Tag Archives: Diverseworks

Art & Memory

Lorena Guillén Vaschetti, Untitled VI from the series Historia, memoria y silencios (History, Memory and Silences), 2009, giclée print

Reprinted from Culturemap.

I found the Lincoln Logs yesterday. What’s curious about such a find is that I bought them for my boys when they were little because it reminded me of my own childhood.

I exist in a cloud of memory these days, having recently dismantled my childhood home. A year ago, I called my two sons into a family meeting and told them, “We’re ditching the burbs boys, go upstairs and put your childhood in a box.” And so they did, while I walk around as some kind of zombie curator of family nostalgia.

Now, with the family photos packed up in storage and the house transformed into a neutral zone, I call “chez creamy and dreamy,” the house has lost its soul.

Artists have better things to do than cling to a set of dusty Lincoln Logs. Examples of artists sourcing memory abound in Houston right now starting with the FotoFest International Discoveries III exhibit, through Dec. 22,  followed by Becky Beaullieu Valls and visual artist Babette Beaullieu’sMemoirs of a Sistahood- Chapter Three: Ava Maria at DiverseWorks, tonight through Saturday and finally, Brandy Holmes’ KriegieWartime Log, based on the POW Journal of Warren E. Arieux, at Divergence Music & Arts,  Saturday through Monday.

Left in the exact tight rubberbanded bundles, one of Vashetti’s photos lets us experience the treasure of memory, revealing its hidden quality instead of the image itself.

Photographer Kyu-Ho Kim knows about losing his home. The body of work now showing as part of International Discoveries III includes striking photos of his demolished residence.

Kim is from the Bukgajwa-dong section of South Korea, which recently embarked on an aggressive redevelopment plan called, “New Town.” Barbed wire and sharply angled concrete formations take on an eerie, bittersweet tone in Kim’s lens. These otherworldly landscapes suggest an inbetween space, between decay and rebuilding. There exists a whiff of sadness, tinged with an emotional distance. From rubble, an unseen beauty emerges. “Your work makes something beautiful out of destruction,” I told the artist. He nodded yes, smiling.

Hidden and invented

Lorena Guillen Vaschetti rescued what was left of her family photos from the trash. With her mother and herself being the only living members of a large Italian family living in Argentina, the discarded photos took on an added meaning.

Yet, it’s what she did with them that’s so stunning. Left in the exact tight rubberbanded bundles, one of Vashetti’s photos lets us experience the treasure of memory, revealing its hidden quality instead of the image itself. In another photo, she manipulates a family photo by bringing out more detail in the part that coincides with her own memory and blurs what is less clear. Memory is a murky thing, Vaschetti leaves the mystery intact. “Memory is not necessarily the truth, it’s our version,” says Babette Beaullieu.”Remembering the past changes you in the present.”

British photographer Marcia Michael was faced with a different problem when she considered her family history.

When she looked for historical representations of black people in the U.K. she found few, so she did what any resourceful artist would do, she created her own archive, appropriating the style of historical anthropometric photography.

Michael’s powerful portraits have created a second history that dwells in loss and reinvention of personal legacy. Chatting with Micheal proved illuminating. “Photography often speaks to how a culture values people,” the artist told me. How true, the lens can indeed judge us.

Our version of the truth

I ran into Valls walking in a dream state among the artifacts of her life and work on the DiverseWorks stage earlier this week. Tattered lace dresses hang from narrow white totems, while delicate wood canoes dangle from the ceiling.

“What’s that?” I ask Valls, looking at a macabre wire and wood sculpture of a woman, that is created during the course of the evening by her sister.

“It’s female,” she replies. “That’s all I know.”

The Beaullieu sisters revel in twisting family tales into compelling interdisciplinary dance/theater. Now on their third chapter, they hone in on their Catholic upbringing, specifically the Virgin Mary, a key denizen of their hometown Lafayette, La. “It’s so satisfying to create art around memories,” says Valls. “I find truth and honesty in my work.”

Yet the team doesn’t always remember everything the same way, which, in this case, makes the process all the richer.

