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SPRINGBOARD COLLECTIVE ON FUN AND TOGETHERNESS

Sarah Dahlinger, Danny Crump, Micah Snyder, and Stephanie Wadman of Springboard Collective. Credit Danny Crump.   

Sarah Dahlinger, Danny Crump, Micah Snyder, and Stephanie Wadman of Springboard Collective. Credit Danny Crump.

 

Springboard Collective produces collaborative, site­-specific, interactive, and immersive sculptural environments. Utilizing experimental and imaginative approaches to everyday materials, their installations focus on transforming the physical and psychological aspects of fun through socially engaged events. Their works include Good Humor (an ice cream-making extravaganza), Total Limbo (a fanciful fort), and Soft Surplus and Soft Surplus+ (inclusive playlands). Springboard Collective is directed by Danny Crump, Micah Snyder, and Sarah Dahlinger, and is also comprised of Stephanie Wadman and Barry O’Keefe. Contributing artists include Todd Irwin, Siavash Tohidi, Matt Hannon, Juniper Nova, and Ryan Davis. 

It’s not about me or you, it’s about us.

 

Odyssey Works: What led you to your current approach to art-making? How did you start breaking traditional molds?

Springboard Collective: Springboard Collective started in graduate school at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Danny had done a residency at Flux Factory in 2014, and got inspired by all the collaborative work happening there; it dawned on him that you could get a lot more stuff done faster and be more improvisational with other people. So he proposed starting a kind of band where we would make collaborative art shows. We were all a bit disillusioned with the isolation of the grad school grind, and we wanted to experiment without the pressure of individual authorship. We wanted to let ourselves be really playful with materials and with ideas without overthinking them beforehand. So we began making these ambitious spectacles with a little bit of painting, a little bit of sculpture, and some kind of social interstice all coming together.

 

Good Humor , 2015. Credit Danny Crump.

Good Humor, 2015. Credit Danny Crump.

 

OW: Tell us about your process.

SC: We all bring different skill sets to the table and we are continually pushing and pulling and learning from one another. There are specific things that one of us will get obsessed with doing, like individual videos, but part of the process of working collaboratively is to surrender ownership, and to share credit and responsibility. It’s not about me or you, it’s about us. We tend to work on tight timelines, so it’s a really intensive work period. We might plan a project for three weeks. We usually have a big brainstorm on a big piece of paper, and we just write down every idea that anybody comes up with. And then we figure out how we’re going to fit it all together. We mock up the bigger structural elements, sketching things out in real space. We often have only a few days to build the whole entire thing. So there’s a lot of thinking, then a lot of work, and little sleep. And that’s liberating because it's gestural and fast and we don’t have to nitpick all the little details. We follow the impulse, follow the imagery, follow the materials, and just let those lead us wherever they go.

 

We aim to be impish.

 

OW: “Fun” is a word you frequently use to describe your work. What does this mean to you?

SC: We aim to be impish. Our pieces give people permission to act a little crazy and be a little weird, which ends up facilitating fun and togetherness. We are creating a new sort of environment that’s a land of escape from actual reality, and the levity of it is refreshing. The things we reference, like ice cream, bouncy castles, and mazes, are all very playful and childlike. One reason we have for working together is wanting get back to a childlike sense of making, and being really open and fearless. It helps people get out of the day-to-day. A lot of times when you go to shows and museums, you’re still contained in yourself, you’re still reserved. But if you have box of costumes, and you put on a wig, and you get thrown into this tiny area where there are 20 people jumping and everything’s going crazy, it facilitates this experience of breaking free and letting loose for a minute. Another thing about a lot of our work is that the pace of people moving through the space is totally different from a typical art-viewing experience. When you walk into an art space, you typically slow down, but all of our shows have this buzz to them. People are really moving around, getting comfortable, getting immersed.

 

Good Humor,  2015. Credit Matt Hannon

Good Humor, 2015. Credit Matt Hannon

 

OW: Can you speak more to immersivity and interactivity? What do those words mean to you and why are those elements that you want to include in your work?

SC: The installation format is nice, because you’re not dealing with one material or one medium. Everything all has to work together. In all of our pieces, we’re making something that is interactive because we want to give ownership to the people that are coming to become a part of it. We set up this template for them to inject their own creativity into. They’re churning the ice cream that they’re going to taste, they’re making the sculptures that they’re going to take home. It’s an extension of the process of making to the audience. And it’s a really awesome kind of leveling of different hierarchies of people. Our environments are something that you come and interact freely with. There are no rules. And immersion is necessary because it’s a break from reality. We all need to have moments of escape from whatever pressures we experience, so we provide a space that you can step into and, at least momentarily, be liberated. It’s an offering of a space to be together and work together, and that’s a genuine gesture on our part. If you look at the headlines recently, our type of fun, cheeky event might be just the type of thing that we need right now. In our work, nothing’s too serious.

 

We’ve learned that you can make art out of anything if you just put enough effort into it and belief behind it.

 

OW: In interactive environments, where do you locate the art?

