Featured THE NAKED I: SELF-DEFINED Artist: Devin Taylor

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

I am a contributing writer and Assistant Stage Manager.

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

I think it’s the way these stories are told through the Naked I series that is important. One thing common to all marginalized groups is the expectation that any individual can and should speak on behalf of their entire community. This restrictive way of “listening” is a passive form of oppression. It creates tension among individuals and an impulse to override the speech of others within our shared community out of fear of being misrepresented to the mainstream. The blended voices of THE NAKED I are united in message, while maintaining individuality of voice. The message of the overall production remains dialectical and constructive, while giving voice to the subjective, the personal, and the radical.

The power of performance is everything when you are trying to make people think. Not everyone integrates new information in the same way or at the same level, and people vary in their ability to adjust their way of thinking and their capacity to accept change. The multitude of stimuli afforded through the art of theatre creates a powerful means of penetrating the consciousness of all types of minds and personalities from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences.

I don’t think the significance of THE NAKED I is entirely didactic, though. From what I’ve observed in my work on the production, it has a powerful ability to create community for those looking for community. Sometimes, that is the best thing art can give.

Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production? 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an intense fear of making noise. Even as an adult, I often have trouble communicating because I panic at the sound of my own voice. I learned to write at an early age and that became a safe way for me to privately express feelings and ideas, and to record the events and details of imaginary worlds and characters that filled my daydreams. I never thought of it as anything I would share, until much later.

Growing up, I tried my hand at most areas of the arts (music, movement, visual arts), and I developed an appreciation for theatre because it combined them all. I came to realize that it allowed writers to demonstrate their craft in a visible and audible way, like other artists—one that doesn’t just depend on the interpreter’s willingness to read and interpret text. When I went off to college and began studying writing, a beloved professor turned me on to the genre of creative nonfiction and I began to understand the power of shared personal experience.

I’m still reluctant to share deeply personal writing outside trusted writing groups—but I remember the relief and gratitude I’ve often felt upon reading or hearing that perfect piece of writing at the perfect time—the sense of connection and the vulnerability entrusted to me, the reader/listener. I also remember those moments when someone else’s perspective, born of experience vastly different from mine, made it impossible for me to go on thinking about something the way I always had. It’s my hope that I, in harmony with the astonishing work of the other NAKED I artists, might challenge, inspire, comfort, and connect people in a similar way.

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

I consider myself an advocate of neurodiversity, and while I have seen this concept increasingly tacked on to discussions of intersectionality, I think we have a long way to go toward realizing it in practice. It is a frontier that people are still largely afraid to approach due to lack of personal understanding and deeply embedded social and cultural stigma. In a similar vein, equal opportunity in education has also become a major passion of mine. It’s a big part of what keeps pulling me back into special education. I think every student deserves to go as far as they can, without being held back by the effects of poverty, language barriers, learning differences, or the fear of violence or ostracism based on some aspect of their identity.

Working toward a more inclusive feminist movement is also important to me. Acknowledging the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and gender identity is an important step, and one that projects like THE NAKED I strive to achieve.

What other artists or shows have inspired you?

There are really too many to name, and it would invariably send me off on a tangent not related to my involvement with THE NAKED I!

Thinking about collaborative productions, which encompass multiple genres, voices, and identities, Eve Ensler comes to mind. As an undergraduate, I performed in a campus production of The Vagina Monologues. It was the first time I had encountered work that
empowered and prioritized the types of voices and experiences represented in the
collection. It was the first time I’d seen them be anything but mocked or censored. You don’t easily forget the first time you don’t feel quite so ashamed and afraid to be you. You never forget the first time you feel powerful for it.

In general, I am inspired by people who create art against the odds or in reaction to personal adversity. I’m inspired by those who spend their creative and intellectual efforts in the humble act of teaching, molding, and nurturing others.

What’s your favorite hangout spot and why?

Book stores, libraries, anywhere quiet. Honestly, I love being home by myself. I love and appreciate the people in my life, but when I don’t get time with myself, I really, really miss me.

When not involved in this production, how do you spend your time? What are some of your hobbies? 

