David J. Unger The logo for David J. Unger, writer and designer David J. Unger The logo for David J. Unger, writer and designer David J. Unger



Fail Again

The Point  •  July 2015

There’s a little time left before the show is supposed to start, and paying audience members are gathered outside the black-box theater behind the furniture store in Boulder, Colorado. Laura Ann Samuelson, who is in charge here, is worried about the garbage bags. She has passed around a box of them to the dozen or so of us who have arrived early—performers, crew, supporters and pre-performance hangers-on. We’ve been told to put them on like ponchos. First you poke a small hole for your head in the base of the bag, then you push your head through that hole, expanding it as you move through it. Then you reach your arms up and press a finger into each of the two corners, stretching the plastic seams until they begin to tear. Then you move your arms through each hole. Colin, a friend of a friend who’s here to make a documentary, screws it up. He makes the head hole way too big, so the bag is more like a strapless dress than a poncho. I help him fix it along with my other friend, Ethan. We bunch up the bag just below his armpits, bringing the straps up over his shoulders and stretching to tie them together. It works, though I worry it will constrict his blood flow.

The bags function surprisingly well as ponchos, but there is some trepidation as to why we must wear them in the first place, not to mention why black plastic and tape coat the windows, why the back wall of the stage is covered with a semi-transparent tarp, why there is a big bucket of sopping wet tomatoes onstage. Samuelson has something else on her mind, though. She’s worried that the bags’ false lavender scent will linger on attendees’ clothes. “Is that bad?” she asks.

There’s no time to dwell on it, so Samuelson continues fast-walking her crew through how all of this will unfold. She makes laps around the tiny black-box theater, appearing and reappearing amid the rows of fold-up chairs, or near the doors that swing out onto the parking lot behind the boutique furniture store/experimental arts space. Her cropped blond hair can’t keep up with her head as she spins in all sorts of directions, throwing her attention to this or that unresolved issue. She’s onstage with a pantomimed microphone in her hand, demonstrating how she’ll welcome the audience to this, the first night of Boulder’s first-ever Failure Festival. Most of her sentences begin with things like “What I think I’ll do…” or “I don’t know what…” or “I think I may…”

None of us could say we weren’t prepared for improvisation. The ads for the Failure Festival read more like warnings:

FAILURE FESTIVAL is an invitation. An invitation for you to help us engage failure in a public setting. We need you because we don’t know how to do it on our own. We don’t know whether to barrel towards it, argue with it, or sit on its lap. We don’t know if we should give it keys to our apartment, or ask it to apologize. Sometimes we cower in the corner. Sometimes we lie down and try to convince it that we are asleep… or dead.

Read the full piece at

The Point