Ensemble members chime in about their favorite experiences from 2023!
Jen Adams (Performer in The Maids and The Chairs. Shared work in The Magic of the Mundane)
Musical performance- Kadey Ballard at Petras but also Paramore at Spectrum :)
Best theatre- Hit the wall QC Concerts and A Dolls House Part Two
Art Event- Lady Fest Clt 2023 Goodyear Arts
Movie- Past Lives
Show- Fellow Travelers
Kadey Ballard (XO Director of Training)
Movie: Passages, at the Independent Picture House
Book: Molly, by Blake Butler
Theatre: Will You Miss Me, The Hinterlands
Album: Feel Good, Jaime Wyatt
Live Music: Jessica Lea Mayfield, Black Mountain NC
Dance: Motive Forces
Poetry: Reading by Xavia-Margrith Miles
Arts Event: Multiverse, Goodyear Arts Annual Fundraiser
Restaurant: Beef and Bottle
Laura Scott Cary (Performer: Permanence, Widdershins, The Watchers, The Chairs. Curator: Magic of the Mundane, Playwright: Shotgun!)
Art: glassrain by Rúrí at the National Gallery of Iceland
Book: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard or Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Album: blondshell self-titled (but 1989 taylor’s version is close second)
Podcast: who shat on the floor at my wedding?
Theatre: Will You Miss Me? (The Hinterlands), The Effect by Lucy Prebble (National Theatre London)
Restaurant: Kindred in Davidson
Matt Cosper (XO Artistic Director)
Fiction Read: Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarzchuk
A doorstop of a book that lays out the story of a sect of Jewish heretics in 18th century Poland with wit and humanity and gorgeous prose. An instant classic from the world’s best living writer.
Fassbinder: thousands of mirrors by Ian Penman. A magical little book of fragments meditating on the life and work of the prolific filmmaker known just as much for his consumption of cocaine and qualuudes as his darkly glamorous and artfully janky dissections of the persistence of a mutated fascism in postwar Germany.
Movie: Sorcerer at the Independent Picture House. I have never been more tense in life and it’s never been so much fun to be so tense. Wonderful to experience this film for the first time on a big screen in a packed theatre.
Performance: Avant Goodyear Dance Featuring Jesse Factor and Mercury Carter. Jesse Factor’s deconstructed elaboration on the myth and work of Martha Graham was hilarious and moving. Mercury Carter really didn’t seem to want to be there but sounded great regardless.
Album: Billy Woods Maps or Kadey Ballard Sybils. Billy Woods got me back into rap after a long time away. Kadey Ballard is a beautiful genius.
Live Music: Kadey Ballard and Band at Visart. I was sick as a dog but man what a great band and what a great room. Hampton Crump and Brenda Gamble’s string work provides the perfect sonic atmosphere for Ballard’s unearthly vocals.
Restaurant: El Rinconcito Chilango (off Eastway). I have forgotten the name of the dish but it’s basically a little boat made of masa filled with the meat and the cheese and the peppers. ¡Aye de mi! ¡Que Suerte!
Shannon Hager (Sound Design and Composition The Maids and The Chairs)
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
Godzilla Minus One, Regal 4DX at Regal Stonecrest
Album (Remastered and unreleased bonus material):
Beauty Pill - Blue Period
Album (new): [tie]
Corvus Corone - Abandoned in Spring
Bell Witch - Future's Shadow Part 1: The Clandestine Gate
Boris, Melvins [40th anniversary], and mr.phylzzz at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC
Live theatre, touring:
Will You Miss Me?
The Hinterlands at Mint Museum Randolph
Live theatre, local:
POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive
Charlotte Conservatory Theatre at Booth Playhouse
The Many Deaths of Laila Starr by Filipe Andrade and Ram V Ram (The Deluxe Edition was released this year so I count it)
Sure, I'll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere by Maria Bamford. Narrated by Maria Bamford
Restaurant: My answer has been the same since 1997…Lang Van
Best glimpse of future “Best of” entries for live theatre, writer, actors, and venue:
The staged reading of Laura Scott Cary’s play Shotgun! by Lauren McDowell, Chloe Shade, Margeaux Sholz, and Nilaja Williams at Visart Video.
