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Spokaoke | Annie Dorsen


Spokaoke, Annie Dorsen
Photo by Brittany Buogiorno

Spokaoke is a participatory event that invites you to perform famous and lesser-known speeches they would ordinarily perform songs in a karaoke bar. Hundreds of texts are available on the karaoke system and arranged in a catalog that audience members can peruse with some familiar to the point of iconic status (“I have a dream,” “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” etc). Texts come from a wide variety of sources and eras—Socrates’ trial speech, Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman,” Col. Qaddafi at the United Nations. Spokaoke 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. All texts are to be performed in English.

Spokaoke will be MCed by Kentrell Curry.

These performances are part of TIME BEING, our inaugural festival of performance taking place during opening weekend.


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

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.


Annie Dorsen is a director and writer whose works explore the intersection of algorithms and live performance. Her most recent project, THE SLOW ROOM, premiered at Performance Space New York in Fall 2018. She is the co-creator of the 2008 Broadway musical PASSING STRANGE, which she also directed. In addition to awards for PASSING STRANGE, Dorsen received a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2016 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grant to Artists Award, the 2014 Herb Alpert Award for the Arts in Theater, and a 2008 OBIE Award. She is a Visiting Professor in Theater and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago.


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