Daily Postings
theater : interview

Lisa Dwan

by Elianna Kan

Finding the hope in the one-woman plays of Samuel Beckett.

The Samuel Beckett estate is notoriously strict about granting performance licenses to productions that don’t adhere to the playwright’s original stage directions. These rigid stipulations, coupled with the seeming absurdity of Beckett’s texts, call upon an actor to wholly become a vessel for the playwright’s vision. Irish actress Lisa Dwan seems well on her way to becoming just that kind of legendary interpreter of Beckett. Ben Brantley, in his New York Times review of Dwan’s one-woman hour-long trilogy recently performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, called her “an instrument of Beckett, in that way saints and martyrs are said to be instruments of God.”

Dwan’s journey with Beckett began in 2005 when she first performed his breathless monologue Not I. In 2012, the German theater director Walter Asmus—Beckett’s longtime friend and collaborator—suggested Dwan perform Not I together with two other pieces—Footfalls and Rockaby—as a trilogy, something that had never been done before. All three plays revolve around the agony and hysterical ecstasy of experiencing the passage of time and force the actor into a meticulous, sometimes painful, physical regime in order to practice and perform these works accurately and evocatively.

I was curious as to what drew Lisa to this trilogy and Beckett in general, so I caught up with her by phone on a rainy Saturday afternoon while she rested in her hotel room prior to the evening’s performance at BAM.

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Theater : Interview

Lars Jan & Geoff Sobelle

Kinetic language, aquariums, and experimental performance.

Artists and performance-makers Lars Jan and Geoff Sobelle met in Philadelphia in the early 2000s, and lived together in a 5,000 square foot loft in a part of North Philly called the “Badlands.” They had no heating, but they did have a swing, baby carriage versus wheelchair races, ample rehearsal space, and a pet rabbit named Steve who had a pen larger than most New York City apartments.

Jan and Sobelle have collaborated off and on since, and are currently collaborating on HOLOSCENES, which will premier at the Toronto Nuit Blanche Festival in October.

Both coincidentally also have shows in this fall’s BAM Next Wave Festival—Jan’s ABACUS (a TED and megachurch-influenced presentation about contemporary persuasion and national borders) is on September 24 and Sobelle’s The Object Lesson (a solo performance/installation that revolves on our relationship to everyday objects) will be on November 5—8. Both will be at the BAM Fisher.

Jan and Sobelle met up at Café des Artistes, where “My Dinner with Andre” was filmed in 1981. Sobelle is having Ile Flottante, Jan has ordered a pizza from a nearby restaurant and is hoping it will be delivered during the dessert course. This may or may not have happened. “Choose your own reality," says the panda to the rabbit ...

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Theater : Interview

Taylor Mac

by Katherine Cooper

On being an outsider, the nature of authenticity, and the depths of pop-culture.

When I first moved to New York, a friend insisted I accompany him to see somebody named “Judy.” Judy was a drag queen, he told me, and so much more. Intrigued, I ended up in the Dixon Place lounge on the Lower East Side on a Wednesday with a bunch of people of different ages, races, and creeds gathered around a piano. There sat a person with extremely long eyelashes and a stage presence like I had never before encountered. Judy was, of course, Taylor Mac—the performance artist and playwright who has been living and working in New York City for two decades, but who only recently has gotten some of the recognition Judy truly deserves.

Watching Mac that night, I was struck by the quickness and ease with which I moved between emotional states. Just as I thought I might wallow in my loneliness forever listening to Mac sing, “Someday My Prince Will Come,” I'd find myself laughing at jokes about “sexual innuendo gay waiters,” who make everything you say into an opportunity for lascivious fun. Mac moves at the speed of sound, and as an audience member, your heart and mind must keep up.

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Theater : Interview
Theater : Interview

Tom Noonan

by Sam Alper

Tom Noonan on plays becoming movies, musicians becoming actors, and fantasy becoming reality.

I knew I wanted to interview Tom Noonan for BOMB when I read Alison MacLean's lovely, frank discussion with him that the magazine published in 1994. Instantly recognizable to any pop culture addict for his prolific work as an actor in films ranging from Robocop 2 to Synecdoche, New York—as well as recent TV appearances on Louie and Damages—Noonan has been writing, directing and often performing in his own plays, then turning them into films, for decades. I sat down with him during a break from rehearsing his new show, The Shape of Something Squashed, to discuss the re-opening of his theater and film cooperative, The Paradise Factory, following a two-year renovation.

