Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mike Follert: the Baritone Sociologist

Mike Follert is an academic superstar with powerful pipes. From singing with Tafelmusik to teaching Sociology students about Judith Butler or Slavoj Zizek at Toronto's York University, Mike has one of the most diverse bios of all the Rat King cast members. Often he comes to rehearsal with new philosophical interpretations of the script, notions which he generously imagines that the author had in mind all along. When the author heaps compliments on him, PhD Candidate Follert confesses, "I am bashful." He will be at NYU one week before the Rat King Rock Opera opens, presenting a paper about "Catastrophe and the City," specifically about Hurricane Katrina, at the IVSA Conference. (Mike Follert potrait by Lee Towndrow, 2006)

The Daily Rat: How did you get involved with The Rat King?

Mike Follert: Maggie asked me after i ran into her at her book launch party a couple years ago.

Rat: What is your role in the show?

Mike: Bashful rat.

Rat: What other creative and/or political projects have you been involved with recently?

Mike: I co-starred in a series of black and white posters advocating healthy relationships and respect toward queer and/or interracial couples for Queen’s University during my final year there. The nudity was tasteful.

Rat: What themes in The Rat King resonate most with you?

Mike: INCEST! well, more as a backdrop to the story than anything that we really witness; but to my mind it is such a core theme. In a strange way (and i appologize in advance for geeking out) societies have historically imagined their origins through incest. if we consider Greek mythology, Gaea bore Uranus and later mated with him to produce most of the original gods. We can also think about the Adam and Eve parable, which suggests a kind of necessary incest by some initial 'begetting' (and this litany of begettings is imitated by the father in the show, Ed, in at least one version of the Rat King script...).

Ed takes on the status of one of these mythical figures - like the primal father who has access to all women in the 'tribe'; the kind that Freud supposes to have existed before there was 'society' (and therefore, before there ever was a social taboo around incest). Yet Ed exists in this strange space of aspiring to be a great progenitor and living in a society that he has not himself begotten; society or some administrative body, though somewhat in ruins, still exists around him in some form (someone must be administering the person's cards; someone or something must be keeping the phones running...even if this remains a mystery); his goal is to resuscitate an existing, though weakened, social order.

Seeing himself in such vaulted, mythological terms, he proceeds perversely (or père-versely, i.e., in the 'version of the father'), in his first attempts to repopulate the human race, to violate the primordial taboo around incest - the one taboo that social anthropologists find to be universal and, in a sense, foundational to society [foundational to the psyche even, if we think about the Oedipus crisis (i.e., no mother-fucking)].

More importantly, though, the state of the family in the Rat King imitates the very crisis afflicting the West, which by the hubris of science and rationality comes to shoot itself in the foot. crises are ironically brought about under the pretenses of progress: technological advancement in the past leads to some great environmental catastrophe; incest in the present intended to repopulate the species threatens to blur the very familial distinctions (father, daughter, mother, sister) that are constitutive of the stable kinship structures of a society; and the pesticidal machine intended to vanquish vermin in the future is doomed to further destroy the fragile ecosystem (lest we forget Marx: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce”).

All dark humour aside – plentiful as it is in the script - the incest alluded to in the show brings catastrophe to its most intimate, disturbing level; ecological catastrophe becomes embodied by the devolving relations of the Cannon family.

Oh, cannibalism, the three-armed mute boy and the flamboyant suitor are also great themes...i wish i could choose more than one...a testament to the richness and intelligence of Maggie's script!

Rat: Never apologize for geeking out! You've hit the nail on the head. Again!

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