In an alternative universe where Ursula resides, it is governmentally issued that you have to find a place to belong to. If you don't manage to do this before the age of 30, you will face the fate of obsolescence: you get turned into an inanimate object.
Playing off the phrase “planned obsolescence”, which encapsulates the contemporary phenomenon of products purposefully being made not to last, gave us inspiration for the title of the piece. For the ‘planet’ we created as a setting of our opera we used several sources of inspiration, ranging from pre-existing films such as Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2015 film Lobster to the sociological term of the sociotope. We used this self-sustained social structure, as a starting point for creating the smaller worlds within Planet Obsolescence. As the term sociotope also relates to geographic places that are inhabited by people sharing the same values and culture, we wanted to show the different sociotopes coming into existence before our traveling main character and the audience observing her journey.
Ursula, named after Ursula Le Guin, American speculative fiction and fantasy writer, visits different sociotopesin her quest to avoid her fate. We created these different sub-worlds around social structures recognizable within our (real) world. We combined different hierarchical social structures such as the nuclear family or a BDSM club, with certain ball games, namely: croquet, tennis, and bowling. These give each sociotope the dimension of competition and reinforce the idea of an initiation process that all newcomers, such as Ursula, need to go through when wanting to be accepted into a sub-society.
The shown scenes can be interpreted as only a glimpse into Ursula’s long journey, burdened by self-discovery and realisation that the game of life she is forced to play is often rigged. Ursula questions the very meaning of self-sufficiency and is torn between sacrificing a part of herself for a chance to belong somewhere, staying true to her intimate wishes, and not compromising by blindly assimilating to a particular social structure.
The way we approached the development of our piece was heavily reliant on trying things out ‘on the floor’, as well as modifying and tweaking things as we go. Inspiration for the mise-en-scene is subtly influenced by film director Roy Andersson, primarily the way he stages group scenes, laden with anticipation while simultaneously being surreal as well as sincere. The arena setting of the performance space gave an additional challenge we were, eventually, glad to face since it made us think about the multiplicity of different perspectives; not only in a figurative way, regarding the concept, but also in a literal sense: how does the audience perceive things differently based on the place they are seated?
The music composed by Kavid Do is ethereal and abstract, but still indulgent. The soundscapes additionally take away the concreteness of things shown on stage and left space for directorial interventions and modifications during the rehearsal process. In addition, the composer decided to use a single double bass player to open up a space to explore the harmonic spectrum of a tone. Sinister at times, the music builds up a sense of anticipation.
Ursula tries to satisfy her inner desire for a place to belong, be seen, and make meaningful connections. Can she fathom and follow the rules of the surreal games so she can win the ultimate game of belonging or will she feel like another pawn on the planet on which her desires and qualities are quickly becoming obsolete?