Friday, November 15, 2013

Artist Interview: Kevin Augustine

The God Projekt

November 14th – November 24th | The Club at La MaMa | La MaMa Puppet Series 2013



Photo by Emily Boland | Interview by Sam Alper

Kevin Augustine on creation myths, Beckett and puppeteering with your feet.


What were some of the inspirations for The God Projekt?

It was inspired by a previous show of Lone Wolf Tribe, my company, Bride, which we did in 2008. That was a really big show, a large cast and five musicians onstage. We wanted to tour that piece but it was too large, given the economic climate. So I wanted - The characters and the content, I really wanted to explore further, so I wanted to make a minimal version of that show, based on that show. What I like to do is ask big questions, explore big ideas. So I wanted to look at the concept of creator. Who's the big creator? It's God. And what's the status of the creation? And just looking at the world and the headlines and saying "something's maybe not quite working. Was it always this way? What preceded historically judeo-christian values and monotheism." And then what started to develop was this backstory of god, this secret history that involved a love story. Because in terms of monotheism, he's alone. He's the only one. But I started to wonder, does he ever get lonely? Was there ever anyone else? And historically what preceded monotheism was polytheism. There were many gods. And they weren't just male, they were female, there was the Queen of Heaven. If you dig deep enough you can see, biblically, there was a union, there was a partnership between Yahweh and the Goddess, and so I was interested in that. What happened?  What was that break up like? 

In a way you locate a problem in monotheism - a problem of unity. Because we actually live interpersonally.

Ideally. But that's the thing. What are the consequences of a certain paradigm, where it's male-centered and it's patriarchal and there's a pecking order? There are consequences. I'm interested in dominator models versus partnership. Which feeds into my work as a puppeteer as well, because most folks, in terms of talking about puppetry, they always say manipulate. "Manipulate the puppet." And that to me presupposes a hierarchy. Versus a partnership - that's a dance. There's give and take. And that's how I see interaction with puppets; they're partners.

What's the most challenging aspect of making The God Projekt?

The most challenging aspect has become the amount of technical pieces that there are. In writing I didn't see - I'd have other people read it and give feedback and they'd say "wow this is really big" and I would say "what? No come on. It's just…" Like for instance, writing something like, 'a flower grows and the puppet smiles.' It's just a few words. But to make that happen technically, it's motors and… It branched out beyond the pure solo show that I initially imagined. So technical stuff... as well as physical stuff. Just staying in shape in order to physically do what needs to be done. Puppeteering with my feet and some of that. 

Your costume - What you wear for the show is very involved. What led you to present the God character that way?

Well, there are so many tragedies, again and again. And people are always asking, this mantra is like, "where's God? Where is he? Is he here?" And so I started to think, we have someone who's supposed to be in total control and maybe they're not. Why wouldn't they be? The powers are ebbing, he's older now, he's got arthritis, his memory is fading. Somebody who had great power but they're in decline. So I just thought, it's an old man, there's age and there's decrepitude. And I wanted to explore that tension, when you have someone who can't quite get the job done, but is still expected to be the number one problem solver. 

You've mentioned Krapp's Last Tape -

Yeah. That is always an inspiration, sure. Again the solo aspect and the whole thing about memory. One man's endeavor, late at night, alone, isolated, very minimal. Going through his own personal minimal odyssey to discover his past and his present and where he's going from here. Yeah that was always a jumping off point for me.

You're a part of the "Puppet Series." Is there any way you'd like to speak to that? to puppetry in general?

I don't get to see other stuff as much as I like. The work that I do takes too much time, all my time. So I can't always speak validly about 'the puppet scene.' I see what I do, or strive to do, as theatre. I don't see it exclusively as puppets. There's always that hurdle, describing what I do or what most puppet people do. When you say puppets, you don't know what people are going to assume. But the biggest challenge that I see personally… It's a good and a bad that puppetry in this city and this country is moving into the mainstream, or at least getting acknowledged in broader venues. The downside of that is the same puppeteers that I would hire to be in my shows, independent low budget stuff, are now getting used to bigger paychecks. That's tricky. 

I brought up Krapp's Last Tape. Are there other artists or works that you've been thinking about as you work on The God Projekt?

Well the things that mostly inspire me are music and history, anthropology. Stories that are kind of beneath the headlines. The stories that, if you do a little digging and research, it's like "oh I didn't know that." The whole initial belief of humans, in terms of divinity, was that it was first considered female. They worshipped the creative process, the magic of a woman being able to give birth and, understandably early on, they didn't understand the sex connection. That the man had anything to do with that process. So things like that. Just - how we got started. And music a lot, and drawing. I draw a lot.

What's the experience of working at La MaMa like? Does it feel different from working at other places?

(laughs) That's definitely a very loaded question.

It feels very loaded, I know, coming from, like, La MaMa -

And sitting in La MaMa. Yeah.

But anything that makes this place unique. Good or bad.

Well it's always been a dream of mine to perform at La MaMa. To get the chance to be part of the tradition of the work that's been presented here. It's different in that when you say "I'm performing at La MaMa" people say, "Oh, ok, yeah" and that cache is really nice. And I imagine if the show goes on, we'll always have this moment in time, to say this is where it originated. You know, Downtown, New York. Because the thing that's different for me is that being here reminds me of when I got started in the City. There have been so many changes. And it feels like La MaMa is still - It's the place it has been, but it's moving forward. You can count on it for what it is and what it represents and the kind of work it supports. So I'm glad to fit in here. It feels good.