Performing arts in Philadelphia would be poorer without Thomas Choinacky. A performance artist who finds equal expression in the creation of new performance and in organizing the convening of artists and audiences around ideas, he founded SoLow Festival, an annual 11-day performance festival which attracts and showcases some of the best new work in the city. He’s also a company member of experimental theater collective Applied Mechanics. His own show Thomas is Titanic was produced through 1812 Productions’ Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Program, his Magnitude explored time in a nine-hour long performance viewable through a peephole, and his Substance was staged throughout his South Philly apartment. Thomas talks to Phindie about his latest work, HOPELESSNESS, performed for one night only this weekend. [Headlong Studios, 1170 S Broad Street] October 8, 2016; thomaschoinacky.com.
Phindie: Is there any hope?
Thomas Choinacky: With capitalism as the current, popular economic structure it appears a bit hopeless.
Phindie: Is there something cathartic about accepting there’s no hope. Because, “okay, now what?”
Thomas Choinacky: Certainly, it’s the feelings of hitting rock bottom that place the perspective of “Well, it can’t get any worse.” However, in our case as humans it can get worse; to be specific, one issue covered in HOPELESSNESS is climate change. Climate change is a huge issue for every person on the planet and those who will step foot on this Earth. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Because it does exist and it is important to remember that everyone has the power to affect it. And if we don’t make aggressive changes to our behaviors the current issues that seem temporary will worsen at an alarming rate. The thing is, at this moment, the Earth is worsening at an alarming rate and by not making any effort is failing generations. So we have a tricky balance between feeling hopeless (how can I do anything?) or hope (the future generations).
One important thing is that we can’t think just about ourselves. We can’t just say that “I won’t live to see it.” Each person must think about the future yous and your friend’s future yous, etc. Our decisions affect them even more so than us, and we can’t leave the future yous in despair. I’m no expert, but this piece is a way of speaking up for the way I feel about this and other issues. That I am just one person, and at this moment it is my part to tell this story, take action. Reflecting hopelessness may initiate or mobilize positive change.
Phindie: What was the inspiration behind this piece?
Thomas Choinacky: The musical genius Anohni. Some folks may know her from the band Antony and the Johnsons. She has since changed her name to just Anohni. Her album called Hopelessness is completely inspirational to making this performance. The album came out earlier this year and I can’t stop listening to the songs. The songs are raw and speak so openly about our current political moment; it flatly frames drone warfare, climate change, surveillance, among other issues, with a hypnotic electronic soundscore to boot. The more I listened, the more I kept telling myself that people needed to hear these songs. What she is saying is what I wish I was brave enough to say.
Phindie: What themes do you hope to explore?
Thomas Choinacky: Urgency. Listening. Hopelessness.
Phindie: How do you use performance to do so?
Thomas Choinacky: This performance was made out of urgency. I realized that waiting to share this art was a disservice to the music and the issues. The songs are so live- they cover the right now- and we cannot be silent waiting for another scientific statement saying that our Earth is heating up way too quickly or the shooting of another unarmed black person. The songs have provided me with a voice to issues that are difficult to speak about.
Phindie: How does this fit into your past work?
Thomas Choinacky: In HOPELESSNESS this is the first time that politics have been an overarching part of my process. I would say in relation to my artistic research it is my interests in exploring time that align with this project. As I often think about duration within the art that I make, the current and political moment is what defined the urgency to bring this piece to life right now, and not to wait to create “Hopelessness”. To be honest, this is also the least amount of time that I have ever spent on a piece, by a long shot. This is because timing is so important to political conversations—the idea of performing this work 6 months or a year from now would be false because of how quickly political conversations evolve.
Phindie: And to your future work?
Thomas Choinacky: Who knows. This piece fits more into the responsiveness to other art, in this case Anohni’s album. So it is more of an outlier for where I am at with my other projects. I am working on a couple solo shows one a movement piece and the other an immersive performance, but they have been in process much longer than “Hopelessness” was even an idea.
Phindie: Are there any other shows you’re looking forward to this fall?
Thomas Choinacky: This is a busy weekend for performances. I am excited to see both JungWoong Kim’s SaltSoul and then Going There which is at Beaumont Warehouse.
Phindie: Isn’t there maybe just a little hope?
Thomas Choinacky: Yes. If this piece was purely conceptual to its title, it would make a very depressing piece.
Phindie: Indeed. Thanks Thomas!
[Headlong Studios, 1170 S Broad Street] October 8, 2016; thomaschoinacky.com.