SC: All of it is the art. And we don’t keep track of any individual’s physical input into a piece. That’s the beauty of it, that it all sort of melts together.

 

OW: Why create experiences?

SC: We do have relics from our pieces: the objects produced as part of the event. Those have spread out—some people have taken them home—and they do carry a little bit of the energy from the show. But it’s hard to describe all the stuff that happened in any one of our pieces. You really had to be there. We’ve learned that you can make art out of anything if you just put enough effort into it and belief behind it. We start from kind of silly ideas, but then take them to a level where there are much more interesting questions being opened. And the overall experience of the event is where that magic happens.

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Interview by Ana Freeman. 

Teddy Bergman on including the Audience in Ambitious Theatrical Worlds

Teddy Bergman. Credit Blair Mezibov.

Teddy Bergman. Credit Blair Mezibov.

TEDDY BERGMAN is the artistic director of Woodshed Collective, one of the country’s premier immersive theatre companies. Since 2006, the company has presented large-scale theatrical events, including Twelve Ophelias, performed in McCarren Park Pool in Williamsburg, The Confidence Man, adapted from Melville's novel and performed on a decommissioned steamship in the Hudson River, and The Tenant, adapted from the novel and film and performed in a five-story 19th-century parish house on the Upper West Side. Most recently, Woodshed Collective presented the critically acclaimed Empire Travel Agency, a grail quest criss-crossing Lower Manhattan. They are currently under commission from Ars Nova and the Ma-Yi Theater Company for a new immersive theatre experience. Driven by the belief in the combined power of stories and architecture to break down the barriers of everyday life, Woodshed Collective aims to create genuine awe. 

 

We understand immersivity as an expansion of performance to include the audience in the envelope of the show.

 

Odyssey Works: What are you trying to do with your work?

Teddy Bergman: Woodshed Collective exists to make ambitious theatrical worlds that invigorate our audiences' imaginations. 

 

OW: How do you understand immersivity? How does it work and what is the point?

TB: We understand immersivity as an expansion of performance to include the audience in the envelope of the show. This can mean a lot of things.  It can include 360-degree design, direct address, game play, physical engagement of the audience...but more than anything, I think it rests on an awareness that the audience is there, and that the nature of our relationship to them can't be simply assumed.

 

We want the scope of our shows to move physically, emotionally, and intellectually beyond what you thought you were getting into, and possibly beyond what you thought a show could or should be.

 

OW: You say that your productions aim to generate awe. Can you tell us more about that?

TB: Maybe "sublime" is a better word, in the sense that sublime experiences tend to have ambitious scopes. In our case, we are aiming to have the power to threaten your predetermined idea of what a performance can entail. I think that starts to get at an idea of awe. We want the scope of our shows to move physically, emotionally, and intellectually beyond what you thought you were getting into, and possibly beyond what you thought a show could or should be.

 

A scene from  Empire Travel Agency , a 2015 immersive production that took place throughout Lower Manhattan. Credit Ben Fink Shapiro.

A scene from Empire Travel Agency, a 2015 immersive production that took place throughout Lower Manhattan. Credit Ben Fink Shapiro.

 

OW: How does the “set” of an immersive play differ from the set of a traditional play? What is the role of architecture in your work? 

TB: We tend to believe that all work is site-specific: a church, a boat, a black box, a white box, and the Booth Theatre all carry with them unique histories, and everyone has certain feelings and assumptions about them.  Since we think immersive theatre is about including the audience, we take into account the relationships that people have to the spaces we work in, and we incorporate those histories into our shows. And architecture is a major collaborator in our work.

 

We try to create conversations between buildings and texts.

 

OW: What is your process for developing a piece? 

TB: We talk and argue a lot. We read. We work with writers to generate material. We talk a lot more. We find spaces. We try to create conversations between buildings and texts. We help design the script. We talk a lot more.  Then we starting drawing and rehearsing and building. Then we talk a lot more. Then we have previews. Then we talk a lot more and fix as much as we can. Then we run out of time and open the show and hope for the best.

 

Another scene from  Empire Travel Agency . Credit Ben Fink Shapiro. 

Another scene from Empire Travel Agency. Credit Ben Fink Shapiro. 

 

OW: Who are your influences? Can you describe an experience in which art changed you?

TB: Some of the people and institutions we love are En Garde Arts, Guy Debord, Richard Schechner, Herbert Blau, and Olafur Eliasson. Eliasson's immersive installation The Weather Project at the Tate Modern changed my life. It was a synthetic yet natural public space that nourished, humbled, and inspired every person who walked into it.

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Interview by Ana Freeman

Tom Pearson On Dream Logic

Tom Pearson. Credit Christopher Duggan.

Tom Pearson. Credit Christopher Duggan.

TOM PEARSON is one of the artistic directors of Third Rail Projects, along with Zach Morris and Jennine Willett. Hailed as one of the foremost companies creating site-specific, immersive, and experiential dance theatre in the United States, Third Rail Projects is dedicated to re-envisioning how audiences can engage with contemporary performance. They are the creators of the long-running immersive theatre hit Then She Fell and the new immersive sensation The Grand Paradise, which is playing in New York through May 29, 2016. More information can be found at thirdrailprojects.com.

