One of the joyous — and sometimes stressful — things about curating performance for the Walker is that our institution’s mission doesn’t just allow us to take artistic chances but actually requires us to do so. With a stated commitment to new artistic forms and work that pushes dance , performance or music in new directions, we are often in the role of helping to translate and interpret work that might not always be easily to read on one’s own.
But sometimes we choose to focus this same impulse on innately more accessible and even commercial art forms, like the American musical or indie rock (for lack of a better term). The results can be just as surprising or as innovative as our work in experimental music or theater; it is just working within a different tradition.
Two and a half years ago, at the strong recommendation of former Walker Director Kathy Halbreich and visual artist Paul Chan, I carved out two hours at the insanely jam-packed Association for Performing Arts Presenters conference in New York to head to a small theater/club on the far west side called the Zipper Factory to catch a DIY music-theater work with the odd title of FUTURITY by a Brooklyn indie-folk/rock/Americana band named the Lisps. The music, the youthful spirit, the rabid fan/crowd response, the unlikely dense ideas embedded in the work, the moments of noise and musical chaos, even the poignant ending, all captured me and set me on a long journey of helping this band see its first theater work to the next level.
A flow of e-mails and various meetings and concert showings of the work unfolded and I agreed to have the Walker help commission the work’s further development. Neither of us knew exactly how we would get there, but Cesar Alvarez (leader of the Lisps) and I agreed that this work should be on the Walker’s 2011-2012 season.
As months turned into years, exciting things began to happen. Visionary, generous British born director Sarah Benson (and artistic director of Soho Rep in NYC) came on board to direct the work. Then American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge, a semi-classic theater with an edge and adventurous spirit, joined in as lead producer. Just six months ago friend and remarkably creative choreographer/director Annie-B Parson (Big Dance Theatre) signed on to create the choreography. Many other talented people — writers, designers, stage managers, singers, performers — signed up or were hired by ART.
Six weeks ago, I flew out for the official press opening for FUTURITY, which now had such an unlikely cast of collaborators and institutional partners that it was written up nationally in American Theater magazine. It was a great leap of faith by ART, which applied its theater creation know-how to the inspired DIY civil war vaudvillians rock musicial. Now it has landed on our doorstep and Minnesotans only have three opportunities (April 26–28) to see it, before it continues what is sure to be a long future life.