In 2018 I designed sound for Aisle, an immersive theatre experience for an audience of one that took place inside of an actual supermarket in Philadelphia. Performers I-Chia Chiu and Mason Rosenthal communicated with each participant via phone, text message, and in-person monologue as they pushed a shopping cart around the store's grocery aisles. Upon exiting, patrons were given a recording that they listened to while Chiu and Mason finished the performance in the supermarket's parking lot, the lines of dialogue in their ears refraining phrases heard during Aisle's various scenes. Here is that recording:
In 2018 I launched Nobody Knows, a comedic question-and-answer podcast with Mason Rosenthal. Each 5-minute episode begins with a listener's question to which Mason (in his title role as "Nobody") records an answer and then sends me the recording to edit, sound design, and release online. The series began as a sequel to our play, Nobody's Home, and drew in over 1,000 listeners within its first month of release.
Cones is the solo show about vision loss and dis/ability passing that I created for my MFA Practicum. Dis/ability has long been a running undercurrent in my work, and this was the first piece I'd made to address it more explicitly. The show's title refers to a retinal condition that runs in my family.
While making the show I blogged about dis/ability performance, including how blindness shows up in theatre, film and song as well as in daily life. Read it here.
Just before to its debut, NPR station WHYY ran this radio piece about Cones.
Cones was a keynote performance for Temple University's Institute on Disabilities, at Goddard College, Cabrini University, Episcopal Academy, and for the New Jersey Commision for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
I made a triptych of theatrical experiments in 2014–15 that ran somewhere between my practices of performance and teaching. Each began as a workshop that worked from a specific medium (still image, movement, or sound) toward making theatrical performance.
Videos here are from the "12 Tones" workshop series whose participants first created sounds, turned them into movements, and then united these into quick performances.
A finite set of neuroscientific 2-person movements formed the basis for "8 Moves" and a set of specific objects was entitled "6 Chairs." Click the titles to view portfolio monographs for each:
Dis/ability performance and passing has been a focus of my work since 2014. I make performances that investigate that line between "dis" and "abled" by asking performers and audiences to cross it in any direction. In Nobody's Home (2013) the audience spends about ⅓ of the show with their eyes closed. In Alchemy (2014) each performers have no use of eyes, hands, mouth, or body altogether. I perform my solo memoir Cones (2015) blindfolded and the audience also spends part of the show performing things with eyes closed, and since playing Tiresias in Antigone (2016) I've being looking for more work as a typecast visually impaired actor.
Alongside this work has a been a blog called Rods & Cones about the spectrum of vision and blindness in art, media, science and culture. I have also taught classes on the subject at Cornell University, Goddard College, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Above: Sighted actors perform blind characters in The Miracle Worker (1962), The Tale of Zatochi (1962), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Daredevil (2015), Star Wars: Rogue One (2016), and the video for Lionel Ritchie's song "Hello" (1984). Whether products of biography, fiction, or fantasy, all are depicted as having extraordinary powers
In 2013 I directed and co-wrote this multi-sensory meditation-comedy for actor-creator Mason Rosenthal to perform in his own bedroom. It debuted at Philadelphia's SoLow Festival, and went on to the New Orleans Fringe Festival where audiences experienced it on board an RV. The show has since toured to more than 50 bedrooms in a dozen cities around the U.S.
In Nobody's Home a personality named Nobody leads the audience through three guided mediations, serves them tea and sweets, and provides private dances, foot massages, and shadow fables from the canon of bygone folklore.
For five years I was a regular artist-in-residence at Rutherfurd Hall, a historic mansion in northwest New Jersey. While there I directed and performed in seven devised plays that moved actors and audience about the building, each drawing from local history, folklore, and science (Lewis Morris Rutherfurd was a pioneer in the field of astrophotography).
I published one section of my undergraduate thesis as "Picture Performance: A History from Power Point to Cave Painting." Click here to see the full text.
In the essay I reveal histories of wandering oral storytellers whose version of events runs counter to those told by people in power. They told their stories by pointing at pictures while singing or speaking, using this combined visual and oral evidence to sway their audiences.
Examples here include a Moritadasenger c. 1700, Wayang Beber c. 1900, Cantastoria and Al Gore, both c. 2000s.
When I started facilitating Theatre of the Oppressed workshops in 2008, I realized that there wasn't a body of graphics to support that work. So I started one and made them publicly available for anyone practicing Theatre of the Oppressed. I've seen them repurposed by groups all over the world, including accompanying texts in Greek, Hebrew and Turkish.
Some of these graphics are for use with specific Theatre of the Oppressed techniques, such as Cop in the Head and Rainbow of Desire. Others can be used by anybody exploring a particular topic, such as gender, race, dis/ability, or rifts in one's community..
I teach community yoga classes that emphasize an inquisitive approach to breath, anatomy and alignment. I use yoga as a way to unpack ideas in art, science and politics, and relate that to a process of personal transformation and social justice. My classes invite dialogue and often raise funds for activist organizations.
Early morning classes: Tues/Thurs, 7AM
Advancing Asana (workshop-style classes):
6PM Wednesdays and 10AM Sundays
More info at Studio 34 Yoga.
I contributed this blockprint to the Celebrate People's History poster series after visiting the Jana Sanskriti Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed in West Bengal, just before the publication of the poster series in book form by the Feminist Press.
