Allison Brainard is a Brooklyn-based artist who blends experimental dance, theater, comedy, and multimedia together to create spontaneous performances that forgo traditional choreography. She's performed at venues like e-flux, Madison Square Park, and the Abrons Art Center and has worked on projects with the likes of Ryan McNamara, Rachel Feinstein, and Marina Abramovic.
Tonight she'll be bringing her latest work, Ex-Boyfriend Show, to Dixon Place on New York City's Lower East Side. The show is a celebration of the comedy of errors that sex, love, and dating have come to entail in 2014. We live in a time when it seems impossible to get a clean break after the end of a relationship, since the option of dredging up old ghosts from your romantic past is just the tap of a touch-screen away. In Ex-Boyfriend Show, Brainard will walk the audience through a carefully curated cemetery of her romantic failures. The painful memories are awash with new embarrassment since the development of the show brought forth a fresh round of rejection from her exes. In preparation for the performance, she asked each of her former lovers to take part in the act. Most of them didn’t even text her back.
Ex-Boyfriend Show is meant to deconstruct the barriers we place between ourselves and others and question the place that honesty and selfishness have in our interactions. I gave Allison a call to talk about the issues behind her upcoming performance and what we can expect to see tonight.
VICE: Hey, Allison. What can you tell me about your new show?
Allison Brainard: _Ex-Boyfriend Show _comes from this show I did at e-flux. My friend Chloé Rossetti invited me to perform in an event with an "unrealized projects" theme. AUNTS had invited me to apply to do a project at the New Museum and I didn’t get it, and that made me really sad. So in the performance at e-flux, I decided to talk about my rejected application and do my rejected act live on stage. My proposed project consisted of me trying to make a dance video, but I would use a lot of body doubles to make myself look, like, really good. At e-flux, I just explained everything to the audience and then I did the piece onstage and had people dance in front of me. That kind of honest approach and discussion of the concept as the performance is really interesting to me.
And that approach inspired Ex-Boyfriend Show?
Coming off of that, two days later, my boyfriend and I broke up. And then a week after that, I found out that I got this show at Dixon Place. I decided, well, now is probably the best opportunity to make my worst nightmare come true on stage. My idea was to invite all of my ex-lovers to be in a performance and be on stage at the same time. I texted and emailed everyone that I had had a serious or casual relationship with. I even emailed some crushes that didn’t materialize into relationships. A lot of them didn’t text me back. The ones who did were all like, “Hey, this is weird. I don’t want to do it.” I talked to one guy about it and he was like, “My current girlfriend really doesn’t want me to do this. It sounds awful.”
Did anyone react positively?
I wanted them all to write a monologue about me. The only one who would do anything for it was my most recent ex. He made a video for it. So what the performance is going to be is actually just me onstage with a PowerPoint presentation, describing the process and going through all of my ex-boyfriends. Each one is going to get a slide, if not a couple slides. I also documented all of the text messages and everything. It’s going to be weird.
Kind of like more unrealized dreams**…** Contacting everybody was so difficult and embarrassing. Not because I still love all these people, but because they were from a different time in my life. I learned that I don’t want them around anymore. They remind me of when I was a different person. It’s been really crazy and I’m really nervous.
Nervous to open up old wounds, or to over-share?
Certain people, they know your story—your personal relationships and the things that happened, good and bad. But rarely do people share that with an entire audience, because strangers don’t really need to know. Why would they care, really? So my challenge has been, why share any of this? I’m also using PowerPoint, which is very familiar to anyone who’s been in a meeting or sat in a lecture. So, I’m working with the tropes of the PowerPoint presentation with this really intensely personal material.
What do you hope to get out of performing the **_Ex-Boyfriend Show_?** I always like to approach performances like, What can I learn from this? And I think one of the good things about heartbreak is that you can use all of the energy and intense emotion that is generated to make better art. In the past, I’ve referenced my feelings and my mental state in performances, but this time I was curious to see what would happen if I took a really direct approach and literally made a work about heartbreak and the actual people in my personal life. In my most recent relationship, complete honesty between my partner and I became very important to me. I had the theory that if neither of us ever lied to each other, no one would ever get hurt and there would always be a bond of trust keeping us together. Obviously the relationship didn’t last, but I’m still stuck on this concept of radical honesty: Does it hurt more or less to know the truth? Who does it serve? Is it sometimes selfish to be honest? I want to know what will happen when I share the material of my life with an audience and whether or not it will be a successful performance. I’m really terrified to do it, but I think that’s a good sign.