Sex Public and Private: Artist lovers bring STORY OF MY EYE to the Fringe

In a world over-saturated by porn and hypersexualized media still squeamish about sexuality, how can anyone have a healthy romantic and sexual relationship? Zach Trebino and Jenni Messner are lovers and artistic collaborators. Their new show STORY OF MY EYE interrogates human sexuality, taboos, consumer culture, and the pervasive influence of media on private behavior to address these questions. In a 60-minute spectacle of trangressive theater, they enact sexual fantasies with food, stage competitive game shows, share stories, and question the very performance as it’s being performed. Sounds like a seriously good Fringe time. Phindie talked to Zach and Jenni to find out more. [Kung Fu Necktie, 1250 N. Front Street] September 7-12, 2016; storyofmyeye.com; fringearts.com/story-of-my-eye.

Zack's MFA Project

Um, the STORY OF MY EYE.

Phindie: Hi, could you answer a few questions?

Zach Trebino & Jenni Messner: Yes, maybe.

Phindie: Hum, okay. What colored eyes do you have?

Zach: I prefer not to use the word “colored” for my eyes. It’s a bit of an outdated word. I would say that my eyeballs are eyeballs of color. And they’re green, actually. So I’m always envious.

Jenni: My eyes are hazel – green/brown.

Zach: I think they’re blue-grey.

Jenni: Green-brown.

Zach: …I look at your eyes a lot more than you do…

Phindie: Does STORY OF MY EYE have anything to do with the story of your eye? 

Jenni: Well, if you’re going to get technical, I do think that the story of story of my eye is Zach’s perspective on coming to terms with the consumption of grotesque media – like hardcore pornography, reality television, game shows, internet videos… Ingesting so much media-garbage has de-sensitized him to certain kinds of graphic images, and Zach is asking himself – through making and performing the show – “how can I form a healthy and happy relationship to my own sexuality, my own mortality, and my own objectification after having devoured this media frenzy?”

Zach: Yeah, that’s true. And it sounds kind of heavy. But we have a lot of fun with it. The show is episodic; there’s not really a story (and if you take away any story, the story is that Jenny and Zack are putting on a show for you).

Jenni: Not to give away too much, but some bits from the show include an early morning aerobic game show about embarrassing sexual experiences, preparing a sex salad, a TV Overture playing reels of Everything-That-Bothers-Everybody-Ever, actual letters written by the real Jenni and Zach, orthodontic cheek retractors, lederhosen, a t-shirt cannon, google eye glasses, a ‘natural’ cooking show, and much much more!

Zach: And all jam-packed in a frenetic 60-minute show!

Phindie: What inspired it?

Jenni: It all started with Georges Bataille’s novel The Story of the Eye, really. It’s like 50 Shades of Grey for the French Surrealists. The two main characters in the novel eat bull testicles and have sex on top of a corpse and do a lot of pissing on each other.

Zach: Well, it didn’t start there for us, just for me.

Phindie: That sounds like a great show for kids and grandparents?

Zach: Yeah, we love kids.

Jenni: Zach loves kids.

Zach: Yeah, it’s a shame I’m not allowed within 200 feet a playground anymore.

Jenni: We were just at this festival called Fields Festival where we did story of my eye at 1 am in a barn, and there was this adorable old nudist couple there. The guy had a beard down to his knees and was always barefoot, pushing his wife around in a wheel chair to see all the music and theater happening, so it’s definitely for grandparents.

Zack's MFA Project

Zach Trebino and Jenni Messner in STORY OF MY EYE.

Phindie: I liked the phrase “pseudo-sincerity” in your description. What does that mean to you and how do we rid the world of it?

Zach: I think all there is is “pseudo-sincerity,” and frankly, I’m not sure I’m interested in ridding the world of it.

Jenni: I disagree.

Zach: I was about to go off on a rant about post-structuralism, but I’ll swallow that and offer this as a thesis and example: In an era of dense mediatization (where TV, film, advertising, YouTube, et cetera inundate us), we perpetuate an illusion of reality, performing roles we’ve already seen be played at every moment. We are hardly in touch with legitimate desires and actual instincts because we are unconsciously imitating things we’ve seen before…

Jenni: I disagree.

