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Adam J. Thompson / Sara Lyons / Paul Outlaw

first performed on October 22, 2020
REDCAT (Roy & Edna Disney/CalArts Theater)
performed nine times in 2020


Sara Lyons, Jonathan Snipes, Adam J. Thompson

Los Angeles, CA / Brooklyn, NY


“BigBlackOctoberSurprise” is the culmination of the second phase of development of “BBC (Big Black Cockroach),” an experimental play inspired by current events, Kafka’s novella Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis) and his short story “Ein Traum” (A Dream), and Ovid’s Metamorphōseōn libri (Books of Transformations).

As in Die Verwandlung, the identity of the protagonist of “BBC” morphs over the course of the piece—between Greta, a conservative American white woman, and Gregory, who emerges the longer she remains in the body of a Black man. Vocabularies of xenophobia, racism, misogyny and sexual violence are evoked in this nightmare of imprisonment and imperiled Blackness in America.

Under “normal” circumstances, audiences would have been able to attend the premiere of a full-length version of “BBC,” which had been workshopped in 2019. Instead, we came up with an alternate take on the material to coincide with the “most important election in our history.” This special virtual presentation included the first ever live-streamed performance from the REDCAT stage.

The primary challenge in creating a pandemic iteration of “BBC” was to maintain both the intimacy and dynamic of the original workshop production in a virtual setting. As originally conceived by director Sara Lyons and me, all design elements stem from the central image of a single Black male body in an empty space delineated by Chu-hsuan Chang’s stark lighting design. Trapped in a landscape of live, spatialized sound (built by Jonathan Snipes almost entirely from recordings of my voice and movements), the expanding identities within the protagonist’s mind and body are revealed throughout the piece.

For “BigBlackOctoberSurprise” (the title I’ve given this election season presentation), we decided to lean into the fact that the captive protagonist is under surveillance. In this version, Chu-hsuan’s lighting was replaced by Adam J. Thompson’s video design, which in concert with Jonathan’s sound forms a disorienting cocktail of historical violence and dystopian near-future visions in a single human vessel.
This version of the piece is a meditation on isolation—not only in its content, but in our remote collaboration via computer screens, unstable WiFi connections and nanny cams.

We want the juxtaposition of live and filmed performance to invite the questions: How do our relationships to our bodies and the world shift in extended isolation? Which part of the event is a recording and what is happening “now”: the surveillance images or my “conversations” with the audience that interrupt them?