Photo © Reinhard Werner-Burgtheater Wien
Life and Times: Episodes 1—5
Nature Theater of Oklahoma
"One of the most unforgettable adventures of my theatergoing experience."
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times
"Kristin is a person, who, much like anyone else, had a fairly typical childhood in which nothing very dramatic happened. Yet, in the end she had told her own story for over sixteen hours."
Kelly Copper, co-director of Life and Times
The Wilma Theater
265 South Broad Street (at Spruce) (map)
Life and Times can be seen in installments or all five episodes together as a Life and Times marathon.
$35 for individual shows / Members save 30%
Student and 25-and-under tickets $20
$65 for Episode 1—5 Marathon / Members save 30%
Student and 25-and-under tickets $20
Conceived and Directed by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper
From a Telephone Conversation with Kristin Worrall
Original Music by Robert M. Johanson (Episode 1); Robert M. Johanson and Julie Lamendola (Episode 2); Robert M. Johanson and Daniel Gower (Episodes 3&4 and Episode 4.5); Daniel Gower (Episode 5)
Performers Ilan Bachrach, Asli Bulbul, Elisabeth Conner, Gabel Eiben, Daniel Gower, Anne Gridley, Robert M. Johanson, Matthew Korahais, Julie Lamendola, Kristin Worrall
Design Peter Nigrini
Dramaturg Florian Malzacher
Production Manager Dany Naierman
Audio Engineer Daniel Gower
Past Festival shows
Romeo and Juliet (2010), No Dice (2007).
Photos: Reinhard Werner-Burgtheater Wien
This presentation of Life and Times Episode 2 is funded in part by the New England Foundation for the Arts' National Theater Project, with lead funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Episodes 1 - 5 are supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Life and Times: Episodes 1—4 are a production of Nature Theater of Oklahoma and Burgtheater Wien. Episode 1 was created in co-production with Internationales Sommerfestival Hamburg, Kaaitheater Brussel, Théâtre de la Ville Paris, Internationale Keuze Festival Rotterdamse Schouwburg, and the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University. Episode 2 was created in co-production with Kampnagel Hamburg, le Festival d'Avignon, Théâtre de la Ville Paris, Kaaitheater Brussel, and Rosas. Episodes 3&4 were created in co-production with Internationales Sommerfestival Hamburg, Kaaitheater Brussel, Internationale Keuze Festival Rotterdamse Schouwburg, and Künstlerhaus Mousonturm Frankfurt am Main GmbH. Funding support for Episode 1 provided by the MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Funding support for Episode 2 provided by and the New England Foundation for the Arts' National Theater Pilot, with lead funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Episodes 4.5&5 are a production of Nature Theater of Oklahoma in co-production with Berliner Festspiele/ Foreign Affairs, HAU Hebbel am Ufer and Norfolk & Norwich Festival and the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) as part of Crossing the Line Festival 2013.
Can you tell me your life story?
From that one question, asked of a friend over the phone, came sixteen hours of recorded conversation that would become the text for an epic musical extravaganza of one woman's unexceptional life. Using the verbatim transcript, which begins at birth and ends in her thirties, Nature Theater presents the stages of her life in a series of episodes, each episode framed with its own highly theatrical genre—from chorus line to mystery to period piece to communist musical.
Far from the traditional narrative with dramatic structure and tension, the text resembles a patchwork quilt or spider's web—the wanderings and digressions of a single person considering the entirety of their whole life. Filled with simple moments of insight, the subject stops to consider all the moments that made her who she is. It is a portrait of an unremarkable life, an epic narrative along the lines of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past—but with some large bouncy balls, singing, and beards.
Life and Times: Episode 1
The first episode, but the beginning of the saga, covers the early years of childhood, from birth to age eight. Filled with simple moments of insight—the toy you couldn't live without, the next-door neighbor who had a better house, a father who was mysteriously quiet, the sister who never wore shoes.
Life and Times: Episode 2
A performance that fuses communist musical and "mass games" rhythmic gymnastic spectacle, Episode 2 picks up the tale from age eight to fourteen: the adolescent years—both fitting in and sticking out of the social group—are expressed through the framework of chorus and chorus line. (And tracksuits.)
Life and Times: Episode 3 & 4
Episodes 3 & 4 encompass the high school years (ages fourteen to eighteen) and the desire for freedom from the seeming prison of family life. Experimentation, rebellion, and drug use collide with religion and metaphysics—we encounter first love and first cigarettes. The considerable drama of this particular age is presented within the dramatic conventions of a "locked-room" mystery play.