“Memory is not necessarily the truth, it’s our version,” says Beaullieu.”Remembering the past changes you in the present.”

I’ll never forget their very first sistahood piece, which used family films, sculpture and dance to spin a tale of growing up in the 1950s. By the end, I felt like a sista. According to Valls, that’s the point.

“I find personal meaning in my own narrow stories,” she says. “I’m a daughter, sister, mother and wife, and use my place in the nuclear family to connect to a universal sisterhood.”

Holmes found something considerably more potent than an old toy in her grandfather’s POW journal. “My jaw dropped as I turned the pages,” she recalls.

The treasure trove revealed entries from numerous soldiers, and included poems, drawings, jokes and even recipes. Out of the these pages, Holmes has fashioned a devised theater piece with the assistance of aHouston Arts Alliance grant.

Although all the activities of the play come from the journal and her research about the Stalag Luft 1 camp, Holmes has created fictional characters,who each deal with the stress of confinement in their own ways. She even brought in actors Philip Hayes, John Dunn, Alex Randall and Chris Viles into the research process.

“Hopefully, the play does justice to my grandfather’s journey,” she adds.

Memories transformed, invented and transcended, leave it to artists to make more of a memento.

Tagged , , ,

Your Body: Power ZZZZs

Paul Taylor Dance Company; Michael Apuzzo in Brief Encounters; Photo by Paul B. Goode

Reprinted from Dance Magazine.

Update: This piece was originally inspired by my time with Houston-based artist Emily Sloan,  originator of Napping Affects Performance.  After her first successful Southern Napstist Convention,  she opens  ShadeCloud at Art League Houston this week.  Expect some napping under the ShadeCloud. ” Bring on the Napture”  is my favorite  Sloan-ism.  Amy Ell and her company Vault perform at DiverseWorks in Houston on Sept. 29-Oct. 1.  Apuzzo has a busy season with PTDC as well.  I continue to marvel at the benefits of the 20-minute nap. I wish all my fellow nappers some quality shuteye.








Michael Apuzzo manages the leaps, jumps, and lightning-quick changes of direction in Paul Taylor’s Brandenburgs without a hitch, thanks to his extraordinary abilities—and, according to him, to the 20-minute snooze he takes between tech run-through and the performance. “It’s such a bonus to get a nap in because this piece is so intense. I really need to get to my power,” says Apuzzo, now in his third season with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. “A nap re-centers my body and mind so I feel completely refreshed for the show.”

Sleep may have more to do with your performance than you realize. Without enough of it, just about every human function is compromised: memory, concentration, learning, coordination, immune system, metabolism, and more. While not a replacement for a good night’s sleep, a nap can refuel your energy battery, buff up your mental faculties, and even boost creativity. There is considerable evidence that short naps improve mental ability in certain areas. Some dancers feel napping indicates weakness or seems childish, but many find a brief snooze makes a marked difference in their energy and focus.

The term “power nap” was coined by social psychologist and leading sleep scientist Dr. James B. Maas, author of Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. His research brought new validity to adult napping, tying a brief period of sleep into improved perfor­mance. Sleep happens in stages throughout the night, with REM (rapid eye movement) occurring in the later, deeper stages. In contrast, a power nap averages between 15 and 30 minutes, stopping before the cycle completes itself.

“In a nap, we go into non-REM sleep stages I or II,” says Dr. Makoto Kawai, a sleep neurologist at Methodist Neurological Institute in Houston “A nap can help us catch up on mild sleep deprivation. Most people working in the modern world are somewhat sleep deprived. We still don’t know why this short period of time gives us refreshment. But we do know that a shallower stage of sleep makes it easier to return to an awake state, giving us a boost.”

