Love in Analog :: Mosser on 'How May I Connect You?'
"When I was a teen-ager, I had no idea how to tell some one I liked them except by giving them a mix tape," Jeffrey Mosser, founder of the theatre company Project: Project recalls. "I remember sitting by the radio at night and waiting for 'that one song' to come on, so that I could record it onto my cassette.
"I'd dub that tape and pass it on to somebody I liked.
"When I listen to a mix tape. I know exactly what I was doing when I first heard that tape. I know exactly what emotions I felt.
"I don't know how kids tell each other they like each other any more."
The digital recording of my interview with Mosser is awesome -- I want you to be aware of that while you read this -- because my recorder hones in on the frequency of his voice. It cancels out all the other voices in the coffee shop and eliminates the growls and screams of the espresso machine.
On top of that, this amazing device saves a whole range of frequencies that are far beyond the capacity of the human ear. Not only will I be able to capture a near studio quality recording in a noisy coffee shop. I also have frequencies available that I can't hear but I can share with my dog.
When I bought my recorder it was state-of-the-art. I invested a lot of time and money into buying this recorder and we've had some amazing experiences together. We've talked to some brilliant and talented people. So it just pisses me off when people say that can record something comparable on their cell phone.
Maybe they can. Technology keeps advancing, but they haven't heard some of the things my recorder (I call him Charles Lomax) they haven't had the same experiences my Charles Lomax has had.
This love affair we all have with our technology is what Project: Project's latest theatrical investigation is all about. "How May I Connect You? (Or, Scenes in the Key of D:)" is an ensemble-created piece that explores our relationships to technology and each other. The production runs from Thursday, Sept. 26 - Sunday, Sept. 29, in the Carol G. Deane Hall in the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.
Technology changes so fast, but sometimes, even when we have the means to upgrade we cling to our outdated machinery. What is it that drives this love affair, and why do some of us remain technologically monogamous?
"It takes a lot of thought and energy to make a mix tape for someone," Mosser continues, "because you know how those songs in that order make you feel and you want to make another person feel those things too.
"I was this bundle of emotion and the only way I knew to communicate it was by dubbing other people's music.
"At my parents' house all of my tapes still exist in a corner of my closet. My parents want to give them away, but I say, 'No. I need those tapes.'
"I don't need those tapes," Mosser confesses. "But the emotions that are in those tapes I can't let go of. I don't even have a tape player. My wife and I have moved so many times... I truly don't even have a CD player in my house any more."
My conversation with Mosser forced me to admit I've formed a little bit of a crush on my digital recorder, but Jeffrey fell in love in a far more romantic and nearly extinct technological language. He fell in love in analog. And at the heart of this "analog love" is a secret that has been in the dark for years.
It All Began with a Fax Machine
Project: Project's founding members, Jeff Mosser, Max Mondi, Vicki Schairer and Louise Hamill, sat at a pitch meeting a year ago and said to each other, "What's something that you've always wanted to try onstage?"
Someone in the group said, "I've always wanted to see a dance with a fax machine."
Everyone laughed, but then they started thinking. "The fax machine itself is such an interesting piece of technology, because it feels so outdated, but we still use it," says Mosser. "Any time you need a closed circuit transmission of some kind you have to send a fax. You can't send a pdf with official records to a medical company. They won't accept it. The data could be manipulated.
"When we thought of a dance with a fax machine we thought about the romanticizing of technology as something we not only need, but we love and we fall in love with.
"So we did interviews asking people, 'What piece of technology can you not let go of? What gadgets do you clinging to?' "
The interviewees talked about communication as a key to what technology has become. Since the theatre is all about communication, between playwright and actor, between actor and actor, and between actor and audience, they decided to create a play about the strange and sometimes misguided love of communicative technology.
"How may I connect you?" was something switchboard operators would ask callers in the early days of telephone communication. This phrase is not only the title, it's the center of the piece: How do people connect through, and to, the technology that surrounds them?
Mosser and I discussed how, for me, the most important communicative technology relates to audio and video recording. There are two primary ways that sound is recorded, stored and played back: Analog and digital.
