Ellyzabeth shared a video with the cast a few weeks ago - a silent film comprised of myriad images and scenes inspired by the story of Ethereal Abandonment. In one particularly special shot, we see feet clad in heels descending a set of stairs. The foot steps are slow and deliberate and a tad unsteady. We see the ankle and foot muscles and bones at work, keeping the actress balanced as she makes her move. At rehearsal that day, Nelia (the actress to whom those feet belong) made a comment about how wobbly her steps were. To that Ellyzabeth replied, "Wobbly is OK."
That got me thinking of how important vulnerability is in theatre and performance. Actors and dancers in rehearsal and on stage are called on to take risks. Through opening ourselves up to the work we knowingly expose ourselves to failure, judgment and embarrassment (to only name a few). But this is when the magic happens. Those nerve-wracking tasks of being open and taking risks are what enable us to create moments in performance that are truthful and unique.
So this week as we begin tech rehearsals, I pose a challenge to myself and the cast to work with a sense of vulnerability. As the technical elements begin to build a strong skeleton for the show, let us continue to strengthen the malleable muscle, the beating heart of Ethereal Abandonment, remembering that vulnerability is powerful and yeah, wobbly is OK.
Ethereal Abandonment: Timeless, or covering all times? We’re playing with the echoes of the characters that lived in this physical church, this imagined theater, this creative space, and hinting at several different generations of humans who have traipsed through each of these tangential time-space continuums. The Muses’ movements ripple across all time periods, weaving together the audience’s experience of multiple worlds being present at once on our stage.
It’s been an exciting challenge in understanding the difference between the various kinds of story telling that each medium in Ethereal Abandonment provides. We have a narrative story line, brief episodic snapshots, period dances from very distinct eras and styles, and non-linear, timeless movement that create a dream-like, multi-disciplinary experience for the audience that keeps surprising me.
Our soundscape is the same in that it covers multiple styles and eras. “A Little Pink Rose” is a parlor song by Carrie Jacobs-Bond from 1912. Jacobs-Bond’s music was repeatedly turned down by music publishers due to the male-dominated industry until she established her own sheet music publishing company. She therefore owned every word of every song she wrote — not something many music artists can claim for themselves! Her independence as a woman is something I draw from in my character’s flight from her hometown to the big city…she realizes that she doesn’t want to have a traditional life at home with a husband and family, and shapes herself instead into a Vaudeville performer. The lyrics for “A Little Pink Rose” are nostalgic, asking if the pink rose has faded and gone away…when we grow, how much of our old selves remain, and how much has to be plucked away? How much of the original girl from a small hometown remains under the performer’s exterior?
The ghostly echoes of times past and present linger in our space, in our characters, in our movement, and in our music. We’re informed and inspired by the past to actively shape and cultivate our present and future…in Ethereal Abandonment, we can see remembering and action taking place at the same time, pulsating in our voices and bodies with a vibrance that remains in the space long after we’re gone.
Landmarks: What history is worth preserving?
Day jobs for artists are known to be soul-sucking voids to make ends meet. I am fortunate/lucky to have a day job that incorporates visual art, performing, and great office views. I'm an architecture guide on the Chicago River! Chicago has a rich history of architecture that has made impacts all around the world, including what is widely accepted as the world’s first skyscraper. While The Home Insurance Building was demolished long ago, Chicago still maintains and preserves many of its architectural treasures through the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Landmark status allows for legal protections to honor and preserve the site’s history (i.e. prohibits demolition, required upkeep by owner, restrictions on redevelopment etc.) The process, though, to receive such status is not easy. The site or building must provide a significant historic, cultural, or artistic value to the community brought before and decided by the commission. With limited resources and a people being drawn back into cities not everything can remain the same, so the question remains: What is worth preserving?
This question has been in the forefront of my mind as we created Ethereal Abandonment, in rehearsals and well as during my tours. We cannot learn from history if we do not remind ourselves of its residual effects of our daily lives. Yet if we cherish everything, then nothing is sacred. As audiences witness the stories told in our show, I hope they will also consider: With beautiful palaces of art like The Uptown Theatre (and the one created in our show) laying vacant and decrepit along the streets of Chicago, should they make way for the needs of today or be saved and forever etched into our city’s consciousness? And if the answer is the latter, which few places should we designate as indispensable?
