Big Art Group Hybrid Body / Simultaneous Presence workshop in PDX

The last 3 days I have been participating in the Hybrid Body/Simultaneous Presence workshop as part of the Big Art Groups premier of “The People” Portland. The workshop was a 12 hour (3 days of 4 hours each) crash course in the basics of B.A.G’s repertory performance practice or “Real Time Film.”

22 (mostly) Portlanders got to spend some time exploring and training with some technology and concepts, time limited studio compositional exercises and some deeper expansion into the nuts and bolts of B.A.G’s work as a company while participating and adding to the work premiering this upcoming week.

I showed up Saturday thinking I would be in a room full of actors and dancers but was surprised to find a diversity of attendee’s. There were musicians and writers, video artists, performance artists and dancers, a theatre professor, and some broadcast TV production managers and video editors.

The first day we were introduced to Big Art Group as a company by Caden Mason (their creative director) and watched a selection of B.A.G pieces. I had heard of Big Art Group but I had never seen their work live… well, except for a very brief video montage they spliced together PICA’s TADA! fundraiser earlier this year. From that and from the info I got which alerted me to the work shop I knew they are staging their piece “The People” for Portland. They have done a rendition of The People in many different cities. For PDX (and maybe for other cities too) it is a re-telling of The Oresteia by Aeschylus. Well, it’s a re-telling in the most queer, tech-savy way you can think of, with green screen, live film/cinema, and featuring interviews from Portlanders and more importantly featuring the Portlanders who participated in the workshop. So, the first day we figured out that we were there to learn about and create “large group 4 channel compositions based on the themes of the project to be recorded and included in Big ART Group/PICA THE PEOPLE-Portland”.

I’m really excited to try out some of the basics I learned about channel switching during live video, possible video mixing (if I find the equipment). and some basic video puppetry.

The first day we learned how to locate ourselves in the frame, how to identify and map out positive and negative production space, how to zoom with just our bodies, and how to pan in and out of a shot. We also learned how to do some basic video puppeteering and pass an object across channels (it’s more complicated than you think).

On Sunday our second day we did some task based choreography and did some “training the body for simultaneous presence”. Which… in my opinion means adjusting to seeing yourself projected on a screen in front of you, learning to locate yourself in positive theatre space- where positive space is where the camera is capturing your image and getting over how weird you look as movie star. We explored multiple presence being able to achieve “overlapping performance goals through moment to moment acting” which to me meant learning and understanding that an audience will react to a projected image as if it were a predator, no really, I learned there is a part in our brain that keeps us captivated by large brilliant objects/images and we are constantly having to re-negotiate and break down that primal fight/flight urge while engaged with this work. Multiple presence is also getting acquainted with the immediacy and exaggeration of the camera. Any “break” in character is caught and enlarged, any smirk, smile, trip, stumble or guffaw threatens and most likely shatters the believability and seductiveness of the live film. And thinking of seductiveness… it’s funny because in a lot of B.A.G’s work they are showing a fair amount of the puppetry and behind-the-scenes machinations effectively breaking the spell in that way. But, it creates a commanding experience for the viewer to be seduced by the shiny shiny drama images being deftly executed while props and garbage and lights and projectors are quite visible… the audience is able to see how the glamour is created and sustained while in constant negotiation about the productions “realness”. Multiple presence is about “realness”, when you are staring at the camera/screen so intensely the audience is connecting with you… they are projecting their narratives on your image… they feel drawn in by the sadness, the ferver, the focus… when it’s often likely you are just trying to locate yourself in space and get ready to get passed the shoe-which-is-now-the-phone. So, realness and passing comes into question. In this model multiple bodies can represent one character. Give us 3 blond wigs and turn us around and now all of a sudden we are the same person split 3 ways. There is a suspension of disbelief and a negotiation of suspension and glamour that occurs when the impossible become objective… when one person is split on screen and another person creates the second half of that image on the next. Multiple presence is queer in the sense they create monsters through various hybrid bodies through split screen amalgamations, multi-racial and gendered bodies, and captivating the viewer in a flow of glamorized and hi-def images. How does the  intensity of our physicality of facial expression create a seductive second screen for the projection of narrative on the character?