Kate McCracken (Performer The Maids, Curator The Magic of the Mundane)
The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky
TÁR / Kiki’s Delivery Service
Performance: Emma Rice’s Wuthering Heights (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre) / Michael Arden’s Parade (Broadway)
Album: The Record by boygenius /Surrender by Maggie Rogers
Live Music: Dawes at Thalia Hall in Chicago.
Restaurant: Fridas in Evanston! My friends and I like to spend the little money we have there with a feast every week.
José Posada (performer in Permanence and The Chairs, Curator The Magic of the Mundane
Book: No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai
Album: Morning by Chu Kosaka
Performance: Will You Miss Me? The Hinterlands
Movie: Godzilla Minus One
Restaurant : Jaleo
Will Rudolph (production design The Maids and The Chairs, performer Widdershins, The Magic of the Mundane, The Children’s Crusade)
Theater: Will you miss me? (The Hinterlands), The Chairs, Doll’s House Part II
Albums: Reset by Panda Bear and Sonic Boom and Joy as an Act of Resistance by IDLES
Book: Foundations of Mechanical Accuracy by The Moore Tool Company
Restaurant: Lang Van
Movie: Past Lives (at the independent picture house)
Bill Reilly (Performer All The Dogs and Horses, Widdershins, Shrimp Dance, The Magic of the Mundane, #CAKE)
Book: Solenoid by Mircea Cartarescu.
Album: carry them with us-Brighde Chaimbuel Performance: parvathy baul at the just love festival,
Movie: The boy and the heron
Restaurant: leah & louise.
Jeremy Shane (performer The Bald Soprano, ThomThom, The Chairs, Costume Design The Chairs.)
Movie: querelle (1982) by rainer werner fassbinder/ not a new movie but new to me/ an exceptional queer ballet of masculinity. Also there were Big castles that looked like dicks.
Music: jennifer vanilla’s castle in the sky (expanded) jennifer vanilla is the world I aspire to vibe in. it grounds me, xcites me and calls you to play your own “body music”
Book: the bhagavad gita Easwaran, Ehnath/ indian religious text the story of Arjuna and God. God tells him to fight his family or not, but either way imma gonna eat you! :) hungry god is a hot god, DAD BOD GOD!
NEW SELF. NEW WORLD (recovering our senses in the 21st century) by philip Shepard/ the book offers a lot of theory from the perspective of not just the singular body but the collective. It can be flipped thru and offer advice on a daily basis.
Theatre: Vampire Lesbians of Sodom by Paperhouse theatre/ I found myself craving some tight space backroom buffoonery this year and Paperhouse offered that up in just the right amount, flesh, drag and tomfoolery! Ashby really did that!
The Chairs by XOXO and YES BECAUSE I WAS IN IT. If i wasn’t trapped in a hot room or offering commentary on body odor I was enjoying the universe experiencing itself in that very way. Namaste.
Shen Yun: my friend took me and said it was a cult. SO WHAT IF IT IS, AT LEAST THEY DANCE PRETTY TO DISPELL THE LIONHEADED GOD OF ILLUSION! If i didnt know better i would say that was sophia boy!
Restaurant: The Pizza Bar at Harris Teeter
I really don't think this is a defeatist position.
I really want to frame this as a question for those of us making performance (theatre/dance/etc...) in Charlotte (or anywhere in the contemporary USA I suppose).
In the face of "Big Box" Culture Industry what is the role of...well, everyone else?
Perhaps this is a problem specific to Charlotte. I've not researched this exhaustively but I am fairly certain that we are the only city of our size where the largest professional theatre is the touring house. And the gap in budget and reach between that house and every other theatre in town is astronomical. When it comes to professional theatre made for adults, local audiences are attending work (in droves, it seems) created and performed by artists from New York. When it comes to theatre, Charlotte is an import town.
Now before anyone comes howling about the amazing work being done on smaller stages around town. Yes. I know. There is work being done by small theatres in Charlotte and some of it is even quite good. That isn't what I'm talking about. What am I talking about? I don't know!