Are you a fan of Chicago's Corn Cob Towers? Well rejoice as they were welcomed into the collection of Chicago Landmarks this past winter!
This performance would be entirely different if we had rehearsed in a theatre. Working in a church provides an authenticity to the process that we don’t have to manufacture. In Chicago especially, most theatre folk have performed in myriad locations, from an adaptable black box, to someone’s basement, to a bar, and of course, a church.
Religious background aside, I’ve always loved churches with their big open ceilings and (sometimes) stained glass. I see articles pop up about the fluctuation of church attendance and I wonder often what will happen to these beautiful buildings. You will see how Ethereal Abandonment addresses this issue, and while we rehearse the dances and brainstorm for script it’s easy to take this beautiful space for granted. But when I really think about it I’m so happy that this is where we perform.
Various artistic and community groups utilize this particular church, for which I’m so
glad! More and more, artists are taking advantage of the many churches in this city. Aloft Circus Arts, where I take classes, recently purchased a church for their classes and performances, and back home in Maine, a friend of my father's is working on converting a church into music venue.
Not only do we get to create our own show in this space but the setting is ready made for us. We mold our performance to the atmosphere, we don’t have to bend it to fit to what we need. I’m so excited for share this show and perform in such a beautiful space. It’s easy to imagine I’m walking through an old theatre, and I so hope you’ll come one night, and find inspiration in the space, or at the very least appreciate the beauty and versatility of an old church.
Have you ever stepped into a room or a building and knew instantly that it held countless stories and memories? There is a certain quality that old buildings seem to have that make them almost feel like people themselves; like they could exert some force on you and influence your actions. If you were able to have a conversation with that space, what would it say? Would it have some special insight to share with you based on the memories it holds? Does it actually have the power to change the course of peoples’ lives? These are some of the questions that I have been asking as we have gone through the process of creating Ethereal Abandonment.
Thinking of the theater itself as the main character of the piece has helped me to frame all the stories that are brought together in the different scenes, both past and present. The common thread is the space itself and maybe that is why it’s important to consider carefully what is being lost when we develop new areas of the city. If we think of these spaces as entities with life forces of their own, then lives are at stake with each historic building that is foreclosed and slated for redevelopment. There is
something to be said for progress and moving forward, but we also must consider what may be lost along the way. What special places do you hold dear? To what lengths would you go to save their lives?
As the creative process of Ethereal Abandonment has been underway, I have found that the variety of topics discussed throughout the show has given me a lot to latch onto and mull over. One that has continued to intrigue is the purpose of my character; I play Terpsichore, or “Cora,” the muse of music and dance. Along with two other women in the show, we represent three muses that Candace Casey—the photographer whose work is the inspiration for the show—found a mural of in an abandoned building in Chicago and snapped a photo.
Through researching the purpose of muses historically, I realized that there were nine total, and they were painted in murals as a reminder for all who see them to find inspiration, as each of the nine muses characterizes a particular subject (Terpsichore’s being music and dance). In ancient Greece, the muses were called upon as a middle ground between humans and gods/goddesses, and later on were continually painted in social and entertainment venues, for much of the very same purpose.
Anyway, with all of this character analysis, I began to consider all of the sources of inspiration accessible to us today. Unlike the ancient Greeks, we have access to a multitude of religions, freedom of careers, opportunity to make various life choices, availability to travel or move literally wherever we would like, etc.—we have unlimited sources of inspiration. So with that being said, what purpose could my role as a muse serve if someone were to see her? Would a mural of muses pose any inspiration to passersby in the present?
I don’t want to give anything away, so I won’t share my thoughts on those questions. However, if I peaked your interest, come see the show and become part of the conversation! It will be sure to aMUSE you.
Ethereal Abandonment is my first stab at collaborating on a full evening dance theatre project with someone other than Michael Estanich. I am excited about what Ellyzabeth and I are making and I'm also a little bit scared about my lack of complete control. But that's life right? I don't think we learn if we can't take ourselves out of our own comfort zones. And working with a large ensemble of creative, opinionated artists is not a place where I need to take complete control. It's a place to grow new ideas and develop myself as an artist. This process continues to remind me that what I love about my job as a director is the infinite amount of possibilities there are in making work about the human spirit. Bringing RE|dance group dancers together with this beautiful cast of characters from CDE has given Ellyzabeth and I the inspiration to create a work about a theater where spirits evoke memories of friendship, love and loss. Most importantly, Candace Casey's beautiful images are brought to life to remind us how important the art of storytelling is. I'm grateful for this experience and the many new beautiful humans I have met along the way! Please make sure to come by and see what we've made together! Hear the stories that the lost souls of this abandoned theater want to share with you.
