::: Spokaoke

Spokaoke (formerly Spoken Karaoke) is a participatory event that invites people to perform speeches as they would ordinarily perform songs in a karaoke bar.


Hundreds of texts are available on the karaoke system and arranged in a catalogue that audience members can peruse. Some of the texts available are familiar to the point of iconic status (“I have a dream,” “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” etc); others may be less well known. Texts come from a wide variety of sources and eras - Socrates’ trial speech, Sojourner Truth “Ain’t I a Woman,” Col. Qaddafi at the United Nations, etc. All texts are to be performed in English.


If traditional karaoke offers an occasion to assert shared ownership of the pop music corpus, and simultaneously an opportunity to announce one’s identity through the choice of material to perform, can Spoken Karaoke establish a shared corpus of spoken texts? Will this kind of unrehearsed, amateur speech-making encourage a new understanding of the mechanics of oratory? What can we see of gesture, inflection, rhythm? Placing these speeches back to back lays bare the manipulative affective procedure of rhetoric. The project gives an opportunity to play with the legacy of spoken artifacts, treating snippets and snatches of public address like a Top 40 radio of the collective discourse.


Hearing these speeches in relation to each other reveals new connections between them; these distinct moments of socio-historical urgency collide with each other at each performance in unpredictable and unexpected ways. Each speech proposes a utopia – whether it be a nationalist unity of ethnic purity, a lost paradise of aristocratic virtue, a future of economic justice, an end to war or the glory of victory. The act of performance resurrects these old political ghosts – traumas and triumphs both re-animated by the living enactor.


Significantly, the piece makes palpable the taut links between the politics of performance and the performance of politics. Each speech is not only a historical document, but also a highly emotional monologue, intended to persuade the audience to collective action. The speeches conjure a temporary community around these articulated dreams, creating an implied “us” out of the mass of listeners.


But the contemporary “us” is in dialectic tension with the imagined “us” of the speech’s original delivery. Heard again, with our contemporary ears, the texts resonate with lost hope, vicious irony and historical contradiction. 


Spokaoke premiered within the frame of “The Truth is Concrete,” a 7-day marathon on political performance at the Steirischer Herbst Festival (Graz, Austria) in September, 2012. 


Created by Annie Dorsen

Sound Design: Vladimir Kudryatsev and Uli Ertl

Assistance: Lola Harney

Management: Alexandra Rosenberg



::: screenings / performances

Steirischer Herbst, Graz: September 21-28, 2012

Prelude Festival, NY: October 4, 2012

Oslo Black Box: March 16, 2013

BIT Teatergarasjen: March 22, 2013

Crossing the Line Festival, NYC: September 21, 2013

Rietveld Academie, Amsterdam: March 22, 2015

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago: October 27&28, 2015