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Friday, Sept. 18, 2009

Getting Radically Small with Ben Turk

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Ben Turk is the nicest revolutionary you'd ever want to meet. Co-founder with Tracy Doyle of the Insurgent Theatre company, he's worked tirelessly to promote DIY performance, booking out-of-town groups and supporting many local endeavors. Last year he took his play Paint the Town on a multi-state DIY tour; this year, he and co-performer Kate Pleuss are touring his latest work, Ulysses' Crewman. After six years in Milwaukee, Turk and Pleuss are relocating Insurgent Theatre to Philadelphia.

Could you detail a bit of your revolutionary economic theory?

OK. If we want to change the way the world is, we need to start on an economic level. There are many examples of people doing things in alternative economics, and traditional economics collapsing and failing, which is exciting to me. I'm not so much interested in leading an economic revolution as describing the economic revolution which is already underway. It seems to involve more cooperation and more of the owners of the means of production producing things themselves and receiving the products of their labor themselves, and so there's not that division between the classes. Everything happens on a small scale, but because of new technologies, it's able to network and connect with and participate in very decentralized but global networks.

How does theater fit in?

I think live performance is going to be elevated over other mediums. This is already happening; bands that tour a lot, that give their fans the real experience playing small, intimate venues, are challenging and disrupting the music industry. Theater is just an extension of that. I think there are social and historical forces that are combining to advance live and DIY art in general, and so I'm just going to ride that growth. Ulysses Crewman is going to be even more tour-based than Paint the Town. It's just the two of us, and its shorter.

What's Ulysses Crewmanabout?

I was in a political theory class and the professor used the metaphor of Ulysses tied to the mast to explain Hobbes' position that you must sign the covenant and sacrifice all of your autonomy to an authority, any authority; my immediate response was "No no! [laughs] Take the wax out of your ears, hear the sirens, let yourself be smashed against the rocks!" So that's what gave me the impetus to create a work of art that expresses the desire to have radical autonomy. So where Homer in the Odyssey is saying you should be reverent to the gods over your short-term rational interests, this is saying "No—take risks! There are no gods to be reverent to."

What's your experience of doing theater in Milwaukee?

There is a lot of theater here, but there's very little experimental or politically radical theater. Over the course of 5 years we've gone though different ways of trying to promote what were doing and trying to gain a foothold here, and at this point I think we have given up. But we also plan on coming back to Milwaukee very very frequently, doing shows here.

Ulysses Crewman  returns to Milwaukee for one show, Sept. 30 at Stone Fly Brewery