To get ya’ll excited for *The Circuit*, check out an early excerpt from our penultimate act performed as a part of NET’s Detroit Microfest in August 2012 with a cameo interruption by Django the dog.

*The Circuit* previews at Play House (12657 Moran Street, Detroit) on Sept 26-27 at 8PM before its Oct 3-4 opening at Trinosophes (1464 Gratiot, Detroit), also at 8PM. For you out-of-towners, check us in Milwaukee at Alverno Presents’ Pitman Theater Oct 18-19 or in Cedar Rapids at Legion Arts, Oct 25-26.

#adminstrategies: The Non Sequitur

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

Production meeting

 

Animal battles

GRIZZLY VS MOOSE?

Question:

         Brown bear VS MOOSE?

         Grizzly vs Bengal tiger on ocean liner?

                  both freaking out

                  WHY FIGHT?

                           dead person?/human?

                                    they want to eat them, sure.

                           perceived threat.

                                    falling in the effin ocean.

                                    why water? disorientation!! even the odds

                                    general panic.

         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?

                           dim.

                           crack.

                  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.

                           like 40mph

                  versus?

                           not sure.

                           squid and whale classic?

                                    sperm variety.

                                    mortal enemies.

                                    sperms have war wounds.

                                             RESOURCE BATTLE

                                                      (weird)

                                    squids, giant: alien, terrifying

                                    whales: STILL MAMMALS

                                             not snakes.

                                             not scary fucking creatures

                                             sea cows?

                                             sea wolves?                                 

                                             sea bears?

                  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.

                           clarification:

                                    jelly fish = predators

                                    Q: do they HAVE nat. predators?

                           they eat:

                                    shrimp

                           they kill:

                                    fish.

                                    anything.

                                    elephants, even.

                                             if it was in the damn ocean

                                             school of jellyfish kills it

                                             elephant freaks out.

                                                      see Seth’s play.

                                                      think about adding jellyfish

                                                      = tragedy

                                                      = victory with hero pay price

         THE END

                 

Play House

1PM Yard work? Contact Gina for keys for tools?

Liza’s notes on process, neighbors and places

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…

The 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

Barney blogs on the Play House

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.

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Plans for the Play House…

 
Before the Play House became the Play House, it was used by drug dealers and prostitutes to peddle their goods and services.  After acquiring the property through the auction last autumn, our first day in the Play House was spent cleaning out all the chattel left by the previous tenants.  Horrific mattresses covered in dark and ominous stains, a startling collection of VHS tapes- mostly either porn or kid’s shows, broken toys, drug paraphernalia, rotten clothing, garbage.  A few gems were found in remains: a small bell, a tiny mason jar full of buttons, a couple of framed paintings- one depicting a large stag by a forest stream, the other a crane taking flight from a blue-green marsh. For now, the paintings hang in my apartment.  When the Play House is finished, I’ll return them to hang in the basement, which will contain a green room, as well as a building area for props and costumes.
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The Velvet Stag, artist unknown. 

We spent the winter performing demolition.  We knocked down walls with hammers and crowbars.  We shoveled endless amounts of plaster and lathe into large piles, then into buckets and wheelbarrows, then into dumpsters.  The work was dirty, and hard, and often very cold.  One day Richard and I were working and our water bottles kept freezing solid.  Our steel crowbars burned our hands with cold, even with 2 pairs of gloves on.  We came home covered in plaster, and dirt, and soot.  We looked like miners.
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Me, after a day pulling down the ceiling.  

In March, an invited audience of friends, neighbors, and presenters and producers attended a work-in-progress showing of The Circuit in the Play House.  A work-in-progress performed in a work-in-progress.  It was still cold outside, so we heated the space as best we could with large kerosene and propane jet heaters.  To be honest, we weren’t sure how it would work.  We had invested an herculean amount of time and energy preparing the space, not to mention hours and hours of rehearsal for our showing. There were tons of challenges.  It was cold, work on the Play House was behind schedule, a lot of our material for The Circuit had never been seen before, or it had changed, or it was raw and unfinished.  At some point however, all of us had to accept the truth: an audience was arriving, and we would perform for them.  It is, after all, what we do.  As the audience entered I distributed tickets.  Liza sat each member of the audience individually.  In the video, you can see that she takes every single person by the hand or by the arm, smiling disarmingly.  Once the show was underway… people laughed… people clapped!… It was working!…They liked it!     
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The Circuit ensemble, performing at our March showing.  

