Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Nadia Honary

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As part of Q-STAGE 2017, Nadia Honary is creating a new performance piece combining video and movement – These Floating Bones – that will perform May 5 and 6 at 7:30pm, and May 7 at 2pm. For more information about this and other Q-STAGE shows, click here

As one of our 2017 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?

The inspiration for this piece has been in development for over a year. I’m very fascinated with the body’s relationship to the mind, and its relationship to the natural moving world. It’s very easy to become distracted and disconnected from the world around us as we advance in technology and strive for comfort and convenience. This disconnection prevents us from listening to our bodies, and ultimately lose a certain sense of the self. It is this reason that I chose to explore some of these themes using butoh-inspired movements and combining that with video of natural occurrences, such as water in a lake or leaves blowing in the wind. This piece is very personal for me because I am exploring my tendencies to become disassociated to my own identity. So for me, this piece is more like a journey into becoming reacquainted with this “self” through elemental inspired images and movement. My gender is fluid, my identity is liquid. I feel a connection to the idea of Noguchi Taiso which is the notion of the human body as a form of liquid, a water bag in which our bones are floating.

Have you been collaborating with any other artists to create this show? Who are they are how are they contributing?

My director/collaborator, Shalee Coleman, has been an absolute dream to work with in creating this piece. She is one of the few humans who will completely understand what I’m saying and be able to take any of my ideas, no matter how large or seemingly impossible, and mold and shape it in a way that works beautifully in the piece. I feel very lucky to get to work with her. I have also had the privilege to meet with interdisciplinary artist and dancer Michael Sakamoto. His work is very deeply influenced with butoh and having the chance to talk with him and also to watch him perform has greatly inspired me to keep pushing forward with my own work.

Why do you feel it is important to share this story of your performance with the community?

Vulnerability is incredibly important in the work I create because that is what people connect to. Although it is very scary to create this kind of work, it is also a very healing process for me. I hope this piece creates a sense of healing within the community, inspiring people who witness this work to embrace the natural evolution the body experiences, and to feel the physical changes internally and externally.

What aspects of your queer identity do you hope to express through your Q-STAGE piece?

I am taking an experimental approach to topics that are very personal to me as an always evolving queer-identified artist. I am creating a performance that indirectly addresses the evolution of the physical body and its connection to nature, very conscious of the fact that my own identity is in a constant state of transition. My journey coming to terms with my own sexual identity is an ongoing process and I am fascinated with the way society tries to box people into neat packages for the sake of convenience when gender and human identity is entirely complex and changing.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production? Have you been involved with 20% Theatre in the past and, if so, in what ways?

I’m a multimedia artist with over 10 years of experience in the visual arts. I’m very passionate about photography and videography. That’s why video is a huge part of this particular piece; I’m very visual and find great inspiration in movements inspired by nature. I also have several years of experience doing experimental theatre work. I love to move and as a performer, am very physically expressive. This will be my first time involved with 20% Theatre, but hopefully will not be the last.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?

The concept of gender identity and how cultural identity influences gender and sexuality very much informs the art I create. I’m half-Iranian, with half of my family still living in Iran. This means I’m still closeted to most of my extended family as Iran. I think about freedom of expression, of perception and censorship. These themes come up often in the art I create. I’m also very impacted by immigration policies and the act of inspiring fear in order to discriminate against an entire group of people, how certain words are used in conjunction with an entire region or religion in order to manipulate the way others view anyone coming from that area. I consider these specific social issues often when I create my work.

What other artists or performances have inspired you over the years?

There are so many! I am influenced by artists that physically and intellectually challenge perspectives. M.C. Escher has aesthetically inspired my approach to installation through use of reflections and mirrors. Conceptually, I am inspired by surrealism, which is why I draw inspiration from the works of Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, and Salvador Dali. Iranian artist Shirin Neshat’s use of video projection to transform spaces, as well as the usage of text within her work has also shaped my work. I also love the work by installation/video artist Pipilotti Rist. Local artists whom I know or have met that have shaped and inspired my work include ceramist and interdisciplinary artist, Katayoun Amjadi, photographer Wing Young Huie, and as I mentioned earlier, mover/interdisciplinary artist Michael Sakamoto.

Are you working on any other projects or are there others you hope to work on?

