Monthly Archives: June 2013

Responses to NWNW Week Two + the Sunday installation

In lieu of reviews or four lenses write-ups for NWNW, which honestly I had a lot of trouble attempting to write, I decided to go with a simpler device put to use in writing sessions we had in Alice Gosti’s Say Yes IMP class: Poetic, stream of consciousness rambling. I found this a much clearer way to articulate what I felt or saw.

Week two got a little more literal and direct as I recounted some pieces. But I didn’t put any pressure on myself to adhere to a form or function.

Jeffrey Frace – “Harp Song For a Radical”: This is the dawning of a dance piece post-Aquarius, with DJ’s from Aquarius! Aquariussssssss. Activist theatre! This is post-hippie reality! Fuck The Man! Now we do a dance using skills taught to us by The Man!  Take that, system! There is a ringer in this crew of rebellious street ladies. I suspect this Badgeley character has taken a ballet class or two on the sly! Our young male protagonist has had it with this world! Don’t touch me, motherfucker. Now he is in jail. Oh hai, Wade Madsen! He will do the dance of incarceration, oppression and death… the same one Dylan Ward’s being doing. Wade’s DoIO+D is a little more stately. I see Kate Sumpter’s character found the good shit. We shall weep for she has drank it all and blacked right the fuck out. Why can’t UW Drama do interesting shit like this piece instead of the live action Sominex they call a theatre season?

Eternal Glow Project – “(Omega) < 1”: Our final presentation features the death of everything explained by physics and personal anecdotes. Slides make any anecdote funnier. ilvs strauss would be proud of these two. Maybe. As we get deeper into the troubling metaphor the Eternal Glow Project starts building shit, film at 11. It is this construction and deconstruction that shows us the finite loop of life and deep that leads to the end of the universe, which is Tim Smith Stewart sitting underneath a bench rambling into over-sonic oblivion as Jeffrey Azevedo also rambles into oblivion and the noise of both the noise and the visuals sends us into a supernovan death spiral that leaves me stumbling out of On the Boards during intermission for a walk and wishing for a moment that I smoked because I was pretty sure I needed one after that.

AMADOR/STOKES – “DUELS: Orange”: They did a scene from a stage play. Not to bag on anyone’s theater skill (no one embarrassed themselves), but given the M.O. of On the Boards and NWNW I’m not at all sure how this got into NWNW, especially considering the caliber and innovation of just about everything else. This didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, and truth be told it wasn’t particularly interesting. Did somebody cash in a favor?

Paris Hurley – “Beware the Illusion of Perfection”: We hate ourselves. ilvs, not so much. Mercedes engages the peat moss, the backgrounders slowly sway like slow motion human reeds in underwear, and we swap back and forth between a slow moving tableau of dance, movement, spoken word and physical theater. I’m having Corrie Befort 2012 NWNW flashbacks. Let us dance. Let us backgrounders step forth and set a coda tableau. This was a very dark set of Studio pieces.

Paul Budraitis – “Clear Blue Sky”: I actually read a lot about plane crashes, and am quite  familiar with not just the small plane crash video Budraitis opens the piece with but the Uberlingen midair collision that serves as the subject of his sad tale of the man who lost his family and took revenge on the acquitted air traffic controller whose gaffe caused the crash. The choice to do the piece via closed circuit camera inside a large wooden cubic space with projection of a space view of Earth still baffles me, though it is clearly a creative decision to augment not just the character telling these stories but provide a metaphor for the stories, these and the story of the man who lost his son to war.

The New Animals – “TRE”: These are more somber and serious New Animals than usual. They tap the rhythm with cups and 1-3 by 1-3 they break away and dance in eerie side light. Familiar voices come from above and tell the truth. New Animals dance to their truth and drink a lot. Death surrounds us all and has surrounded them all at separate times, even given a single and important loss struck them simultaneously. In death they live with greater flourish. Tribute is a commitment as great as the tattoos on their bodies. They outline cups in a final formation that does not hit me until a day later. III. Joe Sodd III lives.

bobbevy – “This is how we disappear”: The dance is curiously quiet and slow, almost at times pedestrian though definitely inspired. This is very Portland. The screen saver forest behind them moves atop the curious music as they pace through a texturally static dance peppered with occasional mugging. The form leaves me wanting but the multimedia atmosphere is engaging. I want the dancers to breathe it in and incorporate it Satori style. Oh, and speaking of Satori….

