Exploring creativity

University graduate Billy Mullaney curated “Uncreativity Festival,” a variety show exploring “uncreative” works.

Jackie Renzetti

Hunched over the table, Billy Mullaney recited descriptions off the wine menu using poetic rhythm.

Lately, Mullaney said, he’s looked at everyday text for meanings beyond their conventional use.

On Friday and Saturday, the 2011 University of Minnesota graduate will present “Uncreativity Festival,” a variety show highlighting excerpts from six different authors and playwrights, including Mullaney. All of the works involve erasing or selecting portions of pre-existing work to create something new.

“It sounds silly, but there’s something to get from it aesthetically in a way. Ostensibly, they wrote [a menu] to sell wine. But we can read it as a poem and hear it in different ways,” Mullaney said.

Eight local performers will read excerpts from Sibyl Kempson, Tom Comitta and Sam Hertz. In between the readings, a filmed performance of Erin Pike’s “Thatswhatshesaid” and Max Wirsing’s “Brokeback Mountain Without the Gays” will show. Mullaney will perform selections from three of his developing projects.

After digging into Kenneth Goldsmith’s work, Mullaney began working with the idea of uncreativity. Goldsmith is known for selecting bits from pre-existing text and combining them into a new work under the label of poetry.

“When I hear something is poetry, it makes me listen to it and think about the aesthetics behind it, instead of just the information behind it,” Mullaney said.

In “Semester,” a work Mullaney is still developing, he performs memorized quantum physics lectures that an MIT professor posted online. He explains the equations while writing them on the board before an audience.

“When it’s taken out of the space of [a college lecture], you can just hear it for the aesthetic, poetic value of the sounds and the hieroglyphics of the equations and hear it as poetry instead of information text,” Mullaney said.

Mullaney said the act of lecturing on subject matter he doesn’t understand might prompt questions about types of knowledge.

“A lot of people are like, ‘Why? You don’t even understand it,’” Mullaney said. “But I find it aesthetically exciting. And also there’s a ritual to saying all of the symbols.”

While tutoring students in math and science for his day job, Mullaney recognized the potential of expositional setups in word problems.

In another piece, Mullaney drew the first sentences of geometry word problems and strung them together. He recites the sentences one after the other.

The third piece consists of songs and monologues from Mullaney’s working full performance of an entire “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” episode.

Rather than imitating Mr. Rogers comically, Mullaney strives for an accurate portrayal of the iconic character.

“Contemporarily, the gesture of being genuine to someone is very off-putting,” Mullaney said. “We’re used to the ironic gesture, the punchline.”

In addition to maintaining Rogers’ characteristic earnestness, Mullaney also wants to explore Rogers’ mantra that everyone is special.

“As a millennial, I’m told that I believe that I’m special, and he tends to be someone that gets a bad rep for telling people that we are special,” Mullaney said. “So what I’m interested in doing — I found a thing where he’s like, ‘You’re special.’ So I’m like, ‘Here it is; do you disagree with this?’”

Erin Pike, who contributed her filmed performance of “Thatswhatshesaid,” said Mullaney’s honest depiction of Mr. Rogers may interest audiences because of the strong pop culture relevance already associated with the personality.

“I think there’s an interesting thing that happens when it happens live,” Pike said. “It throws your balance off and could give you some really cool insight and looking into something in a new way because it’s being shown to you in a different context.”


What: Uncreativity Festival

When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: Bryant Lake Bowl Theater, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis

Cost: $10-$15