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“Don’t we need goggles?” Gender Tender responds to Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort’s Germinal

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Germinal […]

Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort. Photo: Alain Rico

Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort. Photo: Alain Rico

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

WILL: Does starting from scratch mean you don’t know anything? Well, they knew who they were…

SYNIVA: …they knew each other’s proper names. They were going by their real names.

W: They knew what a guitar was but they didn’t know what a computer was. No one mentioned their sex or gender.

S: They did all appear to be white….that’s my assumption.

W: This was a really unusual play. It was interesting how the performers had control of the technological aspects.

S: Did they? I thought there was a sense of another somebody or some bodies behind the curtain, or under the floor, following cues about when to do certain things. This was in the program info a quote from the artists in an article by Kate Bredesen:

…we decided to start from scratch. And this itself became the starting point for what would become Germinal. This would be a piece that would build itself.

S: The performance makers identify primarily as visual artists and in conversations about the concepts behind art making we can’t escape discussing creation…making and presenting art means knowing we will always be influenced by and compared with the art, histories and ideas that came before, the art of the now and what is yet to come. I felt an installation artist’s approach at play in a traditional theater space. They were embracing the cheesy nature and limitations of common elements found in black box theaters and the materials afforded artists in these spaces as though they were visual art materials (text, voice, song, movement, technology, props, effects). The black box was approached as a new kind of white gallery cube. I felt the influence of the cataloguing, titling and research tactics of the museum at play in the content of this work as well.

W: I’ve never seen somebody chop a hole in the stage with a pick axe before.

S: That’s true, I haven’t seen that before. What did you think of it?

W: It seemed really dangerous to me…

S: For who?

W: I felt like it was a dangerous thing to do. What if a wood splinter flies off? I’m sure they thought about these things. It seemed dangerous for us all. I was like “Don’t we need goggles? Doesn’t everyone need goggles?” Ondine was like a danger Gallagher. I found it very satisfying to watch.

S: Why?

W: I guess because it was really happening. Something was being destroyed for real. It wasn’t acting like you’re making a hole in the floor it was just the act of making a hole.

S: Isn’t performing just doing, talking, walking, kissing… aren’t we really doing stuff?

W: Yeah!

S: So why was this different?

W: I guess I’ve seen shows where people are miming digging a hole and they just aren’t. I’ve never seen an actual demolition of a built stage before.

S: It was weird…so meta. A demolition of a carefully wrought installation that was a fake stage over a real stage. When it first started and it was all light and space investigations I thought this might just be an installation on a stage run the same way as it would be in a gallery, or in the natural environment, that it might not have a narrative trajectory. That feeling wore away and it became clear this was carefully scripted, more like a magic show with a musical ending. And wow, audience members were laughing so hard through a lot of this. It was awesome to be around people that were entertained and enjoying themselves. I felt a bit awkward because I wasn’t finding it funny.

W: I thought it was genial but I didn’t find it to be hilarious.

S: People around me were REALLY laughing hard. I felt like Grumpy Cat.

W: So did they build a world? From scratch?

S:  I don’t know. They made a play. My point of view as a queer black artist influences my take on this hardcore. Aren’t people always making their own worlds? Directly or indirectly, abstractly or literally, in fantasy or reality. When people exist outside the normative, the safe, the accepted, we have to create worlds for ourselves to move and make in, we have to fight for space for our histories to exist in.

W: Always. I read in the program the title comes from the title of a French book about people on strike wanting a better world by Emile Zola. Something about the desire to make a better world where none exists….

S: The tone of this in the show made me uneasy. It seemed like colonialist ideas about discovery were at play but it didn’t read as tongue in cheek for me…what’s underneath….yikes, such a heavy metaphor with that floor: the literal floor that they bust through to discover what is there they can use onstage like drilling for oil on stolen land.  Human made resources underneath a built structure that has to be destroyed to access them. I kept thinking about burial grounds and decimated cities with new corporate developments being built on top of the survivors, their culture, their knowledge…

W: The underlying thing, the unspoken truth…the dark…

S: Yeah so, maybe it was a conceptual sign of our times. Knowing but not knowing…caring but not caring…

W: …funny but not funny.

S: We know there is always someone behind the curtain. Holograms exist…we know we are usually being deluded. We know people have made some terrifying stuff in the name of investigating what is technologically possible…we know people can make a black hole, a bomb that leaves no survivors.

W: It’s a TED talk…

S: …with a fake hot tub center stage instead of a red dot.

W:(laughs)…in a fake swamp.

S: Right, a TED talk! Germinal was part PowerPoint lecture…categories, groupings, labels, diagrams. Even though it was absurd the performers were soon experts at everything they investigated or presented even when it made no sense. Maybe this is French and Belgian humor lost on me in translation.

W: Was it supposed to be funny? It was presented with a lightness that was surprising but I had a sense from the visual elements that I’d be experiencing a super abstract and serious performance.I thought the performers were excellent, it was really good…but I didn’t think it was laugh out loud funny.

S: I found it melancholy…and everybody around me was laughing their asses off.

Germinal continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, January 29) and tomorrow night (Saturday, January 30) at 8 pm. Halory Goerger will also teach an Inside Out There Workshop on Saturday, January 30 at 11 am in the McGuire Theater.

