Interact Theater and Kevin Kling Travel Down Under for Exciting Collaboration
Nationally-acclaimed American actor/playwright/storyteller Kevin Kling is traveling this February with artists from Interact Center to premier their latest work, “Northern Lights Southern Cross: Tales from the Other Side of the World.” The group, including Jeanne Calvit, Artistic Director of Interact Center, two of Interact’s performing artists and Al Baker, Native drummer and medicine man, will perform at the Bundaleer Festival in South Australia and at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. They will perform in collaboration with the Tutti Ensemble, a theater company focusing on original music theater that includes artists with and without disabilities, led by composer/music director Pat Rix.
The idea for the new work emerged when Rix was in Minnesota visiting Interact. She and Calvit took a day trip, and while gazing out at the St Croix River and the lush Minnesota landscape, they were struck by the stark differences in the environments of their two homes. And yet there were many similarities, such as the fact that both countries were founded by pioneers who dominated and nearly destroyed indigenous populations. When Calvit brought Kling into the mix, the inspiration to create this epic new work took root, and the cross-cultural collaboration began.
Northern Lights/Southern Cross sprang from their shared vision to create compelling theater that challenges society’s view of persons with disabilities. The result—a rich mix of original solo and choral music, storytelling, poetry, scripted work, shadow puppetry and projected imagery—reaches across cultures to explore the fear of “other,” as well as the shared experiences that shape the lives of artists with disabilities—especially those from minority cultures. Working with disabled artists from Native American, African American, European and Aboriginal communities, Northern Lights/Southern Cross gives depth and insight to issues of cultural difference.
The Northern Lights portion of this story began to take shape in January of 2006, when ten artists from the Tutti Ensemble came to Minnesota to experience winter for the first time. Twenty artists from Interact and Tutti traveled to the northern wilderness, facilitated by Wilderness Inquiry of Minneapolis, and were immersed in experiences that even most Minnesotans have never had: dogsledding, snowshoeing, taking a sauna and jumping through a hole in the ice of a frozen lake.
In a long weekend with Ojibwe leaders at Lac Courte Oreilles (la cout o ray) reservation in Wisconsin, the group took part in a drum ceremony, attended a pow-wow, met with medicine men and went ice fishing. Ideas started brewing when the group heard stories of Winne-boujou, the Great Spirit, who was sent to the other side of the world to set things right. “Right away,” said Calvit, “we recognized the timelessness of our instinct to collaborate, to bring artists together from the southern and northern hemispheres to look at differences, and try to set things into perspective.
“We also learned about heyokes, the trickster spirits, contraries who do everything backwards. These spirits have deep resonance in the world of the disabled—they are wrong, contrary, annoying; they elicit anger—or laughter—and they reflect our prejudices back at us. They aren’t ‘normal,’ and they force us to reach into our own humanity, or know when we are ignoring it. They are the sacred, honored spirit of ‘otherness.’”
In March of 2006, Kling and one of Interact’s Native American artists, Sindibad, traveled to Australia to develop the Southern Cross portion of this collaboration. They went to the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, an area important to Aboriginal culture and the tribal region of the Adnaja-mathana people, and participated in ritual ceremonies. In contrast to Minnesota, this part of Australia is the most arid on the continent.
In the performance, the artists explore a variety of new images as they bring these ideas to life on stage. In one scene, disabled/heyoke spirits wander into life, geared up with backpacks and curiosity. In another scene, a spirit goes to sleep in one hemisphere and wakes up in the other, looking up at the sky and realizing that the sky is different. The sky is important in both Australian and Native American cultures—the Great Spirit comes from the sky. The heyokes come from the Thunderbird, who lives in the sky.
A deep, resonant connection was made at Lac Courte Oreilles when Aboriginal artist Steve Goldman played his dijereedoo. As the voice of the Outback and the voice of the drum held time in sacred suspension, another key piece of the artistic vision fell into place. Tutti Ensemble’s musicians will bring in the voice of the Earth – a distinct character in the work – by representing through sung and spoken word the voices of trees, rocks, fire and wind – sounds with its source in the natural world.
The work on Northern Lights is now progressing on two continents, and information is being shared thanks to e-mail and long distance phone calls. In February, Interact will travel to Adelaide for four weeks of rehearsal before the opening, performed in the outdoor festival in the Bundaleer Forest beneath the stars of the Southern Cross.
Calvit believes this will be a groundbreaking piece of work for Interact: “I believe this work, in both content and scope, will be a first on any stage in Minnesota. It will have a strong educational value, will be multidisciplinary in nature and will push the boundaries of the art form. It will include artists from the disability and native communities of both countries in work that explores music and mythology in unexpected ways.”
Postcript: This project is fully funded except for three airline tickets costing $5300. If readers would like to make a tax-deductable donation to make this project happen, they should call Jeanne Calvit at 612-339-5145.