Paul Tei isn’t particularly interested in reminiscing about America’s past – especially not from a white male, privileged perspective.
Nostalgia is “the only thing we sell the most” in American society, says Tei. He’s the artistic director, founder and self-proclaimed “mascot” of the 18-year-old daring, avant-garde Miami area-based Mad Cat Theatre Company.
“Why do we assume that everything’s better in the past?” Tei asked rhetorically. “It’s because we have no future in our country.”
Tei and fellow Mad Cat artist Cliff Burgess plan to tackle these and other topics in "Nostalgia Part I: Be Kind, Rewind." It’s a mixed media production which “aims to darkly satirize white male nostalgia and the American tendency to yearn for a past that may not have been as great as those who pine for it remember,” according to press material.
In Tei’s words, “we’re just sort of exploiting their vulnerabilities, begging the question of why do we need to hold on to the past.”
"Nostalgia: Part 1: Be Kind, Rewind," which Tei and Burgess co-wrote, will run Saturday, Aug. 10 and Sunday, Aug. 11 at 8 p.m. at The Bridge, 4220 N.W. 7th Ave. in Miami.
Why set up such a limited engagement?
Tei doesn’t mince words. He “doesn’t think this town can handle the concept that you’ll be around for three weeks.
“Chances are, if you really want to see me, you’re going to see me. Less is more right now.”
Tei describes the piece as a “deconstruction of where we are as a nation based on who our president is. Did we make Donald Trump or did Donald Trump make us? Or, are we this weird marriage in hell?”
While Tei’s words might sound strong, Burgess said audiences shouldn’t expect the pair to slam them with stinging satire.
“I don’t believe in truly poking someone,” said Burgess. The show, as great theater often does, will “hold up a mirror to society, but in a very comic, satiric way.”
Will audiences enjoy themselves?
“They’re going to be absolutely entertained,” Burgess said. “We’re dealing with comedy and satire.”
Tei apparently agrees. While the production involves satire, it also involves fun and “having a laugh.”
“I felt ‘let’s tell these stories, let’s have some fun.’”
Burgess conceded that "Nostalgia Part 1: Be Kind, Rewind" is “a little absurd, you might not get it. But the messages will be clear to those who want to receive them.”
The evenings will feature music, interactive live performances and film screenings. The host will be one “Mr. Ringo, a hypermodern twist on a Mister Rogers-esque character.”
Tei and Burgess compare this show to “the impulse of channel flipping or the attention-deficit style of storytelling and absurd humor that programs on Adult Swim may employ.”
Comic, short pieces will include stories with the following titles: "Dickhead," "Charlie’s Childhood: Everything Must Go!," "The Sentimental Weatherman," "18 Shots," "Miami Vices" and "Skipper UpChuck."
Burgess and Tei said the show isn’t traditional, live theater.
In fact, both indicated that they’re moving away from the genre.
Again, in keeping with the notion that our country is stuck in the past, Tei said the theatrical community isn’t taking risks or trying new things.
“People aren’t interested in seeing anything that’s going to challenge them.”
Tei said he believe this is true not just in live theater, but in film and music.
There is “remake after remake. It’s fast food art. It’s safe, it’s disposable.”
Audience members believe in “the tried and true,” while many arts organizations are “trying to chase that model,” according to Tei.
The theater scene, he believes, has changed from an experimental, “in-your-face” mode to a “tried-and-true, don’t rock the boat, give the people what they want,” model.
He added it’s hard to reach people these days through live theater unless a company is mounting a remake of a musical from a forgotten time, or a live-action version of an animated movie.
“Once you give the people what they want, you’re McDonald’s, you’re fast food,” Tei said.
Mad Cat’s mission, instead, has been to “provide theater that provokes its audience to reimagine its surrounding world,” according to www.madcattheatre.org. Further, it’s mission is to “sniff out and ultimately create brazen stories that explore the hypermodernity of society. Mad Cat Theatre Company is committed to deconstructing itself and its environment through original works, adaptations, multi-media, live music, dance, puppetry and poetry.”
However, at this point, Mad Cat is no longer a theater company in the traditional sense, Tei said. Rather, he sees it as a “performance group.”
“We feel that it’s dying,” Burgess said about live theater, an art form in which he’s worked for many years. “Life has to be brought into it. Audiences are dying off, quite literally,” so a need exists to “get some young people in seats.
Burgess said he’s not against live theater.
However, it “needs a defibrillator, it needs to be shocked.”
Burgess said "Part I" is just one segment of a bigger series. He added he and Tei have ideas for other parts, but they’re on the “back burner” until the first part’s last production.
Some may wonder why Mad Cat isn’t mounting this show where it usually performs, at the Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores. “We needed a change of scenery,” Tei said.
"Nostalgia Part 1: Be Kind, Rewind" will be performed on Friday, Aug. 10 and Saturday, Aug. 11 at 8 p.m. at The Bridge, 1220 N.W. 7th Ave. in Miami. Tickets are $10 and will be available at the door. For more information, visit www.madcattheatre.org.