Sleeping Weazel presented “a convening in performance” in honor of Robbie McCauley’s life and work on last month, an event coordinated in collaboration with the Emerson College Performing Arts Department and Office of the Arts. The convening drew together a distinguished circle of performers, scholars, writers, and community activists who’ve been influenced, transformed, and/or mentored by Robbie’s “fearless, groundbreaking theatre and performance.” Adara Meyers, Managing Director of Sleeping Weazel and current MFAIA student enrolled in the Performance Creation concentration, wrote to us about her role in the event.
Could we begin with a reflection on Sleeping Weazel and how it has grown and changed since you and Charlotte first launched it?
Sleeping Weazel’s beginning actually dates back to 1998, when Charlotte (Artistic Director) and her husband, filmmaker David Hopkins, launched the company in Bristol, UK, to produce live and audio theatre and a multi-genre experimental web magazine. The company paused in 2004 when David passed away, and in 2011, Charlotte invited me and two other playwrights to re-launch the company in Boston. Our “coming out” performance-party in Boston was held on a chilly evening in January 2012 in a tiny black box theatre in the South End, and since that time, Charlotte and I have developed the company into an incubator and celebrator of innovative, socially and politically progressive art existing outside the commercial mainstream while still being in dialogue with it. We’ve produced fourteen shows at venues such as ArtsEmerson, Boston Center for the Arts, and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, and we are always advancing and challenging our mission to “make different possible” through high aesthetics and surprise.
Could you discuss the planning process for the event, Robbie’s idea of designing it around the story circle?
We originally conceived of the event as a symposium, but as more and more of Robbie’s solo performer and scholar colleagues accepted our invitation to participate, we realized that a celebration of Robbie’s life and work would be more authentic and memorable as a convening that shifted from conversation to performance to contemplation and back again. For decades, Robbie has used the story circle as a conduit for artmaking, educating, and organizing. It is based in creating a relaxed, guided atmosphere for talking about (and deeply listening to) complicated matters with others in a group. The process is based upon practices from several cultures—particularly indigenous peoples of this country who use the talking stick to cue conversation. Based on Robbie’s ideas for panel topics (such as “The Question of Beauty” and “Roxbury Repertory Theater: Color Conscious Casting, Investigating the Classics & Questioning Our Assumptions”), the story circle model made perfect sense as a touchstone for these conversations, which featured artists, scholars, and Boston-area social justice activists.
How did this event support and/or influence your MFAIA work? How as the performance creation concentration supported this work?
During one conversation, performance artist Daniel Alexander Jones, quoting Robbie, declared, “Seek not to resolve your contradictions, but rather to house them,” and it was in that moment I gained a new understanding of how my engagement with the MFAIA—a program that not only encourages but demands that students question their own practice, ethics, and aesthetics—is a bedrock for a lifelong, world-engaged exploration of artistic and intellectual risk, pleasure, and mystery. The newly-formed performance creation concentration gave me new perspective as I witnessed the various conversations unfold during the event: dynamic questioning of autonomy, beauty, race, and history were truly emboldening interventions that caused both the panelists themselves and the audiences to reflect and respond in unexpected ways.
The event brought together such creative people whose careers have been mutually supportive; it felt like a reunion and synergy that affirmed the story of a movement, or intersections of movements in black experimental theater and queer performance.
How do you see the role of Sleeping Weazel in the context of contemporary theater? And coalescing artists towards future movements/ intersectionalities?
From the start, Charlotte and I have committed to Sleeping Weazel being a platform for experimental art that joins and crosses generations, cultures, and genres, which is why many of our shows are curated in such a way that we present several works as one evening of theatre/performance. Sleeping Weazel is also expressly committed to crossing and confounding the boundaries between “mainstream” and “avant-garde,” and with this in mind, I think of Robbie McCauley ‘n Company as being, in a sense, an encapsulation of the kind of dialogic, politically progressive, and artistically adventurous work we make and promote. The company’s aesthetic is rooted in early 20th century avant-garde movements, and from this basis, we fundamentally believe that when artists take the means of production—and conversation—into their own hands, the most transformative paths emerge for engaging an ethos of reciprocity, critical mass, and creative approaches to political change. Our goal is to normalize this way of presenting art and artists to a broad audience, and thus to intervene on the Capitalist model of presenting theatre as hollow entertainment.
What high points would you like to shine light on for a wider audience?
We are incredibly grateful that Emerson College and HowlRound recorded and archived every conversation and performance that took place. They’re free and available to view here.