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Theater : Review

HEAT: Rashid Johnson's Dutchman

In a new staging of Amiri Baraka''s one-act play, the audience and performers alike are tasked with endurance.

In theory, it’s an easy sell: Amiri Baraka’s legendary 1964 play Dutchman, a tense conversation between a black man and a white woman in a sweltering subway car, “reimagined” for the saunas of the Russian & Turkish Baths on East 10th street. The major difficulty of Baraka’s one-act is how to get it to build so steeply to its near surreal conclusion (the white woman stabs the black man). Rashid Johnson, a visual artist by training, proposes heat.

So literal a solution is intriguing. If the heat of the subway car is, in some large part, what is driving the action of the play, why not make the heat real? What kind of new possibilities arise when the onus to create an environment is taken off the performers? This is where the difficulty begins. Even with the heat, the performers Johnson has selected cannot carry the piece.

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Theater : Interview

Alexandre Singh

by David Levine

David Levine and Alexandre Singh discuss the playwriting process, on stage excretions, and traversing the art-theater divide.

In the week before its premiere at BAM, theater director-turned-artist David Levine spoke with artist-turned-theater director Alexandre Singh about recreating classical theater in Singh’s play, The Humans. The Humans will run from November 13 through November 17 as part of Performa 13.

David Levine Was the genesis of The Humans a question of somebody commissioning you to do a play out of the blue, or had you been wanting to do something like this?

Alexandre Singh I’ve been wanting to do something like this for a long, long time; seven or eight years. I got an email out of the blue from Defne Ayas saying that she had a mysterious new job which she wouldn't reveal, and did I have any large projects that I wanted to do, I said “Yes, I’ve always wanted to do this play” and it was just as I was finishing up another project. So she invited me to Rotterdam and gave me the space and the time, and most importantly the incentive and deadline, to actually produce the play. But it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, all of the pieces I’ve made in the last eight or ten years have been steps in a process of learning how to craft stories in more orthodox genres, with the aim of moving towards theater and film, perhaps something even like opera—but traditional dramatic genres. I’m friends with this amazing novelist, Benjamin Hale, and we share both a passion for cinema. He decided he wouldn't go down that avenue because he enjoys the act of crafting the entire world as it were, by himself, and not being compromised by the stress of having to work with many, many people. I definitely share that feeling when you’re in the middle of a huge production, but I think it's something that suits my megalomaniacal qualities; I like to interfere in everything.

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Theater : Interview

Tina Satter

by Katherine Cooper

Tina Satter speaks about formalism, her perverse sense of humour and the importance of family drama.

When I walk through the cement bowels of the Abrons Arts Center and into the rehearsal room where Tina Satter's House of Dance premiered on October 23rd, it feels like home. I sense an immediate affinity for the ludicrous, absurd, and ridiculous. House of Dance chronicles the emotional and choreographic events of a one hour tap class in a dingy basement. Think: Glitter. Pink. Bandannas. Tap shoes. Hilarious puppet dance breaks abut poignant moments of silence. Operatic music breaks rub up against mundane cellphone vibrations. Actor, Jess Barbagallo whips out the most ridiculous bright pink monster suit you've ever seen from a backpack covered in middle-school-esque graffiti and then proclaims with complete sincerity, “I want to look and feel pro and awesome, you know.”

It feels like a queer version of Santa's workshop.

Members of the cast and crew dart around the room adjusting sound levels, pieces of choreography, and angles of miniature top hats. This basement room houses these students of the ridiculous and Tina Satter is their leader. As I sit down to speak with her it becomes clear that while she is profoundly devoted to stupidness she is also a scholar of form.

It seems fitting that Belinda Carlisle's Heaven is a Place on Earth plays in the background of the Williamsburg coffee shop where we sit and talk. Tina wears a neon insignia-ed lid that says “LA.” in rainbow letters. She is small and wired. Her gaze remains focused and unflinching. She often encourages her interlocutor with an affirmative “yeah!” or “riiiiight...” I'm struck by her combination of youthfulness and sagacity. Tina's eyes twinkle with mischief and she has a laugh like a fat man. She takes play very seriously.

