As I began to write about Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble for a section of the essay ‘Karaoke Theatre: Channelling Mediated Lives’ that appears in the ‘Encountering the Digital’ issue of Contemporary Theatre Review, I was fascinated by their innovative approach to media and performance, having seen their work, The Art of Luv, (Part 1). I knew when I saw them that their work was something different, merging the contemporary media with a sense of history; they were both funny and fragile, ironic and sincere, I hadn’t seen work like theirs before and knew I wanted to write about them. In the piece I saw I was entertained by their ability to mix the tragic and comic in their work—I figured, these guys have a sense of humour! My interest led me to ask if they’d like to do an interview for this on-line section of CTR and I sent them some questions I’d like to ask that I thought would complement the article. Their response took me by surprise when they asked:
Do you think you’d be up for making a video with us? We could frame it as a recorded Skype conversation, or using some other online collaborative tool. My original thought was to have you record these questions and others along with some generic or specific responses, which we would edit in as though we were on a Skype call. It would be in our own highly artificial style, so not sure you’re looking for something factual or fun… But that was my first impulse.
So what we have recorded (I recorded and they edited) is both factual and fun, a bit tongue-in-cheek, and in the end, my cat even had to get in on the action. The video shows ROKE’s playful side but also gives a glimpse of their approach to making work. Their editing shows an interest in how media shapes our life, from the framing of ourselves within an old Palm Pilot type device, to their interest in karaoke as a channelling of pop culture that has a history of gods and goddesses being channelled through poets. Through the video you also have an opportunity to see glimpses of their range of work from The Art of Luv (Part 1), which I wrote about, to their most recent piece, The Art of LUV (Part 5): Swipe Right / ROKE Cupid, which premiered in May 2017. Keep an eye out for this company as they continue to channel their inspiration through the ‘magic’ of media.
– Jen Parker-Starbuck
About Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble (Tei Blow and Sean McElroy)
ROKE is a musical priesthood that explores the metaphysics and mythologies of love, desire, and courtship at the end of the 20th century. By appropriating strategies of installation art, opera, and theater, ROKE uses multimedia, movement, and original music to create modern-day rituals from found text and video sources. ROKE was formed when Brown hosted Oberlin for the 2001 Liberal Arts Spring Fling. They went on to cement their partnership a year later when they both enrolled in the low-residency Masters program in Women’s Studies at Stanford-Hofstra-University of Phoenix-Online. All of their performance work is a development of their collaborative thesis project, Isis As-Is: Du Darwinisme Féminin au Post-Humanisme. ROKE was awarded Best Original Song Not Written by Thoth in 2561 by the Horus Council, and nominated for Best Underwater Spectacle in 2057 for their performance He is I, A Man’s Story, which premiered at the annual Opening of the Mouth Ceremony at the Temple of Khonsu in Thebes.
ROKE has performed rituals at The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival, The Guggenheim Museum, FringeArts (Philadelphia), Under the Radar’s Incoming! Series, Gibney Dance Center, Kate Werble Gallery, Special Effects Festival at Participant Inc., Prelude Festival, AUNTS Arts@Renaissance, and JACK. ROKE received a 2016 Creative Capital award for The Art of Luv series, and has been awarded a Franklin Furnace Fund grant (2013) and a BAX Space Grant (2014). They were part of the Public Theater’s Devised Theater Working Group and PS122’s RAMP residency program. They spent the summer of 2014 at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and were 2015 CUNY Hunter Artists-in-Residence in ceramics.
ROKE’s next projects include a Steve Reich/Wilhelm Reich tribute album produced in collaboration with Kanye West, and The Art of Luv (Part 5): ROKE Cupid, which premiered in May of 2017 at The Bushwick Starr in Brooklyn, NY.
Professor Jennifer Parker-Starbuck is the Head of Department of Drama, Theatre, and Performance at the University of Roehampton, London. She is the author of Cyborg Theatre (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), Performance and Media: Taxonomies for a Changing Field (with S. Bay-Cheng and D. Saltz, University of Michigan Press, 2015), and co-editor of Performing Animality: Animals in Performance Practices (with L. Orozco, Palgrave, 2015). She is the Editor of Theatre Journal.