Produced by the Neo-Futurists. Chicago. 2007.
[As the audience enters a slide reading “You Asked For It!: America’s Most Wanted Play & America’s Least Wanted Play” is projected on a screen on the back wall of the theater.]
[The cast reads the following text on voice-over microphone as various pie and bar graphs are projected.]
TANYA: In 1994, Russian conceptual artists Komar and Melamid released a survey asking Americans what they would most like to see in a painting. They then created America’s Most Wanted Painting and America’s Least Wanted Painting based on their results.
On August 25, 2006, The Neo-Futurists launched a national theater survey asking Americans what they would most like to see in a play. Our goal was to receive over 2,000 responses from people in all fifty states by Thanksgiving of 2006. And by gum we did it—even overachieving with 2,200 respondents from every state in the Union. So tonight we present to you America’s Least Wanted Play, then, after a short intermission, America’s Most Wanted Play. But before we start, we thought we’d share some of our survey results with you, so that you can see America’s stipulations for what you will see tonight. Here is what we found:
The first thing we noticed was that the majority of the people who responded to our survey were women.
Our conclusion: Women are better than men.
Then we noticed that the age of our respondents formed a perfect bell curve peaking in the late 20s.
Our conclusion: Young people are cool.
Avoiding the outrageous cost of hiring a professional market research corporation, we distributed the survey ourselves—to colleagues, friends, and family—and asked them to “pass it on.” We did this via email using a program called Survey Monkey. As a result—
56 percent of our respondents were artists, students, and educators, compared to 6.1 percent who were doctors, lawyers, and dentists. Our conclusion: We need to get out more.
In response to the question “How important would you say theater is to your life?”
—the survey showed that 86.3 percent of our respondents felt theater was important in their life. Our conclusion: We really need to get out more.
Then we moved on to the tough questions.
Does America want a play that’s entertaining or informative?
Does America want a play that’s realistic or abstract?
Does America want a play that’s comic or serious?
Does America want a play that’s religious or secular?
No surprises there.
One surprise we found was that—contrary to what every theater administrator in the country knows—when asked if they wanted to see a play based on a known story or an original script, America responded:
We’ve since notified theaters across the country to cancel all those performances of A Christmas Carol and bring on the original work. Steve?
STEVE: Thank you Tanya. We then gave people the chance to choose between the five traditional conflicts for their plays. This is how they ranked:
Keep in mind we only distributed one survey to find out both what America Most Wanted to see on stage, and what America Least Wanted to see on stage. Hence, the Most Wanted Play in America has the central conflict of man versus self, which is fine. However, this also means that man versus nature had to be the central conflict for the Least Wanted Play. Our conclusion: We were fucked.
We also gave people the choice of when to have the climax of the play:
America very wisely chose to have multiple climaxes.
We also gave America the choice of whether to have an onstage or an offstage climax:
87 percent chose “onstage.” Very wise, America. However this meant that the Least Wanted Play in America had to have the climax at the beginning of the play, and offstage. Again, we were fucked.
We then asked America which four characters they wanted to see on stage, and gave them these fascinating choices:
And what do you think they chose? Go ahead people, guess.
Here were the top four vote getters:
Yes America wanted a secular play starring God.
We then asked what personality traits America would most like for these characters to have. Here were their choices:
And these were the winners:
We then chose to directly matched up the top four character traits with the top four character types and to determine America’s Most Wanted characters:
Using the same methodology for America’s Least Wanted play, these were the characters that emerged:
Over to you, Mary.
MARY: Why, thank you, Steve. We then let America choose the settings for each play from this list of possibilities:
We are using the top three settings for America’s Most Wanted Play. What would you choose audience?
Well no, in fact these were the top three vote-getters:
We thought of expanding the Most Wanted Play to include the fourth top vote-getter...
...but that was the kitchen, so we thought, “why bother?”
[The word “Kitchen” and “27.5%” are added below “Café,” but then summarily crossed out.]
The four least popular locations for America’s Least Wanted Play were...
...the ballpark, the opera, an airplane, and a hospital. You could have looked forward to actually seeing these locations if America hadn’t also stipulated that the play should only have one setting and take place on a bare stage. You’ll see how we handled these contradictions in a minute.
We also asked the respondents to tell us if they wanted to see food prepared, eaten, or thrown. And in one of the most hard fought battles of the entire survey, here are the results:
Very mature, America.
The survey surprisingly found that America didn’t have any really strong feelings about nudity, violence, or physical humor, but when we combined them and gave Americans a broad range of choices, their voice was loud and clear:
Conversely you will find no nudity, violence, or physical humor in America’s Least Wanted Play. John?
JOHN: Thank you, Mary.
MARY: You’re quite welcome, John.
JOHN: Here are the four questions that were most central to inspiring the work you will see tonight:
First, we asked people to identify how they would like to feel at the end of a play. Given five choices, here’s how they ranked:
Hence the Least Wanted play needs to leave you troubled but the Most Wanted play needs to leave you exhilarated! A tall order.
Second, we wondered how people felt about the following statement: “Theater should challenge my current way of thinking and open my eyes to new ideas.”
A startling 95.8 percent of America seemingly wants to be challenged with new ideas. Even telling you that right now should challenge your current way of thinking and open your eyes to new ideas.
Thirdly, we gave people this fill-in-the-blank question: “You’ve been chosen to direct the worst play in the history of the universe. What is it and why is it so bad?”
The responses to this question are posted all over the next room and some of the answers are incorporated into the plays tonight.
Finally, we asked America to give us their preferences as to which playwrights they felt most strongly about, rating them from “very favorable” to “very unfavorable” to “who?” Not surprisingly, the only playwright to rank over 50 percent in the “Very Favorable” category was William Shakespeare.
The playwright who scored the highest in the “Very Unfavorable” category...
...was Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber with a whopping 25 percent very unfavorable rating. Hence we are using his music liberally in the America’s Least Wanted Play.
Sadly, contemporary playwrights ranked very highly in the “Who?” category.
The one exception is Mr. Lloyd Weber who is second in familiarity only to William Shakespeare. This also means that 96 percent of the American public is familiar with his work, and 52 percent of those people find it unfavorable. Hmmm. Makes you think.
Finally, taking our statistical analysis one step further, it would appear that The Neo-Futurists rank second in popularity only to William Shakespeare.
However, if you look more closely, 99 percent of the respondents are familiar with Shakespeare’s work, whereas only 78 percent are familiar with the work of The Neo-Futurists. So if we only look at how Americans respond to work they are familiar with, the statistics are adjusted thusly:
A clear victory for The Neo-Futurists! Another testament to the magic of statistics and the incredible objectivity of the “You Asked For It!” Survey.
[The TML logo is stamped over the loser, Shakespeare, and his statistics.]
Now, ladies and gentlemen, it gives us great pleasure to ask you to sit back, relax, and... um... experience America’s Least Wanted Play as created by America’s Most Wanted theater practitioners, The Neo-Futurists. ❦