 

Immersive theatre lets you create the world from the ground up.

 

Odyssey Works: What are you seeking to accomplish with your work? 

Tom Pearson: In all of my work, I am hoping to give audiences intimate and transformative experiences by making room for them in the work and making the work about them. I hope each piece becomes a Rorschach blot for their own reflective experiences and takes them on a heightened symbolic journey.  At the end of the day, I hope they see and examine something of themselves in everything I make and that they walk away having perhaps discovered something they didn’t know before.

 

Joshua Reaver and Tara O'Con in  The Grand Paradise . Credit Third Rail Projects.

Joshua Reaver and Tara O'Con in The Grand Paradise. Credit Third Rail Projects.

 

OW: You create work that is both immersive and site-specific. Can you explain the relationship between these two qualities? 

TP: They relate in that they provoke similar approaches to creating work. Many of our public site works focus on the discovery of the narratives that are bricked into the architecture of a place.  In site-specific work, there is a rigorous engagement with real-world architecture and a deep sense of place.  I think that’s true for immersive work as well, but often it involves creating the place ourselves rather than excavating the meanings of pre-existing space. Immersive theatre lets you create the world from the ground up.

 

The artwork itself exists in that sharp turn when a scene moves from an obvious read into the deeper recesses of possibility.
 

 

OW: How would you characterize the exchange you facilitate between artist and audience? Where is the artwork itself located? 

TP: My work is about creating scenarios that keep the audience in mind from the outset—so they are necessary to the work, and each scene is built with that exchange in mind.  I think I am trying to achieve intimacy, but also to challenge audience members' expectations, bypass their rational minds, put them in places with smells and tastes and textures that trigger emotional or physical responses and put them into a place of strong receptivityand then turn a corner to go into deeper, more symbolic, meaningful places. The artwork itself exists in that sharp turn when a scene moves from an obvious read into the deeper recesses of possibility.

 

Roxanne Kidd in  Then She Fell . Credit Darial Sneed. 

Roxanne Kidd in Then She Fell. Credit Darial Sneed. 

 

OW: Unlike some other experiential art, Third Rail’s pieces seem to have a strong narrative focus, yet they are also clearly structured differently from traditional theatre. Can you talk about the role of narrative in your work?

TP: Our narratives are always fragmented, which is the nature of immersive work, and what is most effective about it.  Audiences seem to need to hook themselves onto some sort of narrative to navigate the worlds, which is why the writings of Lewis Carroll offer so much to Then She Fell; audiences have some cultural and literary signifiers that are easy to understand, so they can relax a little more into the figurative and fragmented and symbolic aspects of the work. They can go deeper into the dream logic because they have an anchor in the narrative images. It’s harder with something like The Grand Paradise, where we are hooking the audience’s attention onto broader cultural signifiers...like the idea of "paradise," a status quo family from Middle America on vacation, a coming of age, a midlife crisis, the collective cultural fantasies of the late 1970s, and the Fountain of Youth.  These are anchor points too, but much looser ones.

 

OW:  Immersive theatre is often compared to video games or other interactive virtual experiences. Why do you choose to create embodied experiences? What does liveness mean to you? 

TP: I think immersive theatre is just a more obvious form of liveness than other theatre, maybe because audience members feel some agency and control in it, but also because it allows them a more personal, tactile, intimate encounter with art.  And I think video games and the last 20 years of digital living have made us all crave liveness, while also preparing us to navigate these real worlds that follow video game logic. Like a video game, immersive theatre trains you, sets you loose to unlock possibilities, and then levels you through based on your choices; there are boons along the way, and a sense of discovery as you put the structure together for yourself through your own experience of it.

 

How can audiences and characters be given the same offerings and have synonymous experiences in a safe space?

 

OW: Tell us about your process for creating a piece. 

TP: It can start and finish in a myriad of ways. Often, it begins with a movement idea that becomes an organizing principle, or a narrative fragment, such as a sense of duality, or a yearning for the Fountain of Youth. Then She Fell began with the idea of a personality torn in two directions, towards two separate agendas, with both halves operating on either side of a real-life event. The Grand Paradise was inspired by archetypal psychology, by the idea of characters representing different aspects of a single psyche. I envisioned that psyche being that of a place, a sentient place that gives birth to a pantheon of archetypal characters who promise to fulfill audience desires. From those kinds of starting places, the choreography, writing, and scenarios spin out around the idea of audience inclusion and what that could mean. How can audiences and characters be given the same offerings and have synonymous experiences in a safe space?

 

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Interview by Ana Freeman

Clarinda Mac Low on Accessible Mysteries

Clarinda Mac Low. Credit Ian Douglas.

Clarinda Mac Low. Credit Ian Douglas.

 

Clarinda Mac Low was brought up in the avant-garde arts scene that flourished in NYC during the 1960s and '70s. Mac Low started out working in dance and molecular biology in the late 1980s; she now works in performance and installation, creating participatory events of all types. Mac Low is the executive director of Culture Push, a cross-disciplinary organization encouraging hands-on participation and hybrid ideas.