News_Nancy_training_Amy Ell of Vault in Torn

Amy Ell of Vault in Torn; Photo by Lynn Lane

Amy Ell, an aerial dancer and artistic director of Vault Dance Company, manages a busy schedule of teaching at her Houston studio as well as performing and dance making. Aerial dance doesn’t go well with sleeplessness. There are just too many life-or-death details when it comes to rigging and apparatus. “The power nap is my lifeline to the second half of my very long day,” says Ell. She has a handy room in her studio where she will not be disturbed. “My body wakes me up on its own,” she says.
Although there is no ideal power nap duration, most agree that shorter is better. If you sleep longer than 30 minutes, you may wake up feeling lethargic. This is because your body has entered a normal sleep cycle, and ending it abruptly causes a condition called sleep inertia, where the napper can feel even groggier than before. “You enter REM sleep where you actually lose muscle tone,” says Kawai.

There are a few caveats to consider. According to Dr. Aparajitha Verma, medical director at Sleep Disorders Center at Methodist Neurological Institute, what happens during a nap depends on who is doing the napping. “A sleep-deprived person can have REM sleep in a power nap,” she says. This can lull nappers into thinking that they have cured a serious sleep deficit in a brief break. “Adults require seven or eight hours per night to process information, for immune responses, memory consolidation, tissue repair, and to maintain hormonal balance,” warns Verma.

Timing makes as much difference to the benefits as length. “If the naps are especially close to a person’s normal bed time, they may interfere with a good night’s sleep,” Verma says. She also draws a distinction between an intentional rest like a nap and falling asleep frequently during the day. If you are chronically tired, you should consult a doctor.

And while a nap can indeed give a short-term energy boost, it does not carry the full benefits of deep sleep. “Consolidation of both long- and short-term memory happens in sleep, and our reaction time, concentration, and attention span are affected if we are sleep deprived,” says Verma. “All the new information that is learned is not processed well.”

Apuzzo says he notices a direct connection to his performing power, especially in Taylor’s challenging The Word. “The piece requires such a high level of focus,” he says. “I am always glad I got a nap in before I do those back flips.”


Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A Day of Dance: 24 at Jacob’s Pillow

Jodi Melnick and David Neumann in July; photo Cherylynn Tsushima

If a tree could take a bow,  it would most likely happen at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.  Perhaps it did.  Read on.

My summer travels began and ended at Jacob’s Pillow, the best place I know to dance binge while enjoying the great outdoors. The day began with the natural high I get from seeing Pillow dance banners lining Route 20. This thrills me every time. Why don’t we do this more?

Trisha Brown Dance Company in Set and Reset; photo Julieta Cervantes

Trisha Brown Dance Company celebrated its 40th anniversary with a program spanning several decades, from the freshly minted les Yeux et l’ame to the 1973 witty classic Spanish Dance. It was Brown’s 1993 Set and Reset, with sets and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg and music by Laurie Anderson, that reminded me how deeply Brown’s vocabulary is engrained in my postmodern generation. Forming and un-forming, taking shape and letting it dissipate, sculpting space with a profound nuance, these are the characteristics of Brown’s wonderfully idiosyncratic style, all of which were in full evidence in this set of works. Yet, embedded in this sea of flow is a compelling palette of exquisite detail. It’s truly extraordinary that such richly textured movement can have such a fleeting feel.  Shape sans permanence, that’s Brown’s gift to us.

Jodi Melnick in Fanfare; photo Cherylynn Tsushima

What a set of dreamy movers in the pairing of David Neumann and Jodi Melnick , who teamed up at the suggestion of Pillow artistic and executive director Ella Baff.  (Neumann was last seen in Houston dancing the bittersweet A Day of It , his collaboration with Jane Weiner.)  I could watch these two move all day long, they’re that interesting.  Neumann possesses a slippery quality, looking as if a prat fall might occur at any minute, while Melnick’s calculated delicacy evokes a quiet authority.  Her breathtakingly subtle Fanfare combined an intricate gestural language with Burt Barr’s visuals of an electric metal fan.

David Neumann in Tough the Tough (redux); photo Cherylynn Tsushima

Neumann plays mankind, or “Steve,” with a droll wit in Tough the Tough (Redux), which featured an oddly upbeat existentialist text by Will Eno. The magnificent bowing tree comes in during Melnick and Neumann’s gorgeous duet July, where their understated grace seemed to stand in perfect balance to the nobility of the pine tree on full splendid view through the open back doors of the Doris Duke Theater.  In an “only at the Pillow” move,  Melnick and Neumann motioned to the tree at the end.

