Thursday, January 8, 2015

6 QUESTIONS: INCOMING! - Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble (Tei Blow & Sean McElroy)

Tei Blow (left) & Sean McElroy (right) | photo by Maria Baranova

Tei Blow and Sean McElroy together form The Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble. They will present THE ART OF LUV (PART I), as part of the Under the Radar Festival's INCOMING! Series, in the Club at La MaMa, January 9: 4pm and 8:30pm, 2015. 

We asked Tei and Sean about the origins of ROKE, collaboration as mythical beast creation and how to define compassion.

1. What does performing as a 'musical priesthood' mean to you?

Tei: For me the word priesthood means the elder authority charged with disseminating information and gathering communities together for rituals. Throughout history such groups have struggled to gain the attention of their audience, so we have created one that uses our own version of popular entertainment to do what has already been done before.

Sean: Our intention is not to make a "show" but to create a ritual machinery for exploring ourselves and the universe. This is what makes it a "priesthood" rather than, say, a "theater company". It is a "musical priesthood" because we are not a sad mumbling priesthood but a priesthood of joy and delight.

2. Does the The Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble have an origin story? How did you arrive at your aesthetic?

Tei: We arrived at what ROKE is now by looking at the visual esthetics of ancient societies and placing contemporary texts that we found interesting into that world to give them importance.

Sean: This is from our bio --

ROKE was formed when Brown hosted Oberlin for the 2001 Liberal Arts Spring Fling. They went on to cement their partnership a year later when they both enrolled in the low-residency Masters program in Women’s Studies at Stanford-Hofstra-University of Phoenix-Online. All of their performance work is a development of their collaborative thesis project, Isis As-Is: Du Darwinisme Féminin au Post-Humanisme. ROKE was awarded Best Original Song Not Written by Thoth in 2561 by the Horus Council, and nominated for Best Underwater Spectacle in 2057 for their performance He is I, A Man’s Story, which premiered at the annual Opening of the Mouth Ceremony at the Temple of Khonsu in Thebes.

3. THE ART OF LUV (Part I) takes on the crimes of Elliot Rodger, who went on a killing spree in 2014 motivated by a lack of success with women. Do his actions speak to a larger wound in society and, if so, are they symptom, cause, or both? How can this wound be treated in performance?

Tei: For me, I think we are trying to talk about a problem by suggesting (through our performance and the way it is constructed) a possible world of influences and information that cause a person to feel Unloved and stifled by their inability to engage with Love and the world of Loving Acts.
His actions are the result of too many things for ROKE to know or illustrate fully and, like the ritual that depicts them in this piece, we can only suggest the process that lead to him killing those people.

One of the sources we used in the show sums it up better than we can (although it appears in fragments in the piece). It is a section of a group meditation in compassion held in Massachusetts in the 1990s--

"Every one of us has committed the most loving of acts and every one of us has committed the most horrific of deeds."

In a sense, it means we are foolish to judge someone else's actions and say "I could never do that," because it implies that you would behave differently if your life had the same challenges. It implies moral superiority gleaned from a picture of a person painted by mass media. We can only posit that, as a society, we have the option to look upon one who has committed atrocities with compassion. What difference would it make to our own understanding of ourselves, or our world, if we did that instead of dismissing them as crazy, as we usually do.

Sean: I think one of the fundamental ideas of this piece is that Elliot Rodger's whole episode was a violent instantiation of certain notions (about women, about manhood, about the Self) that are in free circulation. Usually these notions are more subtly coded; they float around below the surface of movies, conversations, internet posts, and they attach to other expressions that aren't necessarily violent. In the mind of Elliot Rodger these notions were totally pure, uncut, unbalanced.
One of the effects of using words like crazy and evil to describe people is that we release ourselves from the responsibility of looking into that person to see if there's anything we recognize in ourselves. In other words, we release ourselves from the responsibility of compassion.

4. Which artists in the UTR festival are you most excited to see -or- Can you tell us about a recent performance you saw that inspired you creatively?

Tei: Everyone in INCOMING is awesome and their work is all so varied and fascinating. I only have seen Lucy Alibar and Daniel Koren's work specifically and love what they've been up to, but you can't go wrong with anyone in our group. I'm very excited to see Ike Ufomadu. He is an absolutely riveting speaker. I know everyone will be at Reggie Watts so I won't even try to get in, but I've always been a big fan, and if anyone's going to give Marina Abramović a snarky critique/tribute/snarky tribute worth listening to, it will be him.

5. As collaborators, how do you challenge each other artistically and what qualities do you bring out in each other?

Tei: We have pretty different skills and interests outside of the common goals of ROKE, so it's easy to decide who is going to do what. We both think the other person is a really badass artist so we don't spend time worrying about trusting the other person's instincts or esthetics. That also allows us to work on something even if one of us doesn't think it's a good idea. That kind of trust allows the "good" threads of the work to emerge, and then we can follow them to figure out what kind of piece we are going to make. In a sense, collaboration in this way is as easy as it is difficult, because it means you really have to show up with the goods. You are bringing exactly half of the thing to life.

Sean: Every collaborative team seems to have its own working model. Ours is like that mythical beast that has four arms and two heads, but one heart.

(Interview by Sam Alper)
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La MaMa presents:

INCOMING! - The Royal Osiris Karaoke Ensemble: THE ART OF LUV (PART I)

January 9, 2015 | 4pm & 8:30pm


Co-presented by Under the Radar Festival and La MaMa

The Club @ La MaMa
74a East 4th Street
(Between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
Tickets: $18 Adults; $13 Students/Seniors.

For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE