Monday, December 11, 2017

The good life.

Recently I asked my first year students the following question:

At this time, what constitutes the "good life" for you? What person, activity, or thing will need to be an integral part of your life for you to consider it fulfilling and meaningful? There is no correct answer to this question, and your response might come from a wide range of possible choices (e.g. family, living in a certain geographic location, a particular lifestyle, a hobby or activity, a special person, career, etc.).

I just read their responses, some of which were inspiring, some of which were worrisome.. those ones sounded a lot like me. Given some things that are going on right now I thought I'd ask myself this question.

My good life is one in which I'm teaching design full-time at a college that also supports my research work into mixed reality performance and publishing about it; it includes students in whom I am incredibly invested. I love helping them figure out what their paths might look like, whether that's in theatre, art, or life in general. It has a home with Travis, we are both healthy, my body is cooperative and pain-free and I'm in shape enough to do Tough Mudder and my knees don't suck and migraines aren't a thing because sleep isn't a problem. Our house, which we own, is beautiful and has a back deck where we have parties with friends. We have both cats AND houseplants that coexist peacefully. I travel for work all the time, I design for all kinds of theatre and create original work - immersive/participatory/mixed reality theatre, installation art, video art. We live in a community we love, preferably someplace warm, but that isn't a dealbreaker. I hike a lot. I write a lot. And we are debt free.

Yeah. That feels like my "good life" needs at least 17 more hours every day, and explains a lot.

Since I've also come to the end of my first year of advising, and have been thinking about a philosophy of advising, I remembered Chris Hadfield's "An Astronaut's Advice," which I adore:

Decide in your heart of hearts what really excites and challenges you and start moving your life in that direction. Every decision you make, from what you eat to what you do with your time tonight, turns you into who you are tomorrow and the day after that. Look at who you want to be and start sculpting yourself into that person. You may not get exactly where you thought you’d be, but you will be doing things that suit you in a profession that you believe in. Don’t let life randomly kick you into the adult you don’t want to become.

Plus he sang David Bowie in space.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Here and Nowhere.

This post is stream of consciousness brain/word vomit. You have been warned.

Sometimes I assign "weird" things to my first years to read. Today we discussed Foucault's "Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias," which has been on the syllabus since August, along with a discussion of immersive theatre and the connections (?) between the two.  Some of these "weird" readings were intended as palette cleansers between the main plays we read and saw in the class (Romeo and Juliet, Wedding Band, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) but as we've been getting close to the end of the semester and their focus has been on their final papers, I've been able to devote a couple of classes to different kinds of performance, and that's where this came in. Plus - I want to expose them to a variety of challenging readings and relating those possibly back to theatre.

So - a discussion on what the hell is a heterotopia anyway? ensued. I haven't stopped thinking about that discussion all day.

Karolina Sobel; Color 2013 Photography "Heterotopia"

Hetero: the other, otherness. Topos: the place. Here and nowhere, a place with an ambiguous relationship to reality. Places in which to contain that which is outside the norm. A physical representation of a utopia or parallel space; a space with more layers of meaning than meets the eye......

Liminal spaces. Occupying a space at a transitional phase. Liminality is my favorite word.

The way Foucault describes a heterotopia feels very much like a space that is separate from other spaces, existing outside of reality or time. And I'm feeling in a lot of ways as if much of my life fits into that right now. Parts that I thought were headed towards permanency are feeling more transient than I originally believed. When we landed here I believed this was it, we would settle here, buy a house here. I had never wanted to buy a house before, but it suddenly seemed like a possibility. Of course, the house I wanted was at 9005 Palace Pkwy in Austin Texas, but with a new kitchen and fewer foundation problems and an actual living tree growing out of the deck but other that that yeah, a house in Saint Paul. Totally. A house was a completely achievable goal once tenure happened.

Vadim Zakharov, Black Birds, 2007 installation

Then came the heart attack, and that changed. And now, another possible and likely setback. Things change all the time. Life is change, that was one of the things spray painted on the bridge over Town Lake once. Everything that was ever spray painted on that bridge was brilliant.

The stage itself is a heterotopia. We never use it as a stage, its purpose is always to create other worlds, parallel spaces, layered spaces, other realities. Especially once we step outside realism and start placing those worlds next to one another, in ways they don't logically relate, where symbolism and semiotics carry more weight than physics and math. We ask audiences to follow us into these worlds from their seats in the house and they accept the impossibility of it in the same way that they accept the rules of other heterotopias - libraries and hospitals and universities and churches, spaces that are separated from the norms of "reality" and have their own rules and cultures within that need to be followed. Theatre is just one that stretches that lack of reality a little further. There was a review once a long time ago (omg it will soon be ten years ago Dustin Lisa Kim Kim Emily Chase Gabe we should have a reunion) that referred to our design of Ophelia as a "haunting nowhere."

Immersive theatre goes even further than that, because now the heterotopia the audience is experiencing is a physical place they can walk through, not just one they are looking at. And, in the case of something like Sleep No More or The Drowned Man, different locations placed next to each other (Macbeth's bedroom next to the cemetery next to...) don't necessarily make sense but contain meaning. Why are we telling the stories of Macbeth AND Rebecca simultaneously?

(I just realized that I sound like I honestly SHOULD like The Unconsoled and I really, really hate it. On an insanely visceral level. Sorry Mark. I can't ever forgive Ishiguro for that book.)

Vincent J. Stoker, photographer

Next week, I am going to LA. Again. Third time this year? Fourth, if you count LA-Taipei-LA as two trips. I'm going to an event for The Lust Experience (Anointment) - another heterotopia. According to Foucault, "...a heterotopia is not freely acceptable like a public get in, one must have a certain permission and make certain gestures..." In the last several days I've received emails regarding my attendance at this event and its rules - signing waivers, following orders, don't touch, etc. but also that I must dress formally and wear a mask. The entire immersive experience that is Lust is a great big blurring of heterotopia and reality - can that even be possible? A bit like a visible parallel universe transposed on top of this one...Lust sits on top of reality and isn't really separable from it but also isn't part of it. Though maybe in a way it is. The Cloudmakers argued, back in 2001, that The Beast WAS actual reality for many people, and we only lived that for four months. And that in no way resembled this level of intricacy and emotional depth. There were really no actors/interactions at all.

Here and nowhere pretty much describes my life right now. Liminal.

I have found a few relationships in the last 2 1/2 years that I believe might be permanent. Until recently I considered that number higher, but now, I think it might be fewer than five. The problem, I think, is subcultures. No matter where they are, what kind they are, what purpose they serve, there seems to be a pattern of toxicity to them - a group of people drawn together around one single thing, an idea, a purpose that bonds them together and makes it nearly impossible to actually relate to them in its absence. I don't think of theatre in general or specific shows as being subcultures because they are so temporary. We come together and form a community to put up a piece of art, and then disperse. It's the ongoing, never ending (or without a known ending) relationships centered around ONE thing. When we can't leave that one thing behind and do a different thing - go out for a drink, have a conversation, support each other through a thing, it starts to feel more like a construct, a false sense of a relationship. 

