Unconcious Bias//Dance Burning//Inanimate Empathy

CoHo Lab continues in February 2017 with the development of three new performance projects:

  • AGE Unconscious Bias Project by Julia Bray in Collaboration with Age & Gender Equity
  • Made to Dance in Burning Buildings by Anya Pearson
  • Empathy with Inanimate Objects by Maureen Porter

AGE Unconscious Bias

performance project created by Julia Bray in collaboration with Age and Gender Equity

Vision Statement:

To create an inclusive and expansive conversation around how unconscious bias plays out within our society, our communities and our relationship to self. This project aims to playfully point out our own shortcomings in the fight for equality, and offer a collaborative opportunity to heal from our own woundings: to self, and to others.

Project Description:

The “AGE Unconscious Bias” performance project was created in collaboration with Age and Gender Equity, CoHo Productions and writer/director Julia Bray. Its purpose is to share a slice of the female-identified experience of unconscious bias within the artistic field of performance/the arts. After conducting roughly a dozen interviews with women in the arts of a variety of ages, sexuality, bodies and identifies, the performance project was written and crafted from their words and experiences. The project consists of three parts, each designed to engage the characters and the audience with their own unconscious bias. Part one is a short play, part two is a performance piece that uses sound clips and personal narrative, and part three is an interactive experience in which the characters and audience use “acting breakdowns” to “cast” themselves and others in the roles women are traditionally given in the arts.

Artist Bio:

Julia Bray is a performer, writer, singer, dancer, producer and teacher who has lived and created in New York City for the past 10 years. She has performed Off Broadway in multiple productions (including two New York Premiers), and appeared on television in “Law and Order SVU”, HBO’s “How to Make it In America” and “Boardwalk Empire” and MTV’s sketch­comedy show “Hey Girl”. In January 2015 Julia founded “ALL BOATS” a bi­-monthly variety show that features new work in theater, film, dance, song, comedy, performance art and beyond. Julia’s writing and solo­ shows have been seen at Dixon Place, Fresh Ground Pepper, Theater in Asylum, The Habitat Theater Company and the variety shows “New Skin” and “All Boats”. She produces and directs the music videos for her comedic rap group “Sister Wives”, and is a founding member of two sketch comedy troupes “Thanks For Coming Comedy” and “Emotional Pizza”. She graduated from NYU Tisch and is currently exploring a bi-­coastal lifestyle between her hometown of Portland, OR and her Brooklyn turf. She teaches ballet and Kundalini yoga to adults and children. https://julia-bray.com/

Made to Dance in Burning Buildings

a choreopoem by Anya Pearson

Vision Statement:

Rape. It is amazing to me the power that can be packed into a one-syllable word. Just four letters and whole peoples can be divided, lives decimated, bodies broken. The subject of rape is a challenging one to tackle in our contemporary society.  According to the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 women will be raped in their lifetime. According to the Department of Justice, every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted.

It’s been an issue for so long and it happens so often that it’s simply too easy for it to just be a sound bite in our lives; a 15 second distillation of the latest incident and we’re off again shaking our heads as we buy our latte and rush to our meeting. It is so intense and so personal a topic that having an open discussion can be complicated; the feelings, super volatile, while others find themselves needing to turn away from it entirely; too big and too ugly a thing to tackle in the midst of all the other big and ugly things that touch our lives.  Then when you are ready to talk about it, from what angle do you approach it? What change are you hoping to effect? What is the story you want to tell? And of course, how do you tell it; so that people can stay relaxed enough to listen, empathetic enough to engage, and supported enough to stay with you on a rough journey?

THIS is what theatre does best.

Project Description:

Made to Dance in Burning Buildings tackles this weighty topic, through several mediums, creating a collage of visceral experience, providing both multiple access points to draw you in and breath to leave you space to digest the story in pieces.  It uses dance, poetry, original music, traditional scene work, and direct address.

Let’s start with the dance:

Apache is a violent, intimate style of dance originating in France in the first half of the 20th century. It gets its name from the Parisian street gang of the time: Les Apaches, and expressly depicts violent struggle. Part of what is so fascinating about this form is that while the woman is traditionally the “victim” of the violence, part of the design of the form is that the woman is as strong and powerful as the man in the dance. So that no matter who “wins” the struggle, the strength and power of the woman is evident in the choreography. This is a key part of the style.

It was so popular in its day that everyone from Martha Graham to Buster Keaton explored the style. Pushing the boundaries for the expression of conflict in our interpersonal relationships, this style provides a way to graphically dig into an event through the lens of our interconnected struggle rather than a traditional narrative recounting of a specific occurrence. For our purposes, the matched physical prowess of the male and female dancers, of each being a powerful catalytic force in the piece, and the evident balance of that strength even in the midst of the trauma is part of what makes it an ideal form for our story – we as audience can connect to the woman’s strength from the beginning, even as she forgets.

