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Two black-lit paintings of staring cyclops hang suspended. On a video screen a tiny crown twists itself into words. A looped recording emits snippets of conversation, intercut with white noise. A man steps onstage. He plays a few notes on a harmonica, a few chords on guitar. His live presence jars and jibes with his filmed one, his spoken words with the printed.
Elliott Earls’s Eye Sling Shot Lions—a rumination on mediated identity—inaugurates the Wooster Group’s first Emerging Artist Series, a three-week program spotlighting up-and-coming multimedia performers (it runs through July 25). Since 1978, the Performing Garage, the Group’s home, has hosted an annual Visiting Artist Series, often bringing in outside curators to organize programs of theater, music, and dance. The Group has also long encouraged, albeit informally, the work of its younger members—people on the technical, administrative, and design staffs who have founded their own theater companies: John Collins with Elevator Repair Service, Jim Findlay and Collapsible Giraffe, Maryann Weems’s Builders Association, and Richard Kimmel’s Cannon Company. The Emerging Artist Series, which grants three individuals or groups a week of rehearsal time in the Performing Garage and a weekend of performances, is the formalization of this support.
To select the Emerging Artist participants, producer Richard Kimmel assembled a nominating committee: Dixon Place’s Ellie Covan, Fringe NYC’s John Clancy, P.S.122’s Lucy Sexton, Voice critic James Hannaham, and director Anne Bogart. Its members suggested candidates—artists who demonstrated a strong aesthetic, but not a finished one. Nominees were asked to submit application materials. With 20 applications received, the committee handed over the final decision to the Wooster Group. “Even Willem Dafoe was sitting there looking over applications,” says Kimmel. When the dust cleared, the Baltimore-based band Radiant Pig and a project by Eric Dyer, Scott Gillette, and Maggie Hoffman called A History of Heen (Not Francis E. Dec, Esq.) would join Earls’s piece in the series.
The opportunity to perform in the Wooster Group’s space carries a certain prestige, but the selected artists receive much more than just a name theater. The Group offers rehearsal time, development time, technical equipment and experienced operators to run it, a production staff, and a host of directorial eyes, should they be desired. The goal is to provide “an artistic utopia,” giving performers the “space and time to play”—in keeping with the Wooster Group’s emphasis on rehearsal and process. Kimmel hopes the series will gain artists a certain amount of exposure and status, perhaps making it easier for them to get a booking or receive a grant.
The artists seem quite grateful for the opportunity. Earls compares his one-night stands at HERE with his new stint at the Garage: “The difference is night and day. My performance is so technologically sophisticated that the one-night performances would take four to six hours to set up. There would be no time for rehearsal. I would be lucky if all my equipment would function properly.” Now, with rehearsal time to both work out the technological kinks and sculpt the piece, Earls says, “It’s really beginning to approach a more thoroughly integrated artistic statement.” As for having a lighting designer: “It’s the bomb!”
Radiant Pig, a “country mystic folk-art band,” doesn’t normally play rooms like the Garage. “We’re used to performing in small black-box theaters and clubs,” explains Elizabeth Downing, a visual artist and band member. “Sometimes they have a sound system and sometimes they won’t. The Wooster Group has a sound system and, of course, lighting. It takes a band from a sideshow sort of thing to theater.” Downing believes that the application process alone encouraged her group to develop further, leading them into a collaboration with Baltimore performers Larval Trading Company. “It had to be more than just a band.”
While Radiant Pig will eagerly exploit the Group’s technological amenities, the performance trio of Dyer, Gillette, and Hoffman will not. Dyer and Gillette are quite familiar with the Group’s resources—Dyer was once its technical director, Gillette its master electrician. But their History of Heen—which draws upon theorist Jean Baudrillard, experimental fiction author Ben Marcus, and schizophrenic conspiracy kook Francis E. Dec, Esq.—will use none of the Group’s gewgaws.
“We build everything in the show to radiate outward,” says Gillette. “We won’t use
their lighting grid or their sound system. Nothing except for the house lights….We will
only use a piece of technology we’ve rehearsed with and had through the entire process
Nevertheless, Gillette sounds excited about other aspects of the Garage. He loves the flexibility of its spare, high-ceilinged theater and he’s delighted with the attention he’s received from the Wooster Group—”publicizing the work, giving us a space, supporting us in the space.
“And,” the emerging artist adds, sounding a bit astonished, “they’ve even given us an intern.”