 

 

Odyssey Works: How do you understand immersivity and interactivity? How do they work and what is the point?

Clarinda Mac Low: In the realm of theatre and art, immersion and interaction are, to me, two very different propositions. I see immersion as a sensory bath, or flood, shifting perceptual terrain through a number of different techniques. Interaction doesn't require immersion, but they sometimes go hand in hand. Interaction can take a million different forms. It can be as simple as a conversation between strangers, and as complex as a highly responsive environment programmed to sense human presence and shift accordingly. Also, I'd bring up one other term here: participation. I see participation as an invitation to an audience to become co-creators of a situation. As with interaction, this can act on many levels, from a full collaboration to a brief contribution. When a work is participatory, this means the interaction between the originating artist(s) and those who come to the experience is what completes the work.

 

OW: Why create experiences?

CML: Everybody creates experiences. It's what humans do with each other. If by "experience" you mean a live work that moves through time with an audience instead of a more static work that's fixed in place, it's because I see experience as a common denominator. We all experience time passing, and we all have relationships to others and to our surroundings. Highlighting these states, provoking thought and action around our modes of existing, and allowing time for contemplation of these issues seem like valuable acts to me.

I create accessible mysteries designed to reach under the ribs and connect to the phantom organs of empathy and decisive action.

OW: What are you trying to do with your work?

CML: I work to generate situations where the viewer and viewed mutually affect each other, and create experiences that wake up the body and mind. I explore hot subjects through a cool lens, using the scientific method to expose the ways we exist physically with each other, with technology, and with history. I create accessible mysteries designed to reach under the ribs and connect to the phantom organs of empathy and decisive action. My work deals with real-world issues, and it is hard to pin down and categorize. Some of my recent artistic experiments were “Free the Orphans,” which encouraged people online and in public to adopt orphan works (creative works whose copyright holders are impossible to identify); “The Year of Dance,” an exploration of dance performance as ethnography with data analysis; “Cyborg Nation,” where a cyborg interlocutor acted as a connection between human and machine worlds; and “River to Creek,” a roving, participatory natural history research tour of North Brooklyn. 

Participants in "River to Creek" wearing sponge shoes to replicate the experience of walking in the marshlands that once occupied North Brooklyn. C redit Carolyn Hall.

Participants in "River to Creek" wearing sponge shoes to replicate the experience of walking in the marshlands that once occupied North Brooklyn. Credit Carolyn Hall.

 

OW: What is the collaboration between artist and audience as you see it? Where is the artwork itself located?

CML: For live art, there is always a collaboration, even if the audience is sitting still, watching a performance on a proscenium stage. Anyone who has ever performed or directed work in that context knows that the watchers profoundly change the watched. When I worked more in theatrically based performance, I always located the artwork in the electric connection between artists and audience. Now that audience members are often direct collaborators in my live artworks, the art is still in that connection, but it's also in the creation of the actual experience. We ourselves become the artwork, and our relationships are visible, tangible, and available.

 

OW: What is the role of wonder and discovery in your work?

CML: My work is based in somatic practice. By involving the audience in an actively physical decision-making process, I create a variety of situations and environments. I rely on a grab bag of tools that emphasize the intangible, including installation, media and technology, performance, dance and other physical action, directed wandering, unscripted conversation, and imaginative play. 

A performance of  40 Dancers do 40 Dances for the Dancers , in which 40 people interpreted instruction poems from Jackson Mac Low's  The Pronouns: A Collection of Forty Dances for the Dancers . C redit Ian Douglas.

A performance of 40 Dancers do 40 Dances for the Dancers, in which 40 people interpreted instruction poems from Jackson Mac Low's The Pronouns: A Collection of Forty Dances for the Dancers. Credit Ian Douglas.

I often reframe our relationships to architectural space and to urban public interactions. I create interventions into everyday life and infiltrations into unexpected sites in a wide variety of communities, from the streets of Lower Manhattan and the Queens Botanical Garden to an abandoned church in Pittsburgh and a park in Siberia. I try to engage audiences in the context of their real lives and ask them to interact differently with each other and with their surroundings. 

 

I saw the value of going beyond beauty, beyond expression, even beyond a certain conception of ‘human.’

OW: Who are your influences? Can you describe an experience in which art changed you?

CML: Whenever I'm given this kind of question, Robert Smithson always comes to mind. Then I feel like that's not right, because what changed me was not Smithson's art per se, but the writing he did around that art. Then I feel like it's fine, because his writing about his art was also his art, and his ideas are an artist's ideas. Smithson's work opened a world of possibility to me. After many years of existing within an avant-garde arts context, as the child of an experimental poet and composer and a visual artist, through Smithson I finally got itI connected to my legacy. I saw the value of these strange and stringent principles I'd grown up with. I saw the value of going beyond beauty, beyond expression, even beyond a certain conception of "human." I am also influenced by the intensity of physical experiences and personal relationships engendered by a long-term dance practice. Working as a professional movement artist for many years gave me access to ways of being and relating that are unusual, rare, and tremendously valuable.