Starting from Scratch: Germinal’s Recipe for the Universe

Astrophysicist Carl Sagan once stated, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” French artists Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort seem to have taken this to heart in making Germinal, a show that completely reconstructs existence itself (on an 8x10m scale).  The show begins its three performance run at […]

Photo: Alain Rico

Photo: Alain Rico

Astrophysicist Carl Sagan once stated, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” French artists Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort seem to have taken this to heart in making Germinal, a show that completely reconstructs existence itself (on an 8x10m scale).  The show begins its three performance run at the McGuire Theater this Thursday as the final piece of Out There 2016. The duo’s webpage for Germinal contains a section titled, “WHAT CAN BE MORE INFORMATIVE THAN AN EXCERPT OF OUR INTERNET RESEARCH HISTORY”, and the subsequent hyperlinks would provide a unique glimpse into the foundational elements of this performance, were they not half-defunct and primarily in French. With a little detective work, however, I was able to reconstruct the search results that helped bring this piece to fruition.

AIG337347

In any form of construction, tools are required, and the directors note their perusal of French industrial equipment supplier Manutan in acquiring a “single pouch leather tool belt” (now unavailable) and “baseball diamond hardhat” (an updated iteration of which, pictured above, is now for sale). Research was also put into the acquisition of laminate flooring from French DIY and home improvement store Brico Dépôt. This was presumably used to build the two-ton stage setting in which Germinal’s world begins; Kate Bresedon’s preview piece notes that the performance “follows the discoveries of stage layers and objects, all of which are considered, then used or rejected in this construction of something from nothing.”

c3c_middleages

The performance also gives a nod to Civilization V, the latest installment of Sid Meier’s 1991 strategy computer game series. The game’s goal of guiding an ancient civilization into the future is strongly at the center of Germinal. Another link references the “Abre des technologies” (or “technology tree“), the visual representation of hierarchical resource upgrades present in games such as this. The abre des technologies originated, ironically, in a 1980 board game named Civilization, bearing no direct relation to Sid Meier’s. It’s no wonder that Civilization was one of Germinal‘s working titles.

Perhaps one of the best illustrations of the range of material from which Goerger and Defoort drew is the list’s inclusion of both the French wiki page for solipsism and the professional services section of French Craigslist-counterpart Le Bon Coin. Building a society demands both abstract thought and practical skill, and Germinal has these in spades, using them to create a truly inventive performance. The final defunct link, to the lyrics of the Lou Reed ballad “Perfect Day” (on which David Bowie contributed keyboards), may be best left to christen the final product: a world in which joy can be found in the simplest experiences, provided one is willing to create them.

Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday – Saturday, January 28-30, 2016 at 8pm. Join director Halory Goerger for a discussion about his past and present projects at Inside Out There, January 30 at 11am.

Press Play, Repeat: Gender Tender responds to Rabih Mroué’s Riding on a Cloud

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Riding […]

Yasser Mroué in Riding on a Cloud. Photo: Joe Namy

Yasser Mroué in Riding on a Cloud. Photo: Joe Namy

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Riding on a Cloud by Rabih Mroué. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

WILL: My brain is doing flips about this performance. Is this a play? Is all of it true? Is all of it fiction? When I saw the stage set up with the table and chair off to the side, stacks of cassette tapes and DVDs and electronic devices on it and the big white movie screen set up I thought it was going to feel really choppy. When Yasser came out and began to play the films and tapes, to sing, to watch himself on screen, it became immersive. I loved the way these presented excerpts became a singular experience. The convergence of all these possibly un-mixable techniques became one thing. Was this style an attempt to create a performance about what it felt like for Yasser when he woke up in the hospital after he was shot, after he was in a coma?

SYNIVA: Was his brother Rabih there in the hospital?

Yasser (from the program notes and projected introductory performance text): This is my real story yet these are not my thoughts. These thoughts are mine, yet this is not my real story.

WILL & SYNIVA: Is the director intentionally using this mix of devices used to remember things (stories, songs, photographs, recordings) to create an atmosphere of remembering? We keep thinking about the things we are told Yasser did to come to grips with what pretending means.

WILL: Oh, like when he was talking about going to see plays and saying if somebody died on stage he would shake and cry and be sure that they really died and then be really confused when that dead person came out for their bow at the end of the play. I wondered if that was a true story.

SYNIVA: Wasn’t this written and directed by his brother Rabih? Did any of these stories even happen? Yasser also talks about hanging out with Lenin and Tchaikovsky and that’s impossible. He also mentioned letting his brother the director pick out some videos from many he’d made during his recovery. He talked about using a camera to document things to help himself understand the difference between knowing what a thing is in real life (for example, he had no problem with knowing what a knife was when the knife was there with him but when he saw an image of a knife in a photograph he wouldn’t know what it was).

WILL: Am I going to cry?

SYNIVA: You’re discussing this performance like it’s a documentary. I don’t think it was, I definitely think Yasser and his brother are sharing art inspired by life with us but I doubt this is anything but poetic. I can’t tell if the details are real or imagined…like losing his virginity to a nurse in the hospital while he was recovering. The films throughout were beautiful, surreal…weird. I couldn’t tell if these were really from the supposed collection of videos Yasser made while relearning representation or if these were films his brother made for this performance. There was the film that showed images of a location we are told is the actual building where the sniper that shot Yasser was hiding. A film of Yasser putting his injured hand on a torturous looking wooden board from an impossible angle. Watery images of people walking down city streets, wavering, blurring, images of static, images of television test patterns. These were not pieces of story they were pieces of art.

Rabih Mroué: (from an interview on the Walker website): For me, how I understand art, art cannot heal any person or people or group. On the contrary, art is like a tool to make things more complex. It’s trying to understand, but at the same time by seeking understanding you bring up more things. It’s exactly like when you ask a question and then you try to answer this question.