By day, I’m a teaching assistant in special education. By night, I’m a personal care assistant to a young woman with autism. I fit in theatre work whenever I can. I spend a good amount of time editing academic writing for friends and colleagues, and my goal is to spend more time completing my own writing projects. I devote my spare time to staying fit, volunteering, and supporting the local performing arts.

What other projects are you working on or hope to work on? 

I hope to be involved in 20% Theatre’s 2016 production of Q-STAGE in May.

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Featured Q-STAGE Collaborator: Anthony Michael

Part of the mission of 20% Theatre Company is to provide opportunities to new and emerging artists. Q-STAGE is the perfect vehicle to create such opportunity. So, as we get closer and closer to our second installment of the Q-STAGE New Works Series, we’d like to introduce you to a few artists you may not have met. Anthony Michael is an actor in And She Would Stand Like This: A Play in Drag.

Actor: Anthony Michael

Actor: Anthony Michael

Who are you?

My name is Anthony Michael and I am a performance artist.

What do you do, and why do you do it?

I do this because I believe it to be necessary within all the tiers of my community (local, national, international) and because I feel incomplete and unstable without it. I grew up dancing, singing in choirs, and acting in plays and competitive speaking. After seeing the Broadway tour of Chicago for my 12th birthday I decided to dedicate my life fully to the arts. I performed, wrote, sang, danced, directed (pretty much anything I could do except go to class) in high school before eventually dropping out. I moved to St. Cloud and started working for a couple of local theatres, waiting tables on the side. After a couple of years I decided to move to the Twin Cities to pursue the arts full time. Since moving here my work and ideas have begun to refine themselves into something more focused and radical. I have immersed myself in the burlesque community, performing in, producing, and hosting striptease events. I am also currently working as a choreographer, actor, and director for several different companies here in the twin cities with projects ranging from Shakespeare to ballet to devised physical work.

What made you decide to get involved with Q-STAGE?

I became interested in working with Q-STAGE after reading the posting for new works and reading more about the program and the artists that had been involved in the past. The program seemed relevant to me and my interests (queer life, theatre, NEW work, “alternative” work, human sexuality, queer visibility) while providing me an opportunity and a challenge in organizing a submission.

What Q-STAGE project are you a part of?

I am acting in Harrison Rivers’ beautiful play And She Would Stand Like This: A Play in Drag. This poetic adaptation of Euripides’ Trojan Women uses 90’s ball culture and world health crises to examine questions about health and sexuality, motherhood, drag life, and the perseverance of community. I absolutely love the play; the cast and crew are swift, hard working artists with beautiful hearts, and the text is a dream.

What frustrates you about the current state of the arts?

I am currently displeased with the stagnation the mainstream theatre world has accepted. The trickle down effect Broadway has, the security of season tickets, the acceptance of irrelevant replays, lack of diversity, disproportionate funding of the arts. That’s all one thing, right? I could go on… Not to say that I don’t love what I do, and the idyllic theatre, because I do.

What is your dream project?

My dream project is any project created by a collective of artists that is a multi-medium mix of performance that addresses issues relevant to the community, nation, or world. It is confrontational, entertaining, honest, and offers transportation but commands presence. It offers me constant fear and constant inspiration, and I am better because of it.

What is the role of the performance artist in today’s world?

I believe that a performance artist must constantly be seeking truth, and in turn offer some attempt at engaging in a dialogue with their community about their questions and findings. I believe it is our job to keep the world on their toes, keep fascism at bay, encourage humanism, represent our fellow, and provide entertainment. If politics is the head on the coin of society, the performance artist is the tail.

Featured Q-STAGE Collaborator: Emily Weiss

Part of the mission of 20% Theatre Company is to provide opportunities to new and emerging artists. Q-STAGE is the perfect vehicle to create such opportunity. So, as we get closer and closer to our second installment of the Q-STAGE New Works Series, we’d like to introduce you to a few artists you may not have met. Emily Weiss is a Production Assistant for The Escape Machines.

Production Assistant: Emily Weiss

Production Asst: Emily Weiss

Who are you and what do you do (in life? in the world? in the arts?)?

