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even if we never look forward

25 May

Samantha Johns and George McConnell have a good thing going, so to speak. Their ensemble-devised, improvisatory and anarchic play The Thing was a sell-out last January (Cake in 15 wrote about it here) and it landed at the top of Jay Gabler’s “Top 10 Plays of 2010“, and that was thrilling enough for Johns and McConnell to see if they could repeat the experiment. This Thursday, the next iteration of their collaborative work, even if we never look forward, opens for the weekend at Paper Moose & Jumpsuit Co. and it features a cadre of the Twin Cities most exciting experimental performers. Although even if we never look forward has been in the works since last June, it only runs for the weekend and the tickets officially are sold out at this point, but if you are feeling lucky (and you should, right?) email for times, availability and location. Gregarious on stage and in their direction, Johns & McConnell didn’t take long to get on a roll talking about about the fleeting moments of theatre, bucking trends, pleasing the audience and how making less art might be better for us all.
Billy Mullaney, Colleen Lamb & Tom Lloyd look into the future

CakeIn15: I feel like I should start The Thing, to get to even if we never look forward. What was The Thing and how does it lead into this new work?

Samantha Johns: I feel like The Thing was George and I exploring ways of making around some initial chunk and then…I’m scared now.

C15: No, what initial chunk?

SJ: Like a phrase or a group of people or a not-method or many methods mixed together with no known desired income.

George McConnell: Outcome.

SJ: Outcome.

GM: Or income, really.

C15: If there was no desired outcome of The Thing, how do you feel about the outcome of the performance and is that feeling shaping even if we never look forward?

GM: I would like to answer this question by talking about how The Thing started. I was looking for a collaborator and became familiar with Sam’s work and approached her to make a piece. It began with Sam and I and we both tend to be dictatorial as directors and we both wanted to try and throw a monkey wrench into our own processes and really work collaboratively with performers. And I think the outcome was successful in that it was really made by everyone who worked on it. While Sam and I always maintain what we call a “privileged position” as directors, ever single person involved in that was in that final showing, so that was very exciting. Literally everyone contributed to what that outcome was and for me, it was an incredibly artistically fulfilling experience.

SJ: There’s also something for me, it felt like an experiment on the way I usually work and in general when I feel I am doing more extreme experiments, usually failure is more present or I’m not always as pleased, but I felt that we did this thing and it just worked, which doesn’t always happen, or it personally worked, I guess.

GM: And of course there are things that if we were to re-mount it, we would change and alter it. We know some audience members didn’t enjoy it but we weren’t necessarily looking to please. I always say, “I don’t care if the audience likes it.”

SJ: I do.

GM: And that’s not exactly true, I do, I don’t want to make something people don’t like, it’s just if it’s not well received, okay. Taste is taste and I can’t account for that. So we enjoyed working together and we enjoyed working in this way so we wanted to do that again. We have a different group of people and we’ve started with a different opening chunk so that has shifted largely what is being made, but the process is somewhat similar as it is Sam and I, a group of people responding to us and us responding to them in this constant negotiation.
Lauren Anderson contemplates the loneliness of forests

C15: Is it fair to say then that you’ve established the method of your collaboration and now you are just inserting new chunks and new people?

GM: I would say what’s established is that it is Sam and I negotiating with a group of other performers and that’s sort of the method. Because it’s a different group of performers, the negotiations are going completely different. So the method is that, that’s as much as the method is. There’s this constant back and forth, which sometimes gets contentious, but overall has been moving forward, even if we never look forward.

C15: Is that where the title comes from, seeing as how it so easily slipped off your tongue?

GM: No. [Laughs] We’re actually not sure where the title came from. We found this piece of free-writing that no-one [remembered writing], again because we had people involved in the process who are no longer.

C15: What do you do to document the creative process so that the collaboration has life past the initial performances?

GM: A lot of people ask me, knowing my interests, if I like Viewpoints, for example. For me, Viewpoints, and this is why people like Viewpoints, have become a formalized movement vocabulary that’s used in devised work a lot. I don’t have an interest in it because I want to create the vocabulary from the specific people working on this specific piece and that it will never live again beyond it’s performed moment and that completes it. We take a lot of photos and we are videoing a lot of this process, but those are really just to aid us in shaping the final thing. Were not trying to make a kind of method where other people could go, “Oh, I can use that.” A lot of our method is ripped off from other people and other things we’ve done. Paige [Collette] has Experimental Theater Wing training from NYU and has brought some of those things in, Tera [Kilbride] has a lot of training and brought that in, Tom [Lloyd] has his thing, so it’s this hodge-podge that is really specific to this moment in this place with this group of people. I am the only person I know who will say that I don’t know that once even a scripted work has had it’s original run, it should ever be staged again. I’m not convinced that we should be doing Hamlet anymore.

SJ: We were going to name the show Hamlet. Or Our Town.

GM: We were going to name it Hamlet/Our Town but that got vetoed by our cast. I’m not interested in the work ever being repeated, nor the process, because I think for someone else to try and do the process that we’ve done doesn’t make sense because it’s not that group of people. If our method is anything, it is this negotiation, I keep on using that word, but really, it is “What is this group of people doing today?”
Jon Mac Cole, Tom Lloyd, Tera Kilbride & Paige Collette jump to it

C15: What do you think we could be doing better for our art scenes and our artists?

SJ: Making less art. Not kidding. Like really, taking time to make, stop putting a show out because you want to do five a year. That’s a really sassy answer. [Laughs] But I really like that there are options and people should always make and do and create but sometimes less is more. If you think about everybody’s giving 30%, if we took a show out of our lives once a year and gave 40% and another show and then gave 50% that the quality of things might enhance. Maybe. Maybe not, maybe some people work better quicker.

GM: I feel there’s a bit of a hesitancy to speak honestly and critically about work without taking it personally. People will say something to your face and then you’ll hear something around the way that is different, and it’s like, “We could have had that conversation.”

SJ: That would be awesome.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. A Slice of 2011 | Cake In 15 - December 26, 2011

    […] Even If We Never Look Forward: “Making less art. Not kidding. Like really, taking time to make, stop putting a show out because you want to do five a year. That’s a really sassy answer.” […]

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