A digital signal records information in numbers and it is very precise, linear and accurate. It's also clean, and there is less room for magnetic noise and misinformation. An analog signal is susceptible to degradation every time it's played back. It slips and stretches; it fades and wobbles or degenerates almost completely with electromagnetic interference.
An analog tape that has been recorded over may contain ghosts of the first recording, whispering in the noisy silences.
When you compare their qualities side by side, it seem like digital recording is just a lot better. It's certainly newer. But when digital information is corrupted it's simply gone -- no numbers, no signal. And when a digital wavelength goes beyond the capacity of the recorder, nothing is recorded at all. The highest peaks and lowest valleys of the wave are clipped off.
Analog imagines information that isn't there. The precipice of a wave that is unattainable in a digital recording is invented rather than left blank. And in playback, it's vulnerable to multiple interpretations. It isn't quite literal; it's susceptible to metaphor.
You see why I say that analog is a far more romantic language.
Well Actually it Began Before That
"Max and I met at an event at the Huntington and we really hit it off," Mosser relates. "We talked about what we liked about theatre and what challenged us about theatre. We were interested in 'theatre' as a big idea, and [we talked about] what we could do with it."
Jeffrey and Max initiated their new theatre company with an interactive piece that took place in every room of a house. The audience followed the action around from room to room, until the play culminated in the main living area.
This team, which grew to include Louise Hamill, Harry McEnerny, Sophia Shrand, and Vicki Schairer, wanted to create an "immersive story that was also liner." They'd seen theatrical events focused on experience rather than story. But Max is primarily interested in art of playwriting, so the group wanted to focus on character and narrative.
"I wanted to do ensemble based work," said Mosser, "because working together, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As a group we can go further than what just one playwright and one director can create in their brains."
As a company, the team decided they wanted to create theatre from concept to finished product, rather than interpreting someone else's script. They wanted to explore when they created a play, experimenting with storytelling, form and the role of the audience.
"What does this all mean?" Mosser asked. "We're gonna figure that out."
For now, Mosser continues to tell me about an autobiographical experience that made its way into the play they are currently producing. It deals with one of his mix tapes -- an analog recording by the way -- and a piece of technology to which this playmaker clings.
"I have this mix tape that is amazing," Mosser allows. "An ex-girlfriend gave it to me. She did so much to that tape. It was one of those extra long, 90-minute tapes. And the folded insert that goes inside the cassette case: She made extended flaps on it. Decorated it. She painted a stencil on it.
"It said, 'Something for Your Heart.' That's what she called it. She painted a heart and wrote all of the track listings in a novel way. I just remember it was so bright and yellow and big.
"She used a label maker to make the title, and she used four different colors of tape.
"Pressing each of the letters into the tape and placing each piece of tape on the insert just perfectly... skewed... 'Something. For. Your. Heart...' It was very Empire Records.
"I loved that tape. I know exactly what's on that tape. But that tape has caused me more heartache..."
Next page: The Art of Analog Playmaking»
The Art of Analog Playmaking
Every performance of "HMICY?" will be different.
If you think of a traditional play as a replication of an audio wavelength, it would be a digital one. The script and staging are all set in place before the first performance.
Like an analog recording, "HMICY?" is always subject to variability. Things are never quite the same, even though the action of the play remains consistent.
For their current creation, the P:P core team took their interviews to an ensemble of actors.
"Working in an ensemble is an amazing way to think about theatre," said Mosser. "I love the sense of, 'anything can happen.' [Because] I've realized that I love theatre that surprises and challenges you intellectually. I want the unconventional to happen on stage, and I'm always striving to create the unexpected."
The analog-ness of the show comes from Mosser's dedication to improvisation.
"In improv you let go of your ego," Mosser explains, "You're always on stage, and you have to work with, and adjust to, anything that happens to you. Whatever comes your way you always say, 'Yes.' "
He smiles and shrugs his shoulders a little, "That's how I make plays. I always say, 'Yes.' "
I'm skeptical of this. This kind of optimism doesn't work in life. Why would it work in the theatre?
"I've never had a bad ensemble [play creation] experience," Mosser relates. "We're lucky because we're working with very humble, generous [and] excited actors.
