Arts Interview: Compassionate Anarchy

Adam Burnett Delivers A Piece That's “Part Monologue, Part Magic Act, Part Drag Show, Part Karaoke”

Maggie Grimason
3 min read
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Playwright Adam Burnett is headed to Albuquerque with an important message, a message delivered from the persona of Dolly Dali, a mash-up of Salvador Dalí and Dolly Parton. Believe it. The surrealist author of the likes of Mammoth penned The Dolly Dali Show! in a furor, offering up, with great urgency, a response to the recent election. He unpacked some of his message in anticipation of the show’s visit to Tricklock (110 Gold SW) on Dec. 22.

Alibi: What can you tell us about the content of the show?

Burnett: My attempt, over the course of the hour, is to collectively prompt a reconsideration of our narratives as a culture. A fellow artist friend of mine used the phrase “compassionate anarchy” the other day: I think that’s the thrust of this work. I am using the persona of Dolly Dali to ask for help throughout the performance, and in asking for help, building a space for compassion.

What was the process of writing this like?

I wrote it in a mad dash, one week after the elections. Half of it on a plane ride to Albuquerque. The other half the morning after. … Oftentimes I spend at least a year or two on a play. This one took four hours. The other catch of this work is that I will never rehearse it. … Not rehearsing ensures my vulnerability and that the audience is enlisted to help me get through it. … The act of rehearsal is filled with the intention of manipulation. … I am not interested in my performance success or the success of the work, but rather what happens in the space with me and the audience. All I can do is be present and listen.

How does it address the current political climate?

I think there is a lot of fear from many communities in this country. There is a helplessness at something so large. It’s important to talk and respond. Things happen quickly, as history tells us, that resistance and vigilance must be a daily activity. … My resounding thought is this: I have to talk about this now because I may not be able to talk about this a year from now. Who knows where I will be, who I will need to be helping, or what conditions I will be living under. I know that sounds alarmist but we must have the hard conversations now and not later. The Dolly Dali Show! is an avenue to do this. The piece itself is cushioned in the arena of theater and performance. The participatory acts are ones of recognition, kindness and love. I ask audiences to see me and to see each other. I ask us all to consider plurality. There are no politicians named. There are no biases. This is truly a space for inclusive resistance.

What is the role of art when it comes to politics and resistance?

It is in plurality: to comfort and discomfort, to settle and unsettle, to react and to restrain, to resist and to unguard. Arts are equipped with such great sensitivity and this is our greatest tool in activism and resistance. I feel a great amount of responsibility as an artist right now. And the truth is,
The Dolly Dali Show! is only the answer right now. I don’t know if it will be the answer next month. But I have to set myself the task to share this work with urgency because it is what I have to offer.
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