Anyway. The second day we were instructed to bring in props and then we got into two groups. We were then instructed to decide on a two part tableaux to illustrate an story. We had 15 minutes to think about it, put it together and show it in the cameras. I can’t remember well, but I think I wasn’t sure what a tableaux ment in this context and we opted to create a lovely street scene where a few of us were disembodied arms waving hello to a cluster of folks who were wrapped up in their own business while one person answered their (shoe) phone. I didn’t think we could move around… which was the instruction so we were a very still and focused tableaux… which added to the intensity of the image. When we got feed back about our tableaux so many people were intrigued by who was on the phone, the shoe phone was SO INTERESTING, while all our complicated spacing and hybridization of bodies was more of a image to sustain the setting. Audience started to project and add narrative where there was only gesture and composition.

We got to do another series of still tableauxs. This time around a series of 5 and my group (which was 8 of us chosen cause we were similar in height) and we decided to do a very Mary and Christ. I was Mary who gave birth to a panda, which was adored by the wise man, given gifts, and over time grew up to become a bratty black and white humanoid. We had very little time and it was amazing to see how a group of people, strangers, all with varying levels of big personality were to come together and make a decision to execute tasks (like accomplishing overlapping performance goals through moment-to-moment acting) and sustain a narrative with technology and strategies we JUST LEARNED THAT DAY. It was amazing to see how synchronistic our creation of narrative was based on the props we brought. I mean… there is NO way I could have known my black and white wig would work perfectly with the two panda bears. But I DID know my collection of sparkly jumpsuits would come in handy. So, I got to be modern mother Mary giving live birth to baby-jesus panda.

Now, calling back to the audience creating their own narratives while we were just trying to drag our bodies into an interesting composition in the theatre space… they took it as the birth of the modern consumer… the lady-gaga-effect.

Really, throw a wig and a pair of sunglasses on ANYTHING and it’s GAGA, talk about the birth of the modern consumer!

The end of the second day we spent in a new group creating a series of MOVING tableaux’s with different group and I got lucky cause my group had spot lights and architecture tools. The second series we decided to achieve our goals as simply and dramatically as possible. We had to utilize the skills we learned previously: manual zoom, pan, video puppetry by passing an object across channels, and creating a hybrid body. We focused on executing these task as cleanly and intensely as possible and I think it was really successful. Our dark ‘prison’ scene had very little excess movement… yet carried a dramatic punch with our spot lights, slow zooming in and out, creepy disappearing jailers and a bloody rope. We treated it like a movement study and kept our focus on the camera. Less is more, less is more, less is more when you have good lighting.

Day 3. We came together as a whole group and Caden had the room set up to film and record us for the actual work. We had two scenes where we had to work as a group to set ourselves up into a tableaux based on counts and spatial memory all costumed as if we were occupy/greco roman warriors. and again as some weird beach party fight scene. I’m NOT GIVING ANYTHING AWAY… This is the part of the workshop where we “Subvert Disposability- constructing performance from socially discarded objects, ideas, and stories. Constructing sets from trash, examining the role of “Junk Fiction.”

I was really into the drag everyone brought out for this one. This is literally TRASH drag. Everyone scrambles to create an assemblage “look” by sharing, bartering, constructing and piecing together the props we brought over the course of the weekend. I lucked out when one woman gave me her very BAYWATCH swimsuit to wear and KEEP! And, if you come to the show this week at PICA’s venue Washington High School Thur/Fri/Sat for Big Art Groups THE PEOPLE Portland, you will get to see my sweet ass in that outfit wielding a wicked knife of democracy…or something…

Some things that really struck with me. Caden Mason’s statement “Life’s too short for only collaboration”

Close up camera shot…if you move a millimeter it reads like 2ft.

Queering is a total buzzword that has multiple meanings (multiple presence)

Saying something is “Problematic” is a great way to create space around a question you don’t want to answer directly without dismissing the questioner, making yourself seem smart, and letting the questioner in on the complexity of their own question.

–the best way to break that down is say “Yeah, it’s problematic, that’s why I asked!”

Thinking as a cyborg is queer because you jump between being multiple bodies, characters, narratives, and angles so rapidly you lose identity…reclaim identity, become identity.

Anyway. It was a lot of fun. I’m excited to bring back some of what I learned about teching a live video feed experience. I’m excited to get to know more about B.A.G’s process (so swift intense and on wire) and play dress up with 21 other artsy Portlanders.

ALSO. I will be performing with Big Art Group SATURDAY as part of the show THE PEOPLE Portland as one of the Portlanders they cast as Orestes.





About Kaj-anne Pepper
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