WILL: I keep thinking about Yasser saying he couldn’t tell what was real or not after the brain injury.

SYNIVA: Could he tell what was real or not before the injury?

WILL: Was he saying his brain re-learned what is real? Or did he just learn to tell himself…”ok, let’s say that’s real”?

SYNIVA: Like an actor does. They are aware of doing it. They are aware they are part of the created story. They are aware they are fictional.

WILL: Does he look around at everyone and read their faces like a script and wonder…is everyone else freaking out? No? Ok, I guess what I’m seeing isn’t a thing to freak out about.

Rabih Mroué (from the interview, again): Actually it [art], has no aim. It’s just the pleasure of thinking, of being a human being. It’s thinking and being a human being. It’s the celebration of the human.

WILL: I was in a weird in between sort of magical place with Riding on a Cloud. It was a movie and it was a play, Yasser was playing himself but Rabih directed it, Yasser was acting like himself but he was also really himself. Fiction and reality. This is a fake real story…or a real fake story. This was present in the structure. There were so many…

SYNIVA:…fragments. How can we, the spectators, construct anything except poetry from bits and pieces?

WILL: It reminded me of the structure of memories. Slivers that you can piece together. Fragments that everybody watching might piece together differently.

Milan Kundera (via poem hunter on the internet): ‘I think, therefore I am’ is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches.

SYNIVA: Wisps, shreds. I loved this performance.

WILL: Sometimes things would overlap that didn’t have anything to do with each. Other. Things. Non-sequential.

SYNIVA: Yasser’s physicality was controlled, methodical. He’d take a tape out, put it in the player, speak, record his voice, play it back, put a DVD in, press play. Talk. Sing. Eject, get the next one ready, press play, eject, press play.

WILL: The way the brain jumps from thing to thing, like, oh! That song makes me think of this.

SYNIVA: That Kundera poem makes me think of that.

Hamlet and Yasser Mroué and Shakespeare: The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;/To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

SYNIVA: History is like this, too. We think we remember but we are really retelling stories we’ve heard, describing images we’ve seen but not experienced. We end up putting the pieces together. We rely on the memories of others. We rely on the face looking back at us in the mirror to know we are getting older. But we can’t see ourselves getting older.

WILL: This performance was like being inside the images inside of someone’s thoughts. Like being able to watch somebody think. I keep thinking about watching Yasser watch himself projected on screen…did he cease to be a performer at that point?

SYNIVA: Could he even recognize his own face?

***

Riding on a Cloud continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, January 22) and tomorrow night (Saturday, January 23) at 8 pm. Rabih Mroué will also teach an Inside Out There Workshop on Saturday, January 23 at 11 am in the McGuire Theater.

Watching Them Listen: Gender Tender Responds to Daniel Fish

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoingRe:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Daniel […]

Photo: Paula Court

Photo: Paula Court

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoingRe:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Daniel Fish. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

The stage was filled with bright yellowish green tennis balls. As we entered the theater the multitude of orbs were ordered in a grid-like manner across the entire stage; tennis balls created a weird modular snow drift upstage. A loud machine to the far left served even more tennis balls that continuously ricocheted off of a poster taped haphazardly against the exposed back wall of the theater. This was the first image of a person present. Not an image of Wallace himself but of a white blond tennis player I didn’t recognize caught in the midst of returning a ball, hair flying out behind them, racket in hand ready to go. As the performers entered the machine was turned off and we lost it’s rhythmic puffing. They entered casually as though arriving for a weekly tennis lesson. Two people were mixing the audio recordings of Wallace’s voice right there out in the open as well. They faced center and were seated on black meditation cushions at a small sound board table to the far right.

The ghost of the author’s voice was present. In the beginning we could hear a bit of what I assumed to be Wallace’s voice (noticeable but not understandable) coming out of the ear pieces from the mound of headphones lying on the floor center stage. As the performers put them on his voice left the space and we were suddenly in the loud silence of watching them listen. They began to give this simple act of listening a presence and then a voice. They began to speak aloud interpretations of the words of a literary artist I’ve just discovered decided to commit suicide after a lifetime of struggling with depression. A meandering anxiety ensued in layered voices and singular voices, voices dropping in and out, voices occasionally repeating text over and over again, sometimes in unison, sometimes monologuing excerpts from his writing with the feeling of a deadpan Shakespearean aside in a casually choreographed, possibly improvised, muffled and ridiculous shifting field of felted rubber balls. Simple lighting changes cued reconfigurations of people, action and text. At a halfway point in the action the performers took a generous amount of time rounding up the pool of balls that had been taking up most of the stage using their shoveling arms, throwing hands, an actual broom and a lot of picking up and sending them all to the back wall. The result was the creation of an even more menacing drift of accumulated mass produced fluorescence. This simple, wave-like action transformed the space gently, anxiously and without fanfare, without voice.

We rushed home buzzing after Thursday night’s performance of Daniel Fish’s A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace. Inspired by what we saw Will and I traded a few questions we came up with in reaction to the work. This is our exercise in giving each other a bit of our voice, our style…a bit of textual material for another body to interpret. Instead of redelivering the text as the performers did we will respond to the other person’s questions. We will then chose one word (THE WORD IN ALL CAPS) from our response and share only that word with the original question writer who will then write a poetic and non-traditionally formatted footnote in response to the singular word. Extensive and tangential footnotes were a trademark of Wallace’s. We admit we’ve never read any of his books.

-Syniva

WILL: Where was the physicality of the performers movement coming from?