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Theater : Interview

Adriano Shaplin

by Katherine Cooper

Katherine Cooper speaks to playwright Adriano Shaplin about baffled audiences, favoring amateurism over professionalism, and what The Crucible got wrong.

While I was living in Philadelphia, I encountered Adriano Shaplin’s piece “Freedom Club” as part of the Fringe. His theatrical work disturbed and perplexed me. Not in a bad way—it was uncomfortable and I liked it. I was nervous to speak with Adriano. He is famously candid in interviews. I had heard he was “out there,” "political," "kooky.” The frontality and alienation of his work reflects an incisive point of view on theatrical convention—one that I wasn’t sure I shared but that I was extremely curious about. I’m drawn to art and artists that are defiant and sensitive and I sensed that in Adriano and his work.

Adriano's young, but maturing career has already taken many twists and turns which he commented on very honestly as we spoke. He has found a home of sorts at the Flea Theater in SoHo and recently premiered his latest show Sarah Flood in Salem Mass there. The play muses on topics near and dear to my heart—witches, morals, and New England. I had seen it the night before—a cacophony of movement, razor sharp language and moments of beautiful sensuality. Who was the guy who conceived of this world? Where did he live?

When I arrived at the apartment in Jersey City at noon on Saturday I walked down a long dimly lit corridor with about five closed doors all along one side. The image that came to mind was of an underfunded mental institution or an abandoned beach hotel circa 1940. The floor creaked. It smelled like sleep.

I emerged into a sunlit living room with a wingback chair. I found myself falling into it with ease—the frayed arms, the brown stain where a thousand times a woman with an Aqua-netted bouffant must have rested her head. My apprehension dissipated. The place felt lived in—that wing back chair, a half drunk beer, a pair of antlers on the blood red walls entangled with green ribbon from a party that had ended days (weeks?) ago. Like Adriano himself, the apartment was not afraid of its own mess.

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Theater : Essay

Listening to Cynthia

by Katherine Cooper

Katherine Cooper addresses a series of letters to performance artist Cynthia Hopkins in response to her work, This Clement World.

Cynthia Hopkins has just returned from a journey to the Arctic aboard the Noorderlicht, a Dutch sailing vessel which has been chartered by the British organization Cape Farewell, and had on board ten artists and five marine scientists from around the world. These passengers set sail on a twenty-two day voyage around the Arctic to “encounter the magnificence of this extreme and threatened environment and engage with the scientific research being conducted on board.” Hopkins was then charged with shaping her experience of that trip into a performance which she has titled This Clement World. And then she came to St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn.

I. A Small Disturbance

I cried. I wasn't planning to, but within the first few bars of her singing I was in tears. What she was singing wasn't even particularly “sad,” nonetheless my lip quivered and my breath and heart quickened. I agreed to listen but I didn't agree to cry.

White girls crying at other white girls singing about global warming. Ugh.

But I'm still crying.

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Theater : Interview

Nature Theater of Oklahoma

by Lauren Grace Bakst

Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska of Nature Theater of Oklahoma on their series Life & Times, new episodes of which will be presented this September by FIAF as a part of its Crossing the Line festival.

Kelly Copper and Pavol Liska, the directors of Nature Theater of Oklahoma, have charged themselves with the task of transforming material that by most standards would be deemed insignificant—16 hours of phone conversations during which Kristin Worrall tells the story of her life—into an epic performance that will eventually consist of ten episodes spanning 24 hours. The show is Life & Times and this September, FIAF will present Episodes 4.5 & 5 as a part of its Crossing the Line festival. Each episode of Life & Times has its own distinct context, but these two in particular mark a shift in the show’s trajectory. For these episodes, Copper and Liska used older forms of animation and bookmaking to create performances without actors. Always diving into unknown forms and challenges, Copper and Liska’s dedication to seeing the potential for performance in everything intrigued me. So what happens when you take an ordinary life and, as Kelly said, “claim more spectacle [for it] than you have a right to?” Well, it’s the Life & Times experiment—an invitation to reconsider what and how we value. In the conversation that follows, we discuss the impact of scale, the art of rotoscopy, and dealing with the middle.