I am Emily Weiss. I work for the MN National Guard as an outreach coordinator by day, and by night I work as a (starving) artist. I teach yoga and meditation classes, paint, write poetry, sing and every once in a while, act.

Why do you do what you do?

I have always been attracted to art. It makes sense to me, a way for me to express all of the emotion and feelings I have about the world around me.

Tell us about your artistic background?

I started off on stage – singing and acting, and quickly realized my artistic tastes went much further than just performances. I started writing poetry shortly after my sweet 16th, and preformed it on stage for the first time around 17. I was continually searching for my next project, and it wasn’t long until I turned to the paintbrush. Art has always been what I turn to for comfort, and I continue to discover my authentic self in my search for my next project.

What themes do you pursue in your work?

I tend to follow themes about invisibility in my work. My experiences in life have often made me feel invisible for one reason or another, and as such, I turned to art to help create an area where I felt that I was seen. My paintings are all abstract arts, dedicated to making something out of chaos and there is always an underlying theme of love in my works, regardless of what they might be.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

My grandmother is the one who first inspired me to pick up a brush and she is an incredible painter. I remember her telling me that anyone could paint, but not everyone does. I am continually showing her my work and her approval is my greatest award.

What are three things you can’t live without?

I can’t live without love, my dog and my brushes. Paint can be made from anything…I’ve been known to crush berries, and use makeup as paint or ink, but good brushes can’t be replaced.

Leah’s Train: Stage Manager Meagan Sogge

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 stage manager Meagan Sogge.

Stage Manager: Meagan Sogge

Stage Manager: Meagan Sogge

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

I got into theatre in high school. A lot of my friends were in it and it started with simply running spot lights for a production of The Wizard of Oz. After high school I stopped doing theatre for a year and missed it so much that I changed my major and switched schools to pursue a degree in theatre and film.

Have you been involved with 20% Theatre Twin Cities in the past? What is your role for Leah’s Train?

This is my first show with 20%, I am the stage manager for Leah’s Train.

What is your favorite part of the rehearsal/production process? What are some of the challenges?

I love watching a show come together and seeing all of the working parts work together during a full run of a show.

What types of plays/shows do you enjoy stage managing the most, and why? What are some “dream shows” you’d love to stage manage?

I really enjoy operas, I worked on two right after college and it was just amazing to get to work with the singers. A couple of dream shows are Wicked and I would love to work on a Cirque du Soleil show.

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

I just got a job at LifeTime teaching swim lessons, and I really love to read and explore when I have free time. Taking pictures, singing, dancing, hiking, and on lazy days I love to watch Netflix.

What is your favorite type of transportation?

I love long road trips, but I also love to fly and go on boats. Really as long as I’m traveling I’m happy!

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

I’ve never been on a train, but I’d love to take a trip on one some time.

 

Leah’s Train: Gina Sauer

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 actor Gina Sauer.

Actor: Gina Sauer

Actor: Gina Sauer

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

Ever since I stepped on stage at age 6 for my first dance recital, I have been completely bitten by the performing bug.  I’ve been singing, dancing and acting ever since.

Is this your first show with 20% Theatre Twin Cities?

Yes!  I have a number of friends who are long-time fans of 20% Theatre, so I’m very excited!  Particularly because this is a theater whose mission I wholeheartedly support.

Tell us what originally drew you to the Leah’s Train script. What interested you in auditioning for this show/company?

Oddly enough, it was the title.  The phrase, “Leah’s Train” has a very particular meaning among my group of friends, though completely unrelated to this show.  I don’t believe in coincidences, so I took it as a sign from above that I should audition for this show.  And I was right.  Working on this script with this cast and production crew has been truly amazing.

We hear that you’ve been away from the theater scene for awhile. What brought you back?

I took probably the world’s longest hiatus from acting — more than 20 years.  One day about a year ago someone asked me what I was going to do now that my son was away at college and I was an empty-nester, and without thinking I blurted out, “I’m getting back into acting.”  So then I had to.  I was committed!

Tell us a little bit about the character you play?

