Monday, May 5, 2014

Works in Progress: Searching for Sebald with Amanda Dieli

Name: Amanda Dieli

What is your role in Searching for Sebald?: I'm a member of the performance ensemble which means that I create, devise, and perform multimedia sequences based on the text and additional source materials.  My role in any given sequence could be camera operator, puppeteer, projectionist, narrator, Foley artist, or the subject of a video moment.

Tell us a little about Deconstructive Theatre Project?:
The Deconstructive Theatre Project is a collective of artists working out of Brooklyn who devise pieces that fuse live performance with film and neuroscience.  We primarily create pieces where the form can mimic the subject matter.  Our piece The Orpheus Variations was about memory, and the form we used was meant to mimic the way the brain processes a memory. Searching for Sebald builds on that vocabulary as it is about what goes on in the brain while reading, which also about the brain processing memory, but also the brain imagining parts of the text while simultaneously daydreaming.

How is the creation process going so far?: I think it’s going pretty well!  It’s not an easy process, but I feel like we’ve gotten it more streamlined.  We have a really amazing production team and performance ensemble, and everyone is really excited about the form and the source material, which has led to some really moving and beautiful sequences.  I don’t want to give too much away, but I don’t know if I really could in words.  The company uses Instagram pretty heavily, so if you want to get a sense of what it’s like, I would search the hashtags #searchingforsebald or #dtp.

What is the developmental process like for you as an artist?:
I’m a planner, so I really like this developmental process.  We get assigned a section from the book to focus on and then have a period of time, about a week, to take time outside of rehearsal to storyboard the sequence and communicate with the designers about any special requests.  Then we have about 1.5-3 hours to teach the sequence to the rest of the ensemble, build the sequence, and show it to the rest of the production team.  It’s very orderly and there are a lot of restraints, which I really like as an artist.  I think restrictions force more creative thought and simplicity through clarity and specificity. 

What is it like working with mixed media? What are some challenges, benefits, risks etc.?:
The main benefit is that when it works, it’s really incredible.  I’ve gotten a few audible gasps this time around, and those are from people who know what to expect, so I can only imagine what a fresh-eyed audience member would think!  Of course when it doesn’t work, it makes you want to hit your face against a wall, because there are so many moving parts and time is limited.  As far as risks and challenges, I wouldn’t even say the challenges I face have to do with the technology.  More often, I find I don’t have enough free bodies to make the sequence.  I’ve gotten a lot better about making things that don’t require a lot “hands on deck” so to speak.  I think that’s my biggest challenge: making a dynamic sequence that utilizes all the performance ensemble evenly across text, Foley, lighting, performing, and camera work.

Tell us a little about W.G. Sebald and “The Rings of Saturn”: I’m laughing at myself right now attempting to summarize Sebald and "The Rings of Saturn" in any way that does either any justice.   Sebald was a German expatriate living in the United Kingdom, who wrote obliquely about the atrocities of man, specifically those committed during World War II.  Obliquely is the key word here.  He did this as part of the backlash against the German “conspiracy of silence” but also as backlash against what he felt was the “holocaust industry.”  "The Rings of Saturn" is about a narrator who is and isn’t Sebald going on a walk through Suffolk.  It’s about the walk, and the places and people he encounters, and also all the places his mind wanders to while on this journey.  That description feels so trite.  It’s a very dense book, and it is not easy to get through at times, but, oh boy, the last two chapters are amazing and when the narrator finally gets you to the end, it is incredibly satisfying, and it gets better with each read.  

How does W.G. Sebald and “The Rings of Saturn” inspire you as artist?:  I think there are a lot of artists who are afraid to be too specifically layered or complex at the risk of alienating their audience, and I would certainly fall into that camp at times - I think we all do.  However, if there’s anything I’ve taken away from this project, it’s to not hold back.  There’s room in any piece of art to say so much and there’s room for all of it if you allow your mind to wander and then loop back and make more sophisticated connections.  "The Rings of Saturn" is meticulously crafted but at the same time seamless; that’s really inspiring!

What is the importance/relationship of memory and the wandering mind to you as an artist?: I think the more things I experience, hopefully the more I’m able to recall or reference as I’m creating something new.  Just as I think having a lot of different experiences helps make an artist’s work interesting, I think it’s really useless if the mind can’t wander during that process.  What’s the point of experience without memory?  Ultimately the finished product is so much more personal when I’ve really allowed my mind to wander during the process and loop back and make connections to the original thought, instead of forcing myself to stay “on task.”

What is it like exploring neuroscience through creativity?:
I like it!  It puts the emphasis more on process rather than product, even though watching our process is our product.

Why Searching for Sebald now?:
The way we live now, or even just the way we read and process information now, we’re taking in so much.  I mean, as I’m writing this, I have a few other tabs open and I’m listening to music, and I’m thinking about what I have to do tonight after work, and what I have to still finish before I leave for the day.  And all of those things are connected, and all of those things will stay connected in some way in my memory.  I think it’s worth exploring through art, not just the information itself we process but how we process it and how we recall it and how we corrupt it in attempting to recall it.  I think all of that is so fascinating.

What can we expect to see in Searching for Sebald?: I think it will be like getting to watch the movie someone makes and plays in their mind as they read something new, complete with their history and preoccupations bleeding into the author’s narrative.