Lauren Bakst I was re-reading the interview that Young Jean Lee did with you guys for BOMB a few years ago, and one of the things that you spoke about, Kelly, was this question of, “When does something become theatre?” or, “What’s the least thing we can do and have it be a show?” . . . In working with animation, drawing, and bookmaking for Episodes 4.5 & 5, do you find that those questions are still relevant for you? Are you approaching these mediums as theatre?

Kelly Copper Yeah, we are approaching them as theatre but also thinking about where these are in relation to the other episodes, because we’re always thinking about performing them consecutively. For instance, episodes one through four are always actors on stage, dancing, singing, acting, but always actors in front of an audience. We’re thinking about what it needs to become at this point. The audience has built up this relationship with the actors, but we needed to make a turn here—as artists. And we also needed the audience to make a turn here.

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Theater : Interview

Rachel Nelson & Fabi Reyna

Performance artist Nelson and guitarist Reyna on women who shred and the unique artist community in Portland, Oregon.

Fabi Reyna is the founder and editor-in-chief of She Shreds Magazine—the world's only magazine dedicated to female guitarists and bassists. She's a guitarist of 12 years who's been in bands since she was nine and also founded and organizes an annual festival that celebrates women in music called Shred Fest. Although originally from Cancun, Mexico, Fabi currently lives in Portland and continues to be an integral member of the music scene.

Rachel Nelson is a theater maker and writer from the Cascade Mountains. She is the founder of APORIA, a performance art think tank, as well as a core company member of Savage Umbrella, a theater company in Minneapolis. Her work has been produced across the country. She is interested in clear and compassionate theater that reverberates with conversations of queerness, philosophy, feminism, and interconnectedness.

Fabi and Rachel performed together at the Feminist Pop Up Festival in Portland, OR in May of ‘13. Since then, they have been putting this interview together via various technology waves beaming between Portland and Minneapolis. The following transcript consists of four separate digital postcards that can be strung together to make some sense of a conversation.


Rachel Nelson Let’s tell the story of how we met. Our meet/cute! I was planning the first leg of the Feminist Pop Up tour, and we wanted to get more musicians involved, and I talked to maybe three people I knew in Portland OR, and all three of them mentioned you as the first person to get in touch with. I couldn’t figure out if they thought you could play in the festival or help plan it. You were being suggested as this jack of all trades—the artist and the organizer. I was like, “Jesus, who is this person?”

Fabi Reyna Wow! I had no idea that's how it went down. I knew that Jen had recommended me to you and I love the work she does so I was instantly in. It's so cool how a community of artists works together like that to make stuff happen.

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Theater : Interview

Erin Markey

by Katherine Cooper

Erin Markey discusses familial relationships, making "stuff for stage and video," and dating chaperones.

I sat down with Erin Markey at Van Leeuwen, a cafe-cum-ice cream shop in Greenpoint this winter. I had first seen her live show on the day of the Gay Pride Parade, an event about which I'd had my trepidations, after seeing banners hanging from lamp posts in lower Manhattan advertising its Pepsi-sponsorship. So I headed to Everybooty, an alternative event at DeKalb Market—a temporary space in downtown Brooklyn composed mostly of old shipping containers.

The June sun beat down and my Linda Rondstadt-esque floral prom dress stuck to my body. By the time Erin Markey came onstage, following a lamé-clad pair of Dolly Parton impersonators, enough beer had circulated the crowd for a feeling of jubilance to hang in the air. Markey wore green suspenders and lace-up boots, her long blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. She flashed a wide smile at the crowd and started by singing a song about Skyping with her mother and father—”Let Me Go to Fullscreen.” As soon as she finished (to great applause) she went on to perform her second musical number, “Secret Puddles” in the drag persona of Timmy.

Timmy—Markey in a fire red wig and mud smeared face—introduced himself timidly as Markey's fundraiser, eliciting laughs from the audience. She sang shyly while holding a baby doll: “I have a doll named Secret. Secret is his name. Secret's just a baby. And a baby's not a game. I know because I was one, and a tiny one at that. My mom and dad they left me, in a shabby London flat.”

From the minute Timmy begins singing I am laughing. Absurd!, I am thinking. Absurd! I sense an incommensurability between the stage tune and melody of Markey's song and the dark content of the lyrics. The feelings that Timmy expresses do not line up with the circumstances he describes and the proximity of Timmy's tragic ballad to "Let me Go to Fullscreen" reveals a hilarious ambivalence about family. Even in this short performance, Markey has me thinking about family as fallible, wonderful, deeply political and entirely unresolved.