ALBERT KONG on the empowerment of play

Albert Kong

Albert Kong

Albert Kong is an artist designing live games and experiences in the Bay Area. His work is focused on the audience as a player, and the world as an unbounded space of play: site specific installations that ask players to view the physical and social space around through the lens of a new set of rules. He has presented at various festivals including IndieCade and Come Out & Play.

I like to empower people in small, personal ways, showing how even minute intentions can affect the world.

Odyssey Works: You've worked on escape the room games, Odyssey Works (developing the Beautiful Experience Design Workshop), The Headlands Gamble, The Vespertine Circus and just about every other underground and theatrical immersive and interactive endeavor in the SF Bay Area. Through all that, how do you understand immersivity and interactivity? What is the point?

Albert Kong: What is the point? The words “immersive” and “interactive” are often used so broadly that they serve as containers for anything that is new, designed, and even slightly participatory; they feel almost empty to me when they are used to describe new work after the fact. But as an aspirational quality for works, and when audiences are excited to find work that is immersive or interactive, I think it at least partially represents some collective cultural needs: ownership and reclamation of space; empowerment to engage; permission to play, permission to explore.

Come Out & Play Festival,  credit Anna Vignet

Come Out & Play Festival, credit Anna Vignet

When I was in elementary school, we had an amazing wooden play structure that we would climb all over during our breaks. I remember feeling disappointed when we continued onto middle school, and the only available play spaces were sports fields and courts. I would keep seeking out playgrounds until a few years later when I began to practice parkour, a community that specifically encouraged the exploration of space for alternative functions. For the next decade I practiced scanning the environment around me for the techniques that they afforded rather than the limitations that they represented. A wall is not a barrier but a structure to climb, a platform to stand on, a space to walk. That perspective also revealed that we are limited by rules we implicitly set for ourselves often more than any absolutes (why not stand on that bench? why not dance across the crosswalk?).

Games and embodied play--the terms I use for “immersives” and “interactives”--are a revealing form in that same way. They give permission to the audience to step out of their seats; they reward those who explore; they invite people to be a part of a world rather than voyeuristically peering into one. The games that excite me the most--experiences like Odyssey Works, Headlands Gamble, Journey to the End of the Night--appropriate the spaces that we exist in every day, inviting us to do what we would usually avoid in order to maintain the temporary world that the game creates.

I think the point is to remind individuals that we own our bodies and our actions no matter who “owns” the land we stand on, and to empower players to continue exploring the space that they occupy. (With the usual caveats of not causing harm to others, etc.)

OW: Why create experiences?

Ambulist,  credit Danielle Pena

Ambulist, credit Danielle Pena

AK: As a game designer I often see an expectation from players for embedded narrative, for a story to be written and delivered throughout the experience of a piece, especially in realms connected with entertainment media--video games; escape rooms; alternate reality games. While I have a lot of respect for authored narratives, in designing experiences, I think there is a unique opportunity to introduce, influence, initiate personal narratives. The rules of a game can introduce a sense of uncertainty, a drama that can be more exciting than anything narrative that is written for them--sliding into the finish line in the nick of time, or suddenly realizing you’ve stepped into your opponent’s territory. The rules we follow for a game can overpower our perception of our own abilities; in Beacon, a chase street game I designed I was delighted to hear about a player who lept over a crowd, acrobatically kicking off a wall, in order to evade being caught. Playing a game can replace the rules and stories we associate with a space, a city, our lives; there are whole neighborhoods in the Bay Area that I associate with getting lost in the midst of Journey to the End of the Night, instead of as “cozy suburbs” or “boutique shopping districts.” I design experiences because I want to give people stories to tell from their own points of view.

OW: What is the role of wonder and discovery in what you do?

Climber Beta,  credit Tobin Schwaiger-Hastanan

Climber Beta, credit Tobin Schwaiger-Hastanan

AK: I like to work in small magic. There’s the grand sense of revelatory wonder that one experiences when they are surrounded by the majesty of nature, and then there’s the realization that there really are bugs crawling underneath that rock. There’s the discovery that a simple equation can explain vast swaths of the physical world, and there’s the discovery that your friend was absolutely delighted when she received your impromptu letter. I like to empower people in small, personal ways, showing how even minute intentions can affect the world.

There’s a lot of wonder in the recognition that we are capable of so much more than we think we are, that the simple act of venturing to try—see if that doorknob turns; take that unfamiliar alleyway; enter that ancient-looking junk store—can lead us to magical adventures that we could scarcely imagine.

I think that’s a kind of magic that experience design is especially good at creating; we might behold a beautiful, ornately crafted piece of architecture in awe, but it doesn’t teach us that we ourselves, ordinary human beings, are capable of creation, art-making, affecting change, the way that even the smallest interaction can.

OW: How does your art practice influence your life?

