This Thursday, Columbus will get to be just the third audience to see filmmaker/author/artist/app-creator/whatever-other-artistic-media-you-got Miranda July's "New Society." We got a chance to chat with her about that and more.

Photo credit: Todd Cole

This Thursday, Columbus will get to be just the third audience to see filmmaker/author/artist/app-creator/whatever-other-artistic-media-you-got Miranda July's "New Society." We got a chance to chat with her about that and more.

Let's start off with "New Society." What can you tell me about it while still preserving the surprises you're trying to keep for the audience that night?

Yeah, and I thank you ... I know it's not fun trying to work around something, but I really appreciate it. It's the kind of thing I think that seems sort of pretentious before you see the piece and then once you see it you see, well, it would be a drag if you knew all that in advance.

Like a lot of my work it's very audience participatory. I've been trying to figure out how to do that artfully in performance for a long time - to varying degrees of success. I'm excited about this piece because I think I finally came up with an inherent reason why there's participation. I think that always bugged me a little bit ... like, why? Especially because I also make movies and write books, and those things aren't participatory, and they're fine.

What excites me about this piece is I think it's participatory for a good cause, for a good reason.

So it doesn't feel forced? More organic participation?

Yeah, and it's not just for artistic purposes. It's kind of ... necessary.

So you're pretty early in this experiment?

Yeah, I just debuted it at the (Walker Art Center in Minneapolis), so I'm still tired. (laughs)

What was the experience like for you? How did the connection with the audience evolve over the course of the performance?

Because of the audience participatory aspect, I could only rehearse it with an audience, so for the last like month and a half, every Monday night I've gathered up 10 brand-new people - usually strangers, like friends of friends - to sit in my studio and be the audience, which in a way means rehearsing it with me. I started that before I even had it memorized, so I was just holding a script all the way through to absolutely fine-tuning it.

So it was a big jump to go from 10 people to almost 400. The biggest thing I realized is an audience creates its own energy and excitement and feeling of expectation. That's all in the room before you even step on stage. So when you're thinking about the raw materials you're working with, in a way that wasn't so acutely clear to me in rehearsal, because 10 people are more just awkwardly sitting there, whereas a crowd of any size over a hundred is, you know, ready to stamp their feet if you don't come out quickly. They have a sense of entitlement.

That said, they were both lovely audiences, and the two shows that I did were very different. In fact, one was on Halloween so ... Hopefully that'll never happen again. (laughs) It's a special challenge to do the piece for people in like mummy costumes.

Can you talk a little about your relationship with the Wexner Center over the years?

I was out there for the first time working on another performance, I think it was "The Swan Tool," in 2001. I have vivid memories from that time. It's always like a little time capsule when you're returning to a place. It makes me realize how old I am, in a good way? I remember I was like all messed up over a boyfriend and my life and the kind of turmoil that happens more in your twenties ... and now I have a child. Things are not quite as outrageous on the personal front.

How do you think your art has evolved as you've aged?

I think one sort of very basic thing is through filmmaking and writing fiction, I've gotten more and more interested in narrative. So although this piece takes all these kinds of risks and is experimental compared to a movie or a novel, it actually has more of a narrative arc and a little more rigor in that area than something I would have done, you know, 10 years ago. I'm just more interested in that.

In virtually every form of artistic expression you've touched on, connection seems to be a running theme in your work. Would you agree?

Yeah, it's funny, that's fair, although I think I'm coming at it not as someone who connects easily or has some utopic vision of everyone connecting. I'm not like a "huggy" person, you know? I think it's more we as humans are not that great at connecting. I think even in the best scenarios we do all kinds of weird things as far as our attempts to have intimacy or communication. And that's what interests me, is those weird things. To me it's almost like ready-made art or performance that we all create, and it speaks to our own histories and families and internal worlds.

What interests me really is not so much the connection, but like the striving to connect or the missed connection.

Along those lines, where did the idea for the Somebody app come from?

It's sort of twofold. One, I love sort of the freedom that comes from playing a role, so the really simple idea of someone pretending to be someone else and delivering a message by proxy, I like that. I think it's liberating for people to get to have, you know, a little performance that you do.

And then I also have this long love of strangers, you know, of work that puts me in other people's homes or unfamiliar places. And technology is kind of working at cross-purposes to that. You know, Amazon saves us all this time, we don't have to go out and brush up against strangers and other people to get the things we need.