The Satori Group – “This Land Is Always Known”: Greta Wilson speaks. Then a giant ensemble hums, shuffles and sings us into a scene of discovery where she has a brief BFA Ten Minute Play Festival scene with Quinn Franzen. But that is not why we’re here. They’re just table setting for the inevitable spiral into the musically enchanted world of Anna Bengson, who grabs the reins and fucking owns all of this shit from here on out. And now we’re riding into a land that other theatre companies don’t ever take us. By the time we’re let off to go home, we want a NWNW full of nothing but this kind of shit. Just as Waxie Moon did last year at NWNW, Satori ends week two with a fabulous bang that blows all the rest away.

Install: WOOD – “Mortar & Pestle”: Self hate and human loathing waft through the air in front of On the Boards. Men walk with bags on their heads. Water is poured onto a trough spilling onto the sidewalk below. A dancer below tries to induce his own vomiting. Matt Drews and Seth Sexton await their spoils of misery. The lady dancers are led astray with boxes on their heads. Seth finds sawdust and has a sawdust solo. Matt comes out from under the table. This is a speakeasy of pain. I head back to work moments before the end.

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Responses to NW New Works Week 1

In lieu of reviews or four lenses write-ups for NWNW, which honestly I had a lot of trouble attempting to write, I decided to go with a simpler device put to use in writing sessions we had in Alice Gosti’s Say Yes IMP class: Poetic, stream of consciousness rambling. I found this a much clearer way to articulate what I felt or saw.

Claire Thomforde-Garner – “The Wrestling Match”: Wrestlers meander onto the mat, then meander through a faux match morphed into a dance. The clothes come off. The man has a dance belt and is covered in tape. The lady is in her underwear and is covered in tape. Her scowl never disappears. Their awkward contact dancing becomes her sequence and his perpetual roll around her. They finally engage the tape and peel from each other. There was a deeper message and we never got it.

AJA – “slugs do it real slow and pretty”: Jumping on a mattress like kids. Run away, and then loud confrontational music and titles. Slugs and giant but barely readable text. Sext. Man and woman in the back very slowly disrobe. Kissing him slowly, at life speed. Collision! They are going to hurt each other! Did they? Stop to floss. Let’s all floss as a group. A string. But now we will brush teeth all in a row. Your toothbrush is my toothbrush. Your nastiness is my nastiness. And now we mouthwash with cheap mouthwash. We all get our own mouthwash however. And a community spit bucket. That shit is nasty. Get it out of here. Here kiss me. Now kiss me. Now kiss me. But not me. I already made out with your neck. The guys illustrate the finer points of furiously jerking off. Our climax is the ladies heads popping variety show style from the backdrop. Write your own conclusion.

Pony World Theatre – “A Compelling, Unknown Force”: Chekhovian dialogue gives us a wall to look over or around. Close your eyes. Every time you open them a tableau. We show a picture and then tell a story. This is a multi-person recount of a story compared to raw drama. These are servants to a story rather than characters. Paper realities. We are reading a book, except the book is showing us AND telling us the story. An incomplete story.

PE | Mo – “RIGGED”: Run! High school gym class! Frenetic looks! And now a loser! Go away! Dance! Shapoopie! Take that to the bank! A winner is you! But none of you get anything! Except apples! Sulking! Defeat! And Pol! This is delicious! Watch me eat and drink, bitches. Now RUN. DANCE. YOU’RE NOT DANCING FAST ENOUGH. SHOW ME YOUR APPLES. THESE ARE NOT ENOUGH APPLES. GO CLEAN LANE CZAPLINSKI’S OFFICE WITH THE OTHER LOSERS. Sing me a song. Dance! The dance of losing! Only four remain! Who will survive and win nothing? Tune in next time!