Or, perhaps, it's me that's the problem in thinking that "friends" was ever a term that should apply. "Friends," for me, now that I really think about it, are the people who are not part of any thing in my life. They are outside of all things. I have one close friend from grad school, and that's probably the only example of that. One from my undergrad theatre department, though that's not where we met. Two who were friends of mine growing up. One who was a roommate from my 20s. I have a group of college friends that are good friends - that could be considered the closest thing to one of these groups, but I've always been on the outside of that, and that group has become so porous over the years that it hasn't developed any kind of toxicity. I don't know if it was like that back in college. I have all the Austin friends, but they probably fall under the same category, and in either case, those "groups" aren't spending all day, every day together as a whole, doing one thing. My close friends exist in permanent spaces, in realities - their own homes and families or apartments in New York or Austin or Los Angeles. We occasionally talk or see each other once or a few times per year or maybe more. I rarely, if ever, have to worry about what they think about me. I never really feel unwanted.

Becoming a part of a group that I don't know well, in any context, and being with that group long term, as in a subculture - that's a different story. I worry, constantly. Especially if my membership in that group is uncertain. Especially if my future depends on it. Especially if my self-worth is riding on it, which it all too often does. Everyone is fixated on the one thing that brought them together and sometimes, I'm not. Sometimes I am the one blurring the line between the reality of my life and the heterotopia of that relationship. I'm treating these subcultures and groups of people that should be compartmentalized as transparencies that I'm layering over reality.

As usual it's me that's the problem, not them. I relate to people differently. That's how it was described to me over breakfast recently. (By the way, Minnesota, get your damn migas straight. Those were NOT migas.) I connect with so few people that when I do, it holds meaning for me - but not always to the other person.

This is getting seriously close to Sputnik Sweetheart-levels of contemplation of liminality and crossing over and I may now need to watch Picnic at Hanging Rock and call Torry and really convince her of the urgent need to adapt Murakami's book into a multimedia/puppet show NOW. (Mark, do NOT call Murakami a "lightweight" just because I never ran screaming out of a Forced Entertainment production for making me feel like I was stuck in The Unconsoled.) There is always a part of me willing to cut ties in order to cross over into something else. Another layer of reality. Another space. Another...

Maybe the heterotopia needs to be sacrificed to see if there is actually a friendship worth cultivating.

Once you know for certain exactly what people think of you, is it easier to stay? When you're no longer wasting energy on paranoia and worry? I know that many would ask me why I'd want to but there are very simple answers to that question. I'm not going to put them out here, but they do exist.

So. I have learned things. A lot of things.
Next time, I'll be much better at this.
More cautious. More reserved. Less trusting. More filtering.
More likely to remember who the top 9 "favorites" in my contacts are. More likely to call them. They are what is real. What is constant.

Yeah, I'm being vague on purpose. And this post will not likely still exist in the spring.

Driving away from the wreck of the day and it's finally quiet in my head...

Thursday, November 23, 2017


I try to do this every year. Last year, life got in the way. I'm hoping this year that we have a simple, quiet Thanksgiving and I can write this list in peace.