Zach: And so, for example, even if I say to myself “I am hungry right now,” the next step in that process – asking myself “what food should I eat?” or, perhaps more importantly, “what food do I want to eat?” – even if my answer to my own question feels completely sincere, it isn’t. My thought processes – the executors of my desires – have been commandeered. What I want is not really what I want even if I feel very deeply it is what I want. Hence, pseudo-sincerity.

Jenni: Generally speaking, I disagree with Zach.

Phindie: It sometimes seems like there are no real taboos left. What are the most dangerous or odious of those which remain?

Jenni: Gosh, I think there are still a lot of taboos. I think it depends who you hang out with or whose posts are on your newsfeed. A lot of us twenty-somethings basically only talk to other twenty-somethings who have the same liberal opinions and who want to be PC and sexually open-minded. And then we’re shocked to find out that a lot of this country supports ideologies that cast things we warmly welcome as parts of our normative existence as dire taboos. But think, I can’t even show my boobs on Instagram. I probably couldn’t put up a picture of a dirty tampon (it’s not even “dirty;” it would just be blood). Plus, political correctness creates a whole new series of taboos – you can’t say this or that… Every group has its own taboos. Race is still taboo, definitely. Just talking about it unsettles people. And, as we get more medically advanced, we get further removed from the realities of the animal body, and I think the death taboo is probably as strong as ever. The way we paint up corpses for the coffin! Euphemisms like “she passed;” I have a friend who says “so-and-so transcended.”

Phindie: Oh. So it’s still possible to epater le bourgoisie?

Zach: Yes, I think so, actually. I’ve been meaning to drink some syrup of ipecac, walk past expensive sidewalk cafes, and vomit directly onto people’s food. I think that would shock the bourgeoisie.

Jenni: Also, a cattle prod, poorly wired bathroom lighting fixtures, dropping a 4-slice toaster in a claw footed bathtub, a 9-volt battery to the tongue…

Phindie: What do you like about your Fringe venue? How does it fit the piece?

Jenni: Kung Fu Necktie is divey and kitschy and wonderful, and it suits us very well.

Zach: It’s not a theatrical space at all, so it lets us really get intimate with the audience.

Jenni: They can’t really choose not to play with us at Kung Fu Necktie.

Zach: Yeah, while in other venues, our show has felt a bit like a high-art theatrical spectacle, the environment at Kung Fu Necktie will lend our show the air of a dirty cabaret performance, and we think that that will really dial up the fun for everyone.

Phindie: Do you have any other picks for this year’s festival?

Zach: My nose, mostly.

Jenni: Zach!

Zach: Okay, so my/our picks include:
1. Romeo Castellucci/Societas Rafaello Sanzio’s Julius Caesar.Spared Parts. Castellucci is one of my favorite directors/creators. The scale of his work is astounding. I’ve seen the last 2 pieces of his that Fringe Arts brought and they’re always incredible.
2. Applied Mechanic’s Feed. I haven’t seen much of their work (I was out of Philly for a few years), but I was really struck with The Overseers when I saw it in the 2011 Fringe Festival.
3. The Berserker Resident’s I Fucking Dare You seems like it’ll be a good time.

Phindie: Thanks!

THE STORY OF MY EYE
Kung Fu Necktie
1250 N. Front Street
Philadelphia, PA 19126
September 7th @ 7:30pm
September 10th @ 5:30pm & 7:30pm
September 11th @ 5:30pm & 7:30pm
September 12th @ 7:30pm
storyofmyeye.com
fringearts.com/story-of-my-eye

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About the author

Christopher Munden

Your faithful correspondent and publisher Christopher Munden has written and edited for many publications, websites, and cultural institutions. He was an editor/publisher of the Philly Fiction book series, collections of short stories written by local writers and set in Philadelphia. He's also a soccer coach and a pretty good skier.