I have to talk to this person, I thought. My conversation with Markey, six months later, ambled from family politics to astrological signs (she's a Leo) and artist statements to Catholicism. I wanted to discuss Erin's particular breed of humor and, enjoyably, that humor seeped into every area of our discussion.

Katherine Cooper I feel like misquoting people is really yucky.

Erin Markey It is. Having been misquoted many times.

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Theater : Interview

Michael Portnoy

by Jovana Stokić

The artist discusses abstract games, the dangers of Relational Aesthetics and Portnoy's recent participatory work 27 Gnosis.

In 27 Gnosis, the latest work from New York-based performance artist Michael Portnoy, language as we know it is broken down and re-introduced as a tool for discovery. Taking place inside a mauve-hued "ontic sphere", Portnoy plays the "Rigid Designator" alongside his wife, performance artist Ieva Misevičiūtė, who appears as "Modifa, The Modifier" and together—outfitted in matching suits by designers threeASFOUR—they steer a group of participants through a game sequence led by dance, instruction, 17th-century knowledge systems, revised syntax codes, and melancholic jokes. The winners' ideas, or results, christen a 'gnose', a black, vaguely nose-like clay sculpture which is then passed onto the next group. Originally commissioned and performed for dOCUMENTA (13) last year, the work was adapted for a two-week run at The Kitchen in New York during March 2013.

Michael Portnoy I met you at one of my favorite restaurants in New York, Lucien. And you were with our common friend, Adina, who’s also from those lands in the east. Instantly, what I appreciated about you was this kind of unrestrained presentation of yourself.

Jovana Stokić Sounds awful!

MP No, you felt very real to me. A strong life force.

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Theater : Interview

Kristen Kosmas

by Karinne Keithley Syers


Kristen Kosmas talks text-based performance, its formal implications, and the practice of dis- and reappearing. Her piece There There is a part of PS122's COIL Festival, and runs through January 12.

I spoke with Kristen Kosmas earlier in December, just as the first of two runs of her new show There There was opening. We talked about the solo form, about surviving the solo form; about populating the solo form; about how populating the solo form was easy when there were so many sides to a question, so many skepticisms and enthusiasms within a solitary train of thought; we talked about what it does to your mouth to have to say your own writing, and what it does to your writing when you know it has to occupy your mouth; about the simultaneous love of artifice and plainness; about the technical challenges of this show; about the way the fact of its simultaneous translation into Russian might introduce a new and strange feeling in her mouth; and about Kristen's return to performing solo and whether it was any different than writing for many people (her answer was mostly that it is not, which encouraged me).

People talking about Kristen's performances back in Seattle in the ’90s (before she moved to New York, where I met her, and before she moved away from New York and then back to New York and then again away from it) emanate a sense of having really been there for something, maybe the way my Grandpa used to disappear into the recollected glow of LA in the ’30s, or the way people remember scenes of unfettered, free-ranging ’70s childhoods bathed in Kodak light. I don't know exactly what she did in those performances but I feel like I can sense it somehow, like in a little way it is possible to imagine them and float in the imagination enough to get a little souvenir for yourself, even if it's a fake. I think this is because Kristen, in person, both in conversation and in the performances she constructs, always sounds like she is in a looping, tumbling, gently forward-moving part of a very long thought, one that started before you saw her enter, and will continue after she rounds the bend. Even, as in This From Cloudland, when things get very still, they do go on:

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Theater : Interview

Mike Daisey

by Tom Healy

Poet Tom Healy discusses non-Euclidian navigation of New York City (among many other topics) with monologist Mike Daisey.

Mike Daisey.

This is a transcript of an interview conducted for Creative Time Reports. Listen to it here.

In late November I sat down with monologist Mike Daisey at the historic Clocktower Gallery, in downtown Manhattan, to discuss his work for Creative Time Reports and BOMB. Daisey and I met in the recording studio of Art International Radio, founded and run—like the gallery—by the irrepressible Alanna Heiss, who gave early shows there to Joel Shapiro, Richard Tuttle, Robert Smithson, Lynda Benglis, and countless other great artists from the 1970s to today.

