Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Works in Progress: Searching for Sebald with Arielle Lever

Name: Arielle Lever

What is your role in Searching for Sebald?: I am part of the performance ensemble.

Tell us a little about Deconstructive Theatre Project?: The Deconstructive Theatre Project is a company that creates devised, ensemble based, mixed media pieces.  It is made up of a community of artists, each will different but specific skill sets – we all come together to share those skills as we develop a highly visual piece of theater. We teach one another, learn from each other, and under the guidance of Adam Thompson and the inspiration of source material, create a piece, which includes live performance, film, Foley, and music. The Deconstructive Theatre Project also has a strong outreach leg. Through dtpE – The Deconstructive Theatre Project EXPERIENCE, we invite members of the community to engage in the process of making each piece, so that audience members may have a deeper engagement with the project upon seeing it. The integrated theatre in education program is also an exciting component of DTP’s community engagement work, as it allows us as company members to share some of the tools we are working with in rehearsal with middle school students in relationship to academic subjects they are studying. 

How is the creation process going so far?: The process is going great! This group (with the addition of a few new members), also worked together to create DTP’s last piece, The Orpheus Variations.  It is really fantastic to already be in the groove of working with the same people, but also to meet with a team of some newer faces and fresh perspectives.  Because we create pieces from close to scratch and build them over the course of a year (sometimes more), it is hard to think of how the process is going in relationship to the product itself (our piece goes up February 2015). But I think that is the beauty of working with DTP; we can freely explore without having that timeline pressure that one might typically have in a rehearsal process.  For the most part, Adam, has been giving us each assignments which we work on and then bring in to teach to the group.  It’s been really exciting because it forces all of us to think outside of the typical box of things that we might need to as actors. We have to think like directors and filmmakers, and at times may lead the group or follow one another’s direction.  

What is the developmental process like for you as an artist?: The developmental process is highly creative, which is why I find it so exciting and keep coming back for more project after project.  When prompted with new devising assignments we are given enough information to be inspired, but little enough direction that we can feel real ownership over what we are creating.  It is also a real lesson in collaboration, as there are many minds and voices in the room, all with different ideas, but also different strengths as artists.  I often find that I have to take a step back and just listen to the company members, because there is so much to learn from all of them. I think that’s what I like best about working with DTP: it’s a classroom as much as it’s a rehearsal room, and I find that I am gaining tools and skills as I continue to work with the company. Having a bigger picture perspective as an artist can also only help inform my work as an actor in other projects.

What is it like working with mixed media? What are some challenges, benefits, risks etc.?: It can sometimes be overwhelming because there are many components to it. For example, in our piece we have the following to work with: pre-recorded digital footage, analog footage, camerawork, software programming, props, text, Foley, and music.  When we receive devising assignments I sometimes don’t know where to start, especially because I am far from an expert in most (well, any) of these topics.  But I find it is helpful returning to the prompt we are given, because it always gets my creative juices flowing. I also remind myself that experts in each of these areas are only an email or phone call away. A lot of times we’ll have an idea of what we want to do, but then will come into the room and ask others to help us get there.  Working with many mediums and with many people really lends itself to true collaboration. The tricky thing is, all components must work together and at once, and technology can be finicky, so we sometimes don’t know what the technology gods may hand us that day, so we have to sometimes be flexible, always patient.

Tell us a little about W.G. Sebald and “The Rings of Saturn”: W.G. Sebald is a German, British author. I say both, because his writing, specifically The Rings of Saturn very much illuminates his identity struggle.  I often times think of Sebald as a collage artist or documentary film maker, as his writing is far from poetic, and also doesn’t follow a clear narrative. Instead he takes many different events, his own thoughts, and also images and strings them into pieces, which are part fiction, part non-fiction, part personal meditation.  At face value, The Rings of Saturn is a story about a man who takes a walk along the coast of England. The book is about his walk, and all of the things that he thinks about while walking.

How does W.G. Sebald and “The Rings of Saturn” inspire you as artist?: Mostly, it inspires me not to take things at face value.  If you read Sebald’s book quickly you can gather a lot of facts, almost like an encyclopedia.  If you read it carefully you can find his deep preoccupations about growing up as a German with little understanding of the history before him, and how history and the idea of those before us impact us all.  In Sebald’s work, you will simply notice pictures on some of the pages. If you take the time to research where those pictures came from, you may realize that picture in the book is really a blown up smaller image that is part of a greater one. 

What is the importance/relationship of memory and the wandering mind to you as an artist?: As an artist, it’s really important and also helpful to be keyed into your own wandering mind…it’s where ideas come from, however direct or tangential. This is something which we all inherently have but may not be tapped into or aware of.  This project has been really great for me, because I rarely formally record my thoughts, feelings, memories.  Once it was an assignment, I started doing this more, and since have recalled so many things I didn’t even know I remembered, which was both nostalgic, happy, and sad. It’s also exciting to think about how your thoughts on a given thing may be similar or different to another’s on the same thing. This really comes to light as we make this piece as it is essentially an exploration of what all of us thought and felt as we read the same text.

What is it like exploring neuroscience through creativity?: Well for one, it makes neuroscience, a topic I usually find far over my head, accessible. I think that people take science and art and typically put them at opposite ends of the spectrum.  However, here we do not. In fact, it is essential in the creation of our work for them to be explored side by side.  It makes me think that we really can access the things that we find out of our reach by putting them in terms we may understand. 

Why Searching for Sebald now?: Why not? While I feel like it doesn’t have the same social/political urgency that some pieces do (that is just not the focus here), I do think it is important to be seen now, in terms of the theater world. We live in a time where technology, specifically projection art, is really trendy and is used left and right. However, it’s rarely integrated well into the piece, and very seldom is essential to the piece.  Here, in Searching for Sebald, the piece can not live without the technology, and its integration is thoughtful and specific, as opposed to tacked on simply for the sake of having it.  

What can we expect to see in Searching for Sebald?: Searching for Sebald is a choose your own adventure kind of experience. There will be many things to take in – multiple screens, actors working together onstage, and also will be many sounds and music to listen to; the story that you receive will be very different than the person sitting next to you, because each person will inherently experience different things depending on what they choose to engage with at any given moment of the piece.  You can expect to see a blend of bits of the book brought to life, our personal thoughts, feelings, and experiences as we read the book, some information about Sebald himself, and also…a fish tank used in a really cool way! Curious? Come see us in February 2015.