Micromania is an obsession with becoming smaller. Smaller and smaller and smaller. Until detection is impossible.
Micromanias is the name of a double-bill of original performances coming up this November at Kensington’s Little Berlin. Manon Manavit—director of Michael the Rebel and founder of Humble Treasure Productions—and critic practitioner Julius Ferraro have teamed up with a diverse coterie of artists to present The Death and Dismemberment of Paul W. Auster, a transmodern exploration of the forceful dissection of one man’s soul into little bits, alongside Ferraro’s solo show MICROMANIA.
The cast and crew might want to shrink to obscurity, but we’ve run interviews with each of them to talk language, God, Grotowski, handmade instruments and bliss.
Manon Manavit is a director, playwright, and puppeteer whose work has been presented in Montreal, New York and Philadelphia, and now she is using all three of those skills in Micromanias.
Q: How do you see the two pieces reverberating against one another?
Manon Manavit: I’d say the two pieces are thematically aligned around the concepts of fragmentation of identity (the breakdown of untried consciousness) and language as a philosophical experience—freed from causality. Julius’s piece is a prolific performance that by the use of “unbound language” encapsulates so many rich images: a cockroach attack, an expanding universe, superviruses, human evolution etc. Both pieces are about the intertwining and abstract staging of a purely mental or intangible state. We made a concerted effort to think of the pieces as two parts of a whole. My piece is also about fragmentation, that (without giving anything away) is a supernatural inquiry into the dangerous disassociation of mind, body, and soul. The language in my piece is a way of exploring layers of identity. You will hear the voice of a God-like narrator, the phonetic breakdown of speech of a newborn, self-proclaiming (the meaning of “I”), choral doubling of voices to show connection, syncopated speech, poetry, prayer, and overdubbing.
Q: How is Micromanias different from anything else you’ve directed?
MM: It’s been radically different for me in the sense that I usually start with a concrete story and let it tell itself throughout the rehearsal process. The intricacies of plot were collaboratively extracted from the atmospheric fog we created within the movement work, and electronic/experimental musical score. I’ve also attempted a minimal style for this show, which is a departure from my usually kitschy aesthetic . . . or rather, I’ve tried to be more judicious about it!
Q: You use the word post-modern to describe this piece. What’s that mean to you?
MM: The post-modern label is a bit of trickery on my part, because I more closely identify with the trans-modernist movement, here defined as a spiritual re-awakening in the light of a postmodern takeover. I want to try to harmoniously express two strong forces inside me: the postmodern skepticism, existential questioning, and embattlement of “identity,” etc. along with the spiritual, magical faith and mythological obsession I have with the soul that I associate with art, love, and bliss.
Julius Ferraro is a critic practitioner whose work as a playwright and performer has appeared in the Collage Festival, the Home Festival, and the SoLow Fest (in conjunction with Little Berlin’s Plato’s Porno Cave); now he is acting as co-writer and performer for Micromanias.
Q: Describe the process of co-writing Death and Dismemberment with Manon.
Julius Ferraro: I hadn’t co-written anything since high school, and I’m generally not collaborative in my creative process. I don’t write well when someone’s looking over my shoulder. Naturally I wanted Manon to divide up roles in writing, to take a leadership role really, which she did.
So while Manon always had the final say, our very different styles and interests create a tension in the written material, and have blessed the performance with a weird trajectory.
Q: What surprises you the most when you perform your solo piece, MICROMANIA?
JF: I think the thing that surprises me the most with MICROMANIA at first is how different the characters are from how I wrote them. Robert Gross and I first staged this play in May of this year, and started rehearsing two months before that, so these characters haven’t been strictly speaking mine—they were mine and Robert’s and now they’re mine, Robert’s and Manon’s—for a long time.
Q: Your role in the Paul Auster project is very physical. What have you learned?
JF: I’ve learned what seems like a lot very quickly, but I’m sure isn’t a lot compared to the deep well of knowledge out there. The processes which Scott has introduced to our rehearsals have freed me up to do extensive physical exploration with characters.
The main thing I’ve taken from it is how to anchor my body so that an action pulls the entire body behind it—so that the foot is engaged while the hand grabs a glass of water, etc. This can make the difference between an inane motion (drinking a glass of water) and one that is watchable and interesting. This of course is finding its way into my other work, into my writing, because it has parallels in plotting, character creation, and even just understanding character.
Andrew Carroll has performed with the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, Chris Davis Productions, and Commonwealth Classics, and is playing detective Blue in The Death and Dismemberment of Paul W. Auster.
Q: How is the performance style of Death and Dismemberment different from anything you’ve done before?
ANDREW CARROLL: Its not necessarily different in style than anything I’ve done before, and yet it’s 100% different. Isn’t everything intrinsically different as far as style goes? It’s not farce, it’s not kitchen sink drama, it’s a world like any other world that gets brought to life with its own set of rules—and ways to break them.
Q: You work with kids on a regular basis. What kind of influence does this have on your acting?
AC: Working with kids helps me find the joy in the doing, which sounds like an old cliche, but there ya go. Kids (especially before they hit the awful, awful social gauntlet of middle school) are full of joy or deep sorrow or whatever they’re actually feeling. There’s no broadcasting of anything, its just how they are: kind of drunk-acting little bundles of goof and love.
Q: What’s it like playing a hardened detective, and what research have you done for the role?