Daisey and I discussed the motivating ethos of his work, from his experience of “non-Euclidean” New York to storytelling after the occupation of Zuccotti Park, down the street from the Clocktower. The radio station and gallery are housed in a lower Manhattan criminal-court building, which also happens to be the place where Occupy Wall Street protesters were “processed.” The experience of discussing the OWS movement in the same site where hundreds of activists have “stood before the judge” led to a conversation about the uncanniness of narration and the political role of the artist that touched on everything from Daisey’s father to Plato.

I deliberately avoided Daisey’s most famous (and controversial) piece, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which details his disputed experiences at the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, because others have been there and done that. I wanted to focus on Daisey's larger project of political engagement, especially in light of his recent show American Utopias. It seems to me that the only utopias available to us are those we construct in language, and with that in mind, I wanted to discuss the intersections of metaphor, art, and journalism, and how theater can (if only briefly) be used to create a progressive, engagé utopia uniting performer and audience.

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In The Deep Bosom Of The Ocean Buried

by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Sarah-Jane Stratford on the layered, complex history of Richard III.

On September 12, 2012, a skeleton was found buried beneath a Leicester car park, where a church once stood. The historical record shows that the bones might be those of the long-lost Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England and one of history’s most spine-chilling villains.

Plenty of people are quick to avow that the hump-backed, cold-blooded Richard III lied, connived, and murdered his way to the throne. He had no compunction about murdering his brother, seducing the widow of a man he’d just killed solely to marry her for political gain and “not keep her long,” and, just for good measure, imprisoning and ordering the deaths of his two young nephews—the rightful heirs to the throne.

There’s just one problem with this story. It is not history; it’s Shakespeare. The play Richard III was written in approximately 1591, more than 100 years since the king’s death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Shakespeare was greatly influenced by the salacious history written by Sir Thomas More in the shaping of his vision of Richard, and the resultant work is one of the most spellbinding dramas in Western theater.

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Theater : Interview

Issue 122 Preview: Rude Mechanicals

by Eric Dyer

Performance view of Lana Lesley, Jason Liebrecht, Thomas Graves in The Method Gun, directed by Shawn Sides, 2010, Humana Festival of New American Plays, Actors Theatre, Louisville, Kentucky. Photo by Alan Simons.

The first meeting between the Austin-based company Rude Mechanicals and NYC’s Radiohole was at the Orchard Project in Hunter, New York, in the summer of 2007. Both companies were in residency, developing new projects—the Rude Mechs (their common moniker) were beginning The Method Gun , which went on to premiere at Humana Festival in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2010, and Radiohole were beginning ANGER/NATION , which opened at The Kitchen in 2008. It was a beautiful summer romance.

That summer at Orchard Project was the first and, to date, only collaboration between Radiohole and Rude Mechs. It was a spontaneous single-evening performance witnessed by few, if any, outside the two companies, and it will never happen again. Thomas Graves, Kirk Lynn, and I performed naked Tai Chi in the dark of night on the rocks in the middle of the Schoharie Creek, illuminated by Scott Halvorsen Gillette standing in the river with an old fluorescent work light and occasional flashes of lightning. With Lana Lesley, Shawn Sides, Madge Darlington, and the other Rudes on the riverbank chanting, Kirk, Thomas, and I swayed gently back and forth until Radiohole’s Maggie Hoffman appeared on the rocks out of the darkness in her long black Carrie A. Nation dress. We hoisted Maggie over our heads and slowly carried her over the rocks. We reached the edge of a large, deep pool and, with a collective exhaling, dropped her into it—we had made our sacrifice. There was a splash and Maggie drifted downriver into the darkness while Kirk, Thomas, and I resumed our swaying.

I relate this story because I cherish the memory—this was a performance in itself, and the vast majority of our work as theater/performance artists takes place in this way, hidden from view, outside the social-aesthetic frame of our regularly scheduled performances. Both the Rude Mechs and Radiohole explore the idea of theater as ritual, as a form of communal religious experience, though in distinct ways. This is manifest in the Rude Mechs’ work on the Performance Group’s 1968 production of Dionysus in 69 , directed by Richard Schechner—the first in a series of reenactments of significant experimental performances from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.

