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. . .
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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