But the thing is we don't use that time that we save by, like, going out into the world and doing bold and daring things or hanging out in nature. We just use it to be online more. So I'm always looking for a way out of that, and it's not always easy to step away from your computer and go outside and, like, look up from your phone. So to me the app, although it is an app, is a way out. There's no way to use it without looking around and searching for a face around you and looking into a lot of strangers eyes. And that requires a kind of openness that is so different from where I am most of the day.

So it's using the technology to nudge people to have a moment outside of the technology.

Exactly. Which I think is fair. Like, bizarrely, right now I'm meditating every day, which I've wanted to do for so long, and I'm using an app to help with that. At first, that seemed so kind of gross to me, and then I realized technology is going to not just speak to itself. It's going to speak to all the areas of our life that we care about. Especially as it gets past just kind of replicating letter writing and phone calling and stuff, it's going to move into subtler areas.

If you made a video game, what would it be?

It's funny, because I'm working on something right now that I'm not going to get into, but someone just today sent me a reference for it that is basically a video game. And I was like, oh my god, I'm making something that is this close to being a video game, and that kind of threw me for a second.

The thing is these are all just mechanisms. They're all tools, and they can tell any story. So, you know, a video game that involved empathy? You could do anything as a game that involved asking, I don't know, difficult questions of each other? That sounds fun. (Laughs)

I always love the element of surprise, so I guess there's kind of a choose-your-own-adventure aspect to video games that wouldn't be hard to get into.

How difficult is it to move from medium to medium in different storytelling realms?

I think there is often a moment of transition where it's been long enough since I worked in that medium when I've forgotten what's hard about it or even what's essential about it. When I started writing my novel I was still saying things like, "Do you think Scarlett Johansson is too old to play this character?" But it was like a character from my novel. And then I was laughing, like, I guess it doesn't matter, because it's a novel! No one will be playing the character. I just have to describe them really well.

Sometimes there are these little gaps where my body is almost having to rebuckle itself into the new medium. Which I guess I kind of like. I like feeling like a novice each time. And with this new perspective coming from whatever medium I was in last.

Possibly the most famous line from "Me and You and Everyone We Know" has become a Cards Against Humanity card. How do you feel about "pooping back and forth" becoming a part of pop culture?

You know, that actually was the idea for it. Not the specific way that it played out, but I remember thinking, wow, what I'm talking about here is essentially a child's idea of sex. Some people would suggest that that doesn't really exist or shouldn't be talked about it or you certainly shouldn't play with it the way I did. (feigns outrage) That child is engaging with an adult!

I didn't stick to any rules with regard to that subject. So I thought what I need here is some sort of icon that represents this. Like Coca-Cola kind of declares, this is a thing! Pooping back and forth, that's a thing. Kids talk about sex. They have their own version of it. And that's allowed. And that exists in the world, and adults have to contend with it. And I felt like in a way this symbol protected the idea and my ability to talk about the idea. Like I branded something that was pretty touchy in a way that made it safe.

But it's just in a game now!

We sort of saw that recently with Lena Dunham with the overreaction to segments of her book.

It's so sad to me. I truly believe that by not allowing any gray areas to exist in the realm of writing and art and people telling their stories, you send a whole lot of people into a scared, non-verbal place that leads to a lot bigger problems later on. In fact, this is what art is for ... for stuff that is uncomfortable or makes you nervous or isn't clear-cut. It's fine that it's caught in a way that's drawing attention to itself ... that might not be a bad thing in the long run, but I feel so bad for Lena.

Would you like to tell us anything about your upcoming novel ("The First Bad Man)"?

Yeah, that's what I've been working on mostly for the last few years, and it comes out in January. So ... I'm nervous.

You still get nervous?

You know, it's like a child, sending them off to school like, "Good luck out there in the world! You now have to live without me, and there's nothing I can do." It's like that kind of feeling.

The artistic landscape has shifted dramatically in your career and is going to continue to. What would your advice be for the next generation of artists?

One big shift is all these examples of people getting famous quickly because of the Internet, and kind of going global quickly. One thing I worry about a little bit is people investing in what they have right around them, because that's what's sustaining you on a very basic physical level. And if what's sustaining you is only online ... it seems thin to me. It's great if you're in total isolation, but one thing about being in isolation is you get to be the only person in your town doing that thing. You get to be the central figure and inspire other people to do it.

I guess I would always advise people to do what they could do on that day with the tools they have around them, and that includes the internet, but also all of the physical spaces around them and all the people and their town. Those are unique resources that no one else has. They, in a way, are what makes you different.