I would like to eventually finish a documentary that I started on my half-Iranian identity which also focuses on my dad’s story and how he got here. I think stories on immigration and identity are important to share, especially in times like today.

What is your favorite pre or post-rehearsal snack or meal?

My favorite post-rehearsal meal is tacos! Always tacos.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

I love going to Caffetto cafe. The space is cozy and they have pinball machines in the basement. I also love being outside whenever the weather permits. I will walk anywhere and everywhere and hang out in the park. Specifically Powderhorn Park is very close to my heart.

When you’re not deep in Q-STAGE rehearsal and development, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies or passions in life?

I love spontaneous dance parties in the living room, riding bikes with my partner, and cooking with simple ingredients. I also love challenging myself by trying new things. I’m excited to mountain bike more often as the weather warms up; I just started last fall and I’m hooked!

 

Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Devin Taylor

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As part of Q-STAGE 2017, Devin Taylor has written & created and co-directed THE SMITTY COMPLEX, a brand new work that will perform May 5 and 6 at 7:30pm, and May 7 at 2pm. For more information about this and other Q-STAGE shows, click here


As one of our 2017 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?

The idea for the story itself comes from stories I used to make up and tell to my best friend. I would text her poems and limericks about an otter. These poems usually found the otter in some bizarre predicament, having lost his shoes, torn his pants, eaten too much–it was really all about the rhyme scheme. It’s hard to say where the original concept for The Smitty Complex began, but it’s possible that it was a spin off of one of these stories that took a dark and complicated turn.

That was about seven years ago. I carried the idea with me for a few years before finally deciding to write it in the form of a short story four years ago. Since then, it’s been a somewhat slow process of allowing this play to say something “Real.”

It began with a story of an otter named Smitty and a whole lot of semantics that I imagine only a few people (like myself) would actually enjoy reading or seeing performed. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted it to be accessible to an audience and to say something real about the institutionalization of identity–even if it meant dispensing with some of the stylized conventions of absurdist theatre and blurring the line between real and surreal. I really had to fight my own stubbornness on this. I knew the issue of identity was central… I just wasn’t sure how much I was willing to give or how earnest I was willing to let it be.

 

Have you been collaborating with any other artists to create this show? Who are they are how are they contributing?

I am fortunate to have four veterans of The Naked I series–Courtney Stirn, Beth Mikel Ellsworth, Graeme Monahan-Rial, and Logan Gilbert-Guy–who will bring these roles to life on stage. I am also collaborating with up & coming director Bri Collins.

 

Why do you feel it is important to share this story/the story(ies) of your performance with the community?

I don’t know that it is, to be honest. I hope that it is. Working on this story for the past four years has really helped me break down some useless and problematic walls that I’d built around myself and allowed others to build around me. I’d like to think that it holds the potential to do that for others. If nothing else, I hope that it is something people enjoy.

 

What aspects of your queer identity do you hope to express through your Q-STAGE piece?

I have always felt at odds with the act of declaring the “authentic self”–not that such a thing does not exist, but that the act of declaring it is almost intrinsically contrary to its authenticity.

The idea of identifying one’s authentic self implies that this self is concrete and well-defined–something we can stand aside and observe, admire, and criticize. The self is to be lived and it occurs to me that maybe third-party perspective isn’t all that important. Maybe knowing yourself is less like staring at a portrait of your own image and more like the sensory act of feeling your way along the rocky bottom of the ocean in which you live, looking for that next tasty mollusc you need to sustain you.

 

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production? Have you been involved with 20% Theatre in the past and, if so, in what ways?

I’ll confess that I’m not entirely comfortable calling myself an artist out of context. However, I have stage managed a number of productions with 20% Theatre. For the record, I’m not comfortable calling myself a stage manager, either. It’s just something I’ll do for you if you ask me nicely and I think you’re neat.

 

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?

I feel a protective pull toward vulnerable individuals– or those I perceive to be so. Now more than ever, I find myself fearing for the safety, health, and fair treatment of the most vulnerable among us, for right now it is the most vulnerable who are the most under attack–

Those seeking asylum after giving up everything to escape violence and terror. Those living with few rights and little hope of protection as undocumented workers.

Those living with developmental and cognitive disabilities, whose very lives depend on the humanity of the more advantaged and who are at the mercy of those in power to recognize and value them as people without weighing the cost of their needs against their ability to contribute.