Elia Mrak – “los samurai”: Someone’s bookshelf has splashed across the stage. Five Zambranos play lumberjack. Relentless pursuit. A game with each other, or an attempt to break each other? Or both? Splash into music. Rage Against the Machine predates this all. The lumberjack winner is Elia, on account of it is his damn piece and he makes the rules. The losers must mop up the literary mess. He will monitor the cleanup and ensure compliance with his stage cleanup needs. He, Viko and Pili fill the silence with Zambranic communication. Their dance is a conversation. We lack understanding. The chaplain speaks, his eulogy riveted onto the end of this piece, and they shut up. And that is all you will get from them.

Allie Hankins – “Misshapen Pearl”: Marionettes in formation. A rigid archetypal dance. Break aways to perform an identical sequence and show respective costume flaws. Allie breaks away and twitches into a convulsive solo in dim side light. The dance turns as dark as the light and we pink elephant through an eerie sequence composing the long, distended end to this piece.

Maxie Jamal and the Mystiquesterium – “One Plus”: A diorama of slavery from the perspective of ancestors of the enslaved. Colorful interludes caricature history. The dance steps high and leaps forth in perpetuity. The energy never dissipates even as the dancers stamina does. The singers struggle to reach the back row, but the dance can be visually heard down the block. Those of us in the front rows are fortunate. The slave trader’s voice is a loud, noxious fart in church. The slide show makes me think we’re in school.

Josh Martin – “Leftovers”: Stop motion individual. I see no story but I see an amazing effect brought to life. Diagonal light pierces the stage darkness. The middle dance never finds its form until it returns to the stop motion magic that captured attention. Still, Josh Martin has opened a door and no one’s going to shut it again.

Curiosity Flocks Towards the Future

While searching through my e-mail archives I stumbled upon this item.

As someone who finds theatre in a state of artistic stagnation myself, the topics upsetting you often crosses my mind. While I appreciate the effort to form a meeting of the minds to attempt an address of the problem, I find it somewhat dismaying that the post-meeting is… to head down the street and have yet another bitch session at a bar.

I agree that a key to meaningful positive change lies not just in finding intellectual justification but in passion: You’ve got to want it personally and emotionally as well, the same sort of unyielding and almost desperate will that motivates someone to race into a burning building (they wouldn’t otherwise enter) to save a loved one. The thing with passion and why people in this community don’t express and follow it is that, if people in this community don’t agree with your direction, they turn away from you. Even in reform people find themselves toeing a line… artistic and philosophical freedom to a point.

Therein lies the challenge of unlocking the passion of a community: Can we collectively stop thinking of theatre in terms of concrete definitions or pecking orders and open our minds?

I want to believe a meeting of the minds will produce something momentous. But the Seattle theatre community’s had meetings of the minds before. Where did they get us? Right back here all over again.

Something different needs to happen, and something different need to come of it, or it’s going to lead nowhere yet again. If I thought more would come of the meeting or that my input would significantly matter to this group I’d consider going. But I’ve burned my hand on the stove enough to know what’s going to happen if I reach for the grill again.

I must also note that many in the community think, concerns aside about the state of theatre in this town, that nothing’s really broken at all. They’re still acting/directing/backstaging and companies still produce shows, so they don’t see a need for truly fundamental changes. I think we have an active community but also find it culturally exclusive and not too open minded, plus of course I take note the sea change with dwindling funding, resources and opportunities. I see a potential for continued growth, along with a strong resistance to change.

If my tone seems dispassionate it’s mainly because I’ve beaten my head against this brick wall before, and my head hurts. Honestly though, I really do care but I want to keep my mental/emotional energy positive moving forward, and only dwell on the subject if I know I can actively help make matters better.

