Lost in a smartphone Dan Ho le takes on digital technology in his solo show
Dan Hoyle, known for solo performances in which he embodies a broad range of characters, grew up in San Francisco among theater folk. His father, Geoff Hoyle, is a comic actor who got his start in the Pickle Family Circus in the 1970s. “He raised a family doing theater, so it always seemed like a real job to me,” Hoyle told Pasatiempo by phone during a rehearsal break from Each and Every Thing , his current theater piece, which he brings to the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 21.
The characters Hoyle portrays are real people. He slips into the skin of his friends as well as people he’s met doing his “researches,” a journalistic exercise exploring the way others think and live that becomes the basis for his shows. His ability to capture and mimic the voice and mannerisms of basically anyone he encounters is uncanny and even unnerving at first: Here is a thirtysomething liberal white guy playing men and women of different colors and cultures. But as their stories flesh out and their words take on weight, it’s obvious that mimicry is distinct from mockery. Hoyle has explored issues around the oil industry in Nigeria (in Tings Dey Happen ), and the divergent views in our country on science and politics during an election year ( The Real Americans ). In Each and Every Thing , he takes on the immersive culture of digital technology. In his conversation with Pasa , he slipped in and out of character.
Pasatiempo: How did you develop Each and Every Thing ? Dan Hoyle: I am a huge lover and reader of newspapers, and there was a lot of stuff coming out about newspapers dying out. I realized that there was a much larger transition going on in every part of life, from analog to digital, that impacts how we perceive the world, how we relate to one another, how our brain chemistry works. I started to see this turning inward, the privatization of public space as people get lost in their smartphones. I went to a digital-detox retreat, and it was as hilarious and precious as you imagine, but also kind of poignant. And then I went to Calcutta, the world’s largest democracy, and one of the few places where newspapers are booming. Pasa: So how are things changing in our increasingly digital culture? Hoyle: Anything I say now will be less artful than anything in the show. I don’t lecture people. It’s not that people aren’t aware of what’s happening. It’s just so easy to disappear into our smartphones instead of walking around and seeing what we can observe or what spontaneous interactions we might have. It’s so much easier to communicate via social media than calling someone up and going to their house. Pasa: How did you develop your research and performance style? Hoyle: I went to Northwestern University. I found that what was happening on the streets of Chicago was more interesting than nineteen-year-olds’ interpretations of the classics, so I spent a lot of time walking around, interviewing strangers, some of which you see in Each and Every Thing . One of the first long researches I did was on the local drug dealers in my neighborhood. This was in 2003 in Rogers Park. They were all my age, but we lived in two different worlds. I finally got up the courage and went down and said I wanted to hang out and get to know their stories; I want to make a play about it. Coco said, “You wanna do a play about us? Is it going to be a ghetto-ass play or some Broadway-type shit? ’Cause I do love me a good musical.” From there they completely took me in — Coco, See Know, and Endo. Pasa: What’s your process for interviewing people and creating characters? Hoyle: I don’t do verbatim stuff. In my program there’s always a note that the words you’ll hear are a blend of several people’s and my own in service of the larger truth of my experience. I record people with audio and sometimes take notes. I also just hang out. Pasa: Do you have any boundaries around the imitation and mimicry that you do? Hoyle: We’ve gotten to this point where people are very politically correct, and there’s not a lot of straightforward dialogue about who we are and how we’re different. There’s this desire for us to say, “No, we’re all the same,” and I actually don’t think that’s true, and I think it reduces the complexity of humanity. I really feel like I’m honoring people’s stories and doing it in a way that is pretty much a hundred times more respectful than anything that you’ll probably see in mass media. I’m not just interviewing people once and doing a recitation of that interview. I think a lot of what people respond to is that they see there is a strong relationship that I have with the character. So the character is talking to me, and the audience sort of becomes me, and they have this experience that I had. Pasa: You mentioned earlier the privatization of public space. Many people are also concerned by the way private space is being made public through social media. Does that come up in Each and Every Thing ?
Hoyle: Yes. We’re oversharing online and undersharing in person. It’s this weird time where we’ll be in a public space, checking Facebook on the little computers we have in our pockets, heads down, liking people’s photographs, while all around us there are all these other people. It happens in public spaces with strangers, and it also happens with friends. Pasa: Who are some of the characters in the show? Hoyle: There’s my friend Pratim, who I’m constantly worried about. I ask him if he ever stops to wonder what’s happened to our sense of wonder. He says, “I just look at my cat, and that blows my mind every time.” And then there’s See Know, from Chicago, who came into my apartment for the first time and said, “Damn, you don’t have no TV, no internet? No wonder you started kicking on the block. I hope you have some porno mags up under your mattress, otherwise you practicing to be in jail.” And then there are some of the digital detoxers, who say things like, “Yeah, it’s actually not hard for me to sign off digital. I actually signed off on four business deals today on my phone. I just hear like metal grinding and a truck noise in my head because I’m always working. I grew up poor on a farm, so I’m worried if I stop working, I’ll just be poor. So I just, like, work.” Pasa: What do you hope people take from the show? Hoyle: I think there’s something about doing this show in this moment that feels like an act of coming together, being in this room together that feels like some sort of secular church. In a good way, not a cultish way. We need to have communal experience. This show, unlike any other show I’ve done, fills me up. And I hope it does the same for audiences.
Dan Hoyle’s solo show
Each and Every Thing