Maura Keefe, Lisa Neidermeyer, Debra Levine, Jennifer Edwards, Nancy Wozny; Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima

In between performances,  I hopped on a Pillow Talk  “Dancing Online” panel moderated by Scholar Maura Keefe,  sharing the stage with Virtual Pillow project manager Lisa Niedermeyer, and Huffington Post writers Debra Levine and Jennifer Edwards . The consensus is that people are watching and reading dance online, but we need more evidence of it to make a stronger case that we have a solid audience.  So hit those share buttons people, but don’t forget to actually read the piece first. Be less passive, and comment, should you feel the need. Writers alone can’t up the value of web based dance writing,  or dance writing in general.  We need engaged readers, and lots of them.

zoe | juniper in A Crack in Everything; photo Christopher Duggan

Catching up on most of what I missed in the archives took up the in between hours. I caught Jonah BokaerZoe|Juniper, and Big Dance Theater, all of whom have Houston connections in the upcoming season. Zoe | Juniper will be at DiverseWorks on Jan. 19-21, Bokaer will be an artist-in-residence at University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and Big Dance Theater’s Paul Lazar directs Suzanne Bocanegra in When a Priest Marries a Witch on Nov. 1, also at the Mitchell Center.

Artist faculty of The School at Jacob's Pillow created work on the dancers, who then performed for the public duringthe free Inside/Out series every Saturday throughout the Festival.

No Pillow experience is complete without a visit to the Inside/Out stage. Nestled between a cherubic four-year old and my brother, each of us enthralled by the mountain view setting and earnest performances from the Jazz /Musical Theater students from all over the globe, it occurred to me that dance is something you can learn to love at any age. What better place to do it than the Pillow?

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.

Trisha Brown Dance Company at Jacob’s Pillow

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fessing up on My Fantasy Season

New York Baroque Dance Company; Photo by Louis Forget
Hey there, thanks for visiting and for letting me make things up as part of “The Arthropologist’s fantasy season on Culturemap.” I highly recommend it; it’s way cheaper than therapy too.  And now the truth. Da Camera did bring in Esperanza Spalding a few years back, and happily, Houston knew exactly who she was and the show sold out. This year, The Bad Plus does in fact return as part of Rites of Spring on May 5. I was out of town for The Tiger Lillies the last time SPA brought them in as part of Holy Body Tattoo, so I’m overjoyed that SPA is bringing them in on Nov. 4. I had a case of the Jet Blues (as in stranded in a New York snow storm with a no chance in hell of returning with my Jet Blue ticket)  when the New York Baroque Dance Company was last in Houston, so I’m  thrilled to see them on the Ars Lyrica bill as part of  Heaven and Hell on June 8.
The Seattle-based duo Zoe/Juniper comes to DiverseWorks on Jan. 19-21, but you can catch them at Jacob’s Pillow on July 20-24.
I did have a conversation with Maxine Silberstein, staring at the Dance Magazine cover with Andrea Miller of Gallim Dance on it and mumbled, “Hey, about Gallim Dance?” Silberstein did the groundwork,  finding the company a perfect fit.  It’s going to be one exciting Dance Month. Although Stark Naked Theatre Company has yet to schedule Ed Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, I did have a conversation with Kim Tobin Lehl on such a possibility. One can only hope.

Members of BalletX in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Castrati

OK, so Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s work is not coming to Houston, but it has graced the Dance Salad bill numerous times.  She’s premiering a brand new work for BalletX any minute and was kind enough to send me this lovely photo.

KEIGWIN + COMPANY  in Runaway. Photo by Christopher Duggan

At the moment there are no plans for KEIGWIN + COMPANY to come to Houston, Larry Keigwin, however, is coming to Houston  to set Caffeinated on The Met.  So there!

