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?
Consumed has been, more than anything, a huge lesson in collaboration for me. We’ve been workshopping this thing since… what, September? Something like that. In that time, the show has taken on so many shapes and focused on an array of themes as we searched for the core of our mission in creating this beast. It’s been a challenge to grow attached to an idea only to ultimately bag it in service of the overarching message of the show. By the time the whole ensemble was formed in December, we decided to limit our storylines to perspectives that we had personal experience with, in an attempt to preserve honesty. Since that point, the intent of the show suddenly gained immeasurable clarity (and we all exhaled a giant sigh of relief).
This decision came at around the same time that I found myself sort of growing into the role of production manager. The matter was never really discussed. Sara and I had just been holding conceptual meetings together for several months, and my questions/curiosity consistently gravitated more towards the production side of the piece. Whether that stemmed from my insecurities as a dancer, having been largely out of the dance world for a good decade, or more from my eagerness to “MAKE IT PRETTY,” I really can’t say. It all happened very organically, and before we knew it, we had David Goodman-Edberg on lights, Andy Berlin on board to work projections and Andrew Stefano set to score the production. Sara made sure that all of my worries of stepping on her toes as director were quickly squashed. If you know Sara, you know that she’s a workhorse, and she WILL get everything done single-handedly, even if it kills her. But that’s not how this experience needed to go.
This has truly been a collaborative ensemble experience, by design. Sara’s initial vision was broad and all-encompassing, and her choreography develops largely from group devising, which is what makes Consumed so engaging to watch. You can see each of the ensemble’s unique voices shine through in different moments, with her direction steering your focus to balance the story. Meanwhile, our technical elements of film, light and sound also lend a hand in honing focus, in addition to developing its own powerful character that controls our movements on stage.
There has been a lot of push-pull and compromise in figuring this thing out, but now that we’re nearly a week away from showtime, I’m just excited to get to tech week so that we can move within all of the technical elements! It has developed into a piece that catches you off guard amidst its humorous relatability, by confronting the viewer with the task of dissecting the things we call problems in our day to day. Through its play with digital mediums, Consumed brings to light the conflict of how we too easily fall into line under the powers that judge importance and normality, and leaves us questioning what we would have left if that omnipotent power suddenly disappeared.
We are all consumed by something in our lives. We all have our obsessions. To quote Daniel Radcliffe, "If you’re going to be obsessed with something, being obsessed with a series of books or films is pretty good…some people are obsessed with heroin."
I think Consumed is about our obsession with power, with distraction, and with action without consequence. We live In a world that was set up and given to us by the generation before us. What will the world we leave be like for the next generation? My father was always scared of what the world would be like when I got older. It's only been 25 years, and I cannot imagine with the next 25 will bring. It's very scary for me to think about bringing a child into this world. It almost feels selfish.
We're setting up a completely technological world, which seems to be the natural progression of our species. We are immersed in this virtual connection that we have with people from around the world. Information about anything or anywhere is at our fingertips in a moments notice, but we are so enveloped that we are oblivious to the immediate connections and events that happen directly around us.
This show began as what seemed to me as a political warning to the world. However, since we began rehearsals, many things we were going to touch on began to actually happen. The process then took a natural turn in a more specific direction. It's still political and social, but now it tackles more pedestrian and public issues.
Consumed focuses on our generated self-appearance. It's not about who we really are, it's about who we create for the world to see. We begin with exaggerated versions of ourselves, and strip down to our downfalls, our ticks, and our mannerisms, to show who we really are behind the mask we put on every day. There is a sense of connection between all of us, but it's overpowered by the isolation of ourselves.
This show touches on some of the servants that exist in our society today: a workaholic mother, a forgetful old man, a priest, a schoolteacher, etc. It has been an incredible journey to learn who these characters are in their professional life versus their public life versus their private life. I, personally, am playing the character of the priest, and I've been faced with the question of how a priest deals with hopelessness. What happens when a priest loses his congregation, or his faith? Coming from a physical theater background, I focus on a lot of character work and intentions, so it has been quite insightful to build this character from the ground up and then tear him right down. However, it's been difficult to avoid the stereotypes that deal with corruption in religion and to focus on the individual at hand.
Consumed also deals with distraction. We are constantly seeking a way to distract ourselves from the problems in the world around us, and instead we just point the finger at everyone else. One of our biggest downfalls is our inability to let ego go, and except total responsibility for the things we are a part of.
I'm excited to see what the audience will experience and take away from this piece, because it handles so many different topics, yet at the same time it leaves so much room for the audience to color in with their own crayons.
In thinking about “Consumed” the show and actually BEING consumed, I’m sad. I’m sad because I reflect on years' past when smart phones, iPhones, tablets, kindles, and androids didn’t exist. I look back on my years in high school and college when people made use of their day by studying, rehearsing, TALKING, or learning by doing; not by talking to Google, Siri or Alexa – robotic computerized voices which, honestly, terrify me.
I remember when hands were free of rectangular devices with a glow flooding one's face for hours on end; those were good times. They were times when people weren’t scared to start a conversation with a stranger, when you would actually watch the news and have a deep, poignant and meaningful conversation about what was happening; when you could get to know someone!
Sharp cut to today. No one talks on the train or bus. People almost walk straight into traffic because their Snapchat stories are just too interesting to look up and see that the light has changed, and the person about to hit you is ALSO on their phone texting someone. I have to reference the movie, “WALL-E,” and the scene where every human left on the planet is overweight with shrunken bones floating around on hovercrafts staring blankly at a screen; this scene sent me into a panic. I honestly could see that being reality in the future and it scared me to my core.
Not only does Consumed touch on technology and media but it firmly holds onto the aspect of missed connections and relationships. Look up from your device. Do you think the person next to you had a great day? Did they just get fired? Are they pregnant? Where are they going? What did they have for lunch? For those people who complain about online dating or dating apps, maybe that’s the problem! Talk to someone at the bar. Ask that co-worker that you find attractive what hobbies they have.
In terms of what’s currently happening in the world, we couldn’t be more removed. Even our president is tweeting everything. THE PRESIDENT IS TWEETING. Consumed will show how distant the characters are from what’s happening around them. Yes, we are intent on self-preservation, but at times there needs to be a little bit of a selflessness and “letting down of your guard” to unite and see the bigger picture. What does the future entail? Come find out for yourself...