MEDIAN DOGS, Adrian Williams’ half-hour audioplay, is an exploration of decisions made for personal gain versus public interest. The performance utilizes the tensions created between music and dialogue to reinforce the fictionalized conflict of total privatization of education in the United States. Collaborations with local community members, musicians, and actors in creating the narrative and music construct an environment in which the distinctions between performer and spectator are blurred.
Unlike traditional radio plays, MEDIAN DOGS is intended to be viewed. The performance occurs in the center of the gallery on the same floor where the audience stands, softening the boundary between actor and observer. Action revolves primarily around a rectangular table, where four seated actors are surrounded by four musicians, blending voice and music that is intermittently harmonious and hostile.
Composer Theodor Köhler, with whom Williams has collaborated on previous performances and film soundtracks, wrote the music that is the basis for the audioplay’s score. While the composition has been rehearsed, the live piece is not static, but rather reflects the current moments in which it is being performed. The two percussionists use a variety of materials to create a soundscape that allows for individualized projections of setting and action within the collective audience. Adjacent to the table and chairs in the gallery are two facing pianos, one in tune and the other a quarter-tone below. Inconsistencies in the independent voice are revealed when paired with the tuned piano, mimicking the fallibility of an isolated individual’s actions for the good of the community.
Conversations with local educational organizations, prompted by discourse about the privatization of education, provided the content for the dialogue. Williams combined excerpts from transcribed conversations to create the three-act script. Struggle in the debate is palpable, heightened and diffused by the interweaving of narration and music. The intimacy of the space and the viewer’s internally constructed reality draw the audience into the social conflict; their emotional response, energy, and attention to the improvisation creates a communal experience.
Following the completion of a live performance of the audioplay, the stage remains set and the performers are replaced with a manually operated recording and headphones. To listen to the audio, visitors occupy the positions of the actors. Without the experience of witnessing the public presentation of the audioplay, the visitor contemplates the conflict in isolation and creates his or her own connections between the objects in the room and the actors’ assumed movements.