The power of objects and public places.

Sue Moss interviews Jim Lasko and Australian collaborators

Redmoon Theatre

Redmoon Theatre

Jim Lasko is the Artistic Director of the Chicago based, Redmoon Theater, a company which has developed an enviable reputation for site-specific spectacle theatre. Redmoon’s artistic process is distinctly collaborative. It involves a panoply of audiences, performers, puppet makers, gadgets, objects, sound, stage and technical designers. Central to the company’s aesthetic is the creation of cultural event as spectacle, transforming public spaces that are “decreasingly used and increasingly neglected.” The Redmoon artistic team uses a site to shape the spectacle’s aesthetic, theme and characters. Recently Sue Moss met Jim Lasko, freelance director Jessica Wilson (formerly of Terrapin), and designer of surreal stage machines, Joey Ruigrok van der Werven whose recent collaborations include Stalker, Marrugeku and Urban Theatre Projects.

Jessica, how did you meet Jim Lasko?

JW I visited the United States in 2003 to look at non-text based companies. I met Jim and was inspired by how Redmoon worked with actors, the aesthetics of their site-specific work and the size of their workshop [this comprises 18,000 square feet of converted warehouse space that accommodates both the administrative staff and the enormous ‘build shop’ where sets and props are constructed]. The performers work with objects and materials, generating a spontaneous process and exciting results.

Redmoon works with objects and processes of transformation in public spaces. Through their collaborations the company creates work that has a solid dramatic arc and doesn’t depend on a literal writing process. They offer magic, transformation and possibility.

I floated the idea of working together and Jim invited me to work on Redmoon’s 2003 summer production. This enabled us to witness one another working and handling creative and collaborative processes. As a result of this positive creative working relationship, Jim and Joey were invited to Tasmania to explore the possibilities of a collaborative theatre project in Hobart. At the moment we are in conversation about a project with the working title of Dream Masons.

Jim, what was the genesis of Redmoon. How did your background lead you to this place with this company?

JL I grew up a ‘feral’ child and didn’t read a book until 11th grade despite living in a rigorously intellectual house. I was a physical child, passionate about being part of the physical world and interested in making things.

Once I saw an amazing thing where a bird attacked another bird. My impulse was I had to tell my friends. At some level this need to tell defines what I am and always have been.

I left graduate school where I was undertaking a PhD in theatre. I became enamored with the practice of making and devising new theatre shows based on images. I began to make work that was both object and puppet heavy. In the course of doing this work I came to embrace a lot of shelved ancient theatrical forms—pageantry, puppetry, acrobatics, circus, live music and clown. I wanted to revitalise them, as these forms represented vestiges of my college undergraduate experience.

While studying a philosophy major I thought a lot about the civic role that theatre played in ancient Greek society. Theatre is increasingly marginalised by television, film and mass media. How could I make theatre relevant and bring it back into the centre of culture? Redmoon is committed to the creation of massive cultural events that transform public space in the way that ancient theatre used to. Spectacle theatre gathers people together in a public space where they can share, react and engage together in a way that isn’t mediated.

How do you align that public immersion with your philosophical premise of returning theatre to the centre?

The ideal is that the event attracts and gathers people in public space which has become decreasingly used, and increasingly neglected. In the Chicago context, public space feels more dangerous; people stay home and create increasingly more isolated spaces for themselves. Getting together in the same spot live and by itself, that act is of value. The shows always have a celebration of the act of transformation—that something can be other than it appears to be is an inherently hopeful message.

You want people to look at the experience and call into question something of their own notions about public space, their own lives and what’s possible within humanity. Each production tries to use recycled materials, and make objects from the detritus of public culture. For example what appears as a flight of bats transmutes into tattered umbrellas. This leads an audience to reconsider what is garbage and what is art. At its best spectacle theatre involves deep collaborations with a community, deep insights and research into the community where the work is held and formed. This leads to the rubicon experience, where the ideal meets the realities of finance, the attitudes of city council and public officials. The creative solutions that come out of the process are actually the show. We create a collaborative action outline, a one-page document that walks through some of the major spectacle moments that we want to achieve. The issue of aspiring to the impossible is the constant subtext of a spectacle.

Another theme is the seeming impossibility of the world that is being created. The audience is invited to be willing participants, energetically willing this thing to happen through negating a logical part of the brain. When this happens, the audience become co-creators of the event.

The spectacle can only happen through gathering a team that can contribute to the realisation of the event. Joey Ruigrok van der Werven from Sydney works with Redmoon as a technical designer. I first met Joey through his work, designing surreal stage machines, with the Dutch company Dogtrope. For me, the work of Dogtrope crystallised what was possible.

Joey, can you describe your contraption workshops?

I gather a number of people interested in building contraptions. They experience the fun of collecting materials and ideas without restriction on what is possible. We made one project titled The Botanical Gardens of Contraptions. The spectators were fascinated. Contraptions are machines in themselves, seemingly innocent, but we can imbue them with story and spirit.

Object theatre plus characters involves the emotions of love and conflict. We are more driven by our surroundings than we think. For example the world floods and we work through the object to arrive at the emotional response of the characters. There is a relationship between character and object. As an extension of the character, the object describes the character’s circumstance. The audience can see themselves.

Building contraptions and objects has social value. Increasingly the world becomes more mysterious through objects such as transistors and iPods. Object theatre can demystify something that can look intimidating. People are then able to transform and look at things through new ideas. When you bring this form of theatre into public spaces which people occupy and walk in everyday, then it is given back to them in a completely different way. It’s transformed and can never be the same. “Remember when…?”

How do you assess a potential performance building or site for the first time?

When I approach a building or see a new site, I watch the way people use the site and understand its history. The creative process involves decisions about what you want to intervene with, accent, defy or augment.

I visualise great, grand scale images. For example I lift up a little boat (using structural rigging techniques) and it sails over the audience. This boat also provides opportunity for character and story development. There could for example, be a farmer, a flock of sheep, windows at night, a wife and water.

Are you social idealists?

JL Social idealism and spectacle have to eventually collide with reality. In spectacle theatre we have to figure out the weight of the boat. Our theatre is grounded in things that are so tangibly real and dangerous we have no choice but to meet reality. Our social idealism smashes against reality.

JW In relation to this type of work being made in Australia, and the idea of creating idealism about what’s possible, that has a national resonance. The wonder of transformative theatre is what happens when the bounds of the normal become abnormal.

With the support of the Australia Council, The Dream Masons will be developed in 2006, produced by Salamanca Art Centre in collaboration with Jessica Wilson as Creative Producer.

For more about Redmoon visit www.redmoon.org

RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg. 40

© Sue Moss; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2006