The elderly and disabled who depend on government-funded programs.

The children and animals who have no control over the destruction of their planet and its resources.

In many ways, my protagonist, Smitty, embodies this vulnerability. He is the perceived Other. He is at the mercy of an institution with unjustified power over his fate. He is an individual, and that in and of itself is a vulnerability. There is the depressing sense that even if he does clearly call-out the flaws, the hypocrisy, and the injustice around him, it will make little difference, because the institution will always prevail over the individual. It’s a frustration that seemed very personal and applicable to certain marginalized groups when I first began this story years ago. I believe it has lately become relatable to a much broader cross-section of humanity.

 

What other artists or performances have inspired you over the years?

Actually, the first performance art I really loved was opera. I used to listen to opera records while I played, teach myself to play my favorite arias on the piano, and fall asleep listening to Verdi every night. Whenever the local college put on an opera, my dad would read me the story (in English) and then take me to see it.

I didn’t see many plays–outside of the occasional school field trip–until college. So the bulk of my exposure to theatre came from reading plays.

One of my earliest loves was Tennessee Williams. He had a way of making the ugly parts of reality beautiful, which really gave hope and vital perspective to a deeply depressed teenager. He made crass and pedestrian language lyrical. His characters taught me not just to accept imperfection in people, but to desire it.

Eugene Ionesco was another inspiration and perhaps one of the most influential. I began reading his plays during lunch in high school, just to escape reality during my least favorite time of day. The first play I directed in college was Ionesco’s A Frenzy for Two. It feels strange to say it, but the existence of work like his has been something of a life preserver.

Since coming to the Twin Cities, more than twelve years ago, I’ve seen some truly astonishing theatre. I’ve worked for large, medium, and small companies, and some of the most memorable, powerful, and visually and conceptually stunning work has come from small, nomadic theatre companies working with limited and borrowed resources.

This will to create and to reach people despite the difficulty of doing it is an inspiration–not just for creating art against the odds, but for living life against even greater odds.

I’m inspired by designers who use their talent to help others realize their visions on stage.

I’m inspired by actors who come to rehearsals bone tired with all the problems of daily life on their minds, who then put those concerns aside and delve into the physical and mental work of bringing concepts and characters to life. I’m inspired by their willingness to make themselves vulnerable in every space and then put themselves and that vulnerability on stage.

 

Are you working on any other projects or are there others you hope to work on?

I’m actually engaged in a couple of different projects right now in which I’m helping other people tell their stories. It’s my favorite way to connect with people, learn about life beyond my own experience, and find inspiration.

Personally, I have multiple projects at varying stages of completion. I probably always will. I may one day write a show called Multiple Projects at Varying Stages of Completion.

 

Featured Q-STAGE Artist: Syniva Whitney of Gender Tender

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Who are you and what is your show called?
I’m Syniva Whitney, the choreographer, director and writer…and also one of the members of Gender Tender. Our piece in Q-STAGE is called “BENT/STRAIGHT” – performing this weekend, May 20 & 21 at 7:30pm, and Sunday, May 22 at 2pm.As one of our 2016 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?

Well, I guess I jumped down the rabbit hole of BENT/STRAIGHT by creating  fictitious versions of my co-star Will Courtney and I. They’re names are Wizard and Scout. This work has developed into its own world mixing up my interests as a dancer, a visual artist and a drag performer as well as my a love for film noir and futuristic thinking. The imaginary couple Wizard and Scout are always wrestling with the anxiety of losing their better half while also wondering who is the better half and wondering if thinking there IS a better half does that mean there’s an evil half? Or maybe there is never a whole. A whole what? They’re not sure.

This work is also certainly about navigating the world in as a non-binary person…the weirdness that happens as a so very bent person walking through a mostly straight world…that feeling of the black hole of the straight world taking up so much of your tiny island of queer space with all the barbed wire and booby traps around it but somehow something still gets in, threatening ourselves and our loved ones, seeping into our minds and souls. That sense of being outnumbered, tokenized, invisible, misunderstood…and then finding a loved one, another flame in the dark. It’s an abstract work, at times super visual and  very physical. Using abstraction and movement as language to me means honoring what we cannot explain, name or define, we’ve got to experience it to know. This is also inspired by the fact that Will and I are a real life queer couple, an alternate spin off, bizarro us. There is also compulsive urge I have to modify or mutate my own world, my home, my own body for good and bad reasons….also the urge I have to fulfill the desires of others, build their dream worlds and dream bodies. This is probably present in BENT/STRAIGHT. I think we are all wizards with the power to create change inside and outside of ourselves….I also think we are all scouts testing the terrain and preparing others for what is to come.