SYNIVA: Sometimes I felt like the movements were devices they’d come up with to remember the structure of certain pieces they’d heard many times before. Similar to the way a spoken word artist uses their arm movements and vocal pauses to create rhythmic interest for the listener and to memorize poetry. I also thought the movements could be the unthinking result of only focusing on speaking the text rapidly and fidgeting with the considerable pressure to get it right and make it clear.

W: FIDGETING: Can also be referred to as shuffling, twitching or jiggling. May lead to such physical activities as “bouncy knee”, “slide foot”, “air grabs” and excessive blinking.

S: How can something be expanded and condensed at the same time?

W: Signals are required. The pressure must be increased. Flattening occurs. Stuff spreads out. It’s bigger on the inside.

S: STUFF: See The Story of Stuff, a documentary film I’ve been told is great but have never taken the time to view. You might want to. Consider sitting in the middle of your living room and taking a mental survey of all of your stuff. Start with with the things you can’t see, like the stuff under your bed or the contents of the junk drawer in your kitchen. Begin to italicize in your mind the stuff you’d be sad to lose in a fire. Also consider things and junk.

W: Is that Steffi Graf?

S: No I think it’s Tracy Austin, the tennis player from a Wallace text we heard delivered in the performance. I take it from all the tennis talk and from the set design David Foster Wallace was a big tennis fan. I’ve never heard of her (Austin) but I loved the quip that Wallace thought tennis was more abstract than boxing…that it was combat at a huge, geometrically pleasing distance.

W: ABSTRACT: A bunch of different colored cubes. Or it could be a bird. Or feelings.

W: Will someone get hit with a tennis ball?

S: Yes and no.The possibility of tripping and falling hung over the action as the performers rushed across stage, sat on tennis balls, and generally seemed to be dealing with the objects under their feet and their unknowable rolly-ness. At one point a performer did about a thousand jumping jacks while delivering Wallace’s text about all the privileged people in a men’s restroom and lists of possible bathroom related bodily functions. I was afraid  they’d trip over the headphone connector box center stage and sprain their ankle.

W: JUMPING JACKS: There are over 47 varieties of Jumping Jack. Do you want all of the dates? The record for consecutive jumping jacks in a row is 27,000 (citation needed).

S: When does the story become the character?

W: The exact moment the eyes blur and look up. And in. I’m looking right at you but I’m also at the pool, in the bathroom or at the game. The stage ripples. An optical illusion made by a grid of soft round shapes.

S: BLUR: Blur is an English rock band, formed 1988, London. Blur is a band I thought I liked when I thought Jell-O shots were a good idea. The feeling of failing at focusing.

A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace by Daniel Fish continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Friday – Saturday, January 15-16, 2016 at 8pm.

The Walker will also present a free film screening of Daniel Fish’s Eternal on Saturday, January 16 at 1pm in the Walker Cinema.

Backstage Haiku

A recipe for four thousand happy puppies? Or Daniel Fish prep?   Crew chief Christian shoots a quick pic of four thousand tennis balls from the catwalk as the crew loads in for our upcoming performances of Daniel Fish in the McGuire Theater!  To answer your burning question:  justusedtennisballs.com

A recipe for

four thousand happy puppies?

Or Daniel Fish prep?

 

Crew chief Christian shoots a quick pic of four thousand tennis balls from the catwalk as the crew loads in for our upcoming performances of Daniel Fish in the McGuire Theater!  To answer your burning question:  justusedtennisballs.com

Answering that burning question:  what does four thousand tennis balls look like?

Tracey Austin would be proud…

Literary Karaoke: Daniel Fish’s Intimate Interpretation of David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace has a reputation as being hyperarticulate; the author’s friendships with dictionary-authors and dictionary-siring prose only further warrant this truth. Who better to try their hand at its interpretation than a director whose last piece was given a 53-word title? A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David […]

Photo: Paula Court

Photo: Paula Court

David Foster Wallace has a reputation as being hyperarticulate; the author’s friendships with dictionary-authors and dictionary-siring prose only further warrant this truth. Who better to try their hand at its interpretation than a director whose last piece was given a 53-word title? A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace is Daniel Fish’s ode to the late icon and will begin its three performance run at the McGuire Theater this Thursday as part of Out There 2016.

Unlike recent cinematic adaptations, Fish isn’t dramatizing the page or impersonating the author. His source, instead, is a breadth of audio recordings in which Wallace converses, is interviewed, and reads from his own works. The piece asks four actors to interpret this speech as it is sent to their headphones from a console under Fish’s control. Each performance varies in timing, execution, and excerpt selection, with the effect being best described by the Village Voice as “part séance, part theatrical eulogy, and part eerie karaoke show.”

In using his own speech over a script, the audience is beholden to Wallace’s raw verbal idiosyncrasy. As Fish told the New York Times, it is through this that he wishes to achieve “a kind of intimacy” and a “pure engagement with his words”. This intimacy was a major factor in Fish’s curation of sources. In lieu of his political commentary or the offbeat affairs of his novels, Fish mined from short stories and essays that celebrate and critique many broad but omnipresent themes of modern life.

Many of these are addressed head-on in one source, an unedited 84 minute interview with Wallace for German public television channel ZDF from late 2003. A high definition video of this interview has just been made available online, giving you a glimpse inside the performers’ headphones as they channel the honesty of expression present throughout his body of work. At one point, Wallace expresses his author’s desire to “jump over the wall of self and inhabit someone else,” and Daniel Fish’s creation has certainly given him a chance to do just that.