It’s not too early to get excited by Gallim Dance headlining JCC’s Dance Month 2012

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sarah Kane’s Crave/Catastrophic Theatre

News_Crave_Catastrophic Theatre_Greg Dean_Matthew Carter_Mikelle Johnson_ Carolyn Houston Boone

From Catastrophic Theatre’s “Crave,” Greg Dean, from left, Matthew Carter, Mikelle Johnson and Carolyn Houston Boone
Photo by Anthony Rathbun

The Catastrophic Theatre lives up to its name with Sarah Kane’s Crave, fiercely performed by Matthew Carter, Greg Dean, Carolyn Houston Boone and Mikelle Johnson, directed by Jason Nodler. More of a tone poem that a straight play, Crave takes us inside love, loss, confusion and despair as four characters confess, listen and respond, in a literary form that borrows from choral music’s structure.

A feast for the ears and heart, it’s powerful stuff and all going done in 40 intense minutes. It’s not linear yet it’s cohesion as a piece is profound.

The performers never leave their chairs either. Kane is considered one of the most important and revolutionary voices in theater of the past two decades.This is a rare chance to see the British playwright’s work and a stunning production with a bare but effective set by Greg Dean, ominous lighting by Kevin Taylor and eerie sound design by Chris Bakos.

Every show is pay what you can.” Runs through June 4 at DiverseWorks.

Reprinted from Culturemap.

Tagged , , ,

Adventures through art: Land, sea and far-off places are all part of the creative canvas

Joey Lehman Morris, “Black Mountain Detachment:Two Nights, From Waxing to Fully Stated,” 2008

I heard the ice crack today, a shrill wind too, possibly people trudging through the Arctic in snow shoes.

No, I didn’t go anywhere. I hate to travel. I do all my adventuring through art. I was at Upside Down: Arctic Realities at The Menil Collection, where precious objects from Ekven in Russia, Ipiutak in Alaska, and Old Bering Sea cultures float in a sea of white, while eerie sounds intermittently penetrate the icescape.

The Yup’ik Dance Mask from 1880 caught my attention, mostly because I’m on my way to see Emily Johnson this weekend, who is of Yup’ik descent, perform in her piece, The Thank-You Bar, at Diverseworks as part of This is Displacement: Native Artists Consider the Relationship between Land and Identity, which Johnson curated with Carolyn Lee Anderson.

I wonder, will she bring Alaska to me or her displacement from Alaska?

Artists, like everyone else, become attached to land and sea, a sense of home, place and belonging, all enchanted by our history, a longing for the past and an imagined future. “Where?” often comes before “What?” in our human inquiry.

So it makes perfect sense that the surf and turf thread surfaced in my hometown land/lake of Buffalo, N.Y.,while traipsing through the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s exhibit Surveyor. Zhan Wang’s Urban Landscape Buffalo 2005-2010, crafted from stainless steel pots, pans and kitchen utensils, re-framed my treasured birthplace, while Matthew Ritchie’s On Morning War spills a map of the universe on the walls and floor.

Place gets even more abstract with David Fulton’s painting, the surface from the shore ( across and into), as he traces the outline of lakes to achieve his delicious canvases, which conjure all manner of biological processes, from bone to waterways. “The title suggests the shifting of visual positions one experiences when standing on the constantly reforming edge of a large body of water,” Fulton explains.

Fulton’s work has always had a particular resonance for me as someone who grew up on the shores of Lake Erie. But I’ve lived in Houston longer than lived in western New York, so Texas is part of my ground story now, too. So it’s no surprise that I felt a sense of nostalgia looking at Leigh Merrill’s  photos of Texas as part of Into the Sunset at Lawndale Art Center.

Merrill’s images are constructed from hundreds of different photographs. “I wanted to create an image that showed an expansive characterization of the west, where the fiction and the ‘real’ place blended into one another,” she says. “I knew that the typical parking lot that we see with a storefront needed to be altered so that the image further disrupted our understanding of place.”