Our companies share a creative ethos that is reflected in some basic structural similarities. Each is collectively run: the Rude Mechanicals by six artistic directors (five of whom founded the company in 1995) and Radiohole by its four founding members. Each creates original works from scratch, and each founded and runs its own venue. Radiohole’s venue is Collapsable Hole in Brooklyn; the Rude Mechs’ performance warehouse, the Off Center, has become home to many of Austin’s visual, film, theater, and music artists.

The following conversation happened on the eve of the Rude Mechs’ New York tour. It is pieced together from many fragments: emails, poorly recorded phone calls, and letters exchanged through the mail (remember that?). The conversation is not linear and reflects the compositional process more or less characteristic of Radiohole and the Rude Mechanicals. By the time you read this, the Rude Mechs will have brought their re-construction of the Performance Group’s Dionysus in 69 to New York Live Arts . We hope you will have experienced it and that this conversation might retrospectively bring new insight into that experience.

Good Morning Eric,

I hope this letter finds you well, it’s a nice morning in Austin. I just fed the chickens, watered and weeded the garden. The signs of seeds planted last week are just starting to show. The lima bean sprouts and provider bean sprouts are curling up out of the soil. I’m sitting, looking out the window drinking a hot cup of coffee and eating a big bowl of granola and yogurt. . .

Rude Mechs

PS This letter isn’t real. I’m not sitting at a window. I don’t even have chickens. The handwriting changes so much because several people, I won’t say who, have been passing around this paper, adding to a fiction.

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There’s No Ink

by Himali Singh Soin

The writing is on the wall in Annie Baker’s reimagining of Uncle Vanya at the Soho Rep.

We pretend we’re older now, more mature; we’ve dressed up for the theatre and afterwards we will wax eloquent about our experience. We’ll wear our eyeglasses on the ends of our noses as we say, “Michael Shannon made me quiver, the carpet hairs beneath me raised, and my shoulders hunched with his. But Sonya, her intonation was the same, some bits worked, but there was something missing, you know?” In all our “lame rhetoric, lazy morality and pretentious arguments,” we’d lose sight of the concrete that burned below us, and those that were as yet huddled inside their offices, because they couldn’t afford the privilege of conversation, because they had to survive.

We become those characters that Uncle Vanya despises. In our self-awareness of this state, we become Uncle Vanya himself. This complicity is thrust upon us in Annie Baker and Sam Gold’s collaboration of a new, more “now,” Uncle Vanya. We step into not a theatre, but a living room, and are seated on carpeted bleachers around the stage. We’re part of the game of the back and forth offense and defense, of the power struggles and the tensions that maneuver these characters into each others’ orbits, and that drive them astray.

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Theater : Interview

Rocks and Gravel: Jay Scheib

by Alex Zafiris

Alex Zafiris talks to theater director, writer and media designer Jay Scheib about his recent play, World of Wires, which closes his trilogy, Simulated Cities/Simulated Systems.

In Jay Scheib’s new play, World of Wires, a computer simulation mirrors the world as we know it, prompting the question: are we the actual world, or an immaculate reproduction of one? Adapted from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1973 television series, Welt am Draht—itself adapted from Daniel F. Galouye’s 1962 science-fiction novel, Simulacron-3—Scheib creates, with live performance, a virtual consciousness to investigate what is, and what might not be.

World of Wires is the third part of a trilogy, Simulated Cities/Simulated Systems. First was 2008’s Untitled Mars (This Title May Change), based on real-life space simulator pods inhabited by hopeful Mars visitors, together with the ideas of Philip K. Dick, Stanislaw Lem and Kurd Lasewitz; then last year’s Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, an adaptation of Samuel R. Delany’s overwhelming science-fiction novel, Dhalgren. All three were developed during Scheib’s current residency as Professor for Music and Theater Arts at MIT, where, in contact with a world completely different to that of his own, his perception of realities, and ways in which to think about them, was stretched. The plays are captivating. Fear, delirium, humor, sex, love and hate are magnified, like dream states. Meaning and context shift, and truth runs amok. Conflict thrashes itself out within this battleground, pushing and shoving between balance and tension. Throughout all of it, humanity persists. Cameras are positioned on stage to project live video, bringing more perspective to the set and ultimately, towards the final argument. For this new production, Scheib will be on stage, as director, with a handheld camera, capturing the action, even giving direction.

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Theater : Interview

The Neo-Futurists Cometh

by Hadley Roach

In The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill, the New York Neo-Futurists take stage directions to their illogical conclusion.