I wrote the above two years ago in response to a friend’s impassioned mass message regarding his dismay with the state of theatre (I’ll keep my friend’s identity a secret out of respect, and have edited some details to redact his and other identities).

At the time I was studying and practicing intensively in theatrical movement, clown and improv with the Freehold Studio and Jet City Improv (which would lead to my co-founding improv group Wonderland), attending and occasionally performing improv/sketch comedy shows and drifting gradually from the main Seattle theatre scene. I was still largely new to exploring artistic self-discovery, but by this point was pretty sure I had no real interest in a conventional stage acting career.

It was clear to me at this point that my as yet undiscovered passion in performance art was somewhere uncharted and I felt for my colleague, still desperate to find an identity in a mainstream fringe theatre scene more interested in your adopting a form of their identity than forging your own. Like me, I felt he would find the most artistic satisfaction and joy in something outside of conventional theatre, but that was for the most part all that was really available to him.

Two years later, I’m dancing, experimenting, working on pieces not so easy to clearly label or classify, behind divergent personal philosophies.

Do I still feel the same way about theatre? In large part, sure, but to entertain the topic of the state of theatre diverges from my current point of view anyway. I’m more interested in looking forward than looking back, and only look back to inform how I elect to look forward going forward. And prepositioning paragraphs to death.

Of all the dance and experimental work and philosophical re-calibration and new people I gotten to know and work with… nothing in my life was more artistically liberating than the conscious effort to focus more on how I can positively effect the changes I would like to see in performance art, the disposal of limiting labels and obsolescent marginalization of limiting belief systems.

One lesson: Activist negativity is a belief system, one that leaves you standing in place while those making new and inspiring things happen are moving forward, constantly curious, constantly seeking new and expanded possibilities. They don’t change the game just to change the game, but as a byproduct of their inspiring discoveries.

I don’t worry about what the big old theatres and arts orgs are doing, because they’re artistically standing in place and if they don’t choose to grow and adapt, they will eventually fade from cultural relevance (whether or not they fill their houses, get giant endowments/grants and make their money). And those of us who follow our curiosity to new and different things… will not be left standing. We’ll be on our feet and running, moving forward like we always do. And our culture’s curiosity will be drawn by our curiosity, a flock following us into the perpetually dynamic present we call the future.

Ideas from the Performers Playfield

On Monday a host of performers from this year’s On the Boards Northwest New Works put on a series of classes called the Performers’ Playfield at Velocity. I enjoyed the whole experience and have a lot of play with and think about. Some key ideas, concepts and thoughts I take away:

You can lead a person or group without saying a single word. I witnessed instructors teach choreography and give instruction using gesture, looks and body movement, nuanced physical communication, without speaking. This practice and ability captured my attention, to the point where I want to teach this way.

Theatre is a weird and difficult place for dance performers, and dance is a weird and difficult place for theatre performers. The more courageous performers gleefully, fully face the undiscovered country head on. The jacks of many trades live in this uncomfortably nebulous and amoebic space.

Teaching in the arts is a vastly underexplored and underdeveloped skill. It’s not enough to merely communicate clearly. There is always a gap of skill, ability and knowledge between the instructor/director/choreographer and participants. Speed of instruction and material volume involve a delicate balance between moving briskly enough within a limited time frame + maintaining everyone’s interest… and moving deliberately enough to allow everyone to keep up, utilize the material with competence and safety + not get overwhelmed.
Some have this skill to connect with all levels and find the instructional balance to keep the super talented participants engaged and curious + allow the novices to keep pace and enjoy the experience just as well. Some do not. And experience level isn’t directly proportional to one’s ability on this front.

When it comes to a dance class as a participant… good instruction and class experiences make you believe that, whether or not you’re able to nail choreography, you can totally do what those other awesome performers and dancers are doing. If you’re not there, it’s within reach.

Not so good experiences make you believe you are so chasmically far away from what you’re seeing or trying to do that a big part of you feels like you’re kidding yourself even trying to do it.