100 Things I am Thankful For, In No Particular Order (Except for the First):

Fall at my house

  1. For Travis - for the last year I've had with him and the years to come and the fact that he lived. It was Thanksgiving last year when he had the heart attack. We've come full circle. For being my constant. For being the someone to sit in my chair. For putting up with the insanity that is me, year after year, when really, no one else would.
  2. For the rest of my family, even though I rarely see them, for not needing me to be someone different in order to gain their support, for loving me for who I am and being my family in spite of it. Even if it means we aren't always close.
  3. For Becky, who is the best friend I've ever had and who I *promise* will be dragged kicking and screaming to Hawaii without her kids one of these days.
  4. For Erica, who I canNOT believe I will very soon be able to say I've known for 40 years. I am always so happy and grateful to see you.
  5. For Stacy, who will likely not read this...but I always think of the year we lived together as one where I figured important things out about life, art, and margaritas.
  6. For Maura, also not likely to read this, who always reminds me that life should be simpler and quieter than it is.
  7. For Sarah and Szu-Feng, who remind me that I'm on the right path as an artist and I'm not walking it alone.
  8. For Bryan, Michelle, Mike, Buz, and Chelsea for being my partners on this crazy insane journey we are, for some reason, insisting on taking. And for being my friends beyond that as well.
  9. For the rest of my Tension/Lust friends.
    Last November - I don't have one from this year yet.
  10. For Terami - I am really grateful for our friendship and for how it's grown, and hope it continues that way, and I can't wait to hear more music from you some day.
  11. For Will, Liz, Rob, Beth, Colin, Rachel, Kim, Amanda, Caroline, Connor, Ellie, Lowell, Gris, Jamie, Pat, Ryan, Kat, Aaron, Joseph, Crystal, Judd, Kat, Kelli, Kim, Lisa, Rebecca, Roby, Sarah, Stephanie, and Zac - for being the best thing about Texas and always reminding me where home is (and yes, some of you aren't in Texas anymore, but I'm lumping you in there anyway).
  12. For Chris, Darcy, Bob, Irene, Antoine, Chrissie, Jeff, and the rest of the old friends from New Hampshire we are still in touch with, for always being there, consistently for over 20 years.
  13. For Bob Schmidt and Sandy Stone, for changing my life and continuing to be my friends.
  14. For Torry, for being an amazing friend, a passionate collaborator, and a fierce supporter.
  15. For Mark and Trish, for being our rocks here in Minnesota, and for everything you did for us while Travis was in the hospital.
  16. For Ian, Kate, Steph, Maggie, Justine, Aaron, Anahita, Monty, Victor, Myles, Sydney, Andrew, Laura, Leila, Aizzah, David, Yousiff, Cecilia, and Ellen - did I forget anyone this time? - for being the BEST family and the best part of 2017, I miss you all and Edinburgh so much.
  17. For whatever it was the above people had me drinking in Scotland - because it DIDN'T give me migraines.
  18. For Kaitlin and the rest of the PPAF/Mary Poppins crew - thank you for an exhausting and fun start to my summer!
  19. For Darren and Clint, and all other parties involved, for this amazing, crazy impossible emotional shitstorm of an adventure called The Lust Experience that you've brought into my life this year. 
  20. For all the people in the past week who have given me much needed advice and pep talks - especially Ann and Greg. Without the two of you I'd still be mentally spinning my way into crisis.
  21. For Sam - seriously, I'm really grateful to have connected with you here in the past couple of years. Thank you for listening and giving advice. And teaching me about ethics!
  22. For Dr. Yannopolous, for saving my husband's life, creating this insane experimental procedure and just being brilliant. And putting up with me in the emergency room.
  23. For Mike Croswell and our collaborations this year.
  24. For Kathryn and our conversation at USITT.
  25. For the chance to take my students to USITT last year.
  26. For the chance to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
  27. For all the people who helped me finish my article.
  28. For Karen Maness, for giving me a few basic painting skills this past summer.
    Three days well spent
  29. For Taipei and the adventure there.
  30. For Andrew Schneider and his mindblowing life-changing work YOUARENOWHERE.
  31. For Theatre Conspiracy and their amazing show Foreign Radical.
  32. For Scotland, absolutely everything about my entire time there.
  33. For the team of the upcoming Ireland project.
  34. For my FYC, and all the adventures seeing theatre together.
  35. For my students in general - there are days when you are the reason I get out of bed.
  36. For The Cherry Orchard, and especially all the amazing seniors involved.
  37. For my kitties, for god only knows what. Being living alarm clocks and not being around when they're wanted and being pains in the ass and acting really weird and throwing up a lot.
  38. For knowing that even if things go south we are pretty ok for the near future.
  39. For a year that included design work abroad, and an upcoming year with more design work abroad.
  40. For knowing what I'm passionate about and not being afraid to pursue it.
  41. For teaching my first year students writing this semester, which in turn has had the effect of teaching ME more about writing than I knew before.
  42. For exciting new collaborations just peaking over the horizon.
  43. For generic Relpax! Finally!!
  44. For hot water with lemon and honey when you're sick with an awful cough.
  45. For hot baths with Aura Cacia bath salts and Beth Orton playing on Spotify.
  46. For the new down comforter that Shitty Third Cat hasn't destroyed yet, and knowing how AMAZING it's are going to feel to get into once it's 30 below.
  47. For the holiday season starting this weekend.
  48. For apple pie and pumpkin muffins.
  49. For having a car that isn't going to die this winter. Or next.
  50. For Mr. Robot. Seriously.
  51. For the beautiful piece of pottery I bought in Dihua Street in Taipei.
  52. For still being able to play the piano, even if it's only a little.
  53. For scallops bought from the seafood place on Snelling.
  54. For game night with the Vaillancourts.
  55. For the night in Edinburgh over pizza when I realized I was sitting with a bunch of theatre artists who were just as excited about immersive theatre and gamification as I was.
  56. For everyone who puts up with me when I'm drunk. And for Chelsea for taking my phone away last time.
  57. For the Kelpies.
    So glad we made this journey.
  58. For people who have known me so long I don't have to explain anything to them. 
  59. For Austin, and the rest of Texas.
  60. For the smell of honeysuckle.
  61. For having the ability and opportunities to travel for my work.
  62. For the Hadestown live recording.
  63. For paneer tikka masala and kheer from India House.
  64. For running.
  65. For Penumbra's production of Wedding Band.
  66. For Christmas Cookie scented candles from Yankee Candle.
  67. For books that Chelsea makes me buy.
  68. For grants that fund upcoming trips.
  69. For Hidden Room Theatre & the phone call I had with Beth the other night.
  70. For evenings when I actually do yoga before bed.
  71. For days spent unplugged.
  72. For finding good massage therapists when out of town.
  73. For the people in my life who don't doubt that I can handle myself.
  74. For the day when I introduced Steph to putting cream in her coffee.
  75. For jokes about whips that will never, ever die.
  76. For possibly going to the Under the Radar festival and the dress rehearsal of Andrew Schneider's new piece in January.
  77. For gratitude journals. Yeah I do it, shut up.
  78. For Jim Halvorson at Cajah Salon.
  79. For actually good Mexican food, when I get to have it.
    She couldn't finish it.
  80. For 4 years of keeping the 50+ pounds off!
  81. For everything that David Bowie has ever made.
  82. For a night with Maggie, Ellen, Laura, and Steph and a video we made.
  83. For Ontroerend Goed's LIES.
  84. For the visit with Jamie in Moorhead.
  85. For playing Settlers of Catan with the Transmission crew.
  86. For the pieces of design-driven performance I saw at World Stage Design 2017.
  87. For coffee.
  88. For flowers from students after the closing of a show.
  89. For getting to be a part of Swim Pony's The End this year.
  90. For Max the cat following me to class.
  91. For Catherine, who I clicked with the very first week I was here at Mac.
  92. For all the women lighting designers who make up that 20%.
  93. For the Spider Web ARG group.
  94. For the way the sun hits the trees in my neighborhood during sunset in the summer.
  95. For middle of the night focuses in Portsmouth by the ocean.
  96. For cats named Steve.
  97. For Yoga with Adriene.
  98. For the Fusebox Festival, even though I haven't been in awhile.
  99. For the graffiti on the bridge over Town Lake.
  100. For Jacob's Well and dreams of swimming there soon.
    Next summer?

Friday, November 10, 2017

My Lust Experience So Far (Vaguely Described)

"Passivity is the death of theater. I believe plays should be experiences, and those experiences should wake us up, turn us on, and jolt us to a new way of thinking or being in the world." - Joanna Garner

I don't know Joanna. I have heard her name often enough that I swear I know her or have met her, obviously we know the same people and we are both Longhorns which, if you aren't a Longhorn, you won't understand. I think I was asked to design a play of hers once. But I've actually never met her, I don't think. The way my brain works when it comes to people can be so frustrating though, Joanna, if you're reading this and we've met - my apologies. Travis read your artist's statement to me last night and I had to use the above quote for this post.

Last year while involved in The Tension Experience I wrote about both my experiences in it as a participant and also my observations, since I was participating from Minnesota and most of the action was taking place in Los Angeles. In all honesty I never expected last year to become as immersed in it as I did, and even so my interactions with it took place mostly over the course of one weekend when I flew to LA. While the conceit of Tension is such that it can take over a participant's life anytime, anywhere, the chaos for me was controlled: I had to get on a plane first. As long as I was home, in Saint Paul, I was safe.

At the end of it all last year, actually while Travis was in the hospital, I wrote an article in which I (stupidly?) said "Dear Tension. Next year, crush my soul. Love Megan." I received a letter in the mail in response promising exactly that. Nothing ominous at all about that. I kind of regret the title of that article now. First of all, I didn't choose that title. I wrote the article before the heart attack, and then when the heart attack came I asked NoPro to title it for me because fuck everything. The title came from a discussion about something Jane McGonigal said about "Westworld" and The Man in Black, with whom I strongly identified. I probably still do but that whole association has long since lost all real meaning to me. Also what followed in the wake of this has/had/will have/is likely to have consequences. Not just "in-game" (referring to affecting the choices we make within the narrative) but also in my real life. I got what I wanted. The Asking For It Experience.

