nuance is offensive: Dave talks to Jacquetta about F-Off

If you’ve been following along, you know that my husband is a Republican. While this causes a fair amount of domestic strife, sometimes our interests converge. Case in point is Jacquetta Szathmari’s Festival of the Offensive, lovingly known as F-Off.

Like Dave, Jacquetta is also not a progressive liberal, and while she’ll be quick to tell you that she is not a republican but a libertarian, both are rare breads in the New York art world. I’ve known them both for approximately a million years, so I figured I should get them talking.

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Dave talked a little to Jacquetta about F-Off, and since I’m premiering and performing in my highly offensive Puff Puff in the festival, I’m hosting that interview here. If you’ve got some extra cash, go ahead and throw it at the show.

Tell us a little bit about the Festival, how did you come up with the idea?

Just as with my writing, the title came first. I kept thinking about the term “the offensive arts” and the possible acronym “F-OFF” and how I like both things that are offensive and the arts in general. Also I have been a participant in the Hollywood Fringe Festival and I enjoyed the experience and freedom of self-producing. So I wanted to find a way to combine all those things and help produce the kind of work I want to see. I like to call it “fucked up shit”. I love to be offended by live performance. There’s a level of risk and excitement when I see someone on stage who isn’t worried about controlling what I will think and is more concerned in making me think—hard. There is something about offensive material, and by that I mean material that challenges a status quo –any status quo– that really gets my brain working hard enough to challenge personal norms and capture the opportunity to learn, change and grow. I find that intellectually stimulating. It wakes me from the slumber I am constantly lulled into by the safety and conformity of mainstream media and performances. I know I have seen a great offensive show when after I finish being dumbstruck the first word I say is an expletive.

What do you think people find offensive these days and how has that changed in your lifetime?

Everything and nothing. People seem to be more offended by words than actions, possibly because there are more people talking and far fewer acting or simply more folks electing to talk as their action. It’s easier to do the latter with little skill or preparation and the former takes real power and initiative, so a battle of words is always going take the day. When something unjust happened when I was younger I would here people say something to the effect of “well what are you going to do about it”  and you had better respond with some kind of plan of action. Now it’s a strongly worded editorial to the choir or maybe a talking head sound bite on MSNBC—and scene. Nomenclature is paramount and rapidly changing. So, you can treat me like a nigger as long as you call me an African American and everyone should be happy including me. Judging by what I see in the media, nuance is offensive and best avoided. Also, I don’t recall people being so upset in the past about wealth distribution and meritocracy, but perhaps because it benefited some of the wrong sort of people and upset the apple cart. Personal responsibility that leads to success is also apparently reviled.

Why would work by conservative artists fit well in the festival?

Because they are artists capable of producing offensive work from a viewpoint that is rarely represented in theatre. In the performing arts the conservative is a minority. I don’t know if conservative work is shut out purposefully or if conservative artists are simply pruning their work to make it more acceptable to the largely liberal theatre community. I’d like to see these viewpoints represented if only to satisfy my curiosity about how that might happen on stage and but I suspect I am not alone. I have not even had the chance to be offended by conservative work on stage. I’m a Libertarian, not a liberal, and my political beliefs insist that this festival be truly inclusive and that means I need to at least try to represent as many diverse viewpoints as possible and not just the popular ones or the ones that align with my views on Austrian economics.

What offends you?

Smugness in general. Smug performances in particular. Like The Daily Show kind where they are so far removed from the injustices they are supposedly upset about about that smug is seeping out of every pore. They must mop it up between takes. I can’t look at it. Also, safe work. I am not the busiest person in the world, but I don’t want to waste my time at the theatre seeing safe, well-worn material that panders even if it panders to me. There is nothing more boring to me on stage than agreement. We are living in a comparatively cushy time and I know this makes people risk averse so can we at least see a representation of risk-taking and envelope pushing on the stage? Also, most musicals—to me they are often the epitome of that which is “corny”. I hate corny. Most of what I see on TV and in film offends me because, to paraphrase Peter Griffin’s comment on opera, “look how much money it takes to bore me”.

After attending the festival is it your hope that people will be more or less likely to be offended by things?

After soaking up some F-OFF, I hope that people will be more open to seeking, creating and producing work that presents viewpoints that conflict with their own. That may lead over time to them developing a thicker skin, or even better more permeable skin, but that is not my goal. We all have to live in this society together so let’s try to understand each other a little and not insulate ourselves from ideas and expressions that may create internal conflict. People are becoming mighty fragile out there and being offended regularly can liberate them from such an awful debilitating disease. Or you can end up like me, an offense junkie. From the moment I saw Blazing Saddles as a young girl I knew wanted more and I seek it out like a fiend.

You can find more Jacquetta here, and more Dave here.

Jacquetta Szathmari

Jacquetta Szathmari


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