A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace by Daniel Fish will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday – Saturday, January 14-16, 2016 at 8pm.

The Walker will also present a free film screening of Daniel Fish’s Eternal on Saturday, January 16 at 1pm in the Walker Cinema.

I have the feeling there are more selves here, more selves than I can safely explain: Gender Tender responds to RoosevElvis

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective […]

Kristen Sieh and Libby King in RoosevElvis. Photo: Nick Vaughan

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on RoosevElvis by the TEAM. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

We ran home after Thursday night’s performance from the TEAM to respond to the evening’s work while still marinated in the experience. This is a festival of performance alternatives so we thought why not craft an alternative kind of response for our speedy Re:View. We structured what’s below using a few techniques we use in our own creative process and mixed those gestures up with our feelings and ideas about this approximation of a line of text from the show:

“You’ve only known me for three days, you don’t really know me, you only know what I’ve presented to you.”

We’ve combined observational writing (what we recall was presented), time limits (what we’ve only taken 30 seconds to write and resisted editing, so we don’t really know it) and the structure of a conversation (a thing people do to get to know each other.) These responses are in our own order and are not meant to reflect the real sequence of events in the show.

-Syniva

WILL: Roosevelt tells a boxing story about Harvard. He got punched once after the bell because the other fighter was hard of hearing but he was cool with it because he’s cool. Roosevelt dons white boxing gloves and begins punching all over the place. He asks the tech to “Play my Planet Earth video please!” Buffalo footage begins to play. “Tatanka, ” he whispers and the audience busts out laughing. He runs to the screen and begins punching the buffalo projected there, the curtain ripples with each blow. Loud punching Foley effects happen in time with the punches. Teddy is just punching randomly at the buffalo and then…POW! Catches one in a close-up right in the nose. Next: a wider shot of the buffalo all peaceful on the range. Roosevelt runs back and forth punching several buffalo…then a super wide shot…he screams and swings more wildly punching all of the buffalo. Meanwhile, Elvis is karate chopping pizza boxes in half. Roosevelt begins a balletic dance sequence still in boxing gloves. He hisses, “YES!” every time he lands a jump. Elvis does a karate dance solo. This is not the exact order in which these things happened.

SYNIVA (30 seconds to respond to the above after hearing it read aloud): Reminds me of a girl I knew at Bryn Mawr College all sharp points and desperate edges . Brilliant, fragile seeming, but somehow the most likely to kill for profit (succeed?). Maybe she was lonely.

SYNIVA: Ann sits on a bed in a motel room. They are halfway to Graceland, I think. Ann drunk dials their former online hook-up. This person is also Teddy Roosevelt and they are seated in one of the directors chairs to the far left of the stage, mutton chops still in place, his long, thick brown hair is now in a ponytail. He answers the call, asks if Ann is fucked up…they say yes. Teddy now speaks in the voice of Ann’s old flame. Ann attempts to talk about their true self, they say they are not a man or woman they are a power, a force of nature. Ann states an alternate dimension would be a better place to live and wants to know what she thinks about this, is this a joke to her, or is this more, is this somebody worth loving? She responds that she thinks Ann is depressed and “yes”, she did tell the story to all her friends at the bar and they did laugh about it.

WILL (30 seconds to respond): This was heartbreaking, but somehow it felt like the truth, or Ann felt it was the truth. The old flame was cruel, or too blunt. They don’t really know each other.

WILL: Ann comes home from the meat packing plant with a six pack of beer in a black plastic bag. They toss their phone on the table. They throw their hat on the dish rack.They put the six pack in the fridge and grab a single beer. Ann twists the cap off (there is no sound) and throws the cap in the direction of the sink, nods decisively, then drinks deeply. They lean on the kitchen table looking toward the audience. A strangled breathing sound comes from Ann’s mouth. It could be the sound of suffocating or the faraway sound of an arena crowd. A conversation begins between Anne and Elvis. Advice is given about girls. This whole scene happens again later in a different way as if Elvis is the sympathetic best friend Ann comes home to at the end of a hard day.

SYNIVA (30 seconds):  Hard to breathe, I have the feeling there are more selves present here, more selves than I can safely explain, more ghosts of those that understand me in the air than I care to remember, avoiding thoughts of my past selves that came to a bad end.

SYNIVA: An image of the Badlands is projected behind 2 rowing machines. Darkness falls onstage. The campfire light is shining on the faces of RoosevElvis because a stage tech came out and shone tiny footlights of orange at them. Elvis brings Teddy a weenie on a stick to roast and sings an out of tune and off key song he wrote on a ukulele. Elvis then admits to just writing the title, his friend Red wrote the lyrics. It’s about the love he feels for his dearly departed mother, his best friend. Elvis asks Teddy if he is like him, does he have an Ann like presence in his body too that he has conversations with? He says no but then wistfully gazes at the fake campfire and begins to embody John Muir. The performer deftly moves between Teddy’s can-do manic patriot rant and Muir’s relaxing Scottish brogue. Muir attempts to convince Teddy he could give up all the achievement based shit he does to fill the void in his heart and spend more time getting in touch with his true self while out in nature.

WILL: I’m thinking about bears. And trees.

WILL: Ann has checked into a motel with RoosevElvis. They are on a road trip. Roosevelt is restless and Elvis is asleep. Teddy wakes Elvis and they argue about rich kid privilege. Elvis accuses Teddy of feeling superior to other men because he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a man without means. Teddy says he is superior to other men. The audience laughs. Ann comes in and out a few times drinking a beer, disheveled. The argument becomes heated. Elvis jumps up on the bed and strikes a karate pose in his silk robe. Roosevelt suggests they take this outside. They do.