For more wild west mythology, you had better run to Romancing the West: Alfred Jacob Miller in the Bank of America Collection, because it closes on May 8 at the MFAH. There’s nothing remotely romantic aboutPLAND‘s (Practice Liberating Art Through Necessary Dislocation) approach to the West. Independent pioneer artists and curators Nancy ZastudilErin and Nina Elder make a patch of Taos, N.M., land their canvas. The team’s off-the-grid residency program welcomes Suzanne Husky and collaborative duo Joshua Hoeks and Ryan Rasmussen, who will be building necessary structures to survive on a piece of land.

Then there are those who dwell in the intersection of land and sea, likeZach Moser and Eric Leshinsky of The Shrimp Boat Projects, at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at UH. These two actually took to the sea.

“We identified shrimping as one of the few remaining ways in our region that people were working in a direct connection to the landscape, and that, by participating in this way of working, we would have access to insights into the foundations of our regional identity,” Moser says from his shrimp boat (I imagine). “It’s our hope to come to a deeper understanding of our place that we will be able to synthesize the often competing interest of economy, culture, and ecology.”

The land/sea tangle sometimes ends up tragically, as in Jiri Kylian’sForgotten Land, which launched Houston Ballet’s season this year. Kylian’s classic ballet draws its power from the idea of the sea overtaking the land. How strange that Hurricane Rita caused the cancelation of this ballet’s premiere in 2005.

Equally poignant is HGO’s new chamber opera, Your Name Means the Sea, an HGOco Song of Houston: East  +West project, by Azerbaijan composer and librettist Franghiz Alizadeh, linking the Azerbaijani community in Houston with our sister city, Baku on May 21, 24 and 26. Song and dance carry place, which I imagine we will see when the Azerbaijan State Dance Ensemble performs at Ifest on May 7 and 8.

Earth and water doesn’t always have to be so serious. There’s a poetic wit to Joey Lehman Morris’ mountain landscapes, last seen at FotoFest in Assembly: Eight Emerging Photographers From Southern California. I like the way Morris props up Black Mountain Detachment: Two Nights, From Waxing to Fully Stated against the wall.

We do tend to prop up our mythic landscapes, don’t we? Morris took his conversation between photography, geology, time and place a step further in But First, Define the Mountainat the California Museum of Photography, UC Riverside.

I wasn’t the only one cracking a smile watching Hillerbrand + Magsamen’s Elevated Landscape video as part of Measured at Lawndale, which runs through June 4. Stephan Hillerband places a sprinkler on his raised piece of real estate, while Mary Magsmen takes an ax to the platform. Lawns manufacture fake land as silly, water gobbling inventions, never mind the chemicals it takes to keep them green.

The toxic details will be revealed in a screening of Brett Plymale’s documentary  A Chemical Reaction: The Story of a True Green Revolution on May 6.

Lawns are unreal all right, but so are invented places, like Mary Temple’s dreamy tree faux shadow installation, Northwest Corner, Southeast Lightat Rice University Art Gallery. You will recognize the place even though it doesn’t exist. It felt like home. That’s how potent place is to us.

Reprinted from Culturemap

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kristina Wong fuses cat pee, insecurity and pick up artistry in Cat Lady

News_Nancy_Cat Lady_cast

Photo by Diana Topshiko

I had planned to write about something else, but I got stopped in my tracks watching a vid of Kristina Wong eating cat food, or at least try to. How could I focus on anything else when an artist is willing to eat cat food to get me interested in her show?

Alright, Ms. Wong, you got me — DiverseWorks too. Wong’s newest opus, Cat Lady, which was co-commissioned by DiverseWorks, ODC Theater and The National Performance Network, runs through Saturday.

To be honest, Wong got my attention just the week before while trolling my favorite ladysnark site, Jezebel, over her beef with Oscarflop James Franco. “I could have hosted the Oscars in my sleep. Apparently, that’s what James Franco tried to do,” wrote the sassy Wong on her blog.

The wannabe-artist Francster had dissed Wong’s commencement address at the UCLA English Department graduation minutes before snapping a photo with her. Wong is an accomplished multi-disciplinary artist with more grants and honors to her name than fake artist Franco will ever amass. But things have been looking up for Wong since the overrated actor insulted her: “Thanks James! I need more A-list celebs to diss me ASAP,” she dishes from her “A brief break from Francogate”post.