Have you been collaborating with any other artists to create this show? Who are they and how are they contributing?

We’ve been collaborating with visual artist Madeleine Bailey. She’s a very good friend of mine, and we met while in the MFA program together at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She’s a multi-disciplinary artist, writer and mentor currently based in New York…she’s been coming here to Minneapolis for a few intensives and collaborating digitally and on the phone from the beginning of this project talking visual stuff, brainstorming and testing ideas for BENT/STRAIGHT. She’s got big beautiful ideas and I’m so inspired by that, I  love what she’s created for this work. Making the objects come to life has added a whole other dimension to the process and it’s been a lovely mind meld. Madeleine is also a fellow lover of film noir and the absurd and so we’ve had fun doing research and just getting deep into playing around with what could happen….she’s brought an amazing eye to this, I feel lucky she agreed to work with us! We get to perform with her objects throughout and there is also a light installation that we interact with and kind of build during this performance. These elements have really become a part of the heart of this work. Also, we’ve got music from Ariskany Records featured throughout. Ariskany Records aka Cary and Evan James. They are brothers and artistic collaborators and we’ve been able to use their music in a lot of our work in the past and I’m so happy they still don’t mind us using their art as a soundtrack for Gender Tender. I’m a big fan, I love the sound they create and definitely have always felt aligned with their experimental approach to making music. Check them out! Download it, you’ll like it. I love being able to dance to their sound, it makes me so glad I get to do this kind of work. And of course Will Courtney is a brilliant performer and lovely human and it’s been an amazing experience having so much time to develop the work together. Collaboration is the best.

Are you working on any other projects or are there others you hope to work on?

Yes, I was invited by Pramila Vasudevan to be one of the facilitators and designers for Aniccha Arts upcoming durational performance called Census. It will be happening at Northern Spark this June. Will is performing in it as well. It’s been great to work with a big team of artists of all disciplines and backgrounds since this past December talking about social identity mapping, institutional structures, parades, autonomy, underrepresented communities, the idea of a critical mass and people performing murmurations. There will be a cast of a 100 people performing in a line for 9 hours! So excited to be a part of this project.

As far as Gender Tender and my own personal projects…I’m always looking forward to making new or more work, or getting to refine and research what we’ve got….I have a recent dream of writing and directing a solo work for Will, so we shall see. I keep writing. I’m always looking forward to continuing to create new things, to keep on art-ing.

What is your favorite hangout spot and why?

Currently and usually my yoga mat in the morning is a favorite spot…especially with some sunshine coming in the window. Yeah, also I like going outside and staring at trees and sky and birds and people and squirrels lots of squirrels in Loring Park. Also, I like sleeping in. I’m cool like that.

When you’re not deep in Q-STAGE rehearsal and development, how do you spend your time?

I’m into watching cooking shows on Netflix… especially demented ones like Cutthroat Kitchen and Chopped. I think these kinds of things should definitely replace fighting of all kinds in general. Let’s just have a cook off. Someone can win. And then we can all be friends and eat together.

Don’t miss BENT/STRAIGHT this weekend! Click here for info & tickets.

Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Eddy Samara

In what way/s are you involved with THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED?

I’m delighted to be a writer and a performer this year.

Why is it important to tell the stories in THE NAKED I?

Queer and trans stories are often left out entirely or pathologized. It’s so empowering to participate in a project that centers art by and for our community. It’s important for us to tell our stories—and to hear our varied voices—because our experiences are more than simple stereotypes, side notes, and statistics. Claiming our own experiences and offering them as art within our community makes more room for all of us to self-define.

What aspects of your identity do you hope to express through your involvement with THE NAKED I?

I am an older, disabled, trans guy, so I wrote from that perspective. I hope my piece highlights the need for competent, compassionate trans healthcare that goes beyond hormone scripts. Trans folks are complex individuals with a range of medical needs and too often our health is jeopardized by ignorance, insensitivity or outright transphobia.