SYNIVA: Femmes do also struggle with violence. Giving and receiving it. And we may not just be the means to a satisfying end.

SYNIVA: The characters shift through performed versions of history, celebrity, fantasy and other more internal experiences of who they are and who they might become. RoosevElvis are now Thelma and Louise in the convertible at the point of no return. There are a billion armed policeman behind them. They kiss, they hold hands, they wax poetic. This is a film. This is not happening on stage. They drive to their deaths into the heart of the Grand Canyon. The original version of Thelma and Louise has played throughout the performance on the TV set in Ann’s apartment and the TV set in the motel room. Things are always projected on screens. Sometimes we see the Badlands, sometimes the meat packing plant. There has also been footage of Mount Rushmore. Throughout the performance footage has played on a small TV screen, a set that  looks more like a monitor you’d view security footage on off to the side of the stage, lower than waist height. This footage is of two waitresses in the back of a restaurant prepping food, talking, working standing. There is no soundtrack. There is a moment onstage at Ann’s kitchen table when RoosevElvis appears wearing pink waitress uniforms with white aprons but it seems dreamlike to me now, I’m not sure it happened.

WILL: It was like stepping with my own feet back into my own head. Sometimes I feel like my life is a TV show, too. I’m there but I’m also looking at myself. Also, I’m someone else.

….

RoosevElvis continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, January 8) and tomorrow night (Saturday, January 9) at 8 pm. The TEAM will also teach an Inside Out There Workshop on Saturday, January 9 at 11 am in the McGuire Theater.

2015: The Year According to Daniel Fish

Daniel Fish. Photo: Tei Blow To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire […]

2015-header
Daniel Fish. Photo: Tei Blow

Daniel Fish. Photo: Tei Blow

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, artist Adam Pendleton to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                 ..

Daniel Fish is a New York–based director who makes work across the boundaries of theater, video, and opera. Drawing on a broad range of forms and subject matter including plays, film scripts, contemporary fiction, essays, and found audio, he’s been called “an auteur force in the American theater.” Fish’s work has been performed at theaters and festivals throughout the US and Europe including: VooruitFestival TransAmériquesBAM Next Wave Festival, Noorderzon Festival, the Juilliard School, and the Royal Shakespeare Company. He has taught at  Juilliard, the Yale School of Drama, Bard College, and Princeton University. In January, he’ll present A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace and screen Eternal as part of the Walker’s Out There series.

Here, he reflects on the loss (of great artists) and discovery (of new images and ideas) that the past 365 days have held.

2015-01

photo: http://www.contemporaryartdaily.com/

Best use of party streamers and mannequins

Called Schauspieler (German for “actor”), Isa Genzken’s show at David Zwirner Gallery kept taking me by surprise, especially when it reversed the viewing experience and was suddenly, quietly looking at me.

 

2015-02

photo: Kenneth Saunders via http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/08/chantal-akerman

Greatest loss of a filmmaker

Chantal Akerman’s final film, which premiered in New York City the day after her death, is a slow, challenging, and deeply human work about her mother. Her work is fearless, and she kept searching.

 

2015-03

photo: http://www.davidzwirner.com/exhibition/gordon-matta-clark-2/

Best use of arrows

Gordon Matta-Clark’s drawings: I could look at these all day long.

2015-04

photo: imago / DRAMA-Berlin.de

Photo courtesy DRAMA-Berlin.de

Greatest loss of a theater artist

Bert Neumann, the great stage and costume designer, graphic artist, and wild mind of Berlin’s Volksbühne. A  huge influence and inspiration to so many people working in theater, many of whom are unaware he’s influenced them. A hero is gone, and an era ends.

 

2015-05

Photo: Paula Court

Photo: Paula Court

Most haunted performance

The Vine of the Dead, Jim Findlay’s gorgeous, long work about ghosts and his family, splayed out across the boiler room dungeon of New York’s Westbeth apartment building.

 

2015-06

photo: http://www.iaap.org/news-2/obituaries-2/1270-lee-roloff.html

Photo: IAAP

Greatest loss of a gifted teacher

Age 88, professor emeritus of Performance Studies at Northwestern University and Jungian analyst, Dr. Leland Roloff taught me that “language is psychic breath.”

 

2015-07

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Best book I somehow missed reading until this year

James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Read it if you have not.

 

2015-08

Most challenging film

Nearly 13 hrs of seductive, wearying, funny 1970’s  French guerrilla filmmaking, the re-release of Jaques Rivette’s OUT no. 1 manages to call up associations of both Molière and the October Paris attacks.

 

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Most effective object of the year

The gun.

2015-10upside down

Most ineffective object of the year

The gun.

2015: The Year According to Sibyl Kempson

Sibyl Kempson. Photo: Matt Murphy To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from abstract painter Jack Whitten to choreographer Trajal Harrell, filmmaker Tala Hadid to artist-musician C. Spencer Yeh—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series […]

2015-headerIMG_8739

Sibyl Kempson. Photo: Matt Murphy

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from abstract painter Jack Whitten to choreographer Trajal Harrell, filmmaker Tala Hadid to artist-musician C. Spencer Yeh—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                 .

