In The Junket, playing March 14th-April 20th at The Lynn Redgrave Theater, writer and performer Mike Albo presents the thinly veiled autobiographical story of a fictional Mike Albo. Fired from the imaginary paper, The New York Tomes, for accepting a swag-filled all-expense-paid trip to Jamaica, Albo examines ethical conflicts, our consumer-centric culture and the challenges of being an artist.
SARFATY: Tell me a little bit about The Junket.
ALBO: It's a survival story. It examines whether, as a creative person in New York City, you should keep pursuing your dream -- or just hang it up.
SARFATY: The dilemma of artists for centuries.
ALBO: More specifically, it's a profile of a freelance writer in our compromised economy. He works for a paper called The New York Tomes. The writer makes fun of the idea that he's going to get in trouble for the show -- that the Tomes won't like it.
SARFATY: I suspect the Tomes may not.
ALBO: Well, I say to them that if writers work for you, but you're not going to fully support them -- provide benefits, health insurance, etc. -- then the writers should be free. Their time is their own.
SARFATY: And the paper doesn't agree?
ALBO: Look, I understand conflicts of interest and journalistic ethics. I made sure that I wasn't attending the junket as a writer for the Times.
SARFATY: So it was clear to the junket organizers that you were there on your own?
ALBO: I made no promises as to where anything I wrote about would be published. I did give them a list of my media outlets -- which did not include the Times. Unfortunately, my being on the trip got into an online gossip column, a big thing was made out of it -- and I got fired.
SARFATY: Do you think it was personal?
ALBO: I think it's part of New Media trying to take down Old Media -- the blogosphere versus established journalism. It was the year that The Rocky Mountain News closed and the first time The Boston Globe ever reported a loss. It seemed like the end of print media -- everyone was scared, so I got screwed. I was an easy target. The story was done to show the hypocrisy of the Times.
SARFATY: Since you purposely didn't include the Times on your list, I'm guessing you thought it might be an issue. Why not just skip the trip?
ALBO: I was curious about these brand-soaked orgy fests. I wanted to know if they're really effective in getting product into people's hands. In the show I say, "We're living inside a big plastic pig of consumerism." I started seeing banners for products everyplace. It's our "reality" -- but it's not reality. Corporations are everywhere. They're like our Chairman Mao -- and I'm fascinated by the ways we're being controlled and guided.
SARFATY: Chairman Mao? Is it that bad?
ALBO: We're not going to get shot in the head, but it's controlling us and I'm trying to articulate that. I think that what happened to me shows part of the problem. I wasn't fitting into the system, playing the game right. You have to be very careful to play the game right.
SARFATY: So, in The Junket, you're trying to show the problems navigating the system?
ALBO: Yes, but it's also personal. The thing for me is, "How much longer can I pull this off?" That's a question that speaks to all of us who are struggling to live in a city that's expensive and excessive. I have to take work where I can get it. I have $319 in my bank account.
SARFATY: It's a hard city, no doubt.
ALBO: It was a hard year in general for me. I got fired -- which happened on top of a breakup. I had a snazzy boyfriend and I thought I might be slipping into that luxury lifestyle that hovers around us -- you know, people who can nonchalantly spend $65 for a SoulCycle class or buy an $11 cold-pressed juice. It made me really realize that I'm not elegant enough. I'm an artist. I don't have the right makeup for that life. It's not my reality. I'm kind of confused by how money works.
SARFATY: New York's definitely a money place.
ALBO: Yes, and it's filled with people -- I call them underminers, like the best friend who makes you feel suicidal about yourself -- people who are effortlessly successful. I was writing in 2010, the height of the age of excess. It was always about, "Who is affording this and that?" Then things crashed, and all of those people were all like, "We have to live within our means!" And I kept thinking, "No, motherfucker. You have to live within MY means! I've been living this way all along."
The Lynn Redgrave Theater is located at 45 Bleecker Street (at Lafayette), New York City. General tickets are available for $35, and premium tickets for $55. Student tickets can be purchased for $25, and rush tickets are available for $20 on a first come first serve basis.