Stage directions, those snarky little lines of italics that punctuate the pages of scripts, are one of the great mysteries of play-writing and performance. “Do it this way!,” they say, but do they speak in whispers or shouts? Suggestions or commands? Are they sly or belligerent or guiding or cryptic? Samuel Beckett expected his stage directions to be followed fastidiously; the penalty for taking creative liberties with a Beckett instruction was the quick death of the show (and the Beckett Estate is still making executions, lest you were considering getting interpretive with Krapp’s Last Tape).

Sarah Ruhl, meanwhile, writes her stage directions in the form of intractable riddles. Actors and directors must grapple with instructions like, “Mrs. Daldry’s first orgasm could be very quiet, organic, awkward, primal. Or very clinical. Or embarrassingly natural. But whatever it is, it should not be a cliché, a camp version of how we expect all women sound when they orgasm.” Parsing that is like trying puzzle together a couch from IKEA: are those legs or arms or cushions or . . . ?

What is particularly frustrating about stage directions—or particularly reassuring, depending on your style—is that they don’t quite know when to let it go. They are embedded in an art form that is, by its very nature, deviant and uncontainable. And yet, they continue to exert themselves, blustering about props, gestures, noises, emotional responses—as if they know what’s going on up there.

It is the mission of The Complete and Condensed Stage Directions of Eugene O’Neill, Volume One: Early Plays/Lost Plays to put these overbearing italics in their place. Or, perhaps less venomously, to at once honor and poke fun at O’Neill, the very serious patriarch of modern stage directions.

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Theater : Interview

Ampersand: Mariah MacCarthy

by Emerald Pellot

Emerald Pellot speaks with playwright Mariah MacCarthy about the writer’s latest play: Ampersand: A Romeo and Juliet Story, part of FringeNYC.

Emerald Pellot The most obvious question is why Romeo and Juliet and why lesbians? They’re both intentional choices on your part, what meaning did you intend to convey with a lesbian couple and why Romeo and Juliet, over let’s say, Othello?

Mariah MacCarthy Hmm, interesting that you think this is the most obvious question! (Also, now you’ve got my brain cooking on a lesbian adaptation of Othello—that would be baller.) But I digress. The germ for this idea came about six years ago; in a directing class, we had to each pitch a “spin” on a particular Shakespeare play, and a friend of mine pitched a modern-day Romeo and Juliet with a girl as Romeo (changing the gender of the role, not just the actor). It stuck with me. Romeo and Juliet is all about who you’re “allowed” to love, which becomes much more poignant to me when it’s two women.

I write about sex, especially queer sex, a lot. An actor from Ampersand remarked the other day that a lot of my work is “about straight people not being straight.” If you want queer sex, at some point you’ve probably heard that you were a bad person for wanting the sex you want, which creates a dramatic conflict for you. Plus, girl-on-girl action onstage makes me happy, and writing what makes me happy is the only way I know how to work.

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Theater : Interview
Theater : Interview

Michael Counts

by John Zorn

Uniting three works of opera that span over 100 years, Michael Counts curates, directs, and designs his vision Monodramas for the New York City Opera. He speaks with musician John Zorn about the scale and challenges of the stage.

In his latest production, Counts takes to Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater as the site for Monodramas, titled after the genre invented with the scoring of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Pygmalion in 1770. Under Counts’s curation, direction, and design, the opera is more like an event that spans time and bridges artistic vision—that of Arnold Schoenberg (Erwartung, Expectation), Morton Feldman (Neither), and John Zorn (La Machine de l’être, The Machine of Being)—all united by three heroines. Expanding the traditional monodrama’s focus on the inner dialogue and catharsis of one character, Counts aligns three archetypical women and moves the production through a range of compositions that reach back to 1909. His partnership with composer John Zorn brings the genre to the present with a composition inspired by drawings made in a French psychiatric institution by Antonin Artaud. Contributions by contemporary visual artists are a part of each performance and include work by video artist Jennifer Steinkamp, laser art pioneer Hiro Yamagata, and Ada Whitney, while stills by Pipilotti Rist resonate the dynamics of Monodramas out into the lobby as part of the Parallel Perceptions display.

Michael Counts discusses his operatic triptych with collaborator and prolific experimental musician/producer John Zorn on the heels of rehearsals for Neither.

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