This may or may not matter to the instructor (and your mileage may vary as to how much the student’s perspective should matter to the instructor’s), but to the student it obviously matters a lot.

The Dance Diet: Get so busy that you barely have time to eat, and only enough time to eat portable and/or whole foods.

Gaga never gets old.

Satori needs to start doing regular open workshops again. More artists need to experience their process.

Of Monday’s many instructors I experienced the most joy from working with Martin Piliponsky aka Pili, even though I found the material in his Passing Through class fairly difficult (in a “I understand it but I struggle getting myself to consistently do it” way).
Pili’s from Argentina and his English is limited, but I delighted in his use of the above mentioned nonverbal communication. He did eventually speak, but a part of me wished Pili had taught the whole class without saying a word… not because I didn’t like what he said (he is a thoughtful, direct and smart communicator verbally) but because I really enjoyed taking instruction from his nuanced, inviting physical cues.

Semi-related Personal Takeaway: Though worried in the back of my mind about trying to survive six hours of physical/dance class, I was able to handle it for the most part. I did sit out the bboy class (though fun, I realized a few minutes in things were moving too fast for me + the compromising positions of the choreography plus the fast tempo could have gotten me hurt if I kept going), but otherwise I jumped in, went with it all and enjoyed much of what I did.
I had a huge concern about my stamina leading into next month’s Strictly Seattle, but it looks more like I can handle the forthcoming intensity just fine. I am quite active and in decent shape, but it’s been a long while since I’ve taken on that much volume of physical intensity (hours of dance over consecutive days).

The Use and Value of the Showing

Over the past couple weeks I saw showings at Velocity Dance Center from two prominent local dance groups (zoe | juniper and The YC). I’m nowadays averse to writing anything resembling a review about a showing because by definition it is a work in progress, and publicly airing an opinion on that work in progress serves more to undermine the work than improve it. If an artist wants my feedback on a work in development, typically their best bet is to solicit that advice off the record. (I will say that I did enjoy both showings)

I go back to a previous point: Once you are charging an audience admission for the explicit purpose of seeing a show, the game changes and your work becomes subject to the scrutiny of interpretation. The zoe | juniper showing was free. While the YC solicited pay-what-you-will donations at the door, the event was more of a gathering/party than for the showing that took place therein. It’s a formula Kate Wallich has utilized before (she also presented a piece called Smoosh, a precursor to this most recent presentation, as part of a larger Cornish art gallery party), and a formula I support.

I like the idea of showings for larger, abstract works in progress, and realize it can be difficult to get an audience beyond your inner circle for a showing, but to offer the showing as part of a larger community-oriented event (especially if the event is in part a fundraiser) fosters goodwill and widens your reach for said showing.

George Lewis once told me, “There’s nothing like a deadline.” A show itself is a deadline, but you court disaster when your full length piece’s first real test is when you’re presenting it for a paying audience. A showing offers your material a deadline with a softer landing, plus gives you the luxury of presenting partial or incomplete material. As long as the showing is taken as seriously as a show, it can be very helpful.

On the flip side, this is a friendlier route for dance than it is for theatre. Dance’s generally abstract approach lengthens the stale-date for presented material compared to more contextual dramatic theatre. The YC and zoe | juniper, for any additions and changes, can do the same choreography in their final show months from now and it will still look fresh to audiences that recently saw the current product. Audiences only retain a general memory of what they previously saw when that product is based in aesthetic and abstract elements.

Conversely, if you do a scripted showing now, then do a slightly revised and expanded final version of that scripted show the following year, viewers who see both will more distinctly remember the material they previously saw, and the final product may come across as a re-run of sorts… even though the final product is the one you most want to be taken seriously. They will remember the context and key lines even if they don’t remember the exact words. But your exact words will jog their memory and they’ll know what’s coming next. The suspense and surprise is gone. Never minding the challenge of making an emotional moment you’ve gone through 100 times fresh and real, it can be really hard to surprise and impact an audience full of people that have previously seen large bits and pieces of the work you are showing them in a ticketed theatrical presentation.

