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Save the Date! ArtLab: Memory + Myth // March 22nd

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How much can we trust our memories? On Sunday, March 22th, ArtLab presents Memory + Myth: a live theater-infused exploration of the neuroscience of memory. The evening features original work from The Deconstructive Theatre Project–a Brooklyn-based performing arts company mixing neuroscience with multimedia–with insights into the brain from the mind of Dr. Paula Croxson.

ArtLab kicks off with an interactive experiment as Paula tests our powers of recall and introduces us to the neuroscience of how we remember. This crash course in recollection will be followed by an excerpt from the DTP’s The Orpheus Variations–a reimagining of the famous myth as a tale of the mutability of memory by blending live performance, neuroscience, and interactive technology. Rounding out the night, ArtLab will turn to the audience to delve deeper into the realm of remembrance through moderated discussion with Paula and DTP founder + director Adam J. Thompson.

Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire.∇Δ John Dewey

ArtLab: Memory + Myth will begin at 6:30 pm at the Center for Performance Research and is presented as part of Brain Awareness Week, featuring brain-themed events happening across New York City.

About Our Guests

croxsonPaula Croxson is an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at the Icahn Mount Sinai School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, where she researches how memories are stored in the brain and what happens when they are compromised. Her work focuses on the complex, autobiographical life memories that are lost in aging, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. When she’s not doing science, or talking about science, she plays the flute with indie rock band Marlowe Grey.

thompsonAdam J. Thompson is the Founding Director of The Deconstructive Theatre Project and a multimedia artist and producer. For The Deconstructive Theatre Project, he has created and directed six productions, including most recently The Orpheus Variations (Magic Futurebox 2012, HERE 2013, Under the Radar 2014, Theater at the 14th Street Y 2015). Documentary footage of The Orpheus Variations was installed as a part of “Um, Nenhum, e Cem Mil,” a visual art exhibition exploring the intersections of art and science, at Edge Arts in Lisbon, Portugal between January and March 2013. He is currently developing Searching for Sebald, the second in the company’s series of live cinema events, to premiere in early 2016. Adam is a member of The Builders Association and the Associate Producer of PROTOTYPE: Opera/Theatre/Now. He has taught and guest lectured at The School of Making Thinking, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and NYU. He holds a BA in directing and dramaturgy from Emerson College in Boston.

dtpThe Deconstructive Theatre Project is a Brooklyn-based multimedia creative laboratory that is currently creating a series of works that collide live performance, neuroscience, and interactive technology. It’s most recent live cinema project, The Orpheus Variations, just completed a sold-out engagement at The Public Theater’s 2015 Under the Radar Festival followed by an encore engagement at the Theatre at the 14th Street Y in New York City. The company has been singled out for “masterfully reinventing what live theatre can mean for the individual” and as “innovatively reflective on the future of the performing arts.” To learn more visit deconstructivetheatreproject.org

Event details:

Location:

Center for Performance Research

361 Manhattan Ave.

Brooklyn, NY 11237

http://cprnyc.org

Date + Time: March 22, 2015 @ 6:30 pm
Admission:

$10, 21+
Buy advanced tickets [no fee]

Proudly Partnered with:

The Orpheus Variations: Deconstructing Memory Through Myth

A reimaging of a beloved myth as an exploration of memory + the past, The Orpheus Variations is the perfect marriage of form + content to create a wholly unique + engaging theater-going experience. The piece—collaboratively created by the Deconstructive Theatre Project—tells the story of a man confronting his present reality in the wake of his wife’s disappearance, innovatively interspersing a series of vignettes spanning Orpheus and Eurydice’s shared past. Perfectly encapsulating the semi-deluded state many of us enter when overcome with grief, Orpheus’s idyllic memories become inextricably intertwined with his present reality as the audience is transported into a quasi-dream state.

Robert Kitchens [Orpheus] in The Orpheus Variations. Photo by Mitch Dean.

The Orpheus Variations succeeds beautifully in conveying the tragedy of this tale by artfully mimicking how the brain synthesizes the infinite raw sensory stimuli of everyday experience to construct our own personal versions of reality. In keeping with the company’s name, the cast members deconstruct moments from Orpheus and Eurydice’s time together into their constituent sensory elements. In a rather remarkable technological achievement, sound, lighting, and live action are seamlessly stitched together in real time to create a stunning filmic narrative projected above the ensemble members as they carefully construct, enact, and film each scene below. The chaotic on-stage action is counterbalanced by an overarching voice narration–a sort of lyrical inner monologue–underscored by evocative live music, which, together with the live-fed film, mirror the brain’s imposed narrative on experience. Thus, the audience member is at once invited to use their own brains to patch together the fragments that make up the characters’ past, and to watch Orpheus + Eurydice’s own cohesive interpretations of those very same moments played out on film, illuminating what these characters have subconsciously chosen to compose their own versions of reality given all of the same sensory information.

By creating a piece that is reflective of the brain’s inner workings, the DTP has provided the viewer with the unique opportunity to create their own journey within the overarching theatrical journey unfurling on stage. The piece reveals how truly subjective our own experiences are—how reality is merely an imperfectly generated construct, often vulnerable to our own personal expectations + narratives. As I observed [and was subjected to] how experience + memory are constructed, I became viscerally aware of my own brain’s inherent deceit + trickery. With this frame of mind, the real tragedy of the story [at least for me] became all the more deeply felt—that while desperately in love with each other, these two characters inhabited two distinct yet intimately interwoven realities, which ultimately drove them apart.

Robert Kitchens [Orpheus] & Amanda Dieli [Eurydice] in The Orpheus Variations. Photo by Mitch Dean.

