This is a process blog for a performance at the MCA which is part of the programming for the David Bowie Is exhibit. This page was created to share with my students and the performers who are involved. Scroll vertically for process archive. Scroll horizontally for images. Performance documentation is here.
Description: Inspired by David Bowie’s perpetual state of reinvention and his ability to move in and around various performance personas, a motley crew of otherworldly expatriates gather around a table for an unusual tea party. They come together to create sound, make images, and perform both original choral readings and samples of Bowie’s song lyrics. Performers: L^2, Spencer Carmona, Sarah Chmielewski, Guy Eytan, Lori Felker, Lisa Leszczewicz, MaryAnn McGovern, Scarlet Monk, Andy Slater, Ally Subak, Valerie Xanos, Kylie Zane, Ezekiel Alvarez, Sophia Barr Hayne (Assistant). Cupcakes provided by Lovely Too: a bake shop.
October...I've spared you initial the mind dump This process began sometime late this summer when the performance was confirmed, but I haven't uploaded all of the brainstorming that has gone into the process before production. I'm taking a slight departure from the sterile environments I've been (deliberately) creating for most of my work. I'm inspired by Bowie overall, but I'm also allowing myself to put out work in character. I'm taking a cue from the way artists (certainly Bowie) change character for concept albums or how they invent a character for each album they put out. Bowie is a master at this. So, for this performance, I'll be someone else. Still true to my own self, but a different version. I'll be the version who loves her new and weird studio space, plays dress up, and has buried the glam rockstar under new career anxiety and academia for the past 4 years.
I start everything with an image to keep me on track. It's also the way I think, in images. I decided on the image of a space traveler. One common thread among all of my work, no matter who the character is at any time, is a new origin story. We don't know much about space, so it's a great opportunity to inject the nonlinear into performance personas. The image sets the tone. Next, I started planning out the flow of the performance. Short and sweet, a duration of about 30-40 minutes. We'll be speaking in Bowie lyrics, so I needed to print them off and design them for a score book that we'll all read from. I don't expect everyone to remember the lyrics. He has such a huge catalog, right? And I've chosen songs that maybe some people won't know. There will be one performer who will sing one of my favorites, Subterraneans, from the Low album. The lyrics were written using the cut-up technique, something Bowie borrowed from Burroughs. I've created a set of tarot cards that use words that rhyme with the original lyrics to prompt the performer to sing intermittently throughout the performance. In between these somewhat theatrical spoken lyric performances, there will be live art making prompted by actions inspired by the Oblique Strategies cards (originally created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt) which were used during the production of Bowie's Berlin triptych. The strategies will be interpreted by the performers, most of whom are artists and friends. And of course, it's my piece, which means there will be media - lots of media. I'm shooting video and writing programs for sound and video control. As always, there will be fabrication, sound, video, movement (the Lab dancers are on board again!) and writing. Wonderful. A really fun part of performance, for me, is making the media which supports the live work. Pictures below.
Prep + production Images (L-R):
Promo image for the MCA webby.
Brainstorm of performance flow (Major Tom is sitting in that chair, but you can't see him).
Printed lyrics and lyric scorebook.
Tarot cards design for Subterraneans lyrics: front version 1, front version 2, back with original lyrics.
Lovely ticket to the exhibit courtesy of the MCA for research.
In-progress costume for performance inspired by The Man Who Fell to Earth.
Page from lyric and choreographic score book.
Deck of cards for performance prompts based on Oblique Strategies. "Loving the Alien: Instructions for Other Orthographic Projections" project page is here.
Cast of performers after our 2nd successful rehearsal.
Next up: Dress rehearsal documentation, media, performance documentation...
Media, sculpture, programming, rehearsal...We've one week until the performance. I have some minor programming to do for the sound and video. The tea cup table pieces are done. However, the sealant isn't strong enough yet to hold the tea for longer than a few minutes. I think I'll need to opt for a clear resin. The lyric books have been updated with choreographic notations (pictures of me doing stuff), and I'm in the middle of producing the video. Lots to do. It'll be worth it. Software: I'm running a live feed program through Jitter. I wanted to make something that was as processed looking as the images in the Ashes to Ashes video. So, I have a usb camera at the table to play around with, and the processed result will be shown on (let's call it) Monitor 1. After much searching, I opted for a long usb corded camera and just gave up on the idea of a wireless camera. I need to know the camera will be stable. Monitor 2 will loop a video piece inspired by a scene from Kubrick's 2001. I used some archival footage from the NASA website mixed with the faces of some of the performers, all of which is blended with some animation created with motion graphics software. Speaking of NASA, you know they made their sound archive available, right? I've created the texture that will be playing beneath our voices by using sounds from various missions, as well as some field recordings of my own. So...there are 2 monitors (one running the images from Jitter, one running a video from my iphone), a laptop, usb camera, small (but good) speakers, Abelton Live for the NASA sounds, walkie talkies for the processional and a ton of cords. Our final rehearsal (including dress for the final run through) was Sunday night. We saw some examples of the makeup some will be wearing, but most of that will be a 'happy surprise' on Tuesday. I have to say that the final run through was liberating! "Take all of your oddities and amplify them for the performance!" I was really taking my own advice. it was great for the soul. We're all performing personas that we keep hidden because most of us Earthlings keep things in tact by wearing masks everyday. But Tuesday night is coming. And it's our time to be amplify the things that make us beautifully odd. And we can't wait.
Images (L-R): Dress rehearsal images, Michael Smith.
(1) Photos of tea cups for table setting.
(2 - 3) Cover and first spread of performance booklet. Notations for actions are in the upper right corner of each page.
(4) My costume, a long dress I designed about 8 years ago.
(5 - 7) Screen shots of the video for Monitor 2, and media setup Monitor 1 and sound.
(8) Lisa performing to the live feed camera from Monitor 1.
(9 - last) Final rehearsal images.
Next: Documentation of the performance.