Or, you know, The Lust Experience, which has been going on since February but which really started for me in July. I'm not going to go into details. There are some details to this story that, to me, are not really public as to why this happened at all, why I didn't just have a few creepy phone calls and that was it. Honestly I came very, very close to quitting but was talked into staying in July. There are other details that are personal and particular to me that I can't share because they're private, not for the public. And there are things that happened that I can't talk about publicly because they might draw attention to myself or to the creators in ways that I don't want to have to deal with. I want nothing more than to fully write about this as performance and as an experience of theatre from my perspective but I can't. Not right now. it over? I mean obviously Lust isn't, I mean my part in it. This story. It feels like it is but...

Some things I will say: 

It's been two months of being fucked with hard. Some of it was seen by the other participants, some of it was not. No, I did not share everything and I'm not going to. If you want to know everything, you can buy me a drink and I'll tell you in person, and I promise you, that is the only way you'll know short of me getting a "never silent." 

What I said to the creators last year was that I couldn't fake my emotions. I had to feel real fear. If I wasn't afraid, genuinely afraid, I wasn't going to perform it. Actually the other audience members at The Willows saw this when I went to that in July. I was kind of stone-faced the entire time. I keep a really tight reign on how and what I feel because letting go of that has proven dangerous in the past. But I do want to be moved. I just don't always know what's going to do it, and most things don't. So I told them, it had to be real. That referred to more than one thing - it meant my feelings had to be real but it also meant that I needed proof and not just words. Don't tell me you're stalking me, actually stalk me. 

In the real feelings department, though, they delivered. More than delivered. When the actual narrative that was "mine" started I could see what was going on and could make conscious choices. I wasn't feeling yet. I was still over thinking and over analyzing with my rational, literal, daughter-of-an-engineer brain. I knew what they were doing and I chose to go along with it to see what would happen. But four or six weeks later that wasn't the case anymore. I didn't see the manipulations as they were coming, I would see them days or even a week after they'd happened. I was fully present because I wasn't thinking, really, but completely feeling, and acting based on that. There were a few times I had to pull people aside and say "if I do this, you need to stop this" because I no longer trusted myself. They ran me through a gauntlet of emotions, fear and desire and paranoia and embarrassment and anger and panic because I couldn't control any of it and elation because I couldn't control any of it and how the hell are they doing this so fast and well and specifically to me what have I told them over the past two years. None of those emotions was anything short of 100% real and lived and felt in the moment. There was no cynicism, no irony, just presence, just being. 

Not all of it was good. There were times when it was maddening and I would be shouting at friends I can't do this I can't do this I can't do this. And as Travis will point out, I was a performer, and I hate performing. I was performing without a script, in a play that had no discernible ending, that was literally crafted for me. By people who know me far better than they should. And as far as Saint Paul being "safe" went, it wasn't. Someone showed up at my house, and that illusion was broken. I started spending my energy convincing myself they wouldn't do it twice. 

I did, in all honesty, have to say to a friend who works for the government (and I won't say what she does and probably shouldn't even write this) that next time I ask her for anything - ANYTHING - she was to remind me of the time I begged her to do a real background check on a fake person based only on a website from a Canadian Rubik's cube tournament from two years ago and literally nothing else. And she was to unequivocally say "no." To ANYTHING. "Could you take care of the cats?" Just NO.

And the audience for my performance was not always kind. No one is today when anyone is being genuine. People don't want to give in fully, and that's exactly what I wanted to do. I had a hard time convincing people what was happening to me in the beginning. And later I'm sure that it was considered an overreaction by most. It wasn't, it was...the only reaction. It was real. That in no way means I can't tell the difference between fiction and reality, or I'm somehow confused as to what was going on. It only means that from my vantage point, my feelings and my experience were completely authentic and real. Nothing was performed. That was my reality. From others' views it was performance, it was entertainment, I was amusing or pathetic or I don't even know what. If it is over now I'm sad that it ended when it did because I had finally come to a point where I knew I had to stop caring about all that. 

This week it might have ended - that chapter anyway. We don't yet know what that "ending" means and most seem to think it's a "wipe the slate clean" moment. I thought that was a month away, when there's a big event, honestly, but if that is now, then now is a good time for me to take 17 steps back and breathe for a second. I mean I'll happily be pulled back in if it's not over yet, but the past two months have been a lot to handle, both for me and for Travis. I'm feeling a lot of other mixed emotions right now and they don't all require an audience. November is and has always been a shit month, it's a month of hibernation for me, a month wherein I always think about who I am and why I am that way, and would I trade all of that for one person's presence in my life. This year it's also the anniversary of Travis dying and coming back to life. And I will shortly be receiving the letter of consensus from my CRC regarding my pre-tenure review. So, you know, stress. Right now I'm on a plane, headed to Los Angeles to celebrate my birthday (early) with friends, old ones from college and then newer ones from Tension/Lust

Dear Lust. I am so insanely grateful for the past two months and I don't know how I can ever repay you for this. I'm not a huge fan of a lot of what I'm feeling right now but that's beside the point. I am truly honored that you have trusted me this much with this experience and I hope I didn't embarrass myself too badly. Love, Megan

P.S. - No photos, no $100.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Five Things: Notes from "The Cherry Orchard" Tech

1.  Oh The Cherry Orchard. The stars of the show are the dog, Lynn Farrington's costumes, and the seniors who are just doing incredible work in the lead roles. I've been busting my ass and hopefully the lights and projections are keeping up with them. My friend Patrick Lord and I commiserated earlier this week about the insanity of lumping in projection design with any other element and if at any point in this process I'd been ONLY the lighting designer I think I would have slept 50% more. It really makes me question why I purposefully want to be designing more than one element at once. But I do.

2. As soon as I get a moment I need to write and submit a grant application for travel in April to Dublin. I'm incredibly excited about this project, the collaborators I'll be working with and the space we've booked, and as soon as I feel better about publicly sharing details I'll be writing a TON about it and the process of developing it. April will be our workshop, the performance will be in June. This will be the first time I've been to Ireland (I don't count stopping in an airport). It's a country I've wanted to visit my entire life. I'll be spending most of June there making immersive theatre.

3.  I am part of a group of artists/academics/game developers who have submitted a "paper" to a special issue of Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. Note the quotes - yes it's an actual paper but it's fiction and really it's a rabbit hole for a short ARG, and while it's unlikely that anyone will ever actually find it since its obscure, that is me in the ending video. My first and hopefully last ever performance. I can't act. Now we wait and see what happens next with this project.

4. Last Thursday Travis and I went to see Zhauna Franks' The Dream Channel - Episode 3 (in 3D) at Open Eye Figure Theatre. I was thrilled to see this piece in Minneapolis - I have not had much luck finding experimental, surreal, or immersive work here. This piece was truly beautiful and if it had had a longer run I would have gone back to see another "path" - there were four completely separate shows, not four of the same shows but in different orders. The scenes that Travis saw were not what I saw. There were parts that didn't quite land for me and I think our group walked into the final scene after it had already begun, which felt kind of strange, but I hope Franks does more work like this with her company, Strange Loop Projects, I hope that at some point we can work together on something, and I hope that this spreads to the rest of Minneapolis.

