At Xfest 2013, returning audiences and new audience members will have the opportunity to engage in the magical, whimsical and profound storytelling of WONDERHEADS, the first performers to be warmly welcomed back to Xfest.
Based in Portland, Ore., WONDERHEADS, led and created by performers Kate Braidwood Phoenix and Andrew Phoenix, presented Grim and Fischer last summer. This production enchanted audiences with a humorous but touching story about an elderly woman determined to cheat death.
This year, WONDERHEADS will be presenting Loon at the Metcalf Theater on May 31. Recommended for ages 10 and up, Loon will captivate audiences with charming characterizations, lighthearted humor and an overall heartwarming story.
"Audiences can expect a very sweet, strange and often funny love story, in a style of theatre they've likely never seen before," Kate said.
That style of theatre is full-face mask, a style that Kate and Andrew have fully embraced since studying the technique at Dell'Arte International, where they both earned their M.F.A. in e nsemble-based p hysical t heatre.
"We both love comedy, and we were particularly excited by the style of mask at Dell'Arte," Kate said. "After three years of learning how to create work from the ground up, we decided we'd best put our skills to the test."
WONDERHEADS was established in 2009 with the creation of Grim and Fischer. Both Kate and Andrew perform and write for WONDERHEADS, and Kate additionally designs the masks, which she particularly enjoys.
"As a mask maker, I love the challenge of creating not only a sculpture, but a sculpture that must have the ability to come to life with work of the actor," said Kate.
Bringing characters to life is indeed one of WONDERHEADS' areas of expertise as well as one of both Kate and Andrew's favorite aspects of their career, even though performing in full-face mask is challenging.
"It is a constant challenge to express emotion and thought and sustain a driving narrative while wearing a mask that neither changes nor speaks," said Andrew. "However, I would say that is also one of the most appealing aspects of this work."
Kate and Andrew also like performing in full-face mask because they see it as an opportunity to experience being characters so different than themselves. In Grim and Fischer, Kate played the elderly "Fischer " while Andrew performed as "Grim," a character similar to the traditional grim reaper. In Loon, Kate will be performing as the elderly man in the lead role.
"Full-face mask allows the performer the ability to completely transform," said Andrew. "There is something quite liberating in playing completely against type."
Kate and Andrew have brought much attention to their unique theatre style. WONDERHEADS' productions have been hailed as "pure magic" and "fantastic, in every sense of the word" by their reviewers, and the company has recently been selected as winners of the national Scion Motivate contest.
The Scion Motivate contest recognizes up-and-coming businesses with great potential. Winners of the contest receive a Scion car, a $10,000 cash prize and a business mentorship to help their businesses expand and grow.
"Our little company has been working so hard since we came together in 2009, and we haven't really come up for air in those four years," said Kate. "To look up and find that we've been recognized on this national level is both startling and exhilarating."
With the prize money, new car and mentorship, Kate and Andrew plan to travel efficiently and comfortably to more venues, booking more conferences and ultimately expanding their theatre company.
With the gained funds and recognition, WONDERHEADS will have the opportunity t o continue doing what they do best: to innovate, create and keep exploring experimental theatre.
"We are inspired by the possibility in trying something new and out of the ordinary," said Andrew. "We want to keep pushing the boundaries of what is accepted theatrical performance, without alienating our audience, to provide challenge and comfort in the same unique package."
To find out more about WONDERHEADS, visit wonderheads.com.
Xfest 2013 will feature a variety of dance and theatre performances this summer performed by companies that embrace the innovation of experimental theatre. Two of these companies will be welcomed to the SIUE campus to share the critical buzz they have earned in the Windy City: Chicago Dance Crash and The Seldoms.
Crash will be presenting a sampling of its acclaimed pieces in Selected Works on May 30 in the Metcalf Theater, and The Seldoms will present Exit Disclaimer: Science and Fiction Ahead, a production that addresses the current climate change debate, on June 1, also in the Metcalf Theater.
Both Chicago-based companies are led by two talented, passionate choreographers who are excited to bring their work to Xfest 2013 to share with the SIUE, Metro East and St. Louis communities: Jessica Deahr and Carrie Hanson.
Deahr began working with Chicago Dance Crash in 2007, when she joined the company as a guest artist. She became a member of the company in 2009 and received her first opportunity to choreograph for the company in 2010. Her first show as choreographer was Gotham City, which proved to be immensely successful with a sold-out, six-weekend run at the Storefront Theater.