What social issues are important to you and how do they inform your work?

I’m passionate about culture-change and social justice. I continue to try to use my artistic expression to create connections—to humanize my experiences and create cracks in the oppressive systems of white supremacy, misogyny, and ableism. I look for HOPE—hearing other people’s experiences—in the poetry of everyday struggles for a more just and livable world.

What other artists or shows have inspired you?


I’ve been inspired by so many creative people, but my poem Do No Harm for THE NAKED I was directly inspired by the work of two artists and friends: Elaine Magree and Dazie Gregor. I saw both of them perform at The Marsh in San Francisco and was absolutely blown away at their creative questioning of identity and expression. Dazie’s show “I am a Man” was the catalyst to poetically explore my recent trans-masculine medical fiasco.

Leah’s Train: Director Chava Curland

Travel through three generations of adventure, grief and love. Co-presented by 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities and the Sabes Jewish Community Center, we are pleased to bring you Leah’s Train by Karen Hartman March 7-22, 2015 (all performances at the JCC).  Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you a chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this first interview, meet director Chava Curland.

Director: Chava Curland

Director: Chava Curland

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

My dad took me to see shows at a very young age.  We had regular tickets to CTC and when I was 10, he started taking me to see shows at the Guthrie.  I was enchanted with this make-believe world where anyone could be someone. And when a friend of mine convinced me to take acting classes in middle school, I was hooked.  While I was a teen actor at The Children’s Theater Company– though it is weird for me to think of myself as an actor for them as I only did 2 shows, small parts there–I remember thinking during a  particularly arduous technical rehearsal that the decisions the director was making, the questions he was grappling with with the designers were ones that I had ideas for, ones that I had my own answers to.  I thought, I can do this. So, I changed from an fine arts to a theater major going into Ithaca College and said “I’m a director’.  Big headed to say the least—I am highly embarrassed by what I must have been like as a know-it-all freshman in college.

Since then, my road in theater has taken me many different directions—as an actor, a mask maker and puppeteer, a dancer/movement theater artist, playwright, world traveler–but I always come back to directing and to the power of the rehearsal process. Directing is not just telling people where to move like chess pieces in space–it is excavating a story, like an archaeologist, digging deep into the dirt of the lives of the characters–its forging relationships within this micro community of a production–crew, cast, company, audience–we are a little microcosm–and it is also to be a visual artist, the painter who sees the whole canvas of the evening but must decide which strokes need to be made to reach the final image. Thats why I stay in it–to be an explorer, a painter, and part of a community all at the same time.

Have you worked with 20% Theatre Twin Cities in the past? How and in what capacity?

I last worked with 20% as an actor in Changes in Time.  I played Court.

How has this directing experience been different than working for 20% as an actor?

I get to see the full picture.  I can follow the little tendrils of my thoughts on a scene, experiment with different points of view and different arcs to the play–and certainly a lot more responsibility to the play and actors in that sense. Otherwise, I would say working with the company and the people in it isn’t that different as a director. Everyone has been so wonderful and supportive—though that was the same as an actor, too 🙂

Tell us what originally drew you to the Leah’s Train script. Why did you want to direct it?

Its deceptively simple.  You look at the words on the page and think–hmm, this seems pretty straight forward.  But when you look at the motivations behind the words and the disconnect between what people say and do, there is a whole deeper level of tension and intention that is going on.  It’s a play full of rich emotion and specific history, yet takes place in the neutral impersonal space of a train.  I saw a prime opportunity to work on a powerful, reality driven story but within a more abstract onstage world.

I also feel strong personal connection to sense of ancestry and healing of generations past in the play.  My father’s side of the family is Polish Jew and they fled during WWII to Russia, then Siberia, then Uzbekistan, and at the end of the war to Berlin before finally getting passage to NY in 1951. While Leah’s train predates WWI, the haunting echos of the past the follow Ruth on her journey I feel in my own life.

Did you have a specific vision for what the cast would look and feel like during the audition process?

I didn’t have a specific vision for the cast, but rather a sense of how they needed to function together—Hannah and Ruth needed to be powerful players together, Ben needed to have chemistry with Ruth and Hannah, Leah needed sense and Sammy sass. But beyond that, I tried not to have any preconceptions of how they would look or talk.  I wanted to be surprised, discover what could work or not based on what was coming out of the actors mouths.

