Admin meetings are rough. But when there’s work to be done, boy oh boy, it’s got to be done. So we’re working on strategies to make these two to four hour beasts a joy - minimal fights, maximal fun. We’ve been starting off meetings with a minute of silence - something I heard about on On Being - Tami Simon’s strategy to bring focus to the beginning of a meeting, push out the ego, and come together. It may be working.
The other winning (for us) strategy is a Barney original: the Non Sequitar injected into our meeting agenda. It’s put about halfway through the meeting as a way to refresh the group while giving in to our urge to stray from organizational gobbledygook. And it works - we get the chatter out of our system and back to biz. Below is an example: notes from this week’s non sequitar, Animal Battles (sandwiched between Production and Play House):
Pay storage bill TODAY pick up Tigers’ tickets -BB
GRIZZLY VS MOOSE?
Brown bear VS MOOSE?
Grizzly vs Bengal tiger on ocean liner?
both freaking out
they want to eat them, sure.
falling in the effin ocean.
why water? disorientation!! even the odds
Bald eagle vs wolf in small cave
eagle every time vs fish
importance of ceiling height
eagle can get up - HOW up?
slightly out of wolf jump range
no one will win.
cave opens when the other one dies.
HUNGER GAMES WITH ANIMALS. THEY KNOW.
BB bets wolf.
lb for lb, wolf is STRONGER
eagle must land.
also, is there a light in the cave?
LB says wolf.
RN says wolf.
eyes are the best target for eagle
BUT THEY ARE CLOSE TO JAWS?!?!
two non-carnivorous animals
blue fin tuna. they can swim.
squid and whale classic?
sperms have war wounds.
squids, giant: alien, terrifying
whales: STILL MAMMALS
not scary fucking creatures
WHO WILL THE TUNA FIGHT?
= jelly fish.
= man o war
man o war wins.
flight or suicide for the tuna
40 mph straight at jelly and thru
jelly fish natural predators?
sea anemone and clown fish
jelly fish spiders of sea?
they are fucking nasty.
i want to stay away from them.
jelly fish = predators
Q: do they HAVE nat. predators?
if it was in the damn ocean
school of jellyfish kills it
elephant freaks out.
see Seth’s play.
think about adding jellyfish
= victory with hero pay price
1PM Yard work? Contact Gina for keys for tools?
The last two weeks or so, Buzzfeed’s been going crazy with Mr. Rogers nostalgia. It stretches from a PBS auto-tune creation to an awesome facts article with the little known fact and this clip showing how Mr. Rogers loved break-dancing. Though very repetitive by the end, the thing that moved me most in the excerpt is how Mr. Rogers sent off his little friend with the comment, “I’m glad to know you.” It got me thinking about my neighbors and their skills or hobbies or loves that I don’t really understand, but that I find amazing, interesting, and a great addition to the neighborhood. This Tuesday, Richard, Barney, Haleem, Torri, and I sat down and watched our March work-in-progress showing, going through in detail what material we had presented, what surprises occurred (both good – like a section we had very loosely structured in terms of trainings to pass through/work with that really became something unexpected even for us – and bad – an absolutely manic rendition of Seaside Rendezvous;Haleem’s pants splitting at the top of his solo act) and more. The top of the video - part of which can be seen here - is fantastic footage of us chaotically seating our invited guests. It becomes a lovely parade of people I’m glad to know – our lawyer and arts colleague at Creative Rights; our mad-genius furniture-making friends and neighbors Chris and Jack; Kate, who grows food, makes art and deeply memorable essential gatherings; Jennie, badass rocker + folker + more; David and Rory from Milwaukee who have really made our work happen in times that were incredibly difficult for us… the parade keeps coming, and I imagine “The Hinterlands’ Neighborhood” in swashy font. Not to get all gushy and always be writing about how I love where I live, but dang, I love that clip.
Mid-parade. Glad to know ya!
