ScreamCoach: An Inward Review of Outward Release

Whilst in London, I devised a performance piece for a friend’s show.  I was heading towards the end of my year in London, starting my dissertation and generally freaking out about what I was going to do with my life after grad school. As I was thinking about what to perform, I imagined how great it would be to have a coach that would help me scream.  Screaming, venting, showing anger– these were things I normally didn’t do very well, if at all.  I knew I had a lot of pent up rage keeping me up at night, but for some reason, I felt powerless to express it.  I just wanted a release of some kind, and it seemed I needed permission to do so.

Hence the ScreamCoach.

Originally, I had thought of ScreamCoach as a cross between Sue Sylvester and a Marine drill sergeant…which I guess is basically the same thing. ScreamCoach was tough, she wouldn’t let you whimper away your reservations, and most importantly, she didn’t give a crap about you or your problems:

…we don’t really care about the personal details of your everyday life.  We want the wordless part of you, the pent-up, emotional baby you keep hidden deep under your belly fat.  Just to clarify, if it wasn’t clear already, we’re not “life coaches”. We don’t want to hear about your lame life goal of opening your own organic, gluten-free, vegan bakery that uses recyclable plastics to make its brownies. We’re not going to hold your hand and tell you that boozing and fucking a bunch of random strangers on your weekend ragers are just a “learning experience” to build your future on.

We know how you really feel, and that you don’t want to talk anymore.  You want the same thing we do: ACTION.  We don’t mean that pathetic excuse for a sex life you call your boyfriend/girlfriend or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend.  You need something that will take away your problems away NOW and leave you feeling peaceful even though your world continues to crumble around you. (Excerpt from ScreamCoach monologue)

After ScreamCoach ranted at the participant, she directed the individual through 3 activities done in rapid fire succession. First, the participant quickly threw 10 foam balls at an assistant coach; second, the participant shoved their face into a pillow and screamed as loudly as possible; last, the participant received a head massage with an apparatus called a “Brain Teaser” or, the better name for it, “The Orgasmatron”:

THE ORGASMATRON

My partner, Kevin Corbett, helped me choose the particular activities and their sequence.  As we discussed the performance, we decided that a focus on the release of anger was too limiting a choice when considering the range and complexity of human emotions. Furthermore, we didn’t want to assume that participants A) wanted to release or connect to their anger and B) would only experience anger during the performance.  We also didn’t want to leave the participant feeling upset, hence the addition of The Orgasmatron, which was a purposefully soothing component of the trio.  As suggested in the ScreamCoach monologue, we weren’t interested in dissecting the root cause of emotional baggage, or getting someone to think deeply about their pent up emotions; we simply wanted to create a space for a brief expression and release of those emotions.

The first performance of ScreamCoach was done as part of Brian Lobel’s “Cruisin’ for Art” festival at Latitude. There were several factors that played a part in this manifestation of ScreamCoach: we were in an outdoor space at night, and we were able to choose the participants from a wandering crowd of “cruisers”.  This helped us control our participant choice and gave us room for a more intimate performance.

Even though I had spent time writing and rehearsing the ScreamCoach monologue, I immediately dropped it upon interacting with our first participant.  To a large extent, curiously, it wasn’t a conscious decision, but rather an impulse. I wanted to make our participant feel welcome because they looked anxious about the unknown performance in which they were to partake. I already knew the activities would be challenging for some participants; there was no reason to turn them off even further with a barrage of insults. In retrospect, if I had used the monologue, I feel that the performance would have been stilted, and the participant so on edge that they wouldn’t have been able to release anything.  They had to trust us.

This didn’t mean talking to them about their life- in that respect, the performance kept true to the initial intent.  As the ScreamCoach, I asked for their name, where they were from, and what they did for a living, which, in most cases, was enough to get the participant to relax. After explaining the instructions, I would coach them through the activities, encouraging participation in a positive manner. I became the complete opposite of the original ScreamCoach I had envisioned.

We coached close to 70 people in our first performance.  Towards the second half of the night, people began coming up to us, wanting to take part.  Obviously, it was difficult to watch someone screaming into a pillow and not be somewhat interested. We received a variety of reactions that night, the majority of them positive.  A comment frequently made was that participants wanted “to do this everyday” or were imagining a certain person when they threw the balls at Coach Kevin.

The latter brought up an interesting point within the performance as well.  With the inclusion of a human interaction element, i.e. the assistant coach, participants had a more authentic target upon which to direct their emotional release. Because of this, some participants were reluctant at first, afraid of “hurting” Coach Kevin; for these participants, assurance from Coach Kevin himself was necessary, as was noting the distance at which Coach Kevin stood from the participant. Other participants, particularly older men, seemed to relish to idea of throwing objects at another human, and had no hesitancy in whipping the balls full speed.  From these observations, we wondered what would have happened if the target had been an inanimate object (such as a dummy) or a woman (not a dummy).

The first activity seemed to be the element of the piece with which to experiment.  In a second performance of ScreamCoach, done at the Young Vic in London for the Getinthebackofthevan theatre company’s “Show Us Yer Guerilla Bits” festival, Coach Kevin was hit at close range with foam pool noodles.  The object was changed from foam balls because we were in an indoor venue with a more confined space. At first, we had participants hit Coach Kevin 10 times, but quickly realized this was too much as it actually did begin to hurt him, and therefore only had participants strike him 5 times.

As part of the second performance, participants were also invited to give feedback into a recorder after their involvement. Almost all the commentary included some reaction to beating Coach Kevin. Many expressed guilt, both for doing it and for feeling good while doing it.  Some questioned it in terms of a public display of punishment. Everyone called him a saint for agreeing to the role in the first place.

Overall, I found the public interest in ScreamCoach noteworthy in itself.  My primary impulse to create this piece seemed to resonate with the larger needs of the participants: the desire to express suppressed feelings, to experience them on a visceral and tangible level, and to have those feelings validated through actions that others witness.

I’ve created a video documenting ScreamCoach during its second performance.  Have a look and see what you think!

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