Spotlight on Philadelphia Artists
Six Philadelphia companies were part of the showcase at the NPN Annual Meeting in Philadelphia this December. Four artistic directors shared reflections on their artistic practices with the NPN staff.
Makoto Hirano of Team Sunshine Performance Corporation reflects on the company’s origins in 2008:
We came together for a very simple reason: to make one, excellent hybrid piece of movement-centric theatre, entitled Punchkapow. Three experienced and widely varied independent performance artists — myself having a successful career working in post-modern dance-theatre, Ben Camp in European physical-theatre, and Alex Torra as a director of multiple experimental genres. Coming together to collaborate on the project itself, for us, was an act of creating community. Since then, we’ve decided to continue our work together in a wide range of projects, from curating “salons” to launching mini-performance “events,” and offering one-on-one sessions to prepare for the Zombie apocalypse.
Presented at the Philly Annual Meeting is Team Sunshine’s project JapanAmerica Wonderwave.
Crowd Sourcing and Group Ownership
Photo (above): anonymous bodies || art collective, Photo: John Altdorfer
The process for anonymous bodies || art collective’s other.explicit.body, like the process for all their work, is
…rooted in our dedication to the idea of creation-via-consensus and to the notion that we can make the most interesting art when everyone involved has a voice. Crowd-sourcing and group ownership is the name of our game, and though there is often a director and/or lead-artist, those individuals serve as an architect for creation instead of the source of it. There is no playwright, there is no single-voice — there is only a process that asks participants to participate hard, generating material through interviewing-techniques, long-form improvisation, free-writing exercises, and our own particular approach to on-your-feet playmaking.
Jaamil Kosoko will perform other.explicit.body during a January APAP Showcase at Dance New Amsterdam in New York City, and on February 15-16 at the Third Annual “Black Aesthetics As Politics” conference in Pittsburgh, PA.
Multi-layered, Over Time
Kariamu Welsh, artistic director of Kariamu & Company: Traditions, talks about her own creative process as multi-layered:
An idea, thought, image, scene, story or moment can strike me. A mood, color, tone, rhythm or sound can also ignite a seed that often grows into a work but not always. These ideas can fester for some time until one of them becomes front and center in my consciousness and then I act on that idea by taking it to the studio. The work is never fleshed out beforehand and even as I am choreographing the work, the piece will often take a completely different direction that may not seem to have any rhyme or reason to it but I have learned to trust my artistic instincts and off I go in that direction. I can keep several works in my head at a time. There is no special queue or lineup to my approach or decision to choreograph a work, but one work will emerge as the one that I need to work on at that time.
Welsh emphasizes that as choreography is her work, “an important part of that process is my relationship with dancers. These relationships are integral to my creative work and often the dancers shape the dance in subtle and nuanced ways. Their bodies, energy, experiences and presence are many parts that make up the whole. I have been extremely blessed in working with dancers for as long as twenty years. We are able to grow together and to ‘return’ to dances that need adjusting.”
Research Lays the Foundation
Artistic director and co-founder of 1812 Productions, Jennifer Childs takes traditional comedic forms (stand-up, improvisation etc.) and re-purposes them as theatrical storytelling engines. “While the original work takes different forms — from full-length musical with five-piece orchestra to quick-change vaudeville to intimate cabaret acts — all are a mix of form and chaos. The strict architecture of comedic form, the mathematics of building a joke and the insistence of comedic rhythm combine with the divine messiness of being human and flawed.”
Childs speaks of the central importance that research has in her creative process:
Regardless of the form the final piece takes, the development process includes extensive research. In the case of Why I’m Scared of Dance… [showcased at the NPN Annual Meeting], that research included dance lessons with hip-hop, ballet, jazz and modern dancers. For a series of pieces on comedic history, research included interviewing, connecting with and learning from comedic icons such as Phyllis Diller, Sid Caesar, Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory. Research for our current project under development is much more community-based — interviews with over 50 women of all different backgrounds about the role of comedy in their lives.
All of this research is then brought into the rehearsal room, using guided group improvisation, writing exercises and most importantly, Childs says, “harnessing the natural energy and chemistry of the ensemble and making each other laugh.” Childs then structures and shapes the final piece.
Why I’m Scared of Dance…by Jen Childs can be seen January 15-27, 2013 in Ambler, PA at the Act II Playhouse. Her new work, It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project, will premiere at the Plays and Players Theatre, Philadelphia PA, April 25-May 19, 2013.
Process, Practice and Philosophy: Reflections from Creation Fund Artists
NPN’s practice is to offer performance opportunities at the Annual Meeting to a select number of Creation Fund artists who were nominated by the NPN Commissioning Partners. The Forth Fund, which offers additional support for further development of the newly created work, was a pilot project in FY10 when awards were made to six artists. Beginning in FY12 all Creation Fund recipients can receive this additional support. Below are some thoughts from three of the national artists who will be presented at the Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. The Creation Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Forth Fund is supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The Law of Attraction
Photo (above): Fat Boy, Teo Castellanos D Projects, Pictured: Teo Castellanos, Photo: Glassworks Multimedia
Teo Castellanos’ D-Projects adopts training practices from various sources, from the classic Eurocentric actor training of Stanislavski, to cultural B-Boy/Girl dance training, to Zen meditation, practice and philosophy. “When we go out into different communities we introduce social issues to audiences through the allure of contemporary art forms while simultaneously cultivating an activist spirit.”