5. I have gone back and forth repeatedly about The Lust Experience and writing about my personal journey with it this year - last year my involvement in Tension was somewhat limited, and even though I expected the same this year that's not the case. This is...not last year. I am more involved, and am not sure how to write about it, or if I should at the moment, or even where to do so. And in the past four years I've discovered that I really love writing, and feel compelled to write about this and other pieces of art that affect me on this level (well, very few do, so let's just say other pieces of art that are good).

(Dear god. I just used "affect" when I meant "effect.")

Everything I write here now is written with one eye looking through the lens of my job. Why is there a need to publicly process things that we go through? That wasn't the case pre-2000. But I am sitting here lately feeling unable to do just that, when the truth is I can write about it, I just can't do so and post it. Is it just because this piece of art is affecting me (did it correctly that time) that much and that's what this blog is for - but the subjects it touches on are too personal and intimate to discuss openly?

One thing I can say for certainty is that - just like last year - this is highlighting how "other" I am. How much I don't interface with the world in the same way that others do. That's a lot to think about this week; the events and circumstances that made me who I am probably also made that part of me.

What would you change if you could?

Image: Dave Senesac, 2007

This damn week always coincides with the end of daylight savings, the first cold weather, and a tech for a big show. It's like the universe is conspiring against me...

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Only the most iconic sound cue in all of theatre.

Suddenly a distant sound is heard, as if from the sky, the sound of a breaking string...

That is how I have been feeling lately. I keep returning to that sound. Not because I'm about to experience the fall of the Russian empire but because this has been one of the most challenging semesters yet. I feel stretched thin. My first year students have asked me to do a lecture on self-care and how there are only so many hours in a day, and you can't do everything, and I keep thinking I am so not the person for this. Sleep is not a thing right now. Or human relationships for that matter.

Research image
But I'm sitting in the production meeting for The Cherry Orchard right now and just heard that sound cue, or the version of it that currently exists. I also just now heard the music that signals the dreams/fugues that I am creating with projections and lighting. I love working with Mike Croswell, the sound designer, and hearing his work has made me want to run home and create. Forget eating forget sleeping forget grading papers and teaching drafting and the ATHE pre-conference and the article/ARG that is on a deadline and the grant I need to apply for to get to Ireland in April and fun shit like my birthday or going to LA soon or The Lust Experience or SLUT or getting together with the junior faculty I started at Macalester with...

Research image
In lighting design today we did "Image of the Week," where I have the students bring in (on Tuesdays) an image (printed out on paper because I'm old) that has interesting lighting in it. Since the class is small this semester I try to join in with them, also to try to shift them away from images of skies or lights and towards images of people being lit. Today instead of showing photos, I showed the color palettes for the lighting design for The Cherry Orchard. I get unreasonably excited by color mixing and wanted to show them how I had selected the colors for sunsets and sunrises in the play. And, hopefully, it all works out on stage the way it does in my head. Lighting continually kicks my ass, reminding me that I don't know everything, and I love it.

Research image
This will be our last show in the proscenium theatre at Macalester before they tear it down and build us a whole new theatre building, with a new (flex) theatre. Opening night is November 2, which has never been my favorite day to begin with to be around people, especially this year, and there will be a reception and alumni will be coming to say goodbye to the space. And after that, hopefully, I can relax and breathe a little.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Long ago, there was a strange deception.

I just looked back through emails to confirm it - ten years ago this week we started work on Transformations.


This started as the project that "ruined my life," the grad school assignment from Bob Schmidt that became Rapunzel - Kim Gritzer and I creating performance art in the basement of the Brockett Theatre at UT Austin for the New Works Festival in 2005, which was invited to be performed at the Prague Quadrennial in 2007. And there was a second piece that was an ActLab project, also in 2007, Sleeping Beauty, one of my many attempts to throw art at my lifelong messed up relationship with sleep while simultaneously making some sort of feminist statement. And the freezing cold First Night performance under the bridge.  Then Sarah Mosher added a couple of pieces of her MFA thesis - Snow White and the absolutely stunning Red Riding Hood. All of these pieces centered around Anne Sexton's poetry, which yes, I'm aware has been staged countless times but really, who cares? We wanted to do it too. And Salvage Vanguard Theatre had a space for two weeks in February, and an empty office building allowed us to rehearse, and a whole bunch of women artists let me pretend to be a director/creator for the first time in my life and not just a designer. Travis and Will formed a theatre company to produce it. Terami Hirsch wrote original music. Noe Venable allowed me to use hers and recommended books. Liz Fisher and friends took a field trip to gather branches which I deemed were "not enough" and I am pretty sure that they hated me for it. There was "blood" everywhere - because when you are obsessed with the image of a woman walking through a pool of blood and how brilliant you are, you forget that at the other end she has to EXIT the pool of blood and walk around backstage. We shamelessly ripped off ideas and held dance parties backstage and my favorite book made an appearance randomly onstage, as did I, which I hated. There were apples, of course. And one day Liz Watts caught the apple as it rolled across the floor to her hand, blindly, and it was magic, and we spend DAYS trying to recreate that moment. And the sea of stretch fabric, and all the video. And the crazy cat lady I insisted on putting in the middle of the show - which, by the way, worked. And Mark and Trish's daughter fingerpainting, on camera. She just this year started high school.

Red Riding Hood

When people ask me why I am so hard on myself, Transformations is one of the reasons why. I want to be better than that. I want to take everything that was un-workshopped and under-rehearsed and make it better. I want to ruthlessly cut what didn't work. I want to have more than two ideas represented onstage over and over. I want to know how to do what I'm doing better. I want more confidence in my own work. I want to bring in other people to show me how to be better. The idea in Sleeping Beauty, which became the opening piece - that women and girls have been anesthetized, made to sleepwalk through a world that hates them - is far more interesting than a stage covered in literal or metaphorical menstrual blood, even though we didn't intend it to be that at the time (how else was it supposed to be interpreted?).

Me creating branch skirts, 2007

For a little while after Transformations I felt like a generative artist - there were installations and original pieces of video and real collaborations on new works. The past several years have been non-stop DESIGN, for which I am very grateful, but I have wanted more for a long time now.