Do you have any hopes about what the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, thinking, etc.?

I hope they come out of this thinking about their own family and the journey that had to happen for each person to end up where they are right this moment.  Ruth says “family is made, not born”, but I think that’s false.  We can’t runaway where we come from–we can only accept it, make peace with it, and build our own lives from there.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

Theater and Non Profit Admin–I work as a Company Associate for Girl Friday Productions and Communications and Outreach Coordinator for the Germanic-American Institute.  I also have fun training my dog, Ruby-Rue the Corgi-Aussie, playing very nerdy board games, salsa dancing, making masks/art creations, practicing yoga/acrobatics—and exercising (which means using the steam room) at the JCC.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

The lakes, rivers and the bike trails—especially around late April/May when everyone is waking up from hibernation and spring fever is catching on.  I love seeing all the people, dogs and life bustling around on the Greenway and the Grand Rounds.

What is your favorite type of transportation?

Anything that lets me feel the breeze.

If you have one, tell us a little bit about your most memorable train ride?

While I don’t have a specific train ride in mind, I’d say the times when I commuted between NYC and The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in CT.  I was living in NYC, with a real nice off-Broadway literary internship, but me being the crazy-always-need-to-be-busy person I am, decided that I also wanted to Apprentice under the Droznin Russian Movement teacher at the O’Neill’s National Theater Institute.  I would leave Queens at 2:30am and take a 3-4 hour train ride (including subway and connections) up along the dark coast.  I’d see the bright city fade away to old, abandoned looking towns, then trees shoot past my window until I could see some brief silver glints of the ocean.  I would arrive in New London in the bluish- predawn light, and just as I would pull into the O’Neil grounds, the sky would go pink and a round orange sun would pop up over the horizon.

Then, I would beat up my body for 6 hours of intense acrobatic work, ride back that night and go to work the next day.  It was grueling, but those train rides, which brought a sense of peace, freedom, and possibility, were the thing that often got me through the week in the Big City.

 

If We Were Birds Interview: Director Lee Conrads

Through the lens of Greek tragedy, If We Were Birds presents an unflinching commentary on contemporary war and its devastating aftermath, particularly for the women who become its victims.

20% Theatre Company is excited to present this beautiful, shocking and brutal new play by Erin Shields at Nimbus Theater September 13-27, 2014.  Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you the chance to learn a little bit more about some of the artists involved in our production. In this interview, meet director Lee Conrads.

Director - Lee Conrads

Director – Lee Conrads

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

I did theater all through high school, but primarily as a costume designer. My senior year I (accidentally? — I’m a little fuzzy on how it actually happened) volunteered to direct a project for my theater class. I had never thought about being a director, but it was the most fun I’d ever had. At the time I was in the throes of college application season and pretty stressed about having no clue what I wanted to do with my life. The idea that I could be a director as a profession started to percolate and I think my 17-year old self is still a little shocked that it’s actually happening.

Have you worked with 20% Theatre Twin Cities in the past? How and in what capacity?

My very first interview for a theater job when I moved to Minneapolis was with 20% Theatre –and I got the best “no” I’ve ever gotten. From my interview, I was ultimately offered an ASM-ing position for The Children’s Hour at the JCC. But then I directed two monologues for The Naked I: Insides Out last winter, and got to hang out with Rapture, Blister, Burn as the house manager last spring.  To be directing is an absolute dream-come-true!

Tell us what originally drew you to the If We Were Birds script. Why did you want to direct it?

When I first read If We Were Birds, it felt like a play I had been looking for for a long time. I am really interested in telling stories that ask us — as audiences and artists — to sit with difficult situations and complex problems to which there are no easy answers, with the hope that that exposure makes us gentler, more empathetic and compassionate humans. But I also have an almost evangelical interest in classical and historical theater. Too often when those plays get produced they are put on a pedestal of “how theater used to be;” I’m really excited about finding ways to resurrect ancient (or even just old–this is as applicable to Ibsen and Shakespeare as it is to Classical drama) stories such that they have the same effect on modern audiences as they had on the audiences they were written for, without compromising the forms of their essential Classical-ness. It is incredibly rare to find a play that does both of those things. If We Were Birds is very special.