Life and Times: Episode 4.5 & 5
Episode 4.5 starts with the older boys in science class and ends with the comfort of the family cat. This thirty-minute animated film features an original and full orchestral soundtrack. The saga continues in Episode 5 with the first sexual experience made into a 140-page hand-drawn, hand-calligraphed illuminated manuscript, accompanied by a live concert.
Episodes 4.5 & 5 features graphic sexual content and strobe lights.
Interview with co-director Kelly Copper
FringeArts: How did Life and Times come about?
Kelly Copper: The language for this project comes entirely from recorded phone conversations in which Pavol [Liska], my partner, asked our sound designer Kristin Worrall, "Can you tell me your life story?" We were interested to know in what way people would tell the story of their life. The first phone call they had went on for two hours. This is the text for the first episode, and at the end of their conversation, Kristin had only just arrived at age eight, and said, "I have to go, but I have more to tell you!" and so she and Pavol made a date to call again, and it just continued on for another nine more phone calls, until she was at her then current age of thirty-four.
At first we were amazed, that this one question had generated so much. Kristin is a person, who, much like anyone else, had a fairly typical childhood in which nothing very dramatic happened. Yet, in the end, she had told her own story for over sixteen hours. She took the question quite seriously.
We had planned to call more people, but decided that we had everything in this sixteen hours. We decided that we would take this very generous, super long story and do the biggest thing we had every tried which was to make an epic total work of art—a gesamtkunstwerk—which will eventually encompass not just music and dance, which is the first two episodes, but also mystery/suspense, animated film, medieval illuminated manuscript, feature film, sci-fi, parade, site-specific—it is our plan that every episode will eventually have a different aesthetic.
FringeArts: Each episode has a distinct and highly theatrical genre or aesthetic. Why did this approach appeal to you?
Kelly Copper: Because I'm an artist and I want to push myself, and push this material. Part of the interest in using the same material for several episodes is that it allows me/forces me to acquire new skills, explore different forms. It throws me back on myself and on my resources and demands that I expand those resources. The entire project is sort of about "what are you gonna do with this?"
And sometimes you think you know where you're going with one of the episodes, and suddenly mid-process you realize it's not that—it's something else. Episodes 3 & 4 we were sure were sci-fi, and the something about that genre never worked, and we ended up doing it as a murder mystery. Now when I look back on it—of course! all the stuff in those episodes about guilt and innocence and confession . . . but sometimes you just don't see what the form is or the interpretation until you're right in it.
FringeArts: The latest episode, Episode 5, is a hand-illustrated book. How did this come about?
Kelly Copper: For this Episode 5 project, there's really two areas of influence, and one is the Western medieval illuminated manuscript (the earliest books, made by hand were usually devotional books, prayers and depictions of the lives of the saints), and then there's also an Eastern tradition (in Japan) of what some would call early pornography or marital aids, called shunga, which were graphic depictions of sexual scenarios. We were inspired by one of the most beautiful books ever made, Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, which is a manuscript book of hours, made particularly to devotions of the Virgin Mary around 1409. We wrote out the entire text for this phone call by hand using calligraphy following the example of that book. We hand painted 106 pages of images, hand-decorated the text, and folded and ruled all the pages using medieval bookmaking techniques. The form is very much medieval manuscript, but the content is closer to the Eastern shunga drawings in its graphic depictions of sex.
All of the drawing—neither of us had drawn before this project—has been a sort of devotional endeavor. It's been more about the time and the conviction and practice of doing the work by hand. I feel like that's become part of the content of these episodes, which are about love and feeling love for the first time, both for a pet cat in Episode 4.5 and for another human in Episode 5. Love and devotion is what those two forms were about for me.
About Nature Theater of Oklahoma
Nature Theater of Oklahoma is an Obie Award winning New York performance group under the direction of Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper. Since Poetics: a ballet brut, our first dance piece created as an ensemble, Nature Theater of Oklahoma has been devoted to making the work they don't know how to make, putting themselves in impossible situations, and working from out of their own ignorance and unease. They strive to create an unsettling live situation that demands total presence from everyone in the room. They use the readymade material around us, found space, overheard speech, and observed gesture, and through extreme formal manipulation, and superhuman effort, they affect in their work a shift in the perception of everyday reality that extends beyond the site of performance and into the world in which we live.