P.O. Box Unabomber
by Zdrava Kamenova and Gergana Dimitrova
Through Aug. 4 at Single Carrot theatre
Ted Kaczynski is back this week with Single Carrot's P.O. Box Unabomber. In his 1995 "Unabomber Manifesto," the math professor/terrorist issued his famous screed against big government and modern technology. Eighteen years later, thanks to Edward Snowden, the subject is back in the headlines. The script, by Zdrava Kamenova and Gergana Dimitrova, makes the most of this correspondence, using excerpts from Kaczynski's manifesto to ask: When everything is recorded, what stories do we tell?
The production-with set design by Elena Shopova- also marks the two-year point in an extended relationship between two young, edgy independent theaters from different sides of the Atlantic: 36 Monkeys Collective in Sofia, Bulgaria, and Baltimore's Single Carrot Theatre. Funded in part by grants from Trust for Mutual Understanding and the America for Bulgaria Foundation, members of the two theaters have been visiting each other's countries and exchanging ideas, artists, and training techniques. 36 Monkeys director Dimitrova, who came to Baltimore with Shopova for the production, and Single Carrot artistic director Nathan Cooper sat down on a busy day before Artscape to discuss the upcoming production and its relevance today. As it happens, as a result of the artistic collaboration, Cooper will be leaving Single Carrot after this production to move to Bulgaria. Kellie Mecleary will replace him as artistic director.
City Paper: So this is part of a series of readings 36 Monkeys has been producing for seven years or so?
Gergana Dimitrova: It's called Protext, and it's been going on for almost seven years. It was meant for playwrights to have platforms to present their work, to hear it read aloud and see it onstage with full design and sound but without the pressure of a full, mounted production. It taps into an American idea about workshopping pieces. This is a new model of doing workshops.
CP: What sort of role does 36 Monkeys play in Sofia?
GD: The conventional theater [in Sofia] is the state theater. It's very traditional. 36 Monkeys is an independent company, a non-governmental organization. The main focus of the company is to develop new playwrights, which state theater really doesn't. It's also trying to come up with new forms of theater.
Nathan Cooper: And this is why Single Carrot was interested in working with 36 Monkeys. We're trying to find new forms for what's possible in today's theater. We're looking for new ways of engaging new audiences. It's why we started Single Carrot and it's why we moved to Baltimore. So there's a nice, natural synthesis between the two companies.
And it's interesting. Because we're doing a Bulgarian play translated into English [by Atanas Igov] which was about a distinctly American figure, Ted Kaczynski. For Bulgarians, how did this fit into the Bulgarian idea of American society? Also, how is it relevant to an American audience? Those are the questions that we're trying to ask.
CP: There are a lot of independent theaters in Baltimore and a lot of people doing their own thing. Why show up at this one?
GD: I think that as we're looking at new work, we've often done the second or third production of something. This is an American premiere. The audience has a chance to be part of the conversation on the script. It offers people the chance to engage. It poses a lot of questions about where we are today as a society, what direction we're going. This is an opportunity for people to engage in a piece of work, one you might not see in America. The "Unabomber Manifesto," which figures prominently in the script, came out in 1995. It started a cultural and moral debate.
NC: A number of things strike you. There's one specific excerpt. Kaczynski, in one of the excerpts from his manifesto, says this in the play: You're scared of big government now. Wait until the government is capable of modifying the genes of your children.
GD: It's not just true in the U.S. and Western Europe. We want to make that clear. I can't walk on the street without 20 video cameras following me. When I came to the U.S., they took all my fingerprints. Those things are scary to me. I think that Kaczynski is interesting in terms of his ideas. I certainly don't agree with most of his ideas. I don't think violence is an answer. If you want to protect freedom and dignity, you should respect it in others, so this is not the way. But from a certain perspective, what he says is important.
CP: So you use sections of the manifesto and read portions of it. How else is the play put together?
NC: It's not a traditional narrative with inciting incident, rising story, climax. But there is a narrative. Satellites are orbiting the earth and collecting stories and information from the earth. They're building an archive of sorts. The narrative is seen through the eyes of the satellites as they go through these archives. The script includes the archives of Ted Kaczynski and that of a scientist who ends up following in Kaczynski's footsteps, creating a space elevator.
CP: This space elevator is a real project?
TK: Yes, it's a [longstanding project designed to create a sort of pathway to space] by scientists. The final archive in this play is of an animal on the verge of extinction in New Guinea. These three stories are pieced together, and the satellites are telling the audience the story, actually.
There's this really interesting part of the story when we realize that suddenly everything will be gone, there will just be satellites. The scientist is telling his kid, one day all this will be gone, the trees, the animals, all that will be left are these satellites revolving the earth. The premise is that these satellites orbiting the earth are the same ones that are now recording us and reporting on us.
CP: That's interesting. A lot of what we do and say, although it may mean nothing, is all going to be left behind us.
NC: Yeah, and given what we've been learning, the NSA isn't really listening to us, but from what they're saying, they're just building a database-not at the context of individual conversations-they're looking at trends, key words, things like that. Already we've got this database that is so large. What does happen one day when the people are gone? Feasibly someone could come down one day and find these huge databases, and this will be what they know of our society.
CP: Our word clouds. So this is a play made out of what happens when everyone is gone?
GD: It asks more questions than it gives answers.
NC: You don't know when these satellites are orbiting. But the play does pose the question: If it was the end of the world, what stories would be collected?
CP: If someone says I don't get this, which American audiences often do, how would you respond?
NC: I would respond by asking, what was your perception? We're using this production to engage people, not to answer questions.