Thank you, so much, Travis, Will, Amanda Gass, Kacey Glantz, Liz Watts, Jessica Kincer, Lynn Badgett, Janna Robison, Amy Kersten, Amy Guerin, Julia Shackleford, Terami Hirsch, Kim Bird, Sarah Mosher, Kim Gritzer, Kacey Samiee, Ron Weathers, Sandy Stone, Jonathan Sylvan, Paige Vaillaincourt, Adam Hilton, Allison Whittinghill, Frank Vela, and the guy that tattooed the words on my foot - We are strong, We are the good ones.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Adventures in Edinburgh: Lula del Ray, Red Bastard, The Kelpies

Manual Cinema - Lula del Ray

I can't explain to you how HAPPY seeing three overhead projectors on stage makes me! I've seen a couple of shows using overhead projectors (and created one for my thesis way way back) but this was just stunning. Manual Cinema is a group out of Chicago, which means I can drive 6 hours to see their work, and I just might do that now that I know it exists. Lula del Ray reminded me of Kid Koala's Nufonia Must Fall - very similar in how the actual *making* of the performance is a part of the performance itself, all musicians and technicians onstage, and the audience can watch the creation of the "movie" on the overhead projectors, just in case they forget they aren't watching a film. Which, if you just watch the screen, you can do. It's beautiful, seamless, and stunning.

Austin people, they are coming to the Long Center, you need to see them.

Preshow, with overhead projectors ready!

Red Bastard - Lie With Me

So, it's been a day since I saw Red Bastard's show at the Fringe and I have some complicated thoughts.

First, this was an odd show for me. As a rule I tend to stay away from comedy and also from clowning, but everyone in the Transmission company recommended this highly, so I bought a ticket. And, it was funny, as long as you were ok with having someone REALLY mess with the audience, in a pick people out and put them on the spot in front of 200 people whether they liked it or not kind of way. If you don't want to be put on the spot, don't sit in the first few rows of his show. Also, because the subject matter...eventually...became "relationships," and my views on relationships don't line up with "normal" views (Travis's words) a lot of what was funny to some was just bewildering to me. As in - people really think that? Wow.

My main issue was with language that he used, confusing its meanings. The show is called Lie With Me, and moves from showing the audience how they are all liars to a discussion about love and the so-called rules of love. The two are linked, in this discussion, because he talks about cheating and gets a few people to admit to cheating. He then asks who knows the definition of "compersion," and four people, including me, raise their hands. This ultimately turns into a story about his own journey to "rewrite the rules of love." But compersion as I understand it has nothing to do with lies. And linking the two together gives the wrong impression to those 196 who didn't raise their hands. Compersion - the feeling of joy at someone else's joy, usually linked with polyamory - requires openness and trust and honesty and NOT cheating. It sounded as though he was endorsing lying to one's partner because he was rewriting his own ethics because love.

My second issue was the last bit, where he waits for someone to come up onstage and be his partner, insinuating that it could be for a minute or for....however long. He is open to...? Yeah. And this is probably just MY issue. Or my issueS. Because first, are you serious about this? That seems, at the Edinburgh Fringe, like a plausible way to end your show. And second - you're going to have this courtship in front of 200 people?? Eventually one guy did stand up and we watched as it was uncomfortable and cringe-inducing and awkward and oh god make it stop. I couldn't watch, because I can't watch those things without FEELING how I would feel the entire time, which is that there are 200 people watching me, and I don't mind being in the performance but I mind the audience. So if you're NOT serious, then this whole ending is about feigning that seriousness, which is embarrassing to the person who got up onstage, and that's not ok for me.

So, yes, funny show, but...I don't know.
Also, thank you JaneZero, wherever you are, for teaching me about compersion, 16 years ago.

Trip to the Kelpies

My last day in Scotland called for something special, so I got up early and a couple of us took a train to Falkirk ("those men...who bled the ground red at Falkirk..." sorry that is constantly in my head when I hear "Falkirk!"). There's a public art installation there called The Kelpies, by artist Andy Scott, and honestly more than Arthur's Seat, more than Edinburgh Castle, I've wanted to see this. Going first thing in the morning meant that there were very few people, and it was sunny. We beat the rain, had a great time, got out of the city for a couple of hours and took beautiful photos.

Just stunning

The Kelpies, as we approached

That is me, for scale

Tonight, we head out as a company to a couple of pubs and tomorrow I head to the airport to fly home. I'm really ready to go home and see Travis and the kitties. I've loved Edinburgh and had the best time here at the Fringe but I'm so happy to be seeing them tomorrow.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Adventures in Edinburgh: Baby Mama, Lies, and Seance

I've been awful about writing and I've seen 15 "shows" or "events" (edited at the end of my trip to show total of 18 shows):

  1. Theatre Conspiracy - Foreign Radical 
  2. We are Jane Doe/Zanetti Productions - Jane Doe
  3. Doughnut Productions - Speaking in Tongues
  4. Mariah McCarthy - Baby Mama: One Woman's Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People
  5. Agent November Productions - Agent November: Major X-Plow Shun
  6. Malaprop - BlackCatfishMusketeer
  7. Ontroerend Goed - Lies
  8. Binge Culture - Ancient Shrines and Half Truths
  9. Darkfield - Seance
  10. Auld Reekie's Haunted Underground - Ghost and Torture Tour
  11. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society - Dram is Worth a Thousand Words
  12. Tidy Carnage - Shame
  13. Mr and Mrs Clark - (FEAR)
  14. Theatre Voliere - Evocation
  15. Quote Unquote Collective/Why Not Theatre/Aurora Nova - Mouthpiece
  16. Joanne Ryan - Eggsistentialism
  17. Manual Cinema - Lula del Rey
  18. Red Bastard - Lie With Me

Originally I had wanted to write about everything I saw, but there are of course some things that I just *don't* end up enjoying or have nothing to say about and therefore writing about them becomes a chore. Instead, here are a couple of the ones that really stood out.

Mariah McCarthy - Baby Mama: One Woman's Quest to Give Her Child to Gay People

Mariah has been a friend of Travis's for awhile and I've heard a ton about her. I finally got to meet her recently, and FINALLY got to see this show. And it was incredible. Moving, funny, beautifully put together, I am so thankful that I got to see it while I was here. Unlike Jane Doe this one woman show DID pull me in and did engage me. I didn't know the story, knew vaguely how it ended only because I knew her. But there's something about the way she tells this story that demonstrates that no matter how many times she has performed it, Baby Mama still cuts through Mariah with all of the emotions every time. I nearly made it out of the theatre without crying, but I didn't, and that is RARE for me.

Ontroerend Goed - Lies

By the way, this piece isn't called Lies, but I don't feel like finding the right combination of keys on my keyboard to actually pull up the correct spelling, so just go to their website to see its real title. This was the second immersive piece I saw at the Fringe that blew my mind. It was executed beautifully, from the moment the doors were opened and the audience members were greeted until the very end. The first thing that struck me was how completely designed the space felt - not something I had seen much of in Edinburgh but they had managed to do it. Dimly lit wooden tables were scattered about and we were instructed to sit at them in groups of six or seven. Each table essentially represented a country, and each of us represented a bank. The "show" was really a "game" in which the banks invested in different products, starting at first with tangible things like steel, but slowly working towards riskier, less tangible investments.