The other clip I love is in the piece, towards the end. It’s a couple of minutes long, in the middle of the last act and is the “good surprise” I mention above. It’s a vaguely structured moment out of some of the training Richard, Barney and I did in February/March – a strange wrestling match, then two people sitting on a skinny trunk suitcase, playing with actions/physical relationships culled from the Marx Bros (Chico and Harpo on the sofa before the card game in Animal Crackers) and Shaw and Lee (5:06 on this clip), layered with text from Burns and Allen’s “Lambchops.” Because we had spent so much time working physically with each other in a common – but also ever-changing - physical vocabulary, we could find each other in the moment and be willing to travel en masse somewhere we hadn’t been. Watching it, I see Richard and Barney as the brothers they kind of are, having grown up together; I see Richard and my relationship, echoing my endless drive to (lovingly) undermine him; I see myself and Barney as friends, co-conspirators, lost together.
Just before the aforementioned section…
I’m happy to spend time creating work that means something to me with people I love and deeply, deeply respect in an environment I am challenged and inspired and confused by. The thing I like about our training as a method of working is that it doesn’t ask the participants to be something they are not, but rather to vigorously and fully give who they are and what they’ve got to the group at all times. The nonverbal exchanges that happen in a physical training/improvisation are honest “yes”es or “no”s. You accept your partner, rebel against them, compliment them, become them, change them… raw trust.
The five of us training in February
Once a week, The Hinterlands gathers to work on the Play House. We’re joined by volunteers, tradespeople, interns, and friends. If you haven’t heard about it, the Play House is a project that we’re working on with our neighbors and partners at Power House Productions. The Play House will function as a rehearsal space for The Hinterlands, and a small event venue for local community organizations.
Plans for the Play House…
The Velvet Stag, artist unknown.
Me, after a day pulling down the ceiling.
The Circuit ensemble, performing at our March showing.
A tiny collection of what we’re looking at for *The Circuit* -what’s shaping our material, questions, etc…
Barney two weeks ago at training…
at Hardcore Detroit
Our work is made through an extensive and on-going training process. Training is how we create the content for a piece; training is how we push ourselves as performers; training is how we discover the voice of the ensemble at a particular point in time. It pushes us into an unknown situation physically, emotionally, and creatively.
Training takes place in the studio, where we may engage in several hours of physical improvisation, or exploration of a specific physical dance form like tap or jit. We take turns leading and following one another. We bring in other artists to share their expertise.
Training is also occurring when we open our studio to the greater public through open training events, workshops, and longer-term residencies. Adding an entirely new group of bodies to the mix changes our physical dialogue. We may return to and thus beef up fundamentals. Working with a group may remind us of methods of working that we’ve used in the past that are not part of the current project.
(Working with students from across Region III at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Devised Theatre Project)
But training also exists in outside of the studio. As we put in hours on Wednesdays remodeling a former drug house in our neighborhood to become the Play House, our rehearsal and performance space, we are training. This lengthy process - lead by our neighbors and collaborators, Power House Productions as part of their ArtPlace project - keeps us on our toes. It requires we are fully present, physically and mentally. It builds our strength, patience, and visceral understanding of the process of stripping away and rebuilding new systems from the ground up.
(Friend and fellow artist Matt Chapman of Under the Table comes to visit, and we put him to work at the Play House)
In this way, “training” and “working” happens simultaneously. The benefit of plugging along daily with the same core group of people over several years in a variety of capacities and contexts means that “our work” consists of more than just performances. Taking a wide view when we talk about our process, most every activity of the day comes into and influences what is ultimately shared with our audiences. We train for the current work, but we also train for future, more unknown projects.