AK: Making games and experiences allows me an alternative to cynicism, my default state perhaps as a result of my upbringing. Through my practice, I allow myself time to think carefully about the systems that govern our lives, the implicit laws and expectations, the cultural norms, the institutions in place; and where the state of these things would otherwise be pretty depressing, in art, I see solutions. I see opportunities to make these rules obvious by providing new rules. I imagine someone who goes through a game, or an Odyssey, or a designed adventure returning to the “real world” and questioning why shouldn’t I take the tag off this mattress; why should I drive to work when I enjoy biking more; who’s to tell me I can’t be an artist; what’s stopping me from making a difference in the lives of the people around me? I try to embody the states of mind that I try to share with those who play my games, and it’s honestly made me much happier.

Bring Home the Beacon,  credit Lia Bualong

Bring Home the Beacon, credit Lia Bualong

OW: Who are your influences? Can you describe an experience in which art changed you?

AK: This is two questions! I’ve been incredibly inspired by the work that came out of SF0, which bills itself as a collaborative production game, where players create tasks for each other that often involve real world interactions (climb a roof; modify a sign; take a bus to the end of the route). It was where Journey to the End of the Night was conceived, as well as the Wanderer’s Union and many others. I loved how it created community and participation through play. Along those lines, I’ve also been really inspired by the Nordic larp scene, fluxus event scores, the work of Nonchalance...

But you want me to pick one, right? I never thought of myself as an artist. I didn’t study it, I didn’t consider myself capable of making art; in my college years I hardly had a framework for understanding the work that I would see in museums, in books. But in one of those years I ran into Robert Yang, now a game designer and academic, then a student who was teaching a class on outdoor games. He was leading a handful of students through a game that was taking place around campus, with players smuggling objects over imaginary borders and evading imaginary guards. I didn’t know Robert at the time, but noticing some students running around with arm bands clearly up to some shenanigans, I stopped one of the players and asked them what was going on, and they directed me toward him, and he explained what was going on. The idea that a game like this was being orchestrated in broad daylight, in the middle of campus, with most of the students around us seemingly oblivious to what was going on, that was an epiphany. I had heard of and played some other games on campus--Assassins, Fugitive, Sardines--but this was the moment that made it a genre in my mind, rather than merely a random occurrence.

OW: What is the benefit of integrating multiple disciplines and how do you go about it?

AK: From a community/scene aspect, my background is in several new disciplines that emerge without a lot of background in the arts, and the recognition that other disciplines have a lot of solutions to the problems we face (how to maintain community, how to encourage new members, how to find satisfaction in art when there isn’t a commercial industry to support the medium) has been helpful. In the Bay Area game design scene we adopted an open mic model for sharing and testing new games that has been a really powerful way to make the medium more accessible to new designers.

Meanwhile, I personally am still learning and figuring out what art means; reading up, seeing more art, dipping my toes into new practices, and befriending other artists has been a way to sort of latently integrate new influences into my practice.

Stacy Muszinsky on the effects of an Odyssey

Stacy Muszinsky

Stacy Muszinsky

 

This week we interviewed Stacy Muszinsky, who was a participant in the Odyssey Works 2007 production The Moveable Feast in Austin, TX.

 

Odyssey Works: What was it like to bleed the boundaries of your real life with that of the performance?

Stacy Muszinsky: Surreal and moving and rather frightening and ecstatic and cathartic and unforgettable.

OW: HOW WAS YOUR LIFE CHANGED AFTER YOUR ODYSSEY? HOW DID THE ODYSSEY AFFECT YOUR LIFE?

SM: The Odyssey itself was a wild and strange catalyst, bleeding between performance and reality. I remember having to focus on breathing sometimes, looking at my hands, to calm myself, to ground myself, to feel private and not blown apart, wide open for the world. That said, the whole of it was exhilarating and unhinging. I was dazed for some time immediately after Odyssey, unsure what was real and what was performance, as if the piece continued into life. I felt alternately giddy and sad. Odyssey injected a sense of serious play in my life. I birthed a child three years ago; the experience isn't unlike my Odyssey -- a cosmic joke -- a strange and surreal experience guided by what I can't say toward what end I'm not exactly sure. Same wild, scary, beautiful ride that I am one thankful mother to be on.

The Odyssey inhabited me utterly....I felt an intricate fabric in the weave of the entire experience while, in the same instant, feeling as if I were unraveling...

OW: Most performances ask that you sit and watch. Odyssey Works requires you to engage fully. How did that requirement change your experience of the performance and did it continue to affect you afterward?

SM: The Odyssey inhabited me utterly. I had no idea from moment to moment what to expect, would happen, how I would behave. Everything was of the moment. I felt safe and unsafe in the same instant. I felt an intricate fabric in the weave of the entire experience while, in the same instant, feeling as if I were unraveling, unraveled, naked.

Perhaps I said something good and useful in the recap video after the performance when I was sitting next to Doug. I remember getting weepy again when I talked about it. 

When the climax of the performance hit, I fell completely apart -- or together. I mean, I cry at any good climax -- story or sex -- but this one... I was wracked by the connection, the letting go, the release. I could not stop crying. Weeping, actually. Not the same style of weeping I did when I learned my mother unexpectedly died, but the weeping I expect I'll do when I meet her again at the end of my life. It was a catharsis so deep, so mind-body-spirit connected, I felt intercellularly stoned for weeks. I felt integrated, and I felt connected to every damn thing and every damn one. So right now.