"The most important thing that an actor brings into an ensemble rehearsal is questions and authenticity," he continues. "We [as writers and directors] have been so immersed in [the building of a play] for so long that we can no longer see it for the first time. The best thing that can happen is someone [like an actor] can say, 'That doesn't make sense.'
"I think that's what art is," said Mosser. "It's a conversation. It's a conversation while were making it, and it's a conversation when we perform it."
This is all good and well, but I want to know more about that mix tape. I want to slam my coffee cup into the table and yell, "My readers demand the dirt! What is the secret behind that mix tape?"
Instead, I casually doodle on my notepad. "You mentioned that a mix tape caused you heartache..."
"She was older than me," Mosser confided, "a lot older than me."
I leaned forward -- ever so slightly -- in my seat.
He continued, "Like two years, which is, like, eons in high school.
"I was a freshman, just going into high school from 8th grade. She was going into her senior year. We had this summer romance.
"It was one of those Romeo and Juliet things, too. Because she was older, my parents didn't really trust her. She could drive, and... well, she could drive.
"We were in choir, band and theatre together so we saw each other all the time.
"I thought, 'This is a relationship I want to be in. And she's a different age than me...' Hormones... everywhere. Heightened emotion. So, I thought, 'This is cool.'"
The sound of an analog recording is dependent on the device it's played back on.
I've haven't seen Mosser's show, and I've never meet his wife, but as I hear it, this man has a deep-seated longing for the woman who created that mix tape, and at any moment it's going to come to the surface.
When he is finally worn out by my other questions, Mosser reluctantly makes some confessions near the end of our conversation. "After we broke up I couldn't look at it," Mosser says about the mix tape. "Now I can say that was cool, but at the time..."
"I hope I'm not getting too personal," I try to sound sincere, thinking to myself, but don't stop talking!
The director looks up at me. A wistful smile passes across his face. True to his motto of always saying "Yes," he continues, "No. This is fun. We're Facebook friends now. It's cool."
I knew it. It's not completely over, I think to myself.
A mix tape is never perfect. The songs aren't the nice compact little package they are on a playlist. The beginning and ends of songs are distorted as the tape slides up to speed. Sometimes you catch the beginning of another song as it comes on the radio, or the voice of the DJ before your song is completely over.
"So how did it end?" I ask.
"We were at a punk rock show," he remembers. "Three bands from area high schools came together just outside of Minneapolis. Somewhere in the basement of another venue, kind-of-thing. She wasn't really talking to me."
Someone walks up to our table and says, "Is this seat taken?"
Jeffrey smiles radiantly and says, "Only by you."
Though he has been away from Minnesota for 7 years, Mosser still exudes a Midwestern charm that betrays itself in his wholesome sincerity, and also in some of his vowels.
"She broke it off," he confesses, "and my heart was broken.
"So this tape said, 'For Your Heart' on it. And I was like, 'Oh my god, this is for my heart. Uhh! My heart is broken. Uhhh!'"
My digital recorder is capturing this whole conversation, and for a moment my recorder and I are afraid that this is where his story will end.
I just want to shake the table and say, Listen, I promise that I'm going to go see your play. But I want to know: Do you still have a thing for this girl?
"It's funny now we live totally different lives," he continues. "She's in L. A. and I'm in Boston. We're on totally opposite coasts. She does aerial work with silks and was recently on 'America's Got Talent' or something crazy, something totally out there.
"Really," Mosser relents, "all I know about her life is that's where she is now and that's what she's doing. And she's happy. Who knew?"
That's when he drops the bombshell. "And she's a lesbian," he says.
"Oh," I say falling back into my chair. "Huh."
When I listen back on the digital recording, I realize I freely supposed a lot of things about Jeffrey Mosser and his mix tape. In digital, he sounds like a happily married guy.
"Well," I say, turning off my recorder and closing my notebook. "At least you got a cool tape out of it."
"How May I Connect You? (Or, Scenes in the Key of D:)"
Sept. 26 - 29
Carol G. Deane Hall, Calderwood Pavilion
527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA
Or by phone: 617-933-8600