On a Loop, and in the Loo: Turning a Restroom into a Microcinema for a Day

What is it like to screen a film in a restroom? I can now answer that question! On May 11, 2018, I installed (above) a 7-inch tablet looping our short film, Lessons from Exes, in the restroom at Crows Coffee South Plaza in Kansas City. Lessons from Exes is an anthology of very short personal stories about practical lessons that women have learned from former romantic partners, and so the idea here was to try exhibiting the film in a way uniquely suited to the film’s content and spirit. Would other women (and men, as it was a unisex restroom), upon discovering a film in this unexpected place, take a few minutes to watch and listen to one of these stories? Or would one of them simply take the tablet?

The Crows Coffee restroom appealed to me as a venue for Lessons for two reasons: One, the restroom was well-scrawled with graffiti (see above), so there was already a multiplicity of “voices” present to which to add the voices of our film. Two, I suspected that the owners would not be too afraid lest my installation plan blemish the walls. The owner did caution that he would not assume any risk for theft or damage of the installation (which I assumed also). With that sole caveat, it was a go!

So here’s how it looked:

On that sign above the tablet, I had the usual information about the film, plus an invitation for viewers to call a number and leave a 90-second voicemail describing their own lesson from an ex. Absent a plan to stake out the restroom door all day and ask exiting patrons whether they had watched the movie and what they thought, I wanted a way to collect some kind of audience response and feedback. Offering an opportunity to record one’s own lesson-from-an-ex audio story seemed like a great idea! My intention, also stated on the sign, was to post all voicemails collected that day here on the RocketBlog.

But I didn’t get any voicemails of lessons from an ex. Nary a one. No voicemails of any other variety, even.

However, I did get another sort of feedback:

So at least one person wanted the movie out of there, but I don’t know why. Or maybe they wanted just the sign itself removed. In which case, I obliged by removing this sign, and replacing it with a clean copy. The clean copy remained unmarked, and unremarked, for the rest of the day.

This message did make me realize, belatedly, that the make-your-own-lesson-from-an-ex-audio-recording mode of feedback was likely just not well-suited to the space. People were already used to writing on the walls in here, so simply posting a blank sheet of paper next to the tablet would probably have elicited some (more) written comments.

In creating this exhibition, I did consider the audience experience quite a bit, but I didn’t consider the filmmaker’s experience. Frankly, having no gauge of audience response was unsatisfying. When I sit with an audience watching my film in a theater, I can sense how it’s going over. Even when I post a film on Vimeo with comments disabled, I can at least see how many times it’s been played, and played to the end. Here, it was hard to know what was happening. But then, likely that is as it should be, given that we are talking about a private restroom.

Thanks to Angie Jennings, Crows art curator, and Zach Moores, Crows owner, for generously allowing our film into their space. Thanks also to Caitlin Horsmon, the Lessons co-director who also came up with the idea to screen Lessons in a restroom. And thanks to the other Lessons co-directors Misti Boland, Meg Jamieson, and Mary C. Taylor, and to all of the women in Kansas City and Lawrence who gave interviews for the film.

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