I felt absolutely yes. Clear. Unafraid. Real.

OW: THIS ODYSSEY ENTAILED A GREAT DEAL OF RESEARCH INTO YOUR LIFE. HOW DID IT FEEL TO BE SEEN IN THIS INTIMATE WAY?

SM: Amazing and scary and open and real.

OW: What was most meaningful thing for you during your Odyssey?

SM: Years ago I may have said the most important thing about my Odyssey was sharing it with the others who were on the Odyssey with me.  I would have added: Feeling myself breaking down and re-integrating throughout the experience. I would have said experiencing the catharsis of the finale. Being given my life and identity back upon the death of my imposter, all the imposters -- feeling the grace and honesty and weight of that moment, that truth. Feeling, then, at one with everything stitched into that moment -- the sun in sky, the dark-haired actor running up the crushed stone pathway in his flowing white pants and shirt, the cello music, the loved ones gathered around us in that tiny gazebo in the middle of nowhere.

Today, I'd say all that. And: that it happened at all.That it happens at all. It was a gift. It is a gift.

Did I mention painful? It was so beautiful it hurt. Or it hurt so much it was beautiful. I can't parse or separate the two really. It all just really undid me.  

OW: Based on this experience, what would you say is the benefit of mixing reality and performance?

SM: Art. Life. Art. Life. It's so impossibly weird and, let me stop crying for a second... so terribly good. Thank you.

CHRISTINE JONES ON THE GIFT AND RECIPROCITY

Christine Jones.

Christine Jones.

CHRISTINE JONES is a Tony-winning set designer and the artistic director of the critically acclaimed Theatre for One, a portable private performing arts space for one performer and one audience member. Most recently, she directed the sensational immersive nightclub dining experience Queen of the Night, which New York Magazine has called the “hottest nightlife experience in town”.

Odyssey Works: How do you understand immersivity and interactivity? How do they work and what is the point?

Christine Jones: I guess the most straightforward response is to say that immersive experiences operate with no fourth wall, and sometimes no walls at all. There are many degrees of interactivity, but at the core, interactive work doesn't pretend that no one is watching. The watcher and the watched are aware of and responsive to each other. There is an acute awareness of their dependence on each other. If there is no audience, there is no performer, and vice versa. I find that when this interdependence is made a primary part of the experience there is an added depth. I believe this is true of non-theatrical experiences as well, in which there is a giver and a receiver but no performance. When people interact in ways that are fully present in the moment, be it theatrical or magical, their experience can become more transcendent.

 

OW: Why create experiences? 

CJ: As a parent, I am aware of creating a world where Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy exist for my kids. When they die, it's our job to make other kinds of magic. I love what Charlie Todd of Improv Everywhere said. He said he wanted to live in a world where anything can happen at any moment. His work makes our world just such a world...I think everyone has a desire to be surprised, delighted, moved, and transported. If we don't do this for each other, no one else will. Our parents will make magic for us when we are young; when we are older, we have to make it for ourselves and each other.

Theatre for One in Times Square.

Theatre for One in Times Square.

OW: What are you trying to do with your work? 

CJ: This probably sounds horribly pretentious, but lately I have been thinking of myself as an artist who uses intimacy the way a painter uses paint. My intention with all of my work is to enhance a feeling of connection and presence that makes people feel seen, and sometimes, especially with Theatre for One, loved. It is always amazing to me how simple acts of kindness and generosity are so deeply appreciated. We very rarely slow down enough to feel truly with other people. I am trying to create fruitful circumstances for a gift exchange between audience and performer. Whether it be a big Broadway show, or an immersive dinner theatre experience, or Theatre for One, I am hoping to create a space and relationships within the space that allow the audience to feel that they are receiving a beautiful experience, and in return they are giving the performers or creators the gift of their full presence and attention.

 

OW: What is the collaboration between artist and audience as you see it? Where is the artwork itself located? 

CJ: When we worked on Queen of the Night, we did a workshop for the actors with a dominatrix. She described creating a reciprocal energy loop between herself and her clients. I think this is where the artwork is located, if you can create that loop. In the best circumstances the collaboration happens in the contract the artist and the audience make to engage in these roles. "I will perform," "I will watch," or "I will create," "I will receive." Sometimes this is unwritten and happens spur of the moment in a pop-up performance, sometimes it happens with a ticket purchase, or an application process as with Odyssey Works, but there is a moment where artist and audience commit to a relationship, and from there the artwork flows in the energies they exchange and how they are exchanged. Is it an energy loop, or a game of tennis, or two groups on either side of an invisible wall. I love how immersive and interactive work makes us much more aware of our roles as participants.

Queen of the Night .

Queen of the Night.

 

OW: What is the role of wonder and discovery in your work?