AC: Hardened detective. Hmm. Hardened wouldn’t be my description of Blue. More methodical. As far as research goes, I re-watched Bored To Death. I think Blue is a detective despite himself. He’s not necessarily classically cut out for the job, but he gets good at it by the doing of it. Kind of like Jonathan Ames.
Q: Tell us about a crime that you’ve committed.
AC: I stole gum once. It was exhilarating. Then I cried and took it back. My moral compass is a jerk. I can never get away with anything, which is the best and worst thing for an actor.
Q: How do you define success as a working actor in Philadelphia?
AC: I try not to define it. Once success is defined, you’ve lost sight of the joy of doing it in the first place. Not that ambition, drive, and goals don’t have their place in the day to day of a freelance actor in Philly, but I don’t think there can be an end goal. Whats that famous quote about divine dissatisfaction? It’s Martha Graham. Look it up. You’re welcome.
Scott Rodrigue is a psychosomatic movement researcher, theatermaker, and facilitative artist whose Grotowski training spans a variety of lineages. He has studied composition, viewpoints, and Suzuki through numerous intensives with Anne Bogart and SITI Company.
Q: How would you describe your role in the production?
Scott Rodrigue: I facilitated exploitative exercises early in the rehearsal process to help incorporate the performers physical and holistic bodies into the work. I’m also working with Manon to identify blockages and amplify impulses that arise while crafting the physical score.
Q: How have you seen the Grotowski method you specialize in evolve in your lifetime?
SR: I would be very hesitant to say that there is any method in Grotowski’s work. He, his work, and the exercises he employed were always changing. I see it best as research into holistic expression.
As far as seeing the work change in my lifetime, I have no idea, the work is ongoing and personal, so my relationship to it is in constant flux.
What I can say is that there are different and distinct lineages within this work, and some people have totally misunderstood it. The two biggest misunderstandings, which Grotowski saw and criticized are a the belief that the work is about physical execution (no one cares about a headstand for the sake of a well executed headstand) or the inverse pitfall of not bridling creativity with discipline (think touchy feely experimental improv). The work is always about freedom within a set structure, both are necessary and amplify each other.
Additionally, it seems to me that a great deal of the dissemination of this work through the US and Canada has been lead by the courageous work of both Linda Putnam and Stephen Wangh, and the two of them have left a very distinctive mark of this work, primarily they have found ways of passing on this work in a more constructive and supportive space, free of Grotowski’s famed ruthlessly objective criticism.
Q: You’re a theatermaker. What is your next big idea?
SR: I have been considering making a one man performance installation in my home about finances and lifestyle in relation to being a working artist. On the surface it would be a blatantly low-expense way of panhandling, but I have a feeling it could get a lot deeper then that.
James Wadsworth Strong is an experimental musician and interdisciplinary artist who builds and performs on unique musical instruments featuring such diverse sound sources as amplified wooden tongues, metal, shells, and styrofoam.
Q: What was the first musical instrument you ever built, and why?
James Wadsworth Strong: The first musical Instrument I ever built was a large zither/harmonics guitar made out of the liberated base board of a pool table in my families basement—I want to say this was around 2007 with my friend Daniel Fishkin—also an Instrument builder. It was a shared, spontaneous experiment that took an afternoon and that is what I lugged to many shows around that time. It was played with metal tines and rods, crowbars and knives.
Q: Death and Dismemberment is a highly collaborative piece. What is your vision for it as a sound designer?
JWS: In Death and Dismemberment I am working with cues, but improvising within them. I am trying to encounter the actors in real time amidst the unfolding of the story as the arena in which that live encounter is taking place. Thinking of the sound as another character moving in the space of the play, its “narrative origin” is always shifting for me. at times I am playing as the feet of one of the actors as he walks across the floor, and at others I am trying to sound like a pie in the face. If I am trying to show that a character’s nature is changing, I may for instance run my hand slowly across the entire neck of the instrument, sounding harmonics as a way of coaxing out this change; though, at another instance this transformation might be best expressed by my fingernails on the amplified underbelly of the instrument. As both a sound designer and an improvisor, the way in which I can animate the written play best is in a malleable reflexivity to the unique phenomena of the living play unfolding.
Q: What is your least favorite sound?
Q: What are you reading?
JWS: Jonas Mekas, I Had Nowhere to Go.
Shelby Jackson is an art director based in Brooklyn who has worked in film, theater, and fashion, as well as alongside a number of New York City’s contemporary arts institutions. He designed the set, costumes, and props for Micromanias.
Q: Describe for us a space from your childhood that fascinated you.
SHELBY JACKSON: A checkered linoleum tiled basement—a dismal and numinous playroom. Did I dream that it had a race-car bed? A Mickie Mouse-patterned diner counter? That the whole thing was done in some weird derivation of Memphis style?
Q: Most unconventional materials you’ve ever used?
SJ: Giant red snapper from the Bed-Stuy Fish Market.
Q: What’s your design palette for this show?
SJ: The X-Files and Dilbert comics.
Q: What is the specific purview of your graduate philosophy study and how is it currently affecting your design work or vice versa?
SJ: Questions surrounding Adorno’s aesthetic theory. I find that whenever there’s a direct overlap of philosophy and design both practices suffer as a consequence.
You can catch Micromanias at Little Berlin, 2430 Coral St., November 7-10, 2014. Buy tickets here.