“I really have barely been able to lift my head up from my own work table the entire year,” says playwright Sibyl Kempson, explaining why her year-end list is “so self-absorbed.” “I had no spare attention to give to current events, which are mostly evil—except for same-sex marriage. YAY!” Just a few of the things that consumed so much of her time this year: launching a theater company, publishing a book, premiering two plays and a dance theater work, visiting the ranch from TV’s Dallas, Bigfoot tracking in the wilderness…

A playwright based in New York City and the Pocono Mountains, Kempson’s plays have been presented all over the world, from New York to Omaha, Bonn, Germany to Skien, Norway—including Minneapolis: at the Walker with Elevator Repair Service (in the 2013 Walker-commissioned work Fondly, Collette Richland), at Red Eye Theater Company (Ich, Kürbisgeist and Potatoes of August), and in reading form at the Playwrights Center (The Securely Conferred, Vouchsafed Keepsakes of Maery S.). Below, her enthusiastic, month-by-month (almost) take on the past year.

2015-01

Half Straddle,

Half Straddle, Ancient Lives

January

APAP! The year started off with the many festivals, visitors to the Big Apple, and performance works to last us townies throughout the year. This year I took in the genius of Half Straddle (Ancient Lives), Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble (The Art of Luv), David Neumann and the Advanced Beginner Group (I Understand Everything Better—and I helped write the text!), Amanda Villalobos (Lightkeepers), and Erin Markey (A Ride on the Irish Cream). Then I joined a gym!

2015-02

Rehearsal for LUNPSS at Abrons Arts Center

Rehearsal for Let Us Now Praise Susan Sontag at Abrons Arts Center

February

Creative Capital application! Workshop at Sarah Lawrence of my new play, Let Us Now Praise Susan Sontag. Directed by David Neumann!

 

2015-03

The Care Ladies of David Neumann's I Understand Everything Better: Karen Kandel, Yours Truly, and Jennifer Nikki Kidwell. I forgot to say: Two Bessies for Best Production and Sound Design in Oct!

The Care Ladies of David Neumann’s I Understand Everything Better: Karen Kandel, yours truly, and Jennifer Nikki Kidwell. I forgot to say: Two Bessies for Best Production and Sound Design in October!

March

Rehearsals for Let Us Now Praise Susan Sontag—and I Understand Everything Better premiers at the American Dance Institute in Rockville, Maryland. And guess who stands in for in-demand theater and dance world star Jennifer Nikki Kidwell? YOURS, TRULY!!!

 

2015-04

LUNPSS published by 53rd State Press. Great hot-tub reading.

Let Us Now Praise Susan Sontag published in April by 53rd State Press. Great hot-tub reading.

April

I launch my very own theater company: 7 Daughters of Eve Thtr. & Perf. Co. at the Martin E. Segal Center at CUNY Grad Center! A momentous moment—like a wedding. Also: I launch my first Indiegogo campaign, for our first production: Let Us Now Praise Susan Sontag, which opens on the 28th at Abrons Arts Center!

2015-05

f352_questionb
June

I attend my first expedition with the Bigfoot Field Research Organization—amazing!—and a wilderness survival course at the Tom Brown, Jr’s Tracker School in New Jersey! Difficult and liberating.

 

2015-06

The doors to the DANCENOISE Wawa Hut at the Whitney!

The doors to the DANCENOISE Wawa Hut at the Whitney!

July

DANCENOISE exhibition and performances at the new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District! I am blown away by my artistic elders, recognizing an influence under which I’ve been operating all along without ever encountering it directly. Another momentous moment.

 

2015-07

Writer/performer Oceana James and my dog, Rey, at the 7 Daughters Academic Re-Education Event at Dixon Place

Writer/performer Oceana James and my dog, Rey, at the 7 Daughters Academic Re-Education Event at Dixon Place

August

7 Daughters’ second action—an “Academic Re-Education Event” at Dixon Place, entitled Make No Mistake: These Youth Are Here To Restructure Your Mindfeaturing the work of emerging women’s voices in experimental performance writing and welcoming them to the community.

 

2015-08

IMG_0097

SUPER BLOOD MOON TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE! Photo: Homer Horowitz

September

After four years of work, Fondly, Collette Richland, my collaboration with Elevator Repair Service, opens at New York Theatre Workshop! It divides the NYTW audience! Half hate it, half love it, except during the SUPER BLOOD MOON TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE, when all hail broke loose, and no one could resist: subscribers headbanging in the aisles and clapping along to the “Krampus Devil Dance,” people converting to pagan feminism by the hordes, etc. Meanwhile, I continue to cherish many fond memories of our early previews at the Walker Art Center.

 

2015-09IMG_0246

The little door in the attic of the home where Henrik Ibsen grew up!

October

After 20+ years of dreaming about it, I finally flee to Norway! Robert M. Johanson (my former compadre from Nature Theater of OK) and I make a crazy translation/adaptation of the 4th act of An Enemy of the People entitled Public People’s Enemy for the Ibsen Awards and Conference in Ibsen’s hometown of Skien, Norway. I also visit the Rhineland’s Mittelrhein region for research.

2015-10

IMG_0546(1)

Pilgrimage to Southfork

And beyond

Since then I’ve traveled to Dallas where I visited Southfork Ranch (of Dallas fame) and worked on a new cycle of rituals for the Whitney Museum starting in March 2016, worked on a new piece for 7 Daughters called The Securely Conferred, Vouchsafed Keepsakes of Maery S. at New Dramatists (which was also developed in the Twin Cities at the Playwrights Center!), and have continuted writing lots of grant applications.

