Future St., a multimedia theater work by Alexandro Segade performed at the Broad museum in Los Angeles last week, opened with a euphoric presentation of propaganda for a future state called Clonofornia. Holograms appeared on screens as a leader from the imagined land spoke in praise of a “fully functioning homo-society where men”—whether clone or naturally born—“can come together freely and fully.” Then a pair of jumpsuit-clad actors danced and sang: “Welcome to everyman’s land—let’s start a boy band!”
Segade, who wrote and co-starred in Future St., began imagining the clone-run world of Clonofornia as far back as 2010, in work involving government-controlled music groups, a gay police state, and a male leader who decides to transition out of his gender identity. The latest performance brought together seven years of speculative experiments and also marked the end of “The Tip of Her Tongue,” a feminist performance series at the Broad that started soon after the museum opened in 2015. Organized by critic and curator Jennifer Doyle, the series has brought a breed of risk-taking to the museum that its permanent-collection exhibitions have lacked. It began with Karen Finley, who hadn’t performed in L.A. since 1992, and has since included work by Heather Cassils, Xandra Ibarra, Jibz Cameron, and Tanya Tagiq. Segade, a longtime member of the cleverly political performance troupe My Barbarian, is the first male-identified artist in the series.
“It was important for me to loosen the assumption that people have about [feminism],” Doyle said of her curatorial choice. “I thought of Alex’s interest in a queer, of-color, and intersectional feminism in regard to science-fiction, and I thought it would be funny in a way to end with a world in which women had been obliterated.”
The women haven’t been obliterated, exactly—more like banished and imprisoned but with the capacity to eventually destabilize the homogenized, repressive regime of Clonofornia. “The initial impulse for this work was looking at the way gay marriage and the debate around that seemed to also hinge on class distinctions and cultural choices about identification,” Segade explained in a conversation after Future St.’s showing at the Broad. “We follow that logic and end up with Peter Thiel”—the gay Silicon Valley billionaire and vocal Trump supporter whom Segade regards among a class of “interesting figures, even if they are highly problematic.”
After Future St.’s propagandistic opening number, we were suddenly at home with a cloned father and son—among the few family dynamics possible in such a dystopia. The dad berated his child: “Your outfit is off-brand!” The son, who went by the name Baby Jihad, responded: “I’m not trying to impress you.” He wanted instead to impress a trans woman, a resistor determined to take down Clonofornia’s “mono-culture.” He would soon meet her in an alley, and also meet Sonny, an aging non-clone played by Segade. Sonny would end up in prison for having an extramarital dalliance with Baby Jihad and, while there, discover that his imprisoned mother leads the resistance, using telepathy to infiltrate Clonofornia’s regime.
That might seem like a lot for an audience to hold on to, but the comically lyrical dialogue and strategic repetition in Segade’s writing made his world’s nuances surprisingly legible: marriage is requisite, extramarital sex requires a permit, off-brand clothes are illegal, mothers are telepathic, and non-clones are rare. It helped that the actors performed with complete commitment to Clonofornia’s peculiarities.
As can happen with dystopian narratives, Future St. felt weirdly prescient, especially since Segade began to develop his story about a version of despotic gay nationalism (or regionalism, in this case) before the alt-right rose to its current prominence and Milo Yiannopolous became a sensation. Neither surprised Segade. “I saw both of those kinds of things starting in queer culture and geek culture,” he said, noting that he wanted to speak to the ways in which fascistic impulses are seductive. About Future St., he said, “I feel like the kind of trends that it’s talking about have been going on for a while and are continuing. I think we already have a sense of what we’ll face.”
Doyle, the curator, said she had considered including Segade’s work in the series before the 2016 election, but it proved differently resonant after. Or perhaps the narrative simply seems less outlandish. “As the political story of our lives is taking shape, it made a lot of sense,” Doyle said of a performance that considers intersections between liberation movements and neoliberal ideologies. “It’s kind of heavy-handed and not, at the same time.”
In the midst of Future St., a cloned official interrogated Sonny. “You know, historically, homosexual societies failed because they did not support stable marriage,” the clone said. Sonny, taken from his mother as a child and now married to a lawyer named Peter who is prosecuting him, had earlier defended the homosexual police state. “Clonofornia has been good to me,” he told the trans resistance leader. She replied, “You are oppressed and you don’t even know it.”
As the performance came to a close, Sonny started hearing the voice of his own mother inside his head. She soothed him, reminded him of the “outside,” and then Clonofornia began to fall. Thunder arrived, followed by waves of radiation, and something was destroyed—though it’s not entirely clear what.