Photo depicting John Coons in a gold sparkling jacket singing on stage.

‘BLEAK!’, a Satirical, Anti-Capitalist Song Cycle, Arrives in Seattle on May Day

by Victor Simoes

This May Day, the cabaret duo John Coons and Matt Aument are bringing BLEAK! Songs for the Not-Quite End of the World to Town Hall Seattle. The anti-capitalist satire that discusses humankind’s dystopian present will be a one-night-only event, with additional songs, instruments, guests, and new material specially crafted for a Seattle audience. 

The show, written primarily during the most acute time of the COVID-19 pandemic, takes its mood from an anxious time when the future seemed grim. Initially a one-person performance, it evolved with time and many iterations around New York City, where it was originally performed. Now with a three-piece band, BLEAK! addresses everything from climate change to Wall Street to technology to religion, subjects anyone could obsess over at any time. 

Coons explained that the show is designed to gently prod an audience that already agrees with a more anti-capitalist point of view. The main character and narrator of the story invites the audience to look at things for what they are: horrible. BLEAK! starts from the point of view that capitalism is destroying our communities, cities, and planet, but it delivers its message not with preachiness or heavy-handedness, but with a smile and a song. 

“It is my job then to say, ‘Okay, if we’re already on that first page, where do we go from here?’ and sometimes where you can go can be very humorous,” said Coons. “It’s a call to arms while also assuming that the demographic of people who attend this show will probably not be Wall Street bankers themselves.”

Who knew the end of the world could be such a gas? John Coons wears a gas mask during a musical number in “BLEAK!” (Photo: Austin Ruffer)

The date chosen for the performance — May 1 — was no coincidence. May Day is International Workers’ Day and might also be the last thing you hear as your ship is sinking — “Mayday,” the international distress call. This is very appropriate to the show’s political point of view and sense of humor. BLEAK! explores how humans try and fail to live in the moment and the desperation that comes with that, often in the form of anxiety, depression, and doomscrolling.

The Seattle performance of BLEAK! will also come with a guest performance from Sara Porkalob, a local artist-activist and good friend of the show’s producers. When drafting BLEAK!, Coons wrote a song with Porkalob in mind and thought there would be no better time to include her in the show. Inviting Porkalob is also a way of paying homage to the city that was his artistic home for seven years and showing that even after some time away, he is still part of this community. 

“I couldn’t think of a better way to look at how Seattle sets people up for success both in and out of town and then welcomes them back than my arc and Sara’s arc,” said Coons. “Being able to find a moment for her in the show just felt very fitting for me.”

Coons sees the central question of BLEAK! as how to offer someone comfort without providing them hope. It is primarily a humor show, but built for those who deal with depression and anxiety about the future and about where they believe they are now. It is an outlet for people who need a sense of catharsis but not a delusional solution or an alternative to moving forward.

BLEAK! will take place at Town Hall Seattle on May 1. For more information on ticket sales, please visit the show’s Eventbrite webpage.

“I think it’s very clear that on May Day, to capture the anti-capitalist spirit, the best thing someone can do is buy a ticket to my show,” said Coons.

Victor Simoes is an international student at the University of Washington pursuing a double degree in journalism and photo/media. Originally from Florianópolis, Brazil, they enjoy radical organizing, hyper pop, and their beloved cats. Their writing focuses on community, arts, and culture. You can find them on Instagram or Twitter at @victorhaysser.

📸 Featured Image: John Coons on stage in a performance of “BLEAK!” Coons also joins the cast in The 5th Avenue Theatre production of “Sweeney Todd” running from April 21 to May 14. (Photo: Austin Ruffer)

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