Summer marked the kick-off of full-time research into vaudeville and subculture, which will be developed into *The Circuit*, a piece that will premiere in fall 2013. *The Circuit* took its baby steps in three presentations and two residencies in very different contexts: the *Voice of the City* “open studio” residency and work-in-progress showing at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in June/July; a two-week residency at Alverno Presents in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; a traveling performance through our neighborhood in partnership with Power House Productions for the Network of Ensemble Theaters’ Detroit Microfest; and an installation and performance at the Shanghai Biennale’s City Pavilions curated by Rebecca Mazzei of MOCAD. We not only generated material, but interacted with audiences that ranged from cleaning ladies and the East Asian art elite in Shanghai to our next-door neighbors to community activists visiting Detroit for the first time.
I’ve have tried writing a full-out blog on this for MONTHS now, and have come to the conclusion that TOO MUCH happened to go into all of it in one post, so we’ll be spreading out our reflections into a couple of blog entries. It is the season of reflection, as 2012 closes and 2013 opens. We’re digesting our summer research with our minds opened towards the full version of *The Circuit*…exciting!
For now, some images of the summer….
Detroit Electronic Movement Festival Research while in residence at MOCAD
At the Insane Clown Posse/Potluck show in Mount Clemens, researching juggalo culture…
Sister act in a boat, *Boomtown, Bust-town, Bang-town!,* co-production with Power House Productions for NET Detroit Microfest
*Boomtown, Bust-town, Bang-town!* in the Swoon House - photo by Shanna Merola
Haleem dances in the Ride It! skate park with projections for *Boomtown…* - photo by Mitch Cope
Shanghai Biennale - photo by Shanna Merola
Mr. Yang, our trusty builder, works on the Biennale space…
Rehearsal for Voice of the City’s joke-telling section in Shanghai
And…Haleem teaches Jit at the Tianjin Sports University
It’s been a hectic 2012. Thanks for patiently waiting between blog entries, while we readjusted from the long China adventure, made a new piece (*Dreamtigers,* commissioned by PuppetArt - lovely artists and part of our great family in Detroit — coming June 10th to the DIA lecture hall, 2PM! Free!!), curated an evening radio drive-in theatre, worked on a house, and started training for *The Circuit.* That piece, focused on vaudeville and subculture and in a way on identity – American, personal, etc - is starting to slowly emerge.
(Dave, Liza, and Richard in *Dreamtigers,* commissioned by PuppetArt Detroit)
The China project (check the full video by our own Eleni Zaharopoulos) was a first tiny, step towards this research - in terms of both working with polished “routines,” and physical identity. Over our six weeks in country, we pushed our bodies with the training in xiqu physicality to embody a culture and period far removed from our own, working with historical material that had passed through many, many bodies – lastly, our 70-year old teachers, Wang Shize and Li Hongxiu (Wang Laoshi, a man, can play a fantastic and utterly believable 16 year-old sassy girl). Xiqu – particularly chuanju – straddles the line between high and low culture, and our theory teacher, Wang Qijiu, helped us to get a sense of that through clips that covered a wide repertoire (I’ll upload a film clip “Zhuahu” – “Catching the Tiger” to show you what I mean as soon as I can).
(Wang Shize, Liu Hongxiu, Liza, and Richard)
As we move forward with *The Circuit,* we’re each taking on research into a different subculture as well as research into classic comedy and dance routines of historical vaudeville. In this piece, we’re looking for America, and this summer, looking at Detroit. I’ve been looking at the juggalo family, the ballroom scene, and anarcho-punk culture and found myself most interested in notions of realness – passing off realistically as something other than yourself - and creating a family, order, and environment for yourself to replace the ones that have failed you. The piece – in my mind – is a way for me to address the culture wars saturating our media – America’s this, real America’s not that… My America – my Detroit – is full of fantastic Bangladeshi gardens, wise-cracking kids, Serbian alley patrols, a cat with its tongue perpetually stuck out, a burner collective raising ducks and making dangerous DIY amusement park rides, and more.
So stay tuned – we’ll be at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) in residence from June 13 to July 22 engaged in a very public rehearsal process where we’ll ask you to grapple with the questions of identity, belonging, common culture and subculture – with American-ness – along with us…