“It’s exactly by confronting our limitations that we become powerful. By dreaming the impossible, we become sane.” Mary Tuomanen
“Tuomanen is able to find the silly and the crushing in every moment.” Julius Ferraro, Phindie (Read More)
A thief is on the loose, and he wants to see if you can take a joke.
Hello! Sadness! is a dark comedy that weaves a story from Joan of Arc to the Black Panther Party to misogynist stand-up to awkward French New Wave dancing. With imagination, visual projections, and a perfectly interspersed sound design, audiences move about from the here and now to 1960s Chicago, an intoxicating poppy field, fifteenth century France, a street run by prostitutes, a museum, a trial, aspeeding car, a secret place of joy and rage.
Mary Tuomanen proposes humor as a weapon for social activism—to laugh at the oppressor in all of us, then punch him in the face.
Written and Performed by Mary Tuomanen
Direction by Annie Wilson
Projections Maria Shaplin
Sound by Adriano Shaplin
Lights Andrew Thompson
This work was developed in part during a residency in the SEI Innovation Studio at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in 2013. It was commissioned by and had its World Premiere at the Kimmel Center in 2015.
$15 (student and 25-and-under)
Thu, Jan 26 at 7pm Get Tickets
Fri, Jan 27 at 7pm Get Tickets
Sat, Jan 28 at 7pm Get Tickets
FringeArts: Do you remember where you were when you first thought of the title Hello! Sadness!? And what was the moment when you realized, I can make a show of this?
Mary Tuomanen: I was doing research on Joan of Arc during this Solo Performance residency at the Kimmel Center, and for some reason was thinking a lot about this particular poem, this Paul Éluard poem whose opening line is “Adieu, tristesse, Bonjour, tristesse”. (Farewell, sadness, Hello, sadness). The playwright Dael Orlandersmith was facilitating the residency and casually comes up to me while I am neck-deep in books and says, “You know, you should really check out Françoise Sagan.” I think she was referencing Sagan as another woman who presented genderambiguous, like Joan of Arc, and became famous very very young (17 years old). My first google-search of Sagan showed the title of the book she wrote when she was 17, “Bonjour Tristesse.” It was an uncanny moment. There are so many things about that poem that have to do with the theme of the play, and Françoise Sagan became a character in the show’s narrative from that moment on. I wanted to use the Éluard/Sagan reference of “Bonjour tristesse” without sounding pretentious. My collaborator Aaron Cromie suggested the two exclamation points. HELLO! SADNESS! sort of encapsulates the absurdity of laughing maniacally through despair, putting a camp American spin on very serious French writing. It is, in the end, a comedy, albeit a very dark one.
FringeArts: Can you briefly describe how you’ve set up the stage? And what appeals to you creatively about the interplay of the various elements (sound, video, solo performer, etc.)?
Mary Tuomanen: The narrator character I play in Hello! Sadness! makes a deliberate decision to Go Somewhere Else. This is the choice we make every time we go to the theater, or engage with art, in general. The play opens with, “Hello. Hello. Welcome. You’re safe here. We’re safe. Totally off the grid. This is the only place you can go where nothing can get you, not television or or advertisements or government programs or prejudice or gender norms or trying to help other people even the idea of other people is gone, no responsibilities, no systemic oppression, no experts, no history.” The audience is not sure what kind of rabbit hole we’re in, but there is only one person onstage and thousands of places to go, both concrete and abstract: a Black Panther rally in 60s Chicago, an intoxicating poppy field, fifteenth century France, a street run by prostitutes, a museum, a trial, speeding car, a secret place of joy and rage. The Shaplin siblings, Maria and Adriano, created an incredible environment of sound and image for me to leap around in. The blankness of the stage reminds us that this is a space of imagination, a utopia, a no-place. It’s a solipsistic space, the place of Art, but also one that asserts that each of us contains all of history — all suffering, all crimes, all joys.
FringeArts: How do you see the persona (i.e. you the performer) at the center of this piece? Is it you? A version of you? Someone else? An amalgamation of people? And what are some of the keys for you about what’s true about this person—as a storyteller, thinker, as a mover/your physicality, emotionally, etc? (Interpret however you please.)
Mary Tuomanen: What was nice about having Annie Wilson as a director was that I didn’t have to think about how absurd, insane, sweaty, stupid, indulgent, maniacal and raw I looked onstage — I trusted her to push and provoke me into the most honest version of this character possible. We do contain multitudes, it’s true. (Certainly in this show I play a bunch of characters: New Wave actresses, FBI shills, the decapitated head of Joan of Arc, and a thief that sounds a lot like Daniel Tosh, to name a few.) Making character is an act of reduction, boiling this narrator voice down involved accessing my most impotent self, the snarling beast that feels powerless, giggle + tears = rage, the one who would rather go crazy than admit she has no ability to wreak vengeance, no ability to divorce her body from systems of injustice. And it’s exactly by confronting our limitations that we become powerful. By dreaming the impossible, we become sane.
FringeArts: What have you worked on most in fine-tuning Hello! Sadness!
Mary Tuomanen: The show has been written over a series of years that have turned out to be very crucial in the history of activism — Tahir Square, Gezi Park, the trial of Pussy Riot, in America the Black Lives Matter movement, Occupy, and now the Standing Rock Sioux encampment. These events all point to a growing social consciousness in the 21st century. So as the world keeps changing, it’s only right that the show does, too. Words like “microaggression, appropriation” are more pervasive now than when I started the show, even words like “feminism” have made a comeback! So I have to fine-tune this sort of language in Hello! Sadness! to keep it relevant. It would be great if this show became obsolete one day. I’m looking forward to that.
“In Hello! Sadness! (running January 26-28 at FringeArts), Mary Tuomanen mines the history of social justice activism to bolster herself in the ongoing fight against injustice and tyranny. I did a little research to prepare you for this piece of theatrical activism. Doing this research on inauguration day was both difficult and heartening, a reminder that humanity has unlimited power to resist. I hope you find comfort in the memory of these incredible people and movements from our shared history.”
Check out a Glossary of Heroes at the FringeArts Blog.
“What is art? It doesn’t do anything. Of course, art changes the world, but it won’t be visible in your lifetime. Joan of Arc was arguably a failure in her time. Look at what happened to the Black Panther Party, and then look at what’s going on in the news: It shows the severe consequences of that hole in the culture of race pride, of people who will stand up and say “It’s wrong to shoot a young black man for no cause.” The arc of history is long and we hope that it will go toward justice, but you have to try. It’s crazy to do something when you don’t know how it’ll come out and be like “I don’t care.” – Mary Tuomanen, Philadelphia Magazine
“Wearing a raincoat and doing a kind of twist, Tuomanen is mesmerizing as she leads us on a romp with icons from the ’50s and ’60s, her imagined friends and companions, as she explores what it might have been like to know them.”- Naomi Orwin, Broad Street Review
Photos: Daryl Peveto