(This is also one reason of many that I am not a fan of the default theatre approach of reproducing old plays. But that’s another subject for another time.)

As an artist, I can still derive value out of seeing the same work or recycled work again. I remain fascinated in how you get to point B and other nuances. But a more casual patron may not be as fascinated with knowing how the story ends.

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That said, the theatre artist has a lot to gain from showings, while walking that fine line between presenting too much too soon and making sure to present enough that they get the needed feedback, not necessarily audience opinion but a gauge of audience reaction and how it feels presenting it to said audience.

The Satori Group is an example of effective showing. They showed a small, entertaining opening scene from the play Fabulous Prizes in a works-in-progress showing before soliciting audience feedback (of which they got a copious amount). The final product months later included that opening scene with no more than slight revisions but the rest of the play, which evolved and diverged significantly from that scene, was unseen and brand new to those same audiences. The feedback played a helpful role in crafting the rest of the play. Even if you remembered that first scene well, you did not know what would happen in the rest of the play.

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It’s here where I can see the prime argument for utilizing a director. The director in effect provides a helpful, ongoing audience for the work, albeit one that gives direct feedback and assists in construction and refinement. The risks I previously discussed remain: The director actively steers a work in progress and a director can easily steer the work away from what you’re seeking as a creator. The director is, after all, a different perspective, and your vision is not the director’s vision.

In collaboration this difference in perspective is not only fine but essential. In personal vision, creation and composition this is a compromise. If you’re trying to explore and investigate new ground in your work this can completely undermine that movement unless you and the director are creative and psychological yin and yang.

A Performance Artist Suggestion: Commit To Creative Breaks

Burnout is an easy path to creative ruts, and I would attribute a lot of the creative stagnancy in contemporary performance art to continuous, uninterrupted work on the part of its makers. Art becomes a job, and the pressure to continuously produce forces a lot of insincere, hastily assembled performance art that is more convention than innovation.

If a baseball relief pitcher is called upon to pitch night after night, his abilities begin to wear down and he becomes less effective (never minding the increased risk of injury from such use). If you let him rest for a couple of days between appearances, he is able to make fewer appearances but he is fresher and stronger for those appearances and that typically improves the effectiveness of those appearances.

However, most performance artists essentially call on their own creative-performance relief pitchers night after night without a rest, and then wonder why a) their art isn’t living up to their expectations and b) they feel run down in doing something they love.

Exercise is only one aspect of one’s physical fitness, as is sound diet. Rest and recovery is actually just as important, and it is certainly just as important to one’s creativity.

I think most artists in theatre, dance, music etc (actors, dancers, directors, choreographers, musicians) could do wonders for their creativity by taking regular breaks from their creative work, not just between projects but during projects. Many of my peers and contemporaries have been working show after show, project after project for months, even years without significant interruptions. Many perform on this sort of schedule over their entire artistic careers, and many eventually give it up, feeling they’re tired of making art when in reality they’re tired of an assembly-line-like schedule that has nothing to do with art and everything to do with workaholism. Imagine if they scheduled breaks from their work as dedicated and diligently as they scheduled rehearsals, classes and shows.

It’s easy to take an extended break after a major project concludes. But I posit you should take breaks during the process of developing your project. Schedule a weekend, or even a 2-4 week period if possible, where you take it easy and do not think (let alone worry) about your project at all. Give yourself room to breathe and be a regular human being without the pressure of producing or refining work. If you get any bright ideas about your projects during this time, write them down, put it aside and get back to recharging your batteries.

And no, a break during the holidays or spending the interim after a project scouring for the next project doesn’t count as a break. A break by my definition is a dedicated, *committed* absence of work or other commitments personal or otherwise, i.e. you’ve got nothing planned, are seeking nothing and that is fine for now.

Make breaks from your work part of your process. You may be surprised how much fresher a little less work and a little more rest makes your work.