Attending this season at On the Boards is a bit like attending a contemporary performance version of a Shakespeare anthology. Come summer, we are all going to be better versed in his work. Hopefully you saw The Tempest Replica by Crystal Pite in October. Now, in the heart of winter, prepare to descend into works based on some of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies. First, She She Pop, takes us through a father/daughter led reflection on King Lear, and in late February, Annie Dorsen will present a digitized version of Hamlet. Here are some key points about She She Pop, who is performing on the main stage January 31st - February 3rd.
1. She She Pop is an experimental, female and often feminist German performance art collective started in 1998 by graduates of the Giessen Institute for Applied Theatre Studies. They belong to the same era of European performance art collectives as Gob Squad, who you hopefully saw perform Gob Squad’s Kitchen earlier this season. The two groups even share a few common members: Johanna Freiburg and Berit Stumpf (who was featured in Kitchen).
2. As a performance art collective, She She Pop builds their work together, maintaining that each member has equal responsibility for the piece presented and is of equal importance when writing their material. They don’t consider themselves actors; instead, they give themselves tasks to fulfill on stage. In past pieces, though not Testament, they have also used audience participation.
3. Testament is an exploration of Shakespeare’s King Lear. The piece is derived, (meaning She She Pop wrote it) but uses the text and story of King Lear as a starting point for exploring father/daughter/generational relationships—especially as aging causes the role of caregiver and cared-for to reverse. In a unique and brave gesture, She She Pop invited their fathers to take the stage alongside them as performers in Testament. Throughout the piece, they take King Lear and dissect it, exposing the implications it holds for them. (See my uber brief overview of King Lear and his daughter-drama in the bonus section below!)
4. As you are watching Testament, you might note that, although they call themselves a female company, one of She She Pop’s performers is decidedly male; his name is Sebastian Bark. Regardless, they remain a female collective. Knowing that She She Pop has a history of performances that often reflect on how women act, are observed, or judged, this male inclusion seems to subtly expand the boundaries of feminism and pleasantly blur gender divisions.
5. Lucky us, this is She She Pop’s first trip to North America! They’ve made a solid reputation for themselves in Europe, where Testament was awarded the Goethe Institute prize at the 2011 Impulse Festival, The ‘Wild-Card’ at the Favoriten Festival in 2010, and one of the ten best theater pieces of the year by Berliner Theatertreffen. They are only visiting three cities on their tour: Seattle, Minneapolis and Vancouver!
For those unfamiliar with or a little rusty on the story of King Lear, it begins with Lear set to divide his land amongst his three daughters based on how convincingly each of them tell him they love him. Two of his daughters, who are selfish and manipulative, lie and expound on their love emphatically, while the third daughter (who truly loves her father) simply says, “I love you as much as a daughter should love a father, no more no less.” This answer enrages King Lear and he splits his land between his two deceitful daughters. Things devolve rapidly from there—I will leave you to the cliff notes or, for an extra bonus, pick up a copy and get to reading!