Just Don’t Stop!
Just Don’t Stop!
The play Just Don’t Stop! written by the playwright and dramaturg Simone Hamer draws on the motifs of the American novel They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace Stanley McCoy (1897–1955), an author who was heavily influenced by the sordid themes of the Great Depression, such as the daily struggle for survival, constant unemployment, the ruthless world of show business in which only the fittest can survive, while everyone else can easily sink into oblivion. The production, in turn, illuminates the individual’s search for meaning and purpose in his or her existence, which is constantly challenged by the absurdity and pervasive sense of alienation in the world as we know and help create it, both as individuals and as a community. The dazzling wit and incisive criticism of McCoy’s acclaimed novel come through in the form of an intriguing constellation of characters on the margins of society, while McCoy’s narrative reached a worldwide audience with the 1969 film adaptation directed by Sydney Pollack.
In an interview with Maja Borin, director Primož Ekart emphasised, among other things, that “we want to tell a story about people who are forced by existential hardship to participate in this dance marathon, where the winner is the one who survives this endless dance competition. I feel that these stories are already happening before our eyes and are already part of our time. In both the novel and the film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, the action takes place in the 1930s, the time of the great economic crisis in America and Europe, which was not only a difficult time with devastating unemployment and the daily struggle for existence, but also because of the subsequent rise of fascism, totalitarian systems, and populist authoritarian leaders who knew how to exploit the hopeless people by offering them a tempting but disastrous solution to their problems.”
As Simona Hamer, author of the text Just Don’t Stop! points out in her article for the theatre programme, “the intensity of the humiliating competition, designed to cause frustration, fear, pain, and false hope to multiply ceaselessly, and the possibility of dropping out and returning to an even crueller world, are precisely the two millstones that can eventually crush even an optimist like Robert. That he accedes to Gloria’s request for help in committing suicide – thereby condemning himself to the electric chair – can no longer be thought absurd but rather an act of mercy, just as his grandfather spared his horse the suffering after it broke its leg.”
McCoy’s characters, whose existential plight drives them deeper and deeper into hell, would today belong to the precariat, a class that makes up more than a quarter of the population in Western countries. But – who or what exactly is the precariat? “The precariat lives in constant anxiety, in a chronic sense of insecurity related not only to be on the edge of one’s seat, knowing that a single mistake or accident can lead from a life of modest dignity to homelessness, but also to the fear of losing what one has already achieved, even if one may feel cheated not to have more. People are vulnerable and stressed, underemployed and overworked at the same time; they are alienated from their jobs and work, anaemic, insecure and desperate. In fear of losing what they have, they are constantly frustrated. They are also angry, but usually passively angry. The precarious mind, in turn, is constantly fed and motivated by fear.” (Standing)
The contemporary dance reality show Just Don’t Stop! directed by Primož Ekart unmasks the false, spectacular and seemingly shiny image of similar television productions and their shady mechanisms, which are usually driven by the greed of the producers and their exploitation of the participants, stripping them to the last layer of their privacy and draining their mental and physical strength to the brink of exhaustion.
Fran Žižek Hall