Series curator Josh MacPhee writes, "The Celebrate People’s History posters are rooted in the do-it-yourself tradition of mass-produced and distributed political propaganda, but detoured to embody principles of democracy, inclusion, and group participation in the writing and interpretation of history. It’s rare today that a political poster is celebratory, and when it is, it almost always focuses on a small canon of male individuals: MLK, Ghandi, Che, or Mandela. Rather than create another exclusive set of heroes, I’ve generated a diverse set of posters that bring to life successful moments in the history of social justice struggles. To that end, I’ve asked artists and designers to find events, groups, and people who have moved forward the collective struggle of humanity to create a more equitable and just world. The posters tell stories from the subjective position of the artists, and are often the stories of underdogs, those written out of history. The goal of this project is not to tell a definitive history, but to suggest a new relationship to the past."
In 2018 Celebrate People's History: the Poster Book of Resistance and Revolution was published in Korean and the posters continue to exhibit all over the world.
For the past decade I've taught using the methodologies of Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed (PTO). PTO uses images, sounds, movements and words equally, acknowledging that all are expressed as forms of language in society. PTO's ultimate goal is the dismantling of oppressive dynamics, and each session I facilitate keeps that in the context of what the group can achieve in an a single day, week, month, or semester.
I've run PTO currcula for education programs at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, Cabrini University, The College of New Jersey, and Tyler College of Art; for Masters of Social Work students and faculty from Drexel and Widener Universities; in dis/ability studies at Cornell and Temple Universities, and for theatre, dance, and writing classes at UPenn and the University of the Arts.
In 2008 I contributed several prints to the Reproduce Y Rebélate/Reproduce & Revolt, a bilingual collection of political graphics granted by the creators to the public domain, to be freely used on political posters, flyers, and campaigns.
Some of these prints also appeared in the anthologies Globalize Liberation (City Lights, 2004) and Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today (PM Press, 2009).
From 2008 to 2010 I wrote a cycle of allegories that I adapted into blockprints, dioramas, and then miniature theatre performances. These were featured at the Great Small Works international Toy Theater Festival in New York, at the Banners and Cranks Festival in Chicago, the Black Sheep Festival in Pittsburgh, and at Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art
For five years I co-curated a series of Shakespeare plays with the touring theatre company Missoula Oblongata. We assigned each play's five acts to five theatre companies with varied aesthetics. These acts were assembled "exquisite corpse" style in an undisclosed location. To attend, audience members arrived at a prescribed subway stop wearing red carnations and were then escorted to the secret theatre where they experienced each act in promenade and served with a desert.
The plays we made:
The Tempest (2007)
King Lear (2008-09)
Julius Caesar (2010)
Antony and Cleopatra (2011)
Richard III (2012)
In 2007 I contributed a chapter to the AK Press anthology Realizing the Impossible: Art Against Authority. Click here to read see the full text.
My chapter traces the history of political puppetry from ancient tradition of picture theatre and medieval pageants, to the labor, civil rights and anti-war movements of the 20ths century, leading to large demonstrations organized against corporate globalization at the start of the 21st century.
Photo Credits: The Bread & Puppet Theater's Domestic Resurrection Circus (Paul Petroof, 1985), prisoners display survey results for the quincentennial of Columbus' arrival in the Americas (Clare Dolan, 1992), float about the Spanish Civil War at the 1939 May Day Parade in New York's Union Square (1939, John Albok), "The Corporate Power Tower" at Chicago's Active Resistance (Susan Simensky Bietila, 1996). Book cover art and design by Erik Ruin and Josh MacPhee.
Performative lectures predate the ages of information and industrialization, harkening back to times when people needed to step outside to hear someone talk about science or history. I use performative objects—pictures, masks, contraptions and household items from everyday life—as conveyances for ideas, often inviting audience members to step into the process. Because of their interdisciplinary and interactive nature, the performative lecture can happen at the theater, on the street, and even in a conventional lecture hall.
Also see Picture Performance: A History
Once in a while I discover something I want to know has been under-researched. The information is out there, stuffed deep in the stacks of libraries or floating on the strands of the World Wide Web, but without much dedicated aggregation.
Making a Wikipedia article is one way to put all that data into a handy place, to connect loose threads, and to invite a community of detail-obsessed editors to add what they might know.
Here's a sampling of entries I started and regularly maintain:
From 2001 to 2008 I created and toured several DIY theatre pieces with puppeteer Eli Nixon. Known for their cardboard storytelling and paper mâché magic, Eli makes "art to reclaim public spaces, to spread real news, to surprise us out of our daily zombiedom with homemade spectacle and celebration." For many years Eli and I also cohosted the Puppet Uprising cabaret series in Philadelphia and the annual Black Sheep Puppet Festival in Pittsburgh.
- Puppetual Motion Cycle Circus (2001)
- So Many Dynamos (2002)
- Sloth Teeth (2003-04)
- Where Do Things Belong? (2005)
- Awaken The Mud (2006)
- Mite We? (2008)
L-R: Mite We? (Philadelphia, 2008), ATM (Baltimore, 2006), on stage at Great Small Works International Toy Theater Festival (NYC, 2005), and performing on WKBS-TV channel 48 (Philadelphia, 2002).