Vulnerability connects us to moments that are strung together on life's timeline. The inspiration behind Ethereal Abandonment is much like the layers the of Candace Casey's multimedia photographic series of the same name.
“There is something about ruins that calls to us to come explore, look closer. There is at once a sense of discovery and a feeling of long ago. A slipstream of hope. In the accumulated debris are the seeds for tomorrow, the roots of reclamation.” - Photographer Candace Casey
The project began in 2015, while I was in Candace's studio looking at the images and they reminded me of the book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. We collaborated in creating a book, writing a one line story and title to go with each piece. As I started working on this project, I got more and more interested in the layers of Candace’s work. She goes into abandoned places, take photos, then inserts images into them to create the story that she feels is underneath the decay and sometimes graffiti.
The images spoke to me, I saw movement, I heard stories and I wanted to create more. Seeking a muse, I found them in Candace’s work. Lucy and I were talking about possibly working together when Paul Granjert, a local filmmaker asked if I would collaborate with him to create a dance film. We brought Lucy on to this project and shot what is now the trailer, at abandoned houses in Highland Park. That film has now been accepted into the Stockholm’s Dance on Camera Film Festival.
Part of this inspiration for the play comes from working in the auditorium at Ebenezer that we have been slowly updating and we overlook Trumbull School, which has been closed for 5 years now. When I look at it, I can hear children playing and I think about how the neighborhood has changed since it closed.
Just a neighborhood over is the Uptown Theater. Once you learn about the history, you long for the days the theater was active creating memories for all who walk through the doors. This show is a love story about the theater and the artists that created it.
Lucy and I met while participating in a choreographer's festival that ran for many years back in the late 90's and early 2000's. After branching off and doing our own thing for over a decade we reconnected in Natalie Rast's Ballet classes. We started catching up on life, our jobs, or artistry and that led us to working together in a variety of professional levels. CDE has produced festival and concerts that RE Dance Group have presented work in and joined us in efforts to fundraise through Aramark and our football season stints at Soldier Field. We just came to realize that we had a lot in common in regards to running our companies and we were trying to find ways to support each other's work.
The layers of our work are unfolding throughout the rehearsal process as we create Ethereal Abandonment
Greetings, people of the internet! Sorry to distract you from your consumption of Amazon Prime, memes, and funny videos of animals close-up with a wide-angle lens. (And fear not! I promise to include a TL;DR for those of you who are far too busy, and can’t bother to read the entirety of this post.)
My name is Michelle – one of your friendly ensemble members from the cast of CDT’s “Consumed”! Before I begin rambling on about how our rehearsal structures and main showcase motivators were, I’d like to take a brief moment to give a shout out to my fellow spectacular cast mates. This is such a brilliant group of movers and shakers, and every one really had an integral part to the creation of this showcase. I have so much love, and respect for all of you ~ thanks for the wild ride these past couple of months!
The idea behind “Consumed”, as chirped by the previous blog posts, revolves around the idea of society’s obsession with consumption – be that of material goods, food, politics, news, or what have you. And honestly, what a better time to create something of substance than when our time period is at its most volatile? Whether you’re right, left, red, green or blue, these past few months have been absolutely twisted. I have seen friendships deteriorate, and family tensions rise just because of our current affairs… So, what about you, common internet stranger? Has your family dynamic changed due to the current political atmosphere? Have you lost friends? Has your view of the ones you love changed? My heart breaks for you, really. And yet, we all know in our gut that this is nothing new. Why are we having such a hard time accepting our differences? Everyone is so self-involved, worrying about their own damn survival, that sometimes simple things such as human empathy are overlooked. We worked a lot with this dynamic in the early stages of Consumed – creating characters based off of people we knew, people we despised, people we love(d). We have characters that mimic Fathers, Mothers, young college graduates, religious figures, the elderly/older generation, the youth, workaholics… I bet you know someone who fits in each of those character groups. Which one do you identify the most with? Maybe a combo of a few~? How would you describe yourself, truly.
