Monday, March 31, 2014

Works in Progress: Searching for Sebald with Chapman Riedel

Name: Chapman Riedel

What is your role in Searching for Sebald?: I serve Searching For Sebald in two ways: I’m a member of the performance ensemble, and I also serve as DTP's Line Producer.

Tell us a little about Deconstructive Theatre Project?: The Deconstructive Theatre Project is a Brooklyn-based devised theatre laboratory that creates performance pieces collaboratively among the ensemble and design team. A large amount of our work explores the neuroscience of art and memory. We aim to tell our stories through nontraditional narratives using film, live Foley, practical lighting, and projection.
DTP is also a strong advocate of the power of theatre in the classroom. We have an educational arm of the company that has partnered with Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School to empower their students to tell stories and express themselves using the tools that DTP has pioneered and stylized in our own productions.

How is the creation process going so far?: We’re currently in Stage Two of our three-part development process. Our research and development phase happened this past fall, we’re currently establishing the tools and vocabulary needed to tell our story this spring, and this coming fall will see the shaping of the actual story we tell on stage in the final product.

What is the developmental process like for you as an artist?: I was a part of the producing team for our showing of The Orpheus Variations at HERE last summer, but this is the first piece I've had a hand in creatively developing from the beginning. It has been a revolutionary experience for me as an actor because DTP's process is like no other. Without a script establishing the skeleton of a production, you’re forced to trust your own instincts to create a compelling story that honors both the foundational text ("The Rings of Saturn", in this case), and also truthfully reflects your experiences and insights.

What is it like working with mixed media? What are some challenges, benefits, risks etc.?: All of DTP’s stage pictures are created using found objects, practical lighting, and interactive video imagery. As an actor, you have to become comfortable with all elements of that process, both technical and creative. It’s an entirely new skill set that you have to learn, develop, and manipulate. You never know how something you think up in your head will translate to the stage/screen using DTP’s signature style. That said, the design team and fellow actors have incredible expertise in this area and are always willing to lend a hand in service of your vision. The biggest risk is not trusting yourself to take one.

Tell us a little about W.G. Sebald and “The Rings of Saturn”: W.G. “Max” Sebald was a professor of European literature at the University of East Anglia, and was widely considered to be a future Nobel Prize winner before his untimely death in 2001.
He wrote "The Rings of Saturn" largely as an attempt to reconcile his German heritage with the horrors of World War II. Though the Holocaust of the mid-20th century is never overtly referenced in the book, Sebald indirectly alludes to the pogram through various historical metaphors, and uses the mechanism of a walk he took along the English countryside in the early 1990’s to structure his thoughts.

How does W.G. Sebald and “The Rings of Saturn” inspire you as artist?: Much like DTP itself, Sebald has a style that is uniquely his own. It evolved as a result of his genetics, his upbringing, and his personal history. Sebald’s literary approach couldn’t be more compelling as a means to communicate thought and emotion. It’s nonlinear, multidisciplinary, and— most importantly— his. If I’ve learned anything through my new relationship with the works of Sebald and this development process it’s that one’s perspective matters, one’s history has value, and anything worth saying can be strengthened and made more powerful through collaboration with nurturing friends and colleagues.

What is the importance/relationship of memory and the wandering mind to you as an artist?: Memory is everything to us— it shapes the way we interact with the world. That interaction can certainly be broadened through introspection and development, but memory is the basis. The wandering mind is our brain’s way of processing and creating (hopefully) outside of the gravity of our personal histories. Once you can reconcile the freedom of your unbounded mind with your unedited history, you’re in a place of limitless artistic possibility.

What is it like exploring neuroscience through creativity?: There are two very different sides to neuroscience. The first is the clinical end with axons, dendrites, and neurotransmitters. I’m not much help in that department… The other side is more intuitive. If we pay a little attention to how we think and process information, we start to gain an accessible yet invaluable understanding of how we see and interact with the world. Once you have a small understanding of how your brain works in and of itself, you can start the process of creating things outside of your own mind with greater ease and enjoyment. Creativity really is a mysterious yet complimentary extension of our brain’s microscopic electrical network.

Why Searching for Sebald now?: Searching For Sebald is all about how a group of people understand and interact with a given text. It’s about taking our individual experience with a story and making something bigger and more profound by coupling that independent perspective with those of our peers. The time is always ripe for a project with a goal such as that.

What can we expect to see in Searching for Sebald?: That’s a wonderful question, and the answer is: I’m not sure yet. At this point we’re working on developing our vocabulary for the piece rather than crafting the actual story we’ll end up telling on stage. The story will come, just not quite yet. What I can tell you is you’ll see all of the distinctive performance tools that are DTP’s signature including live filmmaking, innovative projections, practical props and lighting, and a new, through composed musical score. For those of you not already following our journey on social media, I encourage you to check out #searchingforsebald on Instagram for an exclusive peek at our exciting new piece.