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UND3RGR0UND L0V3R5: The Play That Takes Place in a Twitter DM

Poet Sophia Le Fraga discusses translating French theater into tweets and text messages.

GPDF188 : Sophia Le Fraga : UND3RGR0UND L0V3R5: A Comedy-Ballet without Dance or Music from Gauss PDF on Vimeo.

Sophia Le Fraga is a poet and visual artist who employs tweets, instant messaging, text messages and the wonders of emoji to turn our daily dictions into a tapestry of digital poetry based on French avant-garde theater experiments and authors. Her project UND3RGR0UND L0V3R5 is a 'translation' of Jean Tardieu's Underground Lovers. It is the third and last installment of her anti-plays, which include W8ing and TH3 B4LD 50PR4N0, and is an adaption of a play by Jean Tardieu, where an online relationship is muddled by inaccurate language.

It is said that French playwrite Eugene Ionesco’s plays depict solitude and insignificance of human existence in a tangible way. In this way, Le Fraga’s choreographed digital plays are poetic interruptions that elevate everyday vernacular and comment on our constant desires to be understood and related to with social media, even under confusing and misdirected musings.

Last year, Le Fraga’s W8ing poetry video received attention for its playful and provocative format. She translated Beckett’s Waiting for Godot into a text conversation complete with emojis. The exchange is filled with pregnant pauses and the “reader” becomes filled with anticipation for this unfolding relationship. The emojis and thought ellipses enter here as stanzas and caesura, adding to the increased vulnerability of the resulting poem.

In an online poem titled Here Are Your WatersLe Fraga writes, "for your poem-painting: find a few important words, and a lot of dull-sounding ones.” It’s a crystalline theme that runs throughout her layered digital works. Curious about her poetic process, and seeking to understand the undercurrents of the reading and performance that took place at Artist Space in New York last month, The Creators Project asked her some questions:

GPDF093 : Sophia Le Fraga : W8ING from Gauss PDF on Vimeo.

The Creators Project: You are so prolific on Twitter, with your digital art works and your live performances, the language seem so natural and not codified.

Sophia Le Fraga: Nothing here is coded, although one could conceivably program a computer to recite these plays. I think that’s the reason you might feel my pieces flow somehow more naturally, if I’m understanding you correctly. All three of these plays are performed by actual people typing at different rhythms and operating each at their own speed.

Your piece UND3RGR0UND L0V3R5: A Comedy-Ballet without Dance or Music is different from W8ing as there is choreography involved. Can you tell me how this project was born and the process it took to make it come to life?

You’re totally right in pointing out the choreography, and I think choreography was necessary because UND3RGR0UND L0V3R5 is the only one of the three plays I’ve adapted that has more than two characters. W8ING and TH3 B4LD 50PR4N0 show the dialogue between two protagonists on an iMessage and Gchat stage, but I was interested in adding more voices for the final piece of the trilogy, which takes place in a Twitter DM. 

This project as a whole was born shortly after W8ING was published, once I realized how easily French Absurdist theater lent itself to being performed on instant messaging apps. I often hear people refer to certain internet presences as performances; with this project I was interested in the other side of that, looking at particular digital platforms as stages.

I adapted The Bald Soprano for Gchat after realizing that I didn’t recognize some of the names in my chat list, but that their presence implied I had exchanged correspondences with each of them. In Ionesco’s original, Mr. and Mrs. Martin meet seemingly for the first time at their mutual friends’ house, but realize over the course of their conversation that they are actually husband and wife.

I chose the third play, Jean Tardieu’s The Underground Lovers, after reading that Tardieu, a rather under-appreciated French contemporary of Ionesco’s and Beckett’s, had served as a huge influence to both writers’ absurdist themes and flat dialogue. I figured a piece of Tardieu’s could serve to tie the trilogy together nicely and thought that The Underground Lovers, with its two main characters and 23 “anonymous passengers,” might work well in the form of a Twitter DM. 

For NADA, you curated a “long-form, collectively-authored, digital poem.” How do you teach others to form their poetic voices online?

I feel like the only way to cultivate a voice, online or otherwise, is to use that voice as much as possible. That’s how you get to feel out what works, what doesn’t. The constraints of online platforms are great for trying different kinds of writing; I’d encourage anyone who is interested in developing their voice online to use Twitter.

At NADA this year, and shortly before that, at the Spring/Break Art Fair, I invited my students from BHQFU to contribute to a hashtag, #NADAdrift (and #springbreakdrift) while they roamed around the fairs. Part of the idea was to riff off of Situationist drifting; the other part was to see what kind of language we could amass on a dedicated online space where all contributors were responding to the same physical environment.

Photo by Melanie Frisch

You had an Ace Hotel Residency. What did you do?

I was lucky enough to have been curated into that month’s series by BHQFU, the free art school where I teach poetry. During my time there, I made a 45 page hand-stamped book called Other Titles, which would go on to become the name of my first solo show in Berlin two months later.

Here’s a taste of what the book looks like:

One of your tweets reads, "having one of those saving-all-my-tweets-to-draft days." How do you negotiate between your digital life and one on paper and in real life? Is one seemingly more tangible? 

Hm, I don’t really think of those three things as three discrete categories. There’s overlap for sure, like I’ll often tweet lines I’ve read in books, and some of my work on paper brings internet language to the typewriter, but I don’t know if any one of those mediums is intrinsically more tangible to me than any other.

A live performance of UND3RGR0UND L0V3R5 took place at Artists Space in New York on October 16th, 2015.  

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