Monday, December 9, 2013

Spotlight On...Jessica Burr

Name: Jessica Burr

Hometown: I was born in Bellows Falls Vermont, known by the natives as Fellows Balls. My mother and I began moving frequently when I was five. The nearly annual relocations included London, Brooklyn, an island off the coast of Maine, Rome, and an Italian fishing village. I have been homesick my whole life, usually for nowhere in particular. Often in my work I am building a specific place. Perhaps this is an attempt to recreate the home that is in my dreams.

Education: B.A in Theatre and Dance, Bard College. Sporadic but ongoing SITI Company training workshops. École Philippe Gaulier, workshops with Msr. Gaulier in 1999.

Favorite Credits:
Eurydice’s Dream is the show that for me came closest to expressing the elements of humanness that we had set out to explode. Doruntine, our first show with Teatri Oda, was incredibly rewarding. There was a delicate balance for us as Americans to adapt and perform a story that was central to Albanian culture, as we took risks with the play and cast an African-American woman as an Albanian heroine. The response was overwhelming and extremely positive. This made touring the show very rewarding. Wherever we went throughout Albania, Macedonia and Kosova we were treated like celebrities.

Why theater?: My medium is human beings. Bodies, words, memory, time, ideas, history, sculpture, movement, stories, the unspeakable, secrets – these are some of the things that I get to work with every day. And every day I’m amazed by the privilege and also the responsibility of being able to work in this form. I also get to work intimately with amazing people. They come from all over the world and different walks of life, and we are able to share and feed our passion, to create a common language, to define and redefine what it means to communicate.

Tell us about A Christmas Carol: In 1843, Charles Dickens planned to publish a political pamphlet entitled “An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child”, but instead wrote A Christmas Carol. This adaptation returns to the story’s original intent as an examination of an unjust socioeconomic system that benefits a few at the top while the masses struggle to meet their basic needs. It shows the capacity of an individual to break out of solitude, strive to be known, and enact positive change. This version of A Christmas Carol is deeper, darker and more complex than it is usually allowed to be, while retaining the story's inherent hopefulness and optimism that radical change is possible.

What inspired you to direct A Christmas Carol?: When Matt told me he was adapting A Christmas Carol I told him he should find another director. I don’t like Christmas. And while I love Dickens’ other work, this story has never appealed to me. It has been a long and intriguing process of development, and I have grown to love this adaptation. I am fascinated by why Scrooge is choosing to isolate himself, whether he is capable of radical change, and if the people around him will accept his efforts to connect. I am obsessed with Scrooge’s self-made isolation, and the effect that it has. The story reminds us that as humans, if we are cut off from and not acknowledged by others, we lose our compassion. Scrooge takes one small step towards a simple friendship at the end of our play, he has a moment of connection, and that is the humanizing revelation of the story. In Blessed Unrest’s version, six actors play thirty-seven roles and magically create the different worlds of the play by using a very limited palette of props. For example, a piece of fabric creates a swing, a parrot and a baby, and a door becomes a staircase, a bed and a dining table. The actors never leave the stage and are constantly shifting from one character to another. I love having to build worlds and characters with a limited and beautiful palette of people and stuff.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?:
Theatre that is awake and questioning. That doesn’t tie stories up with little bows at the end. Theatre that makes me question my choices and behavior. Theatre that has been created with passion. I like to see humans, and sex, and beautiful things on stage. I love to see stories that take on the magnitude of human experience in a specific and inquisitive way. I don’t believe in making art about petty things, but rather biting off more that you can chew or can necessarily even conceive of and cracking it open. And it’s important to wake up the stories that we hear over and over and tell them again. The stories that are so outrageous we wouldn’t have believed them if we hadn’t been there. The secret stories that we can’t talk about otherwise. And the stories that are too painful to be alone with. Sometimes just the fact of other people in the room can give a person enough courage to explore the unthinkable. This applies to artists and audiences alike.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Ivo Van Hove, Robert Woodruff, Joan MacIntosh, Thomas Ostermeier, Elizabeth Marvel, Bill Camp, Charlayne Woodard, Romeo Castellucci, I could go on. I am also seeking other international companies who are doing groundbreaking work to collaborate with in the way we do with Teatri Oda. Finding a common language with people from other places is by far the most rewarding kind of work and I look forward to more of it.

What shows have you recommended to your friends?: Anything directed by Ivo Van Hove, Thomas Ostermeier or Robert Woodruff.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Maggie Smith. “Wander Lust”.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: On the whole, I don’t have a lot of guilt. I do have books that I’m so excited to read, I can’t read them. Right now I have a book of letters between Laurence Durrell and Henry Miller that I sneak peeks of every once in a while.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?:
Working against human trafficking. And growing artichokes.

What’s up next?: In January I will be heading to Eastern New Mexico University to direct Burn, Crave, Hold by Matt Opatrny. In the spring Blessed Unrest will be developing several new pieces and training together. Then in 2014 we are planning to bring our beloved collaborators to NYC from Kosova to perform The Sworn Virgin about the ancient Albanian tradition of women taking a vow of chastity to acquire the rights and responsibilities of men.

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