The evolution of dance style throughout the piece (from a comfortable recognizable modern which draws us in, to the savage beauty of Apache, to the expansive freedom of West African traditional), allows us to watch the transformation of our experience through a physical narrative of the body rather than an intellectual narrative of text.

The text in this piece, presented in a choral-style poem, takes us through the confusion our brain is left in when disconnected from our body through trauma. Rather than being the traditional primary storyline, the text here has the freedom to give us just enough information to keep us connected to the narrative while focusing on the intellectually fracturing experience of the trauma. And it’s not until the end of the piece that the body and the intellect are again working together in celebration of a new person, forged in the fire of not only the actual traumatic incident, but in the much longer walk across the coals back to wholeness that follows. This poem format allows for a performance style that can mimic the dance by overlapping sections, repetition of phrases in collaboration with the movement, and a winnowing down of all that is not essential for our story. Poems are by definition a distillation of an idea, giving us the opportunity to focus on the elements that tether us to a moment or that really drive us forward and shed the rest.

Supporting all of this is the original music composed for the piece, which will be underscoring the dance and the presence of the playwright as author, actor, survivor and collaborator in the room to continue to shape this new work in Coho’s intimate venue. Visionary and unique in its interdisciplinary medium and specificity of presentation styles, as well as sorrowfully timely in its subject matter, Made to Dance in Burning Buildings offers a new window into the essential conversation of how we navigate through the cataclysm of trauma.

I am motivated to continue the development of this piece because I am determined to change the world with this project. I am determined to do my part to fight back against rape culture by empowering other survivors with this piece. As it moves toward full production, I am motivated to keep exploring and evolving the piece. To continue to explore the marriage between dance and poetry and how they work in concert to tell Ava’s story.

Artist Bio

Anya Pearson is an accomplished actress, playwright, screenwriter, poet, producer, and activist. She is the inaugural winner of the $10,000 Voice is a Muscle Grant from the Corporeal Voices Foundation. She is the author of the choreopoem, Made to Dance in Burning Buildings, which is a fusion of poetry, music, and violent and visceral contemporary dance which poses the question: how do we heal from trauma? This play, and Anya’s passionate quest to see it through to full production in order to empower other survivors, will be featured in the upcoming documentary Forever Bruised But Not Broken which is currently in pre-production. Anya is co-producing the documentary. As an actress, she has worked locally at Portland Center Stage, Portland Playhouse, Profile Theatre, Artists Repertory Theatre, Post 5 Theatre, Jewish Theatre Collaborative, Corrib Theatre, Boom Arts, BaseRoots Theatre Company, and Passin’ Arts. Her poetry has been published in the literary journals, Elohi Gadugi and M Review. She is a graduate of the prestigious two-year program at the William Esper Studio in New York City where she studied acting with Terry Knickerbocker. She is also a graduate of the writing program at Marylhurst University. From 2009-2013, she worked as Operations Manager for BaseRoots Theatre Company with Bobby Bermea, co-producing all of their staged readings and their full production, My Soul Grown Deep, which featured one of her poems, “The Accomplice.”  Anya is a member of Actors’ Equity Association. She believes that through the transformative power of performance and literary arts, she will be able to effect meaningful change in the world. She is passionate about giving voice to the voiceless, standing up for the disenfranchised, and empowering the oppressed.

Empathy with Inanimate Objects (working title)

Solo Performance by Maureen Porter

Vision Statement:

Through a rigorous and playful process I will explore the shape, physical expression, constraints and manifestations of empathy.

I am motivated by the current antagonism of public discourse and the need for strong, creative expression that embraces and contains compassion and that encourages curiosity over fear. I am motivated to be challenged as an artist by a new process – a solo performance.  I am driven by experiential learning and  collaborative feedback.

Project Description: Using the prompt “empathy with inanimate objects” and the structure of the Hero Narrative I will work on a series of moments that contain a beginning, middle, and end. Each moment will start with a physical (not verbal) exploration of tasks that involve inanimate objects. Things that have been left, unseen, forgotten, revered, treasured, etc. The process will be to string these moments together and shape them with the structure of the Hero Narrative: Call to adventure; movement from the known to the unknown/crossing the threshold; challenges, temptations, and help from a mentor; crisis, abyss, death, revelation; transformation, atonement; return the known and gift from the goddess to be shared with others. I will invite various artists and collaborators into the process to record, evolve, and respond to the process.

Artist Bio

Maureen Porter has been a professional actor for 30 years, and is currently a core company member and the Managing Artistic Director at Third Rail Repertory Theatre.  Locally she has worked at Third Rail, Artists Repertory Theatre, Profile Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Portland Shakespeare Project and CoHo.  In New York she worked with The Queen’s Company (an all-female company producing classical works), toured with the National Shakespeare Company, and performed as a collaborator in devising and improvisational work, work-shopping and performing  new plays, and in various off-off-off Broadway productions.

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