You know the cliche…”there are no good roles for women over 40.”  Hannah is definitely an exception to that. She’s a multi-faceted character who runs the full gamut of human emotions through the course of the show.  Her mother’s death sends her into full-on, mid-life crisis mode and she goes on a journey to reconcile with her daughter and re-invent herself.

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

I like to call myself a “recovering lawyer.”  I work at a large law firm but I don’t practice law anymore, I’m more on the HR side of things now.  And I just finished writing a feature length screenplay, so if anyone out there knows any producers…

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

The fact that you can be downtown enjoying great restaurants and theater one minute, and then drive just thirty minutes in any direction and find yourself surrounded by cornfields and quaint little towns.  We stay true to our Midwest roots here, and it keeps us grounded.

What is your favorite type of transportation?

Like my character, I have a great affinity for European trains.  I especially like the German ones, which are famously punctual.

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

Like a couple of characters in the show, I travelled through Europe alone on trains when I was young.  I had no itinerary, just got on and off when I felt like it.  One day I got off somewhere in Bavaria and ended up in a 1000-year old monastary with a bunch of monks who served me the best meal and home-brewed beer I’ve ever had!

 

Leah’s Train: Actor Laura Mason

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 theJCC).  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 actor Laura Mason.

Actor: Laura Mason

Actor: Laura Mason


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

I did my first community theatre show when I was seven. I don’t remember if I asked my parents if I could do it or if I was too dramatic and they decided that I needed an outlet. I just remember that it felt really natural – I did all kinds of skits and stuff in my church as a kid, so I loved being on a real stage! I did a couple shows in the community in middle school before I switched schools to a high school that had a drama program….and now I’m majoring in it!

Is this your first show with 20% Theatre Twin Cities? If not, what may we have seen you perform in in the past?

I was in If We Were Birds last September. I was in the Chorus of bird-women.

Tell us what originally drew you to the Leah’s Train script. What interested you in auditioning for this show/company?

I found out about the show because Claire asked me to consider auditioning for it. I actually wasn’t able to read the script before the audition, but I liked the premise of the story and I trust Claire! Once I did read the script though, I was very impressed with Hartman’s style and the force of the characters.

Tell us a little bit about the character you play?

I play Leah, who is a twelve-year-old Jewish girl looking for her brother and nephew. She is matriarchal force to be reckoned with in her later years, but even as a girl, she is described as “brave” and “legendary” and a “child Moses.”

How has this experience been different than the one for If We Were Birds?

There are so many things that are different that I will start with one of the only familiarities I see. Both plays contain major themes of family dynamics, specifically of how mothers relate to their children. Birds concluded that mothers have a lot more power of possession over their children than Leah’s Train, which deals more with the power of succession – the expectations of the matriarch. Hartman’s mothers set very high standards for their children and manipulate them emotionally, rather than physically as seen in BirdsNot to spoil the ending of If We Were Birds, but the children in Leah’s Train end up a lot better after the treatment from their mothers.

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

I am a full time student at the University of Minnesota and work at Juice So Good, which is a cafe that provides healthy options to the corporate skyway crowd. I have a lot on my plate as a double-major (Theatre Arts AND Communications) but I enjoy my classes so much, it’s almost not even fair.

Are you still studying at the University of Minnesota?  Do you have any big plans for after graduation?

I’m a Junior! Woohooo! At this point, everything is still kind of in the ether, but I’m looking at internships in Marketing or Media Production/Broadcasting and continuing to make art in Minneapolis. It would be awesome to eventually continue my education in physical theatre by studying Commedia dell’Arte and at some point I want to be a part of a legit feature length film…whatever that means.

What is your favorite type of transportation?

I like Streetcars / Light Rails / Strassenbahns. They seem really efficient to me, and they usually don’t smell as bad as underground transit, and they’re not as bumpy as buses. It’s a very satisfying form of independence to be able to rely on a streetcar to get around a city.

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

I used to live in Vienna, Austria and the trains over there are a much more legit system than what we’ve got going on over here. The train ride that stands out to me the most was when my family took an overnight train to Venice. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but a member of my family snored the whole night so we were all cranky and had remember to love each other just as much in tiny, metal compartments as we do when we’re not invading each other’s space.

 

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.