All The Things: Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Minneapolis-based experimental playwright and performance-maker Rachel Jendrzejewski shares her perspective on […]

Photo: Max Gordon

Photo: Max Gordon

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Minneapolis-based experimental playwright and performance-maker Rachel Jendrzejewski shares her perspective on The Object Lesson by Geoff Sobelle. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

I arrived at the Walker just minutes before Wednesday night’s performance of The Object Lesson was meant to begin. Normally, running this close to late for a show in the McGuire Theater would mean quietly slipping into a seat toward the back as the lights go down. Rolling into the theater that evening, however, I quickly realized I was in for a different experience.

The theater was empty when I arrived. No people at all. The stage curtain was closed. Large cardboard boxes were scattered everywhere, piled up in the seats. Where to go? What to do? I caught a glimpse of an usher’s elbow in a doorway way down near the edge of the stage, so I crossed over to meet her. She directed me around the corner, onto the stage itself.

By now, you likely have seen remarkable photos, like the one above, floating around online. The stage was no longer recognizably a stage, but a cavernous room designed by Steven Dufala, warmly lit and filled to the brim with stuff—thousands of cardboard boxes, an array of mismatched furniture, and countless miscellaneous objects. Everything seemed to come from another time: toys from the 1980s, old school library card catalogs, lamps and music-playing devices from nearly every decade of the twentieth century.

“We’re encouraging people to move around and explore during the performance,” noted the usher. And indeed, the audience was moving comfortably through the space, reading aloud the handwritten labels on the boxes to each other (“Paris,” “Stuff that used to be important”) and unabashedly snooping through the clutter. I ran into to a friend who had just found a bunch of tax returns. “They seem real,” she said. “He made $16,000 in 2004.” To enter this space alone might have been eerie or overwhelming—I had flashes of the recent NYT feature about people who die alone—but with dozens of people milling around and chatting, many drinking wine from the bar, it actually felt like walking into a rather pleasant house party. People hanging out before dinner. The vibe was warm, convivial, and full of anticipation. What’s in this box? What’s in that one? What is going to happen tonight?

I noticed a Discman with headphones resting atop a stack of boxes. Next to this setup was a CD case which, for some reason I can’t explain, I registered to be a classical piano album. I put on the headphones and hit play. Music played, but it definitely wasn’t classical piano. “Does it work?” a fellow audience member asked. “Yeah,” I replied, “But I don’t think that CD is what I’m hearing.”  “Really? Are you sure?” I looked more closely at the case and realized it did, in fact, belong to the album I was hearing: Jethro Tull live at Carnegie Hall. I must have looked confused. “Do you not know Jethro Tull?!” he asked. “No, I mean, I thought…” Suddenly he picked up the box, Discman and all, and shoved it into my arms. “You better take this with you.” Then he produced a Victrola seemingly out of nowhere and started arranging furniture to create a kind of makeshift parlor.

The man wasn’t a fellow audience member at all, of course, but Geoff Sobelle himself—and the performance was beginning.

Photo: Max Gordon

Photo: Max Gordon

From here, I’m realizing that I actually don’t want to say anything about what happened in the piece, because constant surprise and the palpable live-ness of people sharing the experience in real time were so fundamental to this work’s DNA. I keep typing out specific images and events, then deleting them; to name them feels diminishing. I’m thinking back on Miranda July’s request that nobody write about New Society for a year, so as not to spoil the newness of the experience for others. I remember appreciating that request—let the surprises be kept secrets for each audience, stay present with the work—and now, I’m craving a similar rule for The Object Lesson, even though Sobelle has made no such request, and despite the fact that many of the show’s magic moments already have been spilled online.

By the way, when I say “magic moments,” I mean actual magic. Sobelle and his director, David Neumann, worked with “Illusion Consultant” Steve Cuiffo to create countless wondrous instances of “How did he do that?!” How did he pull that very large thing from that very small box? How did that audience member he put on the spot know exactly what to say, in a way that worked perfectly with his own clearly scripted text? The tricks are intricate, seamless, and utterly captivating.

Here is something I will say. A good majority of the evening involved watching Sobelle interact with objects, and I could watch him do that for a very long time. In many instances, his tightly crafted material world felt like a charming portal into a deeper layer of inquiry, addressing more unwieldy things that, ironically (or appropriately), can’t ever be fully contained in tactile form: wandering, love, masculinity, aging, death. I thought about the winding trajectory of any life: how constantly we experience, how hard we try and love, how much we’ll never know. How, when we look out at the night sky—or get lost watching a stoplight change from red to green to yellow—we’re reminded that our lives are teeny tiny blips in time. Is that recognition comforting or scary? How do we spend our blip, and why? There we were, mostly strangers, spending some of our very limited time together, laughing, with all the things. I wondered about Sobelle’s relationship to uncertainty; he has the wistful eyes and sweet ready smile of a clown whose drive to entertain might be, in fact, a survival mechanism.

And when I say “clown,” I mean Sobelle is an actual (expert) clown. Some of the most compelling moments in the piece were those in which he let clown logic completely take over—innocently repurposing objects, inviting us to see their hilarious and sometimes poignant unexpected potential. As a colleague observed, most of us will walk into that installation and feel some sense of weight from all the clutter. We know that hoarding too much stuff isn’t good for the soul. We know that memories attached to certain objects can become overwhelmingly heavy. Yet Sobelle invited us to shake off those memories, let go of that baggage, drop all our assumptions about stuff, and instead experience each small offering anew.

That was the real object lesson, I reckon. What’s a telephone, anyway? Smell this jar of dirt! What can ice skates do? Over the course of the evening, our relationships to objects were not illuminated so much as transformed, reinvented. In turn, I left the theater and saw the world itself anew.

 

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