Lies did the impossible - for one shining moment, I understood the financial collapse. I couldn't possibly explain it to you now, but I got it, and understood bailouts, and why they are necessary, and how we have built this system on fake money and fake investments that is going to fail every time. It was absolutely fascinating and a TON of fun. This is the kind of show I would see over and over and over, to get a sense for how to play it, whether having any strategies at the table would change the outcome, or postpone it (assuming the show wasn't confined to 90 minutes). However it's sold out through the rest of its run (tickets may be available at the door, that happens with some shows if you go early enough and for this it's worth it).

Darkfield - Seance

Last but definitely not least, for now, the third immersive piece that was so good. Seance is a 15 minute piece inside a shipping container. I've touched a bunch of times on my inability to suspend disbelief and how knowing too much about the workings of theatre has a lot to do with that. Sound design is an area I know NOTHING about, and it made up about 80% of this show (the remaining 20% being kinetic - vibrations felt through the seat and table in front of you). Seated in pitch black, the only things defining the space for you for those 15 minutes are the sound that's coming through your headphones and your memory of the inside walls when you walked in - and it's so very easy to believe in the one that is happening now, and asking you to believe now, rather than the one that is in the past and unreachable. I was actually able at times to let go and believe that the space I was sitting in was different than the one I had walked into

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Adventures in Edinburgh: Foreign Radical & Transmission Opening

I've been in Edinburgh, Scotland for about a week and a half now - about half my time here is gone. The festival opened yesterday and our show, Transmission, opened today. I'm not going to go into how many pages and scenes and hours of video and number of hikes up Arthur's Seat and broken feet and podcast episodes and renders and Skype meetings and bottles of Scotch and resubmissions of the app to Apple have gone into this. But I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this project and look forward to where we go in the future.

I am in love with this city and this country.

Theatre Conspiracy - Foreign Radical

My first Fringe show was today - I bought a ticket to the performance of Foreign Radical that was right before Transmission's first performance. The description was the only thing I knew about it: "Thirty participants are invited into an intriguing theatrical game exploring security, profiling, privacy and freedom of expression in the age of cybersurveillance. Mobile throughout the performance, the participants collaborate, compete, investigate, debate and spy on each other. Depending on personal and group responses, participants witness different perspectives on the action, gathering evidence from dramatic scenes and documentary media that colour their views and how they play the game." Really, it's subject matter is the ease with which a person can be marked a "terrorist" or be placed on the "terror watchlist" in the US, making it difficult to impossible for them to travel.

I feel like I say this ten times a year but - I see a lot of immersive theatre. And I absolutely love it when I see something that does something different. I feel like so much of what I see does the same damn thing as something else. The number of shows I consider "good" is not large. I've actually started really winnowing that list down to a small handful, and that doesn't even include Sleep No More at this point in my life. Learning Curve is on it, as is The Tension Experience (ARG included), The Day Shall Declare It, and Biography of Physical Sensations, and now Foreign Radical. Those five shows are radically different. They all do different things.

There will be spoilers for Foreign Radical in this blog post, so if you are planning to see it then don't read any further.

Early on the audience is introduced to the format of the show as a "game" with a "host." It's all flashy pink lights and fun and the host is wearing a white tux. He starts asking questions of the audience, after learning their names, and the questions start to divide them into quadrants - things like "if you change your passwords regularly, walk to this side of the room, if not, walk to that side" and then "if you use a messaging app that's secure, walk to this side, if not, that side" so that the entire audience is now in four different corners. Then, pointing to the corner of people who answered "yes" to both questions, he tells the rest of the audience to point to the one who looks the most paranoid. That person is called out and separated. This happens a few times. And then it was my turn, and I was labeled the radical. This was based solely on my answering yes to two questions, and - in all likelihood - the army green jacket I was wearing.

An hour later, the audience has played the "game," and decided the fate of one man, whether he's been placed on the watchlist or not. And it's then that a disheveled, not-having-fun-anymore host walks in, in complete silence, with a chair. He puts the chair down on the stage in a square of white light, and then stares at it. Silence.

And then my brain put it together, and just as it was putting it together and saying "wouldn't it be crazy if - " the host says:

"Megan, have a seat."

Immersive theatre has made me do some dumbass things. And I have a feeling that isn't going to let up with whatever The Lust Experience might do with me. The thing is, for all of the times I've gone to a show with shocking moments (Tension or Biography, for example) I was mentally prepared. I knew that something was going to happen, if I didn't fully know what. I knew to be guarded. This, I had no idea. None. No guard up, no preparation of sarcastic things to say, no control in the situation at all, just...."Megan, have a seat." Quietly. Without looking at me. No eye contact, no drama, just this chilling silence.

So I sat, and for ten minutes or so I was questioned by the man who had previously been the suspected terrorist. He didn't ask anything awful, or anything terribly prying, but it didn't matter. I hate being in that position, having to talk about myself in front of an audience, especially when it's seemingly inconsequential stuff. At one point I stopped the conversation and said "why are you asking me questions about Minnesota?" and he responded "you brought up Minnesota, you're the one who wants to talk about it." This was worse - way worse - than answering questions in the processing room in Ascension because I knew those were coming. Worse than being called out for things I had written while wearing nothing but my underwear. I might not have known that exact scene was coming, but I knew enough to know something would happen and I could prepare for it. Plus, it's a lot easier for me to stay removed emotionally and mentally when I'm being asked questions about things that most people find uncomfortable but I don't. Start asking me the personal intimate questions about things that matter, and I will look for a way out as soon as I can. Especially if I think that I'm doing it wrong ("are we supposed to be talking about Minnesota or did I mess that up?").

I did not expect to be sitting there at this piece, being questioned. Having to name a battle I'm fighting, or explain my feelings about Minnesota, in front of all these strangers, in a bright white spotlight. I was only sitting in that chair, I'm assuming, because I was labeled a "radical" by the audience, none of whom know me. They gave me that label based on two pieces of information they had with no context whatsoever, and more than likely my army green jacket. Because of those things, at the end, I was in the spotlight.

Ding ding ding - that's the point, right? To have seemingly harmless acts be the ones that end up hurting you?

Later my friend Michelle would say to me "I would *never* call you a 'radical.'" Nope. Never. Angry? Absolutely. But my actions and decisions and even the clothes that I was wearing had context, and once explained, that context would probably remove that edge. Of course there's one thing that couldn't change and that's the the fact that I'm white / not a middle-eastern male. It's much easier to give a white woman's actions context and explain them away in the face of fear than it is to do the same for someone perceived as perpetually "other."

Transmission Opens

We opened officially today, which means the app has been launched, we had our first mission briefing today and our first public performance of the window dance scenes. It was pretty great to see a crowd gathering to watch the actors perform in the windows of our hostel (as if they were the windows of the characters themselves).