If We Were Birds is staged through the lens of Greek tragedy. 20% Theatre Company does not generally produce classical work. What makes If We Were Birds an exception or more relevant 20%’s mission?

The most common reaction to this play from reviews I have read of other productions of this play is that it is a “contemporary take on a classical tragedy,” but I think it’s actually the opposite. One of the most classical elements of this play is the Chorus, which Shields has populated with characters whose stories are informed by the experiences of women who have been the survivors of sexual violence as a weapon of war in contemporary conflicts.  By weaving together past & present and fiction & reality, particular through the Chorus, Shields makes it impossible to write off this story as archaic. Two of the conflicts she draws on have happened within my lifetime, and likely all of them within the lifetimes of our audiences. To me this play is so clearly a classical take on a contemporary tragedy.

Did you have a specific vision for your cast during the audition process? What purpose does the chorus serve?

It was really important to me — and also really important to Shields — that the Chorus represents as broad a swath of womanhood as possible. So it was really important to me that we have as diverse a cast as possible in terms of age, race, body shape, various presentations & experiences of feminity and womanhood as possible. It was also really important to me that the cast as a whole have good chemistry and feel like a group of people who would be able to would be able to collaborate well.

20% Theatre Company produces plays with heavy subject material and/or controversial subject matter. Are there specific trigger warnings we should make audience members aware of?

Yes.

The worst case scenario is that this production causes any kind of harm; I think that is most likely in a situation in which someone comes to the production without knowing what they are getting themselves into and that experience is damaging to their mental health.

There is an enacted rape as well as graphic descriptions of violence–sexual and otherwise.

Shields never condones any of these acts–in fact, the play is really an 80-minute condemnation of them–but it is important to the storytelling that we look directly at the atrocities that are being discussed and face them head on. The production isn’t going to do anything to soften that, but I absolutely don’t want anyone to come to the experience unprepared.

What do you hope the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, thinking, etc.?

One of the things I am really trying to let go as an artist is the idea that my art says something and my sucess lives or dies depending on whether the audience “got it.” There is a universe in which I am an insufferably didactic director and I don’t want to live there. So yes, there are some very specific things I am trying to say with this play (though some of it is also just me screaming into the void about injustice that I feel powerless to mitigate — there are ways in which this play is very cathartic) but it is far more important for me that the audience goes through the experience with us — with Philomela — and is forced to just sit with a terrible situation with no easy answers. And I hope that that experience makes all of us — audience & artists — more compassionate, more generous human beings.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

Unfortunately, I am historically terrible at having a life outside of theater; I’m working on it. I do have a desk job as a “data-entry drone” that I am grateful for because it pays my bills. I was a history major in college, as well as a theater major, so I spend a fair amount of time being an insufferable know-it-all about historical matters. And I spent the month of June teaching backpacking to elementary and middle school girls at a summer camp in North Carolina. It was a blast so I am trying to remember to make time in my life for the outdoors.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

I’m pretty sentimental about the skyline. Especially in the winter, when I am racing around — over scheduled & hating the weather — every once in a while a catch a glimpse of the skyline and maybe a really nice sunset and think, “wow, this is actually an incredible city.”

What is your favorite type of bird?

Probably the sparrow, less because of the actual bird and more because it is the central metaphor of one of my all time favorite books (go read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell). I think I am way more into metaphorical birds than actual birds.

 

 

 

Rapture, Blister, Burn – Get to Know Anya Kremenetsky

20% Theatre Company is thrilled to present Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage April 26 – May 10, 2014. Over the past few weeks, we have given you the chance to learn a little bit about the artists involved in this production. In this final interview for Rapture, meet our show director, Anya Kremenetsky!

Director

Director

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?  

Theater is something that’s always been part of my life…I remember my parents taking me to shows at The Children’s Theater…I was completely enchanted and wanted to be up there doing what they were doing.  I think I was in my first play at the age of six.  I started out as an actor, and became interested in directing once I realized that I had a hard time focusing only on the role I was playing.  I  wanted to be involved in all the elements of the production from start to finish, and in the creation and shaping of the show as a whole.  I studied at George Washington University in DC and the Atlantic Theater Company in NYC, and have been working in the Twin Cities as a freelance director/teaching artist since I settled back home in 2007.  Last summer I joined the History Theatre staff as Artistic Associate.

