La MaMa Blogs: 6 QUESTIONS: Alice Tolan-Mee

Monday, May 19, 2014

6 QUESTIONS: Alice Tolan-Mee

Photo by Omar Amador

Alice Tolan-Mee is a co-composer and performer for Theodora Skipitares' THE CHAIRS, a response to Eugene Ionesco's play of same name, running May 22th - June 8th in the Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa. Here, she answers our six questions.

1. What is it like to write music for Theodora Skipitares?
I'm collaborating with Sxip Shirey who is abroad, he's on tour with a circus, so we're collaborating over Skype and e-mail. He's worked with Theodora a lot before, so whenever I'm confused, or can't figure out where to go with something, I ask him and he gives me guidance.

Working with Theodora specifically is great. She has a really clear idea of the feeling she wants out of the music, which is really helpful. It's helpful to work with someone who knows what they want from you. At the same time, she gives me free rein and lets me try different things. Most of the music is coming out of improvisation and her saying 'oh, that thing you did at that moment - do that more.' So, a lot of it is coming out guided improv.

2. This production is inspired by Ionesco's The Chairs, but does not follow that text exactly. How has the piece developed away from that starting point?
It still comes out of the original inspiration of Ionesco's The Chairs. In that play there are guests coming but there aren't enough chairs. In this play guests come, but each guest is a chair. And each chair gives a political speech. It's like the Old Woman is inviting these people into her home as a summit. It was always like that, in earlier versions of this production, but the text for the Old Woman has changed a lot. It's been heavily influenced by Judith Malina, who plays her, and Judith's ideas, her preferences with the text and her performance... and her ideas about Ionesco. She's not the biggest fan. Also, now Gertrude Stein is one of the 'star' chairs and one of the most vocal. Ionesco is a chair now. So those two have had quite an influence on the emotional structure and the message.

3. As a younger artist, what is it like for you to be around someone like Judith Malina? What do you see in her that interests or affects you?
She is incredibly fierce and forceful. Seeing that in her, it makes sense to me that she's had the career she's had, and that she is as strong of a presence in the theatre scene as she is. And that she is a female artist... I affects me to see a woman who comes into the room and is instantly running it. But at the same time, she always gives over to Theodora and she just wants to serve the piece. Always. So it's like this... fierce service.

I've read some of her diaries from '47, when she was my age. They're published. She's an avid diary keeper and a lot of them have been published. So, back in June, I was reading her diaries and seeing her in rehearsals, and that got to be a little bit much. I thought 'maybe I should wait to read anymore of this'. It felt like a little too much of a personal experience to be having without her involved in it. But... it's really cool being around her. She's badass. She's really badass.

4. You first worked with Theodora as a singer. How is it different to collaborate with her as a composer versus as a performer?
When I performed for her in Prometheus, maybe two years ago, I was mostly working with Sxip. He was composing that, and we were in rehearsals with Theodora but our direct contact was more with Sxip. So this is the first time I feel like I'm intimately collaborating with Theodora herself.

Also, I'm new at composing. Two years ago, when I did that piece, I had never composed. Over the past couple of years I've gone from never imagining that I would write anything, to writing music for Theodora. So just being a composer and trying to bring her ideas into a musical world is new for me. At the same time, it's similar work because I am still working with Sxip from afar and that grounds me. That's like a safety net.

5. What kind of music have you been listening to, or has been influencing you, lately?
That's a funny questions because the band that I'm in, Anawan, is just finishing recording an album, so that's mostly what I've been listening to because we're mixing it. It's five vocals and I play electric bass and there's a Wurlitzer keyboard and a nylon string guitar and electronics.

But I've also been listening to...Hmm... Beyonce's new album... Animal Collective. I've been listening to them a lot because composing on the computer is new for me and Animal Collective is helpful to listen to for that. Also friends' bands, electronic musicians, I've been listening to a lot. Like Andrew Ryder and JX Randall. They're people who've done this a lot and I'm drawing on them for help. I'm playing cello in this and singing a little bit, but most of what I'm doing is creating music in Logic with synthetic instruments. So I've been listening to music that helps me figure out how you infuse deep emotion into music made that way.

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?
I was a La MaMa kid. So it's totally crazy now being a La MaMa adult. I grew up going to La MaMa when I don't think anyone my age was going to La MaMa. I was probably three the first time I went with my dad. Working here and coming here every day feels very much like there is continuity in my life. Also, La MaMa feels like the New York I always wished still existed. I wish this was possible, and it is here, somehow. To just do what you believe in and have that be enough to draw an audience and get your work up.

La MaMa presents 

The Chairs

Conceived and Directed by Theodora Skipitares

May 22 – June 8, 2014 
Thursday - Saturday @ 7:30pm / Sunday @ 2:30pm

The Ellen Stewart Theatre @ La MaMa
66 East 4th Street
(between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003

Tickets: $25 Adults - $20 Student/Senior; ten tickets priced at $10 are available, in advance, for every performance via web, phone or box office as part of La MaMa's 10@$10 ticketing initiative. 10@$10 tickets not available day of show. 

For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE

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