Later in the spring when the weather started to warm up, things really started changing.  We got a new roof.  We got new windows.  We got insulation.  Right now we’re preparing to wire all the electrical.  Soon, the floor of the second story will come out, and when you enter the space you’ll be able to look straight up almost 30 feet.  We’ll hang aerial silks, or a trapeze.  Or both.  We’ll outfit the ceiling with stage lights.  We’ll have a tech loft for equipment storage.  We’ll install very loud speakers. We’ll finish the floor.  We’ll finish the basement.  We’ll finish the walls.  At some point… we’ll finish everything.  Yet at the same time, I don’t think we’ll ever be truly done.  Sure- eventually things will transition from working on the Play House to working in the Play House, but to be honest I don’t think the difference is so great. To paraphrase novelist Octavia Butler: “…everything you touch, you change.  Everything you change, changes you.”  The work will go on.  And the work will change.  And the Play House itself, as it transforms, will change the community around it.  It’s certainly changing me, although I can’t quite describe how.  Sure, my hands get blistered and bloody, and once a week my back aches a little more, but something else is happening around here.  Something else entirely.

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The Play House

Research Material

A tiny collection of what we’re looking at for *The Circuit* -what’s shaping our material, questions, etc…

Shaw and Lee; Burns and Allen; George Carl; these guys; Bert Williams; Dorian Corey on Paris is Burning; American Juggalo; Don’t Need You - The Herstory of Riot Grrrl; haul videos

Sister acts like the Ponce Sisters, AND these guys, AND some(thers) brothers, AND bad moments in history like The Duncan Sisters

Xtreme Intense Championship Wrestling; Outsider Music;  Madonna as an icon of postmodernity; No Maps on My Taps and the Nicholas Brothers and Steve Condos; this guy and his jokes

Jit! Jit versus Juke; Memphis Jookin; The New Dance Show; How to Write for Vaudeville; The Foundation - celebrating women in hip hop; Groucho Marx dancing; Whack a Kitty; Internet response videos

AND MORE.

VALENTINE’S EDITION

by The New Kid
AKA Barney
2/10/13- Breakfast:Cereal. Creative Day.  Richard, Liza, and Barney train in the afternoon.  In the evening at rehearsal, The Circuit ensemble begins with eccentric dance and weirdo partnerships.  Torri and Liza split off to Uke Rock, Haleem makes Jit poetry, and Richard and Barney start writing. 
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Barney two weeks ago at training…

2/11/13- Breakfast: Donut.  Barney teaches class at UofM.  Minds are blown. The rest of the day is spent researching pyrotechnic catastrophes at nightclubs and how to write for vaudeville.
2/12/13- Breakfast: Paczki.  Paczki Day.  Acquire way too many Paczkis- essentially a Polish jelly donut-  and begin Admin.  Use Tactical Ninja Skills and Google all day.  Research Vaudeville.  Write proposal for Free City Public Art Festival in Flint.  At night: rehearsal.  Richard, Liza, and Barney practice poking each other in the eyes. Ninja. 
2/13/12- Breakfast: Smoothie. After a long day working demolition in the playhouse, Barney and Liza go to a House Dance class with Hardcore Detroit. Richard Newman DJs.  Guest Teacher Mai Le shows us how to cut rugs.
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at Hardcore Detroit

2/14/12- Breakfast: Shish Kafta.  Valentine’s Day.  Production meeting with friend and collaborator Anthony Cerrato in New Orleans.  Barney goes to YMCA and gets real. Richard and Liza paint their house. (interior. looks good.) 
2/15/12- Breakfast: Cereal. Richard, Liza, and Barney teach class at UofM.  In the afternoon: kick ass at rehearsal with Haleem, go see Fela.
As you can see, breakfast is important.
—Barney

On Training

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.

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(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.

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(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.

*Voice of the City* Winter Reflection

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

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At the Insane Clown Posse/Potluck show in Mount Clemens, researching juggalo culture…

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Sister act in a boat, *Boomtown, Bust-town, Bang-town!,* co-production with Power House Productions for NET Detroit Microfest

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*Boomtown, Bust-town, Bang-town!* in the Swoon House - photo by Shanna Merola

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Haleem dances in the Ride It! skate park with projections for *Boomtown…* - photo by Mitch Cope

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Shanghai Biennale - photo by Shanna Merola

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Mr. Yang, our trusty builder, works on the Biennale space…

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Rehearsal for Voice of the City’s joke-telling section in Shanghai

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And…Haleem teaches Jit at the Tianjin Sports University

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*The Circuit* gets underway

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…

Video from the Chengdu portion of our recent project in China. Video edited by Eleni Zaharopoulos.