors were hurtled along with the audience. Tom later pointed out to me, context matters for TITANIC. The first time they performed it, they did so in an empty storage crate. This time, we were in Paris, and negotiators from around the world were trying to form an agreement to combat global warming. The three of them recorded the revised script the night before, and played it into their headphones as they acted. They change the script with each new audience and setting, to make it more relevant.
Was it relevant? Was this Titanic? Was this about global warming?
An ocean voyage. What are Jack and Rose but faceless, recently infamous immigrants? Shivering in the cavernous cold warehouse (where they actually use a ping-pong table for “heating”), I could almost imagine shivering in the depths of a boat in third class, as Jack did. Or in the only class that little dinghys attempting passage from Africa to Europe nowadays provide: star-side seats, ocean view, exposed to the wind, and left to the mercy of storms, coast guards, and immigration agents. The Titanic was a journey based on hope too. They didn’t make it to America either. How many more Jacks and Roses will die upon these migrant ships? Global warming will send many more to the metaphorical nation-less sea. They won’t have to worry about icebergs though! *THUMBS UP* *WINK*
Violence. Unfairness. Sacrifice. At one point Tobie-as-Cameron yelled about accidents on set during film production. But for 11 Academy Awards! Worth it? Jack for Rose – worth it? Don’t fill up the lifeboats, they might be too heavy to escape – worth it? The rich for the poor, first class for third – worth it? The solutions seem to be as violent as the problems they claim to solve.
Global warming. Titanic poses the central question for us: are we all on a sinking ship, H.M.S. Mother Earth? Right now, we in the United States are in first class, with full access to the lifeboats. Third class is already filling up with water, and we’re enjoying the orchestra, still left with time to deny that our boat is really in trouble.
I’d call all that relevant, and Titanic. We produced an agreement in Paris, which is the Titanic-equivalent of deciding to put lifeboats on the ship. Now we have to make sure we have enough, and have a proper plan to deploy them when necessary. Kind of all the important parts.
This can be depressing stuff. Thank god we left it to Doppelgangster. I’ve seen Titanic, but not this version. It makes further revisions seem possible. I left thinking and laughing. And hoping.
Violence. Unfairness. Sacrifice