But let’s get back to cats, specifically Cat Lady, a piece that attempts to bridge the world of lonely, desperate cat ladies and the subculture of pick-up artists. How can that be possible? It’s easy, according to Wong, who makes a living bringing people to startling new ideas with her own brand of irreverent mix mastering.

To prepare, Wong immersed herself in the seedy cult of the pick-up artist, reading Neil Strauss’ classic The Game and watching the VH1 reality show The Pickup Artist. I had never heard of the show, but one pathetic  YouTube vid later I am dying to own guru Mystery’s furry hat, which I suspect has been fashioned from someone’s dead cat. Not Wong’s cat Oliver, though, who provided some of the inspiration for Cat Lady, and has a featured role in the show.

Wong’s new work comes from the isolation of being on tour with her one-woman smash hit, Wong Flew over The Cuckoo’s Nest, which she describes as a “swear-to-god-not-autobiographical, serio-comic portrayal of the high incidence of anxiety, depression and mental illness among Asian-American women.” It’s not exactly fluffy subject matter, and the tour took a toll on the performance artist. The piece has since been made into a film by Michael Closson.

Oliver didn’t appreciate Wong’s success, and began spraying her apartment. That’s fancy cat science talk for when your feline feels abandoned and pees all over your house. “It was really intense to be alone on tour doing this show about suicide and depression,” recalls Wong. She began to question her own identity. Could she be turning into a crazy cat lady?

“I wondered, ‘what else can I do?’ There’s always this fear that this is it,” Wong says.

Somewhere in the process, she happened on the bonanza of the pick-up artist world and found an immediate resonance in the language. “It’s the same material as theater games,” says Wong. “They are really teaching theatrical techniques. As a solo performer, we had a lot in common.”

Sixto Wagan first watched Wong’s work at a National Performance Network conference. It took another five years for their schedules to work out. “How she brings cat pee, pick-up artistry and loneliness together is just brilliant,” says Wagan, DiverseWorks’ co-director. “I love Kristina’s insightful, self-deprecating humor. The audience is part of it, not the target of it.”

For Cat Lady, Wong left the solo life behind, enlisting the talents of co-conspirators Miss Barbie Q, Clayton Shane Farris and Jabez Zuniga for her first ensemble piece. All have undergone considerable pick-up artist training, and, quite possibly, so has Oliver the cat. Bootcamp training with master DJ Fuji turned the cast into a clan of skilled practitioners.

The team gave me a crash course, trying such openers on me as, “You have this innocence about you; it’s really lovely.” But my fave is, “Hey, did you see the fight outside?” That one had me; connection is key.

The goal is to close the deal, or, in pick-up lingo, earn a “kiss close,” or the top banana, a “fuck close.” According to Miss Barbie Q, it’s really just about good social skills. All have reported better luck at bars since undergoing intensive training.

The show is directed by Shawn Sides of Austin-based devised theater legends The Rude Mechs. Ian Garrett is the production designer, his first show since returning to Houston as Fresh Arts‘ new executive director.

“I tried to create three worlds: The clubhouse or ‘dens’ of pick-up artist workshops, a club, and elements of Kristina’s world,” says Garrett. “Photos from the world summit  provided ideas as well.” Although the Los Angeles native is based in Houston now, he found collaborating with Wong easy and rewarding. “The show is wild,” he says. “She doesn’t hold back.”

Wong naturally sources her own life for her art. She currently lives in Los Angeles without a car, and after her pink biodiesel Mercedes Benz, Harold, died, she chronicled her wheel-free life in her show Going Green the Wong Way. You can crack up while learning something about crowdfunding from her cat food chow down or learn about “catsourcing” in her hilarious post, “I Made over $5,600 with only minor public humiliation: Ask me how.” The resulting show, Cat Lady, should prove well worth swallowing a little cat chow.

Plus one other thing — Wong says the show will end racism.

Reprinted from Culturemap.

Tagged , , , , , ,