CJ: I once heard someone describe themselves as a serial epiphanist. I think it is a great way to express the desire to be filled with wonder that I think we all have. I visited an installation called The Infinity Room by David Wheeler at a gallery in Chelsea a few years ago. I was struck by how being inside a space that truly did feel infinite felt like what I imagined death might feel like, and I was also struck by how much it felt like being engulfed by love. When we never stop feeling wonder and never stop making discoveries, then it means we live in an infinite world with no end of imagination and generosity. It means that at least while we live, anything is possible and at any moment something you never imagined was possible might happen to you. And how much more beautiful life is when we as mortals and fellow travelers make these experiences come alive for each other.

 

OW: Who are your influences? Can you describe an experience in which art changed you?

CJ: I remember the first experience that blew my mind was seeing Fuerza Bruta in Montreal at an International Theatre Festival when I was maybe twenty and just finishing school studying theatre design. The electricity that coursed through my veins to have performers running past me and an apocalyptic universe coming to life all around the space was an eye-opener as to what an event could look and feel like. Later on, having a magician perform a magic trick for me and me alone at a wedding made magic feel like the most beautiful intimate gift one could receive. It was an intoxicating feeling that made me hungry to experience other work in private settings. Lewis Hyde's book The Gift helped me understand what I was trying to do in creating an artistic process of gift exchange. Improv Everywhere, Odyssey Works, Wanderlust (now Sextantworks), have all been extremely influential and inspiring. I feel fortunate to be engaged in so many different but related forms of theatre and experiential work that is both personal and commercial and sometimes even illegal, but all in service of reminding us that the barriers we experience in space and in our relationships can be dissolved.  

CHARLIE TODD TALKS ABOUT CHAOS AND PUBLIC SPACE

Charlie Todd, founder of Improv Everywhere. All rights reserved. 

Charlie Todd, founder of Improv Everywhere. All rights reserved. 

 

Charlie Todd is the founder of Improv Everywhere, producing, directing, performing, and documenting the group's work since 2001. Charlie is the author of Causing a Scene, published by Harper Collins. Based in New York, Improv Everywhere causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places and has executed over 100 missions involving thousands of undercover agents including the legendary Grand Central Freeze and the infamous No Pants Subway Ride. The group's videos have received over 400 million views online.

 
 

Odyssey Works: How do you understand immersivity and interactivity? How does it work and what is the point?

Charlie Todd: To me they are just projects that involve the audience in a meaningful way.  Something that breaks the typical role of audience members and involves them in a manner outside of passive viewing.  It's making the audience part of the experience rather than simply an observer.  The point for me, is that bringing in interactivity adds an unknown element.  A good interactive performance should be unpredictable.  The audience may change the course of what was planned.  The performers may need to adapt and approach things differently based on how the audience is responding (or not responding).

OW: Why create experiences?

CT: I think people crave unique experiences.  With advances in technology our culture has become so interactive.  Everything has been gamified.  Simply sitting and watching a film or a play in a crowd of people is still lovely, but being able to *be* the performance is so much more exciting.

The MP3 experiment. 

The MP3 experiment. 

OW: What are you trying to do with your work?

CT: Improv Everywhere causes scenes of chaos and joy in public spaces.  The goal is to create a unique, positive experience for unsuspecting strangers. As a byproduct of that goal we also give a unique experience to our performers, who are often strangers we've never met who were recruited via our email list.

OW: What is the collaboration between artist and audience as you see it? Where is the artwork itself located?

CT: For Improv Everywhere the interaction between the performers and the audience, whether or not they realize they are an audience, is the artwork.  If our performance happened in a vacuum with no one to witness it live, it would lose all meaning.

OW: How does your art practice influence your life?

CT: I suppose it makes me more aware of the potential for the extraordinary.  Right now I'm typing this at LAX airport and a 4-year-old boy just started dancing in the center of the terminal.  He's just a kid, but it's fun to imagine that maybe he's not.  It's possible that everyone around me is an undercover performer and they'll start dancing soon.  Rather than being paranoid that everyone is out to get me, I'm excited about the idea that everyone could be out to amaze me.  It mostly just comes from me looking for the next idea I might want to do.

The No Pants Subway Ride.

The No Pants Subway Ride.

OW: Who are your influences? Can you describe an experience in which art changed you?

CT: My influences when I started Improv Everywhere were Andy Kaufman and The Flaming Lips.  I read a book about Kaufman that detailed all of the pranks he would stage with his writing partner out in public places like diners and coffee shops.  They were a little mean spirited, but I was really taken by the concept: two people entering a space separately and acting like they don't know each other.  What a great set up for an infinite number of undercover performances.  Early Improv Everywhere projects often followed this model, largely because I usually only had one friend who was willing to do it with me.  The Flaming Lips' live performances in the late 90s and early 2000s were also very inspirational.  They actively involved the crowd in participatory ways.  I went to a show in Prospect Park where they probably had 100 giant balloons flying around the audience.  It was so joyful.  I went to another at Hammerstein Ballroom where the entire crowd was given laser pointers on the way in.  The lead singer held up a giant mirror and we all aimed our lasers at it.  It was incredibly cool looking, and so much fun to be an active part of it.