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Friday, May 6, 2011

Study Hall with Hand2Mouth

For Uncanny Valley, Hand2Mouth is excited to offer our first study guide: a compilation of articles, interviews, source material, design sketches and resources for educators, students and armchair intellectuals. The guide features in-depth information on the development of Uncanny Valley, devised theatre, and the study of memory. It will be available online and at the show.

Below is an excerpt from an interview that will appear in the guide between Uncanny Valley dramaturg Kate Bredeson and director Jonathan Walters.

Kate: What is Uncanny Valley about?

Jonathan: This piece sets up a pretty simple premise. What if each member of a team of highly skilled performers in front of a live audience, are guided into one of their own individual memories? Not that each person will retell the memory, but each person will actually relive the memory in real time for all to witness. The show sets up this idea, makes it happen, and looks at the impact of this special channeling, this living through the past, while a hundred strangers watch.

After this goes on for a while, these very personal memories begin to float and pass around the room and slip easily (or sometimes painfully) from one performer to another and then over into the audience. I hope eventually in this altered world the performance slowly becomes a special setting for the audience members to start to relive and encounter their own memories privately, but in a crowded group setting.

K: What is the goal of working on one production over such a long development period? Why not develop several different shows during this time instead?

J: We do work on several shows at once, and did tour and rework older shows while creating this newest work. In the last year or so we've toured our show Everyone Who Looks Like You to New York, California, Oregon and Washington and created a brand new solo show, My Mind is Like An Open Meadow.

The long development process, punctuated with breaks to work on other pieces or return to more “finished” work, allows us to have long periods of time where our unconscious minds are searching (and providing) answers and insight for the next round of work. These breaks also allow us to become less emotionally tied to the work so we can be cleaner and more objective about artistic decisions towards cutting the material in the shows.

K: What has been the most difficult thing about trying to stage the subject of memory?

J: To not make it seem like a replayed story. We've all heard stories, retellings of events in someone's (real or fictional) life. This show is an attempt to be IN a memory and be surprised and amazed by what you find when you enter in and can stay and visit and spend time there. We had to keep veering away from STORY techniques and find a whole new language for living in a memory in a public space, with voyeurs present. It wasn't (and still isn't) easy to do convincingly.

K: How does Uncanny Valley relate to other works by Hand2Mouth over the past decade?

J: It is right there in the canon. We will be able to look back on the last five years and have a few key full-ensemble shows that feel are very contemporary and strongly in our aesthetic: Repeat After Me, Everyone Who Looks Like You, City of Gold and this one. All those shows combine a use of amplified sound, direct address to the audience, hyper-theatricality, sense of live event, emotional fierceness and a rich fully designed performance setting.

Where I think this stands out is in its harkening back to our earlier, more mystical work, combined with these newer elements, which makes for a full embrace of the unknown, the uncanny, the strange and odd, the mysterious, the unsettling, the illogical... those elements are always in our work, but it has been a long time since they are given equal weight and power.

K: What is next for H2M?

J: We tour our show about family, Everyone Who Looks Like You, to San Francisco in June, and then we will host our annual Risk/Reward Festival of New Performance in Portland a week later, bringing in new contemporary short works from performers from across the Northwest.

After that we begin work on a brand new ensemble piece we are calling (for now) Love. Songs. that will look at long term romantic commitment, and use a heap of songs (some written by us, some pre-existing pop/jazz/country) and high intensity dance and voice to try and tackle that beautiful, complex idea.

And then we'll start touring this show, Uncanny Valley, hopefully all over the West Coast, the U.S., the world and then on to other, alternate planets.

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