Teo grounds his creative process in social issues that he needs to speak to:
Then ideas begin to formulate in my head. My interests lie in culture, anthropology, ritual, and spirituality. I bring these elements into my work in an attempt to create a visual collage for the stage. I research, write and, with my company, we begin brainstorming, manifesting ideas that begin in our heads. We also have a rigorous training process that includes formal Zen meditation and many times grueling exercises. This training also helps us with the formulations of artistic concepts and ideas.
Teo talks about his approach to building D-Project’s long-term sustainability:
Cultivating relationships with NPN partners, sharing your process, ideas and vision is an important part of moving your work forward and onto the radar of presenters. But I believe authentic friendships are vital, an artist should never create relationships to book gigs; rather I feel that we should build friendships through having similar interests both in work and life.
Teo holds a very Zen approach to the work, rooted in his own spiritual practice: “I believe attraction is better than promotion. Though this was not always the case for me, after maturing as an artist I realize that the folks who have similar likes in aesthetics will find their way to me (or me to them).” The ‘perfect fit’ spurred by mutual interest, usually arises by itself:
The presenters I have worked with in the past, and especially commissioning partners, are more than business partners — they are friendships cultivated over some years. They are people with like interests and commonalities and I have been interested in their work as much as they have been interested in mine. The presenters in my hometown have given us rehearsal space, community support, and have collaborated with us on educational and other projects.
Fat Boy, a FY11 Creation Fund award, was commissioned by Tigertail Productions and 7 Stages.
Visual Design Co-Created with Workshop Youth and Audience
Tree City Legends by Dennis Kim was commissioned by Youth Speaks, Asian Arts Initiative, Hip Hop Theatre Festival and Intersection for the Arts. A multidisciplinary theater work, it melds post-hip hop aesthetics, urban folklore, Korean traditional tales, live music, legend, and parable, expanding beyond any specific Korean American experience and exploring the profound feelings of rootlessness and abandonment of urban people of color, specifically Asian Pacific Islander American immigrants. Joan Osato, producing director and a member of the collaborative creative team, reflects:
The support of the Creation Fund was critical in the evolution of the piece from a solo work written and performed by Dennis Kim, to a fully fleshed-out play with an ensemble cast. The writer, director and dramaturg were able to focus on development of the script and song while immersing the rest of the family characters into the world of Tree City.
The Creation Fund also funded the work of the design team that developed the rich visuals, firmly rooting Tree City Legends in place, time and environment. These visuals were created in part through the work of the cast and crew who are artist/educators in a wide variety of disciplines. During an NPN Performance Residency, they worked with youth in the Bay Area through workshops and object-making rituals, examining the themes of love and loss. An evolving and open memorial on the set of Tree City Legends is constructed of letters written to loved/lost ones, a community altar and an installation of prayer flags made by audiences and visitors. You can view a short documentary on the play and communities of Tree City at http://vimeo.com/37065318.
An Opportunity to Re-invent
Founded by Shinichi Iova-Koga in 1998, inkBoat is a performance collective built by and with the collaborative efforts of choreographers, dancers, musicians, visual artists, directors and actors. Presenting in environments ranging from traditional proscenium to site specific, inkBoat’s performances evoke both the traditional and the experimental, influenced by pioneering work from Japanese masters, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook, Anna Halprin and Ruth Zaporah.
In 2009, inkBoat received funding from the NPN Creation Fund to support the creation of Crazy Cloud, a collaboration with Butoh dancer Ko Murobushi. Shinichi first met Ko in 1996 in Rome, Italy, where both were on a shared program. Ko’s hard-edged physical commitment impressed Shinichi. Years later in 2007, co-commissioner Andrew Wood of San Francisco International Arts Festival and Kyoko Yoshida of U.S./Japan Cultural Trade Network asked inkBoat what future projects they might support. Shinichi says, “At that time we were interested in using literature as the backbone. The book Crow with No Mouth by 15th century monk Ikkyu Sojun was the one, filled with biting and humorous poems.”
“Our rehearsals for Crazy Cloud began in 2008. Ko was flown out to our studio on the Lost Coast of California and we experimented for one week, putting ourselves under his direction and presenting the result to the local community in Petrolia and then in San Francisco at NOHspace.” In 2009, Ko and Shinichi met at Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) and worked for three days creating a duet, as further preparation for the world premiere. Unfortunately, at the final stage of development (also at MANCC) before the premiere in May 2010, Ko was delayed by three weeks because of visa problems. So Shinichi directed and choreographed the work, spinning off from the earlier work with Ko. Shinichi elaborates:
When he arrived a week before the opening, Ko added a few touches and our collaboration was officially birthed. Two years later, in May 2012, we created another version that toured to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Arcata and Philadelphia. This version had a stronger “Ko” stamp, much leaner and meaner than our 2010 premiere. Our present version carries on many of Ko’s ideas, though without Ko himself.
The entire project proceeded on a step-by-step basis.
Until we had received the Forth Fund, the project might not have had a life beyond the 2010 premiere. But with this funding and the commissioning structure of the NPN, we were supported and encouraged to take the project into 2012, re-working much of the piece in the process. Because we already had a two-site tour built into the NPN commissioning and with tour support from National Dance Project, it was possible to leverage further funding from The Japan Foundation and realize the May 2012 tour, which included the Painted Bride. …Throughout this four-year process, we kept returning to the source material — the life and poetry of Ikkyu Sojun, whose vibrant existence is documented through scholarship, folk tales, manga and a children’s cartoon.