So right around Election Day, I watched an old interview back from 2000 featuring David Bowie discussing the internet with BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman. Bowie quips, “I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something exhilarating, and terrifying.” And you know what, he was right – the internet, particularly social media, is becoming such a HUGE part of our society. Having a Facebook is the norm, and if you don’t have one, there’s something wrong with you. I bet you have a Facebook, don’t you? What about Twitter? Instagram? Which one do you use the most, and why? What ads are displayed throughout your feed? Have you noticed how your friends, or even internet strangers act when they’re on social media? Have you ever “unfriended” someone because of the way they’ve acted/posted? Goddamn. Everyone, and everything, is just turning in to an insane hyperbole of themselves. Articulation, and genuine debate are a rarity; it seems to always be a “me versus you” type scenario, where everyone is wrong, and you are always right. All news is fake (unless, of course, it’s the article you’ve read and shared). Apathy is trumping empathy. How is this happening? Is being “right” better than being understanding? I bet you’ve gotten yourself in to an internet debate once or twice. How did it end? Are you proud of how you conducted yourself? Are all the words you type to someone on the internet, the same words you would say in person, face to face…?
There are so many unimportant things that distract us from our own realities; social media, television, clothing, food, booze, commercials/marketing, etc. Everyone has a crutch. So, do you know yours? What do you actively consume often, that you know you would be better off without? Are any of these distractions keeping you from genuine human connection? Do you know why you do it? Would you be able to disconnect from everyone, everything, for just a day, to sit with your own thoughts? Are you really just afraid to be vulnerable for once?
And with that said, I leave you with this; “We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities; we are eaten up by nothing.” ― Charles Bukowski
TL;DR: Don’t let the internet form, or influence your identity. Be your best self. Love others. Accept the beauty of difference. Find parts of yourself in others. And hey, disconnect from social media for a bit, yeah? See you at the show!
“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled.” — Unknown.
We all know about the stereotype that our generation is addicted to technology. Duh. The choice is now- how, when, where and what to consume? Or not to consume at all?
Let me start by saying within the last 7 years my fears did a complete 180. It is no longer the monster under the bed that gives me the heebie jeebies, nor the zombies, werewolves, or vampires. The shift occurred when fear- which was originally wild imagination- turned into present reality. Fear is now sitting next to me on the train, inserting the supposedly safer ‘chip’ into the credit card machine, and every single one of the people running for a political position. This fear is both exaggerated and masked by the consumption of technology in all its double-edged glory.
When discussing technology, we often focus optimistically on all the things it does for us. But I want to show you where it might do the opposite.
Where does technology exploit our minds’ weaknesses?
The people building technology start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities, and limits of people’s perception so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano. Technology plays on our psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against us and for us in the race to grab our attention.
I grew up in Western Culture, but have had amazing opportunities to live and travel outside of it. By experiencing both the inside and outside perspective, it seems to me America is built around ideals of individual choice and freedom. Millions of us fiercely defending our right to make “free” choices, while we ignore how those choices are manipulated upstream by decisions we didn’t choose in the first place. If you have never seen “The Wizard of Oz” I suggest today is a great day to see it.
Fear is an important aspect of technology that has affected us in ways we cannot even comprehend yet. Technology keeps us “friended”, swiping faces, and subscribed because of that little but poignant fear of missing something important. If I convince you that I’m a channel for important information, messages, friendships, or potential sexual opportunities — it will be hard for you to turn me off, unsubscribe, or remove your account — because (aha, I win) you might miss something important. Yet when we zoom into that fear, we’ll discover that it’s unbounded: we’ll always miss something at any point when we stop using something. However, once we let go of that fear by actively unplugging, we wake up from the illusion and that fear no longer has its claws in us.
The fact of the matter is that technology, especially social media, is temporary; as is everything that exists and is posted on them. If they cease to exist, and we have no raw backups, we will have lost all of our memories and are only left with the things we remember in our mind that are often distorted or are erased after a period of time. While it is without a doubt both innovative and progressive that technology has come so far over the decades, we should do our best to not let it consume our lives. We cannot let it invoke fear causing us to miss out on special moments and not fully experience occasions for what they are because a phone is stuck in our face. Unplug from fear!
We all know about the stereotype that our generation is addicted to technology. So I ask you, how, when, where and what do you consume? Or not to consume at all? Are you consciously choosing to consume or are you a part of the stereotype?