DECODER Ticket That Exploded: Interview with Director Mallory Catlett

"DECODER: Ticket That Exploded" was inspired by NOVA. Photo courtesy of Alex Escalante, used with permission.

“DECODER: Ticket That Exploded” is a theatrical concert performance that is hitting NYC stages this July courtesy of the OBIE and Bessie Award-winning performing arts company Restless Productions. Led by talented director Mallory Catlett, this show is the company’s second installment of their multimedia-infused trilogy which is based on William Burroughs’ cult science-fiction “NOVA” series. For more info and tickets, see here.

“DECODER: Ticket That Exploded” blends live music, technology, and literature with a team of talented performers and designers. It offers audiences stunningly visual kaleidoscopic dreamscapes created by video designer Keith Skretch and many other beautiful and amusing features. “DECODER: Ticket That Exploded” is part of a month-long company residency at Pioneer Works and it will be accompanied by workshops led by theater professionals.

Recently, Director Mallory Catlett discussed all of this and more via an exclusive interview.

Mallory Catlett is the director of “DECODER: Ticket That Explode.” Photo courtesy of Maria Baranova, used with permission.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your talent for directing and why were you drawn towards the stage in particular?

Mallory Catlett (MC): I started dancing when I was eight so I decided then that I was an artist, but it wasn’t the right medium for me. I learned about the theater in high school at North Carolina School of the Arts, where I studied dance. My friends were actors so I went to see their shows. Afterwards they would ask me what I thought and I would tell them and they seemed truly intrigued by my answers. They found what I was saying genuinely insightful which was a surprise to me. It was years though before I started actually directing. Language is the draw to the theater for me. It’s a mystery to me. So, it holds my interest. I am also a big reader and never stop having ideas about re-contextualizing the written word in performance.

MM: What prompted you to focus on the NOVA series and what inspired “DECODER: Ticket That Exploded”?

MC: It’s about how to live with and use technology; about the dangers and addictions of the internet – what Burroughs called the image-prison – long before the advent of the internet. I am mostly interested in time as a human construct and a primary source of anxiety. And language as a method for recording time, which is consequently often destructive. These are all interests I share with William Burroughs, the author of The Nova Trilogy that inspired this work. I make a lot of non-narrative work because I like the challenge of holding an audiences’ attention and interest with something other than a story. I think these novels do, too. They cast a spell on you, take over your perceptual reality for a while. But you have to let go of control. We made this show as a concert because music has a way of breaking you down so you can let go. The barrage of images and words that wash over you are designed so that eventually you begin to hear and see a coded message in the overload.

MM: How did you secure the venue and what were the challenges associated with staging this production?

MC: It’s a good fit. Pioneer Works is a place that has a history with the work of William Burroughs. Also, with experimental music, especially analog tape music. That is at the heart of this piece. I have been working with tape artist G Lucas Crane for fifteen years. He had a relationship with Pioneer Works which resulted in our month-long music residency at the venue; the show aside, Lucas and our dramaturg Alex Wemer-Colan will lead workshops building DIY synthesizers and computational cut-ups, respectively.

MM: What experiences working on this series, and this show, been the most memorable and why?

MC: The reaction of younger audiences to the material. The ones who have had no exposure to Burroughs before, because it is a testament to his prescience – and this language from the 60s! His use of the virus as a central concept is now common parlance, part of our blood stream. His understanding that one day everyone would be walking around with a recorder and camera in their pockets (aka a cell phone) and the havoc that would cause. His predictions about the weaponization of information that we experience every day on social media. His language and the techniques he describes – once misunderstood – are now extremely familiar to this younger generation. So, Burroughs feels alive and relevant, liberating and useful. I also like how this very uncensored, explicitly sexual material allows me to make silly choices sometimes that I wouldn’t otherwise do. Its invigorating.

MM: Ultimately, what are your career goals as a theater professional?

“DECODER: Ticket That Exploded” is a theatrical concert performance that is hitting NYC stages this July. Photo courtesy of Marina Oriente, used with permission.

MC: Make more operas. Take more risks.

MM: What other fun, artsy, and/or creative projects are coming up for you soon?

MC: I am working on a piece called The Vicksburg Project with Mabou Mines – composer Eve Beglarian and writer/performer Karen Kandel are on the creative team – and will be going up to Vermont next week to work on that for a week in the woods. I have a residency at Baryshnikov Arts Center in October for a new opera I am directing and co-writing the libretto for with composer Aaron Siegel of Experiments in Opera. It is based on a novel by New Zealand’s Janet Frame.

MM: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?

MC: I think our government should start impeachment proceedings. And I wish more people would pressure the democratic party and their representatives daily. The resignation is killing me right now. I think I’m supposed to be talking about art, but this feels more pressing, and what is underlying what I am doing artistically, so . . . here we are.