The form of the piece has the added effect of bending space-time, as the audience witnesses past, present, and future unfolding on stage all at once until they are virtually indistinguishable. This time-bending effect is jarringly reminiscent of the inconsequence of time during periods of mourning—how in times of desperation and intense grief we can slip into a world of revised // idealized memory, clinging to the hope that it can somehow become our own present + perfect version of reality. The Orpheus Variations thus reveals the ultimate corruption that comes with such motivated recollection.

All of the above said, I now must disclaim that what I find most exciting about The Orpheus Variations—both in watching the performance and from my earlier conversation with writer + director Adam J. Thompson—is that it is quite literally impossible for any two audience members to experience the piece in the same way. By design, each performance contains an infinite number of possible journeys–from film to construction of film to individual actors and back again–creating an intentionally subjective, wholly viewer-dependent theater-going experience. Once the curtains went down, I sat down with Adam and the DTP team to moderate a talkback in which several of the audience members shared their own personal journeys through the piece, each differing from the next by varying degrees. Given the same inputs—the same film, actors, sound, lighting, narration—every one of us in the theater followed a completely different trajectory to take away a deeply personal experience in a rather elegant reinforcement of formal theme.

By simultaneously deconstructing both the mind’s interpretation of reality and the theater-making process, The Orpheus Variations has masterfully reinvented what live theater can mean for the individual, while illuminating the utter complexity + subjectivity of our own consciousness.


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Performed at HERE Arts Center, The Orpheus Variations was conceived and directed by Adam J. Thompson and developed collaboratively by the members of the Deconstructive Theatre Project. For more information about the company please visit their website + Like them on Facebook.

An Experiment in [de]Constructive Interference

Adam J. Thompson, founding director of The Deconstructive Theatre Project [DTP], uses the theater as his laboratory space, giving literal meaning to the idea of experimental art. Dissatisfied by the idea of this very nebulous *inexplicable nature of art*, Adam uses the theater-making process to investigate why and how art has such a profound effect on us. To make art that moves in order to probe what it is about our brains that make us have such visceral, emotional responses to these experiences. Intrigued by the idea of science as a tool to create and understand theater, I sat down with Adam last week to talk more about The DTP’s latest project: The Orpheus Variations.

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This last year, The DTP reimagined the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the Underworld as a story of memory and the past: “Our idea of the underworld is not that of a physical place that you go to, but it’s a place the comes up around you if you spend too much time in the past.” The Orpheus Variations tells the tale of a man packing up his house which has become impregnated with memory after his wife disappears. To explore Orpheus’s past—a world that at present only exists as memory—Adam and The DTP team have created a piece that acts much the way the brain behaves as it both processes and recalls an experience. Memory is stored in several different subregions of the brain, which comes as no surprise given that our brains break down our present sensorial experiences and process them in different compartments: the occipital lobe [sight], the temporal lobe [sound], the olfactory bulb [smell], and the parietal lobe [touch + taste].*  When we remember, the brain must piece together the sensory fragments of a particular experience to create that memory.

To design a piece reminiscent of memory, the Orpheus cast uses props, sound, and lighting to construct the constituent elements that become stitched together in real-time using live sound mixing + video feed. The result is a cohesive filmic narrative that is projected above the actors as they are synthesizing those elements. The audience is thus fed two different impetuses at once: the live composition of the film by the onstage actors + the film itself. “We tried to create a relationship between the live performance—the construction of things—as the experience, which is messy with things happening all the time and without grand narrative, and the film as the memory in which all the fragments are pulled together and framed as a cohesive whole.”

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By revealing how our brains process experience, The DTP team have built a mirror for their own creative process—a physical // theatrical manifestation of what is happening in their own minds during the construction of the show: “I’m always looking for a way for process to exist inside of the product. In Orpheus you see the process happening simultaneously with the product; they become inextricably linked.” As a result, the viewer is able to choose their own adventure, following the narrative of the film, the journey of an individual actor, or the production of a particular filmic moment. By design, each performance contains an infinite number of possible journeys, creating an intentionally subjective, wholly viewer-dependent theater-going experience. After every show, Adam opens up the room for a talkback session, giving the audience members an opportunity to share their experiences in processing the piece: What specific elements engaged them most? How did they travel from process to product and back again? And perhaps [most interestingly to me] what can the individual’s unique processing of the same raw inputs—the same film, actors, sound, lighting—tell us about the subjectivity of consciousness as it relates to how we experience art?

The talkback also plays an integral role in the dtp’s mission to bring its audience into the creative process—to understand the science of making art. to further engage their community in the ongoing conversations that inform and complicate their work, the company also holds a three-part series called The dtpE: “Each event is thematically related to the piece so that when you come to see the final performance you have some insight into what the actors and creative team have been going through.”

I actually met adam at the last of the dtp’s community engagement events for The Orpheus Variations—Sense Memory—which explored how the worlds of sight, sound, and taste can conjure up past experiences. What excited me most about our conversation was that we—a scientist and an artist—were using the same sort of language and drawing from the same sorts of experiences to talk to one another about our work. By deconstructing both memory and theater in one elegant stroke, The DTP has merged the worlds of art and science, challenging traditional notions of what it means to be called ‘artist’ or ‘scientist’. Adam’s approach to exploring art is at its core an investigation of the most basic of scientific questions: the *why* and the *how* of a very specific phenomenon. “The science is what makes the experience of art interesting. Because it is the unknown. And art is the tool that I have to understand the science.”

* Of course, I should mention that I have left out the senses we don’t typically consider: sensing where our bodies are in space [proprioception], sensing heat [thermoception], sensing pain [nocioception], sensing the passage of time [chronoception], and sensing the body’s movement [equilibrioception].

Photographs by Mitch Dean.