I guess what I'm winding my way around here is a question that goes something like this:
If we accept that there is an audience for theatre in Charlotte, (and attendance at Blumenthal's touring productions tells us there is), what is keeping that audience from supporting locally made theatre in a way that would make a local professional theatre viable? Is our work just not as good? Is our work not as accessible? Do they just not know about it?
As to the question of quality...we can always do better. so let's try. that's another post for another time.
As to the question of accessibility...What are we even talking about? Parking? Content? Pricing? The fact that the audience can't see the work because of how you set up the chairs?
Do potential audiences just not know about it? Are my 8,000 instagram posts not working? Is it that the daily paper doesn't really cover the arts anymore? Is the Big B's marketing budget that impressive? (As a side note...I would like to suggest that if someone gave me the Blumenathal's marketing budget as XOXO's operating budget for a year we'd knock your socks off.)
Maybe the question we all need to be asking ourselves is "in an ecosystem dominated by Big Box Import Theatre...what is our role?"
As every 2nd year acting student's problematic fave Sandy Meisner was often heard to exhort his acolytes...We need to be specific. Sitting in the Belk Theatre watching the latest bus and truck production of the latest broadway juke box musical, we could be anywhere. There is nothing particularly Charlottean about the experience. The theatre/entertainment industry isn't immune to the malaise of this moment in history. Take a look around you the next time you are playing pickle ball at a just add water, oh so authentic prefab entertainment district, or look at the beige apartment buildings springing up all over the city. How do you know you are in Charlotte? You could just as easily be in Denver or Dallas or Des Moines. "Culture," my friend Chiron once said,"is how specific people respond to living in a specific place." And in our current moment of flattening (all in the service of global capital, but I digress) is Culture, as Chiron framed it, even possible?
To make culture, we need to be specific. We need to make work that feels like RIGHT HERE AND RIGHT NOW. That doesn't mean every show has to be a devised piece about how the trolley workers of the old west side were displaced (although it could be and I'd be down to watch that.) What it does mean is that we should stop trying to make work that feels correct; that feels acceptable and safe and flat. we should stop trying to make work that is going to get us an A+ and a pat on the head. Now I don't think anyone is doing this intentionally. At least I hope the cops in our heads are more subtle than that. I think we do this because we want to succeed. We want to succeed when what we maybe should be aiming for is to flourish.
We flourish by being ourselves. By responding to the world around us honestly and by encouraging others to do the same.
We have to nourish our wilder impulses, access our unconscious and trust in our vision. We have to make the room and find the resources to allow local writers, directors, actors and designers to be themselves, to be artists. When we do that, we create experiences that could only happen right here and right now. And in a world ever more explicitly mediated by screens and a thousand different kinds of difference and alienation, what people crave more than anything, I think, is the communion that theatre offers right here and right now.
This doesn't guarantee us the funding we need. It doesn't guarantee us the audiences we crave. But it might be the path to giving those audiences a reason to come to us. Not out of a sense of obligation or pity, but out of a hunger for the strange, the exciting, the fun. And if the audience's come, the funding might follow. And if it doesn't...at least we'll die with our boots on.
In the last month I was given the gift of Witnessing, of being present for, shows by artists who are making very different work but who are united by an experimental, process based vision of performance. A time based artform, performance tends to disappear as it emerges. This is one of my favorite things about the form but it does make it feel urgent to get some thoughts in place about these works before they have faded and been distorted by memory. So in the spirit of activating this blog, and of somehow preserving my experience of these performances: here are some thoughts.
My friend Bruce Brightly wrote eloquently about choreographer and polymath Eric Mullis in a recent issue of QC Nerve qcnerve.com/eric-mullis-motive-forces-camp-north-end/
I won't retread the details that you can read there but I do want to talk a little about the experience of seeing Motive Forces for myself.
Taking place in the cavernous Ford Building at Camp North End, in many ways the real triumph of Motive Forces was it's nimble, painterly use of scale, perspective and depth of field. Mullis's management and transformation of Space is what resonated most with me.
