A tiny collection of what we’re looking at for *The Circuit* -what’s shaping our material, questions, etc…
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…
This second post from Steven DeWater comes about a week-and-a-half after it was written, due to some complications with the Great Firewall of China. As it stands we have already completed our project in Chengdu and are now heading into part two in Shanghai.
The Hinterlands Ensemble is in Chengdu right now studying an ancient Chinese theatre form called Chuanju (Sichuan Opera). There’s multiple layers to this, which I will try to explain in a minute. But first let me tell you that the nature of our exchange is goingreally well. In talking about The Hinterlands’ process someone said, “We have content and an explosive quality of play- but what we’re lacking is form.” And studying Chuanju- with China’s master’s, no less - is a serious re-consideration of form.
We have morning Chuanju class with Wang Shize and his wife, Ms. Li. Both are amazing performers - in their 70’s and masters of their craft. They are teaching us the walks and physical language, as well as two Chuanju forms - one for male and one for female. Twice weekly we have a lecture with Wang Qijiu who is teaching us the theory of Chuanju. He is widely regarded as one of the best clowns in China. He has been performing Chuanju since 1961, an old master in his own right. Our conversations with him have included a cultural history of Xiqu (Chinese Opera), the unique features of Chuanju, the actor as poet, yi jing, the physical language of Chuanju, and coming this Wednesday we will sit down and talk with him about clown - a massive dialogue we’ve anticipated having with him for some time and have reserved a whole morning for it. On the weekends we are working with Liza’s former classmates - all teachers and performers now - Liu Hai, Xie Zhixiong, Liao Mei, and Wen Jinzhen. They have introduced us to an assortment of forms and performance tools - how the eyes work, the walks of the Scholar and Soldier, the Chuanju way of riding a horse, the basics of acrobatic stage fighting, and an overview of Chuanju props and weaponry. In return, we have led the four of them through the Hinterlands signature style of physical/movement training as well as a handful of theatre games and exercises, none of which they have ever experienced before: object play, impulse work, actor-audience relationship games, and some tableau-focused improvisations.
Tomorrow we meet with the classmates and begin working toward devising a short piece to show next week. Our Chinese partners, suggested that we work on a western, a performance style that we have been heavily engaged in but is as mysterious to our partners as Chuanju can be for us. Although the thematic material will be inspired by the Old West genre, the piece we create will be heavily influenced by Chuanju physicality and role type.
I hope this meets you all well and thriving,
My best in all,
This blog entry is brought to you by Hinterlands Associate Artist Steve DeWater
Chengdu is located at the bottom of a basin in the Sichuan Province in southern China. The skies overhead are eternally white and the horizon is washed in a thick haze. When morning arrives, the sun - if it is visible - holds like an orange bulb that darts in and out between the buildings as the city bus rumbles through town. The busses are like hives: crowds of people crushing themselves up against each other, reaching to steady against the sway. Surrounding, swarms of motorcycles and bicycles buzz along the curb-edge and taxi’s cut in and out of oncoming lanes of traffic speeding their passengers onward their destinations. At every busy corner of the city, throngs of people wait en masse behind stoplights for the green to go. Even now, in the privacy of my bedroom at this late hour of the night, I can hear the constant cacophony of car horns ringing in my ears. Still, when the light changes and everything starts to move forward again you feel at ease with it all. It’s the way it is here and it has a nice flow to it.
Chengdu is a damp and cloudy place but by afternoon warmer air moves in. The atmosphere adds density to sound making it travel farther and louder, I think. It makes odor suspend and linger. It is rarely windy and you can see it in the way cigarette smoke lifts sleepily off and doesn’t want to move. The smells of the city are various. On a walk up a side street you will be accosted by the sour bite of sewage and then treated to the sweet scent of chestnuts & peanuts roasting in charcoal. Fresh, fried bread and buns in the mornings. Meats and broths and baked goods in the afternoons. Diesel from construction trucks. Tobacco smoke. Perfume on a pretty girl. Something always burning.
Even though Chengdu has been in the same place and under the same handle for three thousand years it is, as of yet, still very young. Skyscrapers, pollution, and four lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic congestion (they like Buick’s). Pushing and shoving. Crazy taxi driver’s. Homeless children begging for coins. Stray dogs. Storefront windows occupied by butchered ducks, naked chickens, and sausages on string hung on hooks just waiting upon the buyer. It is not uncommon to spot fancy women wearing outfits lifted from the latest fashion magazine. And it is not uncommon to see leathery faces and bent backs hardened by years of labor. It’s not all blue rivers and pretty pagoda’s here. Or tea gardens. Or old men with long white beards and round spectacles smoking pipes. Or groups of elderly women gathered around a bamboo table playing Mahjong. All those things certainly exist - and such moments are beautiful finds - I have seen them. But you have to remember that KFC is also here along with several Chinese imitators. There is a Dairy Queen right around the corner from one of the local religious temples - right across from Starbucks. Consumerism is not lacking. There is construction sprouting up every place - apartment buildings, corporations, business ventures, whole neighborhoods coming into bloom, sculpture art, even structures supporting the local populace. For example, there is a new music park in East Chengdu with coffee shops, bars, stores and concert grounds. The twinkle in the eye of today’s youth strikes something familiar in me… I can see the dream. It reminds me of the United States back in the 1950’s. It is clear the ball is rolling. I feel like I’m on the edge of something wonderful that is about to happen. While the infrastructure across the US is failing and money woes back home paints a blight on the American spirit, I can tell you that the future of Chengdu looks like it is going to be prosperous. Something to think about.
All the same, the general population here is not used to encountering people from the outside. America is the famous melting pot where all cultures converge and elbow it out. But China, simply put, is just not like that. At one of the temples we visited a few days ago, a man walked straight up and put his arm around my shoulder and asked his buddy to take his picture. He was saying something about how tall I am. Within seconds a crowd of ten -maybe twenty- people formed to see what was happening and they all began to snap photos of us. It was a bizarre situation. I felt like a costumed character at a theme park! Granted, it is a fact that they rarely get to see a 6 foot, 4 inch, 200lb. white man who sports a full beard and wears hearing aids. They call me ‘Foreigner’. The adults say it with their eyes. The children laugh and point and say the word. I think it’s all quite wonderful.
— from Steven DeWater’s notebook