Since then, Deahr was named artistic director and continues to choreograph popular and compelling dance performances. She has also worked with many different dancers from varied backgrounds and skill sets at Crash, as the company strives to bring varied talent, and thus unique productions, to its stage.
"Crash is unique in that we draw from so many dance disciplines," said Deahr. "We cover everything from ballet to breakdance, jazz and hip hop to acro. Sometimes we feature one specific style, sometimes we fuse several of them together. In order to do so, our company dancers specialize in one area of dance but are capable of performing all styles, which gives us such a huge canvas to create with. "
Hanson, artistic director of The Seldoms, co-founded the company with a group of artists in 2001. Since its founding, The Seldoms has presented productions that tackle diverse social and economic issues that often take place in unique settings, like a truck garage, gallery spaces and an outdoor pool. Through dance, Hanson believes that the company has enabled her to express her voice, which has evolved and changed over the 10 plus years the company has been in existence.
"Dance is a great platform for me to think about, research and investigate larger concerns that I have," Hanson said. "That has defined the shift in my work lately around more issue-based work. For awhile, it was site-specific work and that was the fascination for me. Now, some of my interest is in environmentalism and a general kind of interest in notions of wealth, definitions of wealth and how we decide to share it with one another."
Both Deahr and Hanson feel that the principles of experimental theatre bring uniqueness, creativity and poignancy to their work. They draw on these principles to keep their material fresh and to bring new ideas and awareness to audiences.
For Deahr, experimental theatre is about going beyond the conventional and embracing variety within dance.
"Compared to the typical contemporary dance company, Crash definitely puts a lot of work and effort into being unique, eclectic and cutting edge," said Deahr. "We always want to push the boundaries of what the audience expects see from us within the dance disciplines we cover."
To Hanson, experimental theatre within the dance discipline is about developing new forms of expression.
"One of the things that has always interested me is movement invention," said Hanson. "To not work out of vocabulary that is traditional or familiar or conventional. I just like to disrupt the lines of the body, strip away some identifiable things."
The Department of Theatre and Dance is proud to announce its fourth annual Xfest, a celebration of experimental theatre. This season will feature an array of performances from May 29 to June 1, 2013.
Xfest began in summer 2009 and has been managed by Professor Peter Cocuzza and Associate Professor Chuck Harper from the Department of Theatre and Dance since its creation. The festival serves as a way to celebrate innovative theatre, introduce the community to new performance art forms, and foster SIUE's presence as a premier school for theatre and dance.
"Since the inception of Xfest, we have aspired to both introduce alternative theatre productions to the campus and the community and to grow as a hub for artists to discuss and create fresh, unique work," said Cocuzza. "Xfest contributes to our growth as a department at the University, as individual viewers of art, and as artists striving to be creative and authentic."
This year's five performers will present Xfest audiences with a variety of delightfully unique shows, ranging from a love story between a man and the moon to a dance-based production about climate change.
The festival will kick off with Flight from Pacific Performance Projects East, a production dually presented as part of the Arts & Issues series. Following Flight will be Selected Works from Chicago Dance Crash; Loon from Portland, Ore.-based Wonderheads; "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind" from SIUE student-, faculty- and alumni-led Theatre 310b; and Exit Disclaimer: Science and Fiction Ahead from Chicago-based dance company The Seldoms.
"We are thrilled to welcome these exceptional performers to SIUE," said Harper. "Introducing the community and our campus to different spheres of experimental theatre has always been our prime goal for Xfest, and these performers will entertain, inspire and provide a fresh perspective on the performing arts."
Some companies in this year's lineup will additionally be offering master classes. Sponsored by the University Dance Organization (UDO), these classes will provide members of the SIUE, Metro East and St. Louis communities an opportunity to learn dance skills from top performers.
Below is the schedule for Xfest 2013's performances. More information on the performers, ticket prices and how to contribute to Xfest can be found at siue.edu/xfest.
Pacific Performance Projects east
Wednesday, May 29, 7:30 p.m.
Chicago Dance Crash
Thursday, May 30, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 31, 7:30 p.m.
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind
Saturday, June 1, Time and Location TBA
Exit Disclaimer: Science and Fiction Ahead
Saturday, June 1, 7:30 p.m.