Have you worked with 20% Theatre Twin Cities in the past? How and in what capacity?

I’ve been a company member of 20% since 2008, and have worked on three productions as assistant director: Standards of Care, Perfect Pie, and Where We’re Born.

Tell us what originally drew you to the Rapture, Blister, Burn script. Why did you want to direct it?

I was drawn in right away by Gionfriddo’s dry wit…it’s my kind of humor…and if a play has me laughing in the first few pages, I’m hooked.  As I kept reading, I had this eerie feeling that she had broken into my apartment and read my journals…the characters in her play articulate things that I’ve been thinking and writing about in recent years…

I can relate very much to what they are experiencing…i.e. Catherine realizing that she’s devoted her entire life to her career, and now, facing the possibility of losing her mother…wondering if there’s some “wisdom in the natural order” – creating a new family to replace the one you lose.

These women are finding that the theories and ideals they’ve long held about how to structure their lives and build relationships don’t always work in practice.  They need to find ways to be realistic while NOT losing sight of their ideals.  I have not yet reached a point in my life where I can look back and lament the roads not taken.  I’m grateful to be in a place where I’m forging those roads and have the freedom to build the kind of life I want to live.  Sometimes that freedom can be terrifying and the pressure to make all these decisions paralyzing!  But I’m not complaining, as I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What do you hope the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, thinking, etc.?

Gionfriddo crams a LOT of food for thought into this play.  It’s very dense material, which is why it’s been fascinating to dig into throughout the rehearsal process.  Every audience member will walk away with something different – moments that pop, lines that strike a nerve, kernels of wisdom they might apply to their current experience… I don’t believe this play has any set message to instill into the audience…  for me, it’s a play about questions – not answers.  I hope the audience leaves the theater with much to think about and much to laugh about.

Rapture, Blister, Burn is often called “a feminist play.” How would you describe the play? How do you feel about feminism and what it signifies today?

I don’t know what “feminist play” really means (I suppose it could mean different things to different people) and it seems like too simple a term to describe Rapture, Blister, Burn.  This is a play that explores a number of issues and choices women face in different realms:  career, relationships, family, sexuality, etc.  Gionfriddo examines these issues in the context of the feminist movement, and how it has evolved over the decades.

This play is not only about the experience of women, though – it touches on a number of universal themes:  “The grass is always greener on the other side,” what drives our life choices, how we find our unique way to happiness and fulfillment, the search for rules & theories to make all these decisions easier…   The one male character in the play experiences these things as thoroughly as the female characters do.

How do I feel about feminism? 

Interestingly, that’s something I’ve never really thought much about before starting work on this play.  Third-wave feminist writers Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards said it best:  “The presence of feminism in our lives is taken for granted. For our generation, feminism is like fluoride. We scarcely notice we have it – it’s simply in the water.”

Though I’ve taken feminism for granted, I’ve never questioned whether I am a feminist.   I was having dinner with my dad and my grandma the other day, and I was telling them about this play…they asked me if I define myself as a feminist.  I said, “I don’t see how I could have the career I have right now and NOT be a feminist.”

I’ve heard negative perceptions of feminism expressed in the news recently, with prominent women declaring themselves not to be feminists because being a feminist is “too extreme.”  I’ve never seen feminism as a negative or extreme thing – I’ve found it to be a self-evident thing.  I believe the backlash is due to a misunderstanding of what feminism is.

It’s not about putting men down or pushing men away.  There’s nothing in feminism that’s inherently anti-male.  Pro-female does not mean anti-male.

Merriam-Webster defines feminism as:  “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”

That’s it.  Maybe some people would feel more comfortable re-naming that belief  to some word that sounds more gender-neutral.  Continuing to refer to it as feminism, however, serves as an acknowledgement of how things used to be, an appreciation of the progress that’s been made, and a reminder of how much work there is still to be done toward women’s rights.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

My entire work life is wrapped up in theater in one way or another (and this I’m grateful for.)  Sometimes it feels like theater IS my life – especially in the non-summer months…and I have to remember to find balance and not get burned out.  Once the warm weather rolls around, though – I try to be outside as much as possible.  I’ve avoided committing to fringe shows and other summer productions for that very reason.  In the summer, I want to spend my time hiking, paddleboarding, camping, rollerblading, you name it – as long as it involves fresh air.