*Levi Weinhagen is serving as Artist in Residence for Education and Community Programs from September 2014 through February 2015*
When I found out I would be an Artist in Residence for the Walker Art Center’s Education and Community Programs department I was really excited. Immediately, my mind started working on the question of what fun ideas could I try out with their audiences and what ways could I play in the Center’s spaces. The focus before my residency started was very much on “what can I bring to this place.”
The largest centerpiece of my residency is a live all-ages show to be performed on January 3rd as part of the First Free Saturday 75th Anniversary celebration. If you’ll check your calendars you’ll notice that date has passed and the show has been performed for two fantastic and energetic audiences. More on how those shows went in a post next week. But the run up to the show was several month of research in the Walker archives and the last few weeks before the show of turning historical facts into entertaining live theater.
A strange thing happened as I turned research into a comedy show, I learned way more than I ever thought I would know about the history of the Walker Art Center.
Did you know that in 1963 the Walker created the Center Opera Company which would later become the Minnesota Opera? I didn’t know that but now I totally do.
Can you list all five Directors who have led the Walker over their years along with the years of their directorships? That’s not something I ever thought I would need to know and somehow I built a live comedy show around those specific details. Seriously, I know when the directors where around and have a decent sense of how they wanted the Center to be viewed and engaged with by the community and by the greater art world.
These are things someone who writes and performs comedy for both young people and grown ups wouldn’t generally spend a lot of time learning. I can’t work in a bunch of 1970s and 80s Laurie Anderson (she performed at the Walker in 1978 with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra) jokes during a show about physical comedy and expect to get laughs from 7 year olds. Most of my audience typically doesn’t care that Georgia O’Keeffe’s Lake George Barns was acquired in 1954. Individually, these facts are that compelling to me, but taken as a whole, after hours of study all while looking for the funny (which is really the only way my brain gets excited to learn something) I found out that the story of this place is complex and interesting because it’s the story of people.
That’s how the Walker tricked me. They made me think I was bringing comedy and play to their family audiences when in reality I was learning the human stories that make up this place. I was learning how truly significant this institution has been to the arts and culture community of the Twin Cities that I hold so dear. The Walker and the artists, directors, staff and audiences who move in and out of it have been way more impactful on my personal and professional life than I ever would have imagined for way longer than I knew. So far, my residency hasn’t been about just getting to try new things, it’s been about learning where I fit in a lot of different people’s stories.
It’s also been about struggling to write a solid H. Harvard Arneson joke. I’ve still got nothing.