Of course, there were movement sequences of real virtuosic beauty (including a duet with Mullis and Joy Davis, as well as a fugue wherein a trio of performers executed a movement score chopped and screwed by a digital brain (see Brightly's article for context...I promise this isn't just word salad) and the sound design by Brent Bagwell was a brilliant hopscotch of noise and rhythm and mood. And while I find the philosophical questions Mullis is wrestling with compelling (again...see the Brightly article for context), for me the real pleasure of Motive Forces came from being ushered into a mirror world, very much like our own but distorted (at other times clarified) in a way that prompted reflection. This space felt familiar and strange...it felt like the future.
This was, somehow another world, real first only in Mullis' imagination and then made manifest in the material realm. That it was crafted beautifully is just gravy as far as I am concerned. The real achievement (for us fallen westerners at least) is the demarcation of existing space as somehow different, set aside, unsame and sacred. A coherent conjuring of a new world inside of and concurrent with our old one...when an artist does this it resonates with their audience (even if only unconsciously) that reality is malleable and that the world we live in is formed (and can be changed) by choices made and action taken. The expansion and contraction of space in Motive Forces allowed the numinous to emerge briefly into the mundane.
More recently (Just this past weekend), XOXO was honored to be able to host our friends The Hinterlands, a theatre ensemble who live and work in Detroit, Michigan. We brought them to Charlotte as a part of Goodyear Arts' AvantGoodyear Series. The ensemble performed their newest work Will You Miss Me? at the Mint Museum on Randolph and led a workshop at Goodyear on the specific methodology behind their creative process (a process steeped in the lineages of Grotowski, Lecoq, traditional Chinese performance (xiqu), and the U.S. laboratory theatre movement).
The performance is staggering, a funeral for all the specific (let us say place based) cultural identities given up by European descended peoples in exchange for the dubious collective flattening known as Whiteness. It is an examination of White Supremacy that avoids the usual hand wringing and faux allyship by actually interrogating whiteness as erasure, as a bum deal that separates "Whites" from their real past in exchange for diminishing returns as pawns in a larger project of extraction and domination ruled by the invisible hand of Capital.
The content of the work is worth a thorough examination but right now I'm most interested in the process by which it was made and what that has to tell us about Time.
It is obvious when you see actors who train together. So many of the "best" performances that I see locally, regionally, nationally, have strong acting but very often these performances are islands, existing on their own inside a beautiful frame assembled by the design team, and coordinated to seem to be in concert by a skillful director. But when you watch a group like The Hinterlands you see what an Ensemble is: a group of performers who are performing together. Maybe that seems over simple? Maybe you read that and think "So what?" But I don't see it very often at this level...at the level of breath, at the energetic, or even molecular level. I think it worth remarkable to see a group of people being present with each other in time. I want to ask us all to work towards that, regardless of the aesthetic goals of our production. It's about Attention. We're asking audiences for their attention, so don't we owe them our own? To them, to the world, to the work, to each other?
2. It should take time to make a performance. The Hinterlands work together as an ensemble, for YEARS developing their work. And this time spent makes room for care, for thought and for that most precious of resources: attention. In their work you see that these people have done the thing again and again and again, asking the question "is this really how it should be?" and so you get artistic investment, depth of metaphor and strength of dramaturgical structure. And because they are a trained ensemble...it doesn't feel like they've done it a thousand times...it feels like it's happening RIGHT NOW. There is something of Eternity there in the moment of performance, an exercise outside of time. What a delicious paradox: working over long hours, months and years, taking time in a very real way, so that in the moment of performance something timeless and eternal is allowed to bloom, escorting us all outside of the limits of time.
We performers and humans could perhaps benefit from paying closer attention to these basics, these building blocks of performance...how are we managing our (and out audience's) experience of time and space. Perhaps the first step here is to stop. to look. to listen. The first task is to allow ourselves to bear witness: to be penetrated by the real, to hold the weight of each moment before letting it pass. Let us begin the work of making performances, that is to say the work of living, by bearing witness.
Let us bear witness. in our work and in our lives.
Let us bear witness. to the journey from imagination to reality.
Let us give the gift of our attention as we bear witness, onstage and in the audience.
one of my favorite poets wrote:
"Instructions for living a life
tell about it."
Thanks Eric Mullis and Company!