“Blurs the edges of confession and performance, concert and play, memory and creation . . . Hopkins pulls off the impossible . . .” —Time Out New York
Singer/performer/director Cynthia Hopkins (Accidental Nostalgia, Must Don’t Whip ‘Um) has built a large local following for her unique style of contemporary music-theater.
The Success of Failure (or, The Failure of Success)
, the final chapter of the Accidental Trilogy, takes Hopkins’ investigation of memory, loss, and personal history to futuristic, intergalactic heights in a music-soaked, beguiling, and humorous telling of an ancient epic imagined as a live sci-fi film. Supported by her familiar and remarkably talented collaborators—video artists/theatrical designers Jeff Sugg and Jim Findlay (Wooster Group)—Hopkins and her rock band Gloria Deluxe (called “ethereal, demanding, exuberant” by Time Out New York) perform her captivating new theatrical score. The world premiere of the Walker Art Center-commissioned The Success of Failure (or, The Failure of Success) is presented Thursday–Saturday, April 16–18, at 8 pm in the Walker’s William and Nadine McGuire Theater.
In presenting the world premiere of The Success of Failure (or, The Failure of Success), Hopkins completes a trilogy of music-theater journeys that have taken her—and her devoted audiences—farther and farther afield. First there was the earthy, Southern-gothic road tale Accidental Nostalgia in 2005, whose narrator steals an identity and revisits her small-town past in an attempt to unravel a childhood murder mystery.
Two years later its prequel, Must Don’t Whip ’Um, featured a 1970s American rocker (the one whose identity is later stolen) who renounces her career to join a Sufi brotherhood in Morocco, thus making a leap both geographically and thematically from Western pop culture to Eastern spiritual mysticism . . . even as it turned out to be a daughter’s story about her search for a mother she never knew.
Hopkins’ stories might seem bizarre on the surface, but fans of her work will tell you that onstage they are thoroughly riveting—not least because of the ways in which they mix pathos and pain with pleasure and humor. Now the artist goes literally far out with The Success of Failure, spinning what she calls an “ancient epic folktale” that takes place thousands of years into a “post-human” future. This culmination of the Accidental Trilogy is also a milestone in Hopkins’ own journey as an artist. She says her goals are to not only take risks—“in this case, by splitting the show into two acts, the first of which is an extreme of outlandish science fiction, the second of which is an extreme of prosaic autobiographical truth”—but also “to confront and wrestle with my demons, specifically my own mortality.”
While the trilogy’s first two pieces are structured around songs performed by Hopkins and her band, The Success of Failure features an elaborate sound design that incorporates sparse, ethereal orchestration, choral arrangements, and soaring strings. And the set design entails nothing less than transforming the McGuire Theater into a “virtual planetarium” through a host of video, film, and animation techniques. To accomplish that, the company, along with director DJ Mendel and a design crew, will be crafting finishing touches for the piece onstage for almost two weeks before opening night. As a commissioner of The Success of Failure, the Walker is fulfilling its mission to support performers ready to make great leaps in their careers. “It’s a good use of this institution to help artists such as Hopkins have a safe home for creating their work,” says Philip Bither, McGuire Senior Curator of Performing Arts. “At times it’s easier for artists to open a work in a city where they feel audiences are willing to go somewhere new with them.”
Hopkins is the recipient of the 2007 Alpert Award in Theater, honoring her work as a writer, composer, performer, multi-instrumentalist, and theater artist. She is the co-founder and artistic director of the ensemble company Accinosco—a collective of performing artists, designers, and musicians dedicated to creating groundbreaking original works that meld music, text, technical and theatrical design, and video with unbelievable fact and outrageous fiction—with whom she has created two full-length works: Accidental Nostalgia, which premiered in 2004 (for which Hopkins received a 2005 Bessie Award); and Must Don’t Whip ‘Um (winner of a 2007 Bessie Award for design). These works feature the band Gloria Deluxe which Hopkins formed in 1999 and which has since produced six full-length albums and performed at numerous venues in New York City and elsewhere. Hopkins has also created solo music/theater works, including Tsimtsum, a piece commissioned by Dance Theater Workshop for the May 2006 Sourcing Stravinsky Festival; and Song Before Love Songs (a post-apocalyptic requiem for the human race), a composition commissioned by Bang on a Can, which premiered in February 2005. In addition, Hopkins has worked as a composer, musician, and performer for many projects, including Big Dance Theater’s /Antigone/, Shunkin, and Another Telepathic Thing (for which she received a 2001 Bessie award for composition and a 2000 OBIE award for performance); and Ridge Theater’s production of Mac Wellman’s at jennie richee (for which she won a 2001 Obie Award as part of the collaborative team).
Tickets to Cynthia Hopkins’ The Success of Failure are: Thursday, $18 ($15 Walker members); Friday–Saturday, $25 ($21) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.