Monday, March 30, 2015

6 Questions: HEATHER CHRISTIAN


The fabulous (and OBIE Award-Winning) Heather Christian has composed original music for the new Witness Relocation show, DAILY LIFE EVERLASTING, which starts performances this Thursday, April 2, 2015.  Heather took time to answer our 6 QUESTIONS - have a look:

1. How did DAILY LIFE EVERLASTING come about?

Dan [Safer] and Witness Relocation have had the awesome opportunity to work on some of Chuck Mee’s new texts since (I think) 2008. They are always a treat because Chuck has really left a lot of stage action open for re-interpretation and dance. The “plot”s (at least in the way I read them— GRAIN OF SALT WARNING) are secondary to the overall experience of how the (BEAUTIFUL) text is contained. All in all, they are plays that are extremely conducive to a dance theater approach by an ensemble based company—that’s a long way of saying, it fits like a glove. 

“Daily Life Everlasting” is the third of Chuck’s plays that we’ve had the pleasure of getting our talons into, and it is the first that was workshopped by Dan and I outside the comforts of our own company and country. A first incarnation was workshopped and shown at the Norwegian Theater Academy on a group of insanely talented Scandanavian students in Norway over Thanksgiving, and it gave us the opportunity to really throw some spaghetti at the wall before bringing it to Witness Relocation —and gave ME the time and resources to write the score. 

Chuck had written it with Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” in mind, and Dan had choreographed it with David Bowie songs in mind. I had written the score trying to take both of these things into account and bridge the gap between them/ fill in the holes those two things left thematically, so the score became a patchwork quilt of different musical approaches. Some of it is very classically structured choral music performed irreverently up against Bowie songs taken out of their glam context. Of course there are some pop songs that I CLEARLY didn’t write that show up in their original versions because part of the exhilaration of being in a Witness Relocation show is still about blurring the performative line between experimental theater and rock concert or club dancing (it cannot be overstated how fun that is to perform) but I’ve attempted to whip it all into a heartfelt and thematically appropriate soup.

2.This is your fifth show with Witness Relocation, how is it the same or different from past shows?

Two things that stick out like sore thumbs: 

1. I’m not performing in it. 
2. I’ve composed the score. 

Listen, the nature of a career in downtown theater, as I’m sure you know, has a thousand different interesting turns and flips. When I started performing with Witness Relocation, I was mostly brought on board because I was a decent dancer. I wasn’t afraid to be thrown around, and, being the daughter of a go-go dancer, I have an uncanny natural proclivity to dancing my butt off to Gwen Stephani. A decade later, I’ve managed to really focus on musical composition, and now that I’ve tasted its delicious poison, it’s all I want to do. Dan is an incredible collaborator (for a myriad of reasons but here’s one of them) because he was able to watch this metamorphoses I was going through and support it emphatically within the context of Wtiness Relocation’s work. This is the first time I’m able to only exclusively stretch my legs as a composer/MD with Witness Relocation, and it’s delightful. 

There’s a lot of fresh blood on this show (as you will see!). It’s extremely exciting because it’s proof positive that we are a collective because of our aesthetic and approach, and not just because we are a set group of individuals that work on every show together. The tools of expression and methods for generation have remained consistent with our other work, and it’s really incredible to see these new fresh faces take hold of the vocabulary we’ve been establishing for years and run with it so expertly. 

 3. Your album, Cabinet is awesome! Is the way you approach songwriting different for theater and it is for your band?

Hey thanks!! YES.
Composing for theater, for me, is all about context. I’m never really trying to do the traditional musical theater thing where I’m housing narrative and/or plot points within a song. I am always consciously trying to find different ways music can function in a scene or a dance in ways that are not traditionally put on stage in the context of a “play". Because there is so much information in a theatrical work, I am consciously leaving holes in the songs so that an audience isn’t inundated with repeating emotional information. I’m trying in different places to either provide a counterpoint, a highlighter, or a bed for the play from scene to scene— so what that means logistically is that I’m writing a complimentary color, rather than writing the whole painting.