I do need to take a day just to experience our show the way it's meant to be experienced, walking the city with the app and discovering everything. I've been so focused on my small corner of it that I haven't stepped back to fully take in the scope of the entire work. I do hope that we continue with this piece and move forward to the next stage  so that people in the US and Canada can see what we've been up to.

My first Edinburgh Fringe, first show seen, first show opened.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Adventures in Taipei - Day 2

My day started out with a workshop. I then intended to see a couple of performances but only ended up at one before the awards were handed out at World Stage Design that evening...

Workshop: The Whale Inside the Shell - Kinetic Scenography and its Symbolic Applications

I was lucky to be able to grab a last minute seat in this workshop with Francesco Fassone, the artist behind the previous day's performance Shape. There seemed to be two ideas at play here - one, the concept of using one form that could change shape (in the way that the cloth did in Shape) to represent different scenes during a performance; and two, the idea that objects used in scenography could be archetypes that would work on a subconscious level for the audience. I was far more interested in the first than the second, and while I can see a connection between the two I'm not sure that connection was made entirely clear, or at least it wasn't for me.  The challenge of finding an object that can change its form repeatedly and represent multiple places onstage is exciting and far more difficult than I think. And not something that easily fits into a show that one might already be slated to design - say, The Cherry Orchard. But my attendance at WSD this year has had me thinking about what kinds of projects I can start on my own in the next couple of years and this workshop gave me food for thought there.

Flimmerskotom - Gregor Glogowski, Benjamin Hoesch, Alisa M. Hecke

This was described as "a performance based on the machines, objects, and devices of the theatre space itself." And it started off beautifully, with what looked like a mountain of PARs and halogen lights flickering on and off. The feeling, to me, was one of being in a swamp at night, watching fireflies or other insects and animals wake up. The haze and the lights pointed directly at the audience masked the "performer" doing any of the moving of the fixtures, and so they really did feel alive...however, once a person visibly entered the space, this spell was broken. It changed the vocabulary so drastically, and something that was beautiful and alive no longer seemed that way. I absolutely loved everything about it until that point. But if the goal is to anthropomorphize these machines, don't let us see the operators ever. I get excited about design-driven performance and the chance to see lights actually perform - "act" - as characters seemed irresistible, but was ultimately disappointing when the puppeteers showed us just how not alive they really were.

Awards Ceremony

I stayed through the awards ceremony that night - most of the winners were from Asia and Taiwan in particular, which isn't surprising. This conference's attendance can be largely determined by its location because not only is travel there expensive but transporting models and other display elements can be expensive too. It was a really amazing experience to be around this much stellar design work and bleeding-edge performance work. Now I just have to get the cats to help me make some of my own.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Adventures in Taipei - Day 1

I'm in Taipei for World Stage Design 2017 this week soaking up inspiration from some of the best scenographers, designers, and artists in the world, people who really conceive of space and performance in unique ways. Monday I arrived after a very long flight and wasn't up for much of anything but crashing, but Tuesday I made it over to TNUA, Taipei National University of the Arts, and walked through the gallery of professional designers selected for the conference (my work wasn't selected this year but damn, seeing these artists' work inspires me...and makes me sad I didn't make more of an effort to get to Seoul in 2009 when my work WAS time).

I started taking pictures of all the models, and then of the displays that I found the most interesting, partially for myself but also to show my students how work could be presented and show them the painstakingly crafted detail work on the models. My instagram feed is filling up with some of the more interesting designs. World Stage Design has a lot of work from designers working on the edges of performance and design, and the work they are submitting isn't always (or is rarely) traditional proscenium stage work. There's a lot of stuff here, such as David Shearing's The Weather Machine design, that simply aren't what I've seen before. That's the stuff I'm most interested in, and I'm hoping it will inspire me in my own work especially in the new theatre at Macalester.

I also saw three performances yesterday...

Blank Run - The Theatre Practice

Of all the pieces I wanted to see, this was at the top of my list. A lot of the work here might fall under a general category of What Happens When Design Is The Driving Force of a Performance, and this was a prime example. The preset for the show has these three structures on the stage, which look like vertical frames made of pipes - maybe water pipes, but in different right angles, like something you'd see out of a Super Mario Bros. game. They were mounted on a horizontal frame with castors, so they could be wheeled around individually, and each had its own projector mounted on that horizontal frame. With the frames "open," basically flats with no covering, the projectors shot straight through them and onto the performer that was standing on the other side. However, as the piece went on, she began to hang clothing on them - rows of white camisoles - and suddenly a projection surface was assembled. When she moved the structures around, the image moved WITH them, because the projector was attached to them. It was incredibly simple, nothing high tech, and it blew my mind. Finding simple analog solutions that I can go home and build right now usually does that for me.

The space, projections, and especially sound design all really "controlled" or directed the piece and controlled the performer as well. She was locked into a struggle inside herself, and obviously torturing herself mentally with thoughts of...something. The sound design was jarring and disturbing, and scared the crap out of the entire audience when it started just because we weren't expecting the volume. Alternating back and forth between that jarring, violent sound and the actions it prompted in her physicality, and a more lulling sound, the performer tries to piece fragments together - white camisoles, a green apple, washing. 

I couldn't stay for the talkback after because I wanted to head over to the next piece. I'd be interested in finding out what was spoken during the piece - there were only a couple of spoken lines, and a few Chinese characters, but no subtitles were provided. It didn't matter, I'm just wondering if it would have changed the meaning or impact at all.
Blank Run - The Theatre Practice

Shape-Performance for Ropes, Cloth and Pulleys - Francesco Fassone

This was a quick, playful performance that was probably a lot more complex than it appeared. I kept looking at the ropes and wondering how often they tangled. I remembered the FOREST that Katie Pearl and I built in 2010 with the rising water, a very simple pulley system that VERY frequently had issues. I assume this was far more complex. 

Basically the "performer" in this piece was a piece of parachute cloth with attached ropes. Stagehands on the upper gallery of the theatre pulled on the different ropes to control the cloth, animating it. And it honestly moved like an animal, to the didgeridoo music in the background. It was a ton of fun watching a bunch of grown ups giggling and playing with this giant creature. And then, in the end, we watched as it died.
Shape - Performance for Ropes, Cloth and Pulleys (Francesco Fassone)

Seagulls - Volcano Theatre Company

By the time I made it to this one I was pretty tired, and didn't even think about the Russian Theatre factor. The design/structure was interesting - they had basically built an entire enclosed space for this show, plywood walls and floors, truss, lighting. The performers were all suspended in climbing gear on the truss. And a drop on the US wall masked something, and I assumed it was the pool, which I knew was a part of the show (I was right). 

There were interesting moments. I really enjoyed the lighting. But fatigue's a tough combination for me. Also there isn't much in the way of good coffee here. This show will be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I may give it a second chance

Seagulls - Volcano Theatre Company

To be continued!

The good life.

Recently I asked my first year students the following question: At this time, what constitutes the "good life" for you? What per...