With a record, I’m writing the whole painting. There is no visual information, there is only sonic information, so miraculously, I have the benefit of a listeners undivided ear-centric attention and, therefore, have liberty to really get detailed with lyrics and arrangement. Each song is a whole play in the sonic dimension, so I can oversaturate and not have to worry about too much stuff going on. It’s supposed to be nuanced and complicated and be a thousand different things at once, it’s a whole play!

4. Who has inspired you?

I’m most directly inspired by the individuals around me in my immediate line of sight. I’m inspired by the downtown community I have grown up with artistically for the last 10 or so years and it’s inspiring to see so many of my playmates and collaborators identify exactly what kind of art-making-creature they are at their core and, over these years, manifest it.
People I know that have been the most inspirational include the whole of Witness Relocation past and present, my band The Arbornauts, the TEAM, my odd and unflinchingly supportive family, Mac Wellman, Taylor Mac, and every individual I have the pleasure of coaching how to sing my strange songs.

My inspiration list of people that I’ve never met (my unicorn list) covers a wide range of people in different media, and I’ve had only half of my coffee so this will be incomplete and possibly meandering, but at the current moment it includes: Mavis Staples, Brendan Kennelly, Carl Sagan, David Bowie, Marina Abramovic, Arvo Part, Stevie Wonder, Hildegard von Bingen, Mary Ellen Mark, Emmylou Harris, Oliver Sacks, Nick Cave, Margaret Atwood, Robert Wison, Michael Nyman, Tom Waits, Mozart. Or at least, these are the individuals whose work I have been spending the most time with as of recent. A mixed bag. 

 5. What was the last good book/film/theater piece you read/saw and what did you love about it? 

Two genius plays:

1. I saw Andrew Schneider’s “Youarenowhere” at the Invisible Dog as part of this year’s COIL Festival and was blown away. The way he is humanizing theatrical technology so that the whole show breathes with its central character— sound and light and space are expertly and exactly crafted to flinch alongside him, his changing synapses are scored and seem both impossible and totally natural— I have just never seen a show that went so deeply inside it’s character’s psyche, and as a result, went so deeply into mine. It was thrilling to witness.

2. “The Octoroon” at Theater for a New Audience in Brooklyn. There was so much to love about this play. The cast was incredible, Mimi Lien’s set was incredible, all technical aspects were, yup, incredible— but most importantly, at its core is a really important play. Structurally, it genre-bends without alienating the audience, it’s funny, its whippersnapper smart. Thematically-- it’s a play about race in a time when a play about race is so tricky in this country, so loaded on so many fronts. It manages to be a thousand things: scathing and heart-wrenching and inappropriate and reverent and hilarious. My heart ran the gamut. And after it was done, for weeks afterward, my brain played catch-up.

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?

I have had a long history with LaMama. You guys were the first establishment in New York City to really take me under your wing. I was just out of college trying to figure out what kind of artist I wanted to be, or what was even possible, and LaMama singled me out and cornered me and basically said “You got something, so how do we help you fish it out?”. Working at LaMama is a homecoming. A bitter sweet one, now that Ellen [Stewart]  has passed, but nonetheless a positive one. I can tell you exactly what the dressing room smells like in the Ellen Stewart Theater with the same detail that I can tell you what the kitchen in my childhood home smells like, if that’s any indicator as to how vivid and loved LaMama is in my memory. I’ll be there tomorrow to tech the show, and will force everyone to hug me.



La MaMa presents
DAILY 
LIFE 
EVERLASTING
A Witness Relocation production
Written by Chuck Mee
Directed & Choreographed by Dan Safer
Original Music by Heather Christian

April 02, 2015 - April 19, 2015


The Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10001

Tickets: $25 Adults; $20 Students/Seniors; ten tickets priced at $10 are available in advance for every show - first come, first served.

For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE