Coming at Theatre Sideways: The Innovative Art of Sherwood Award Winner Miwa Matreyek
Experimental animation, abstract shadow dancing, trippy science—is it theatre? If it’s the work of animator and performer Miwa Matreyek, the answer is yes. Whether through her solo work or with L.A.-based theatre company Cloud Eye Control, Matreyek is breaking artistic boundaries. Which is exactly why she is this year’s Richard E. Sherwood Award recipient.
Richard E. Sherwood was a longtime Center Theatre Group board member with a special appreciation for the energy and talent of emerging artists. The $10,000 Sherwood Award was established in 1996 in his memory to nurture innovative, adventurous Los Angeles theatre artists. Matreyek’s multimedia work displays her innovation and sense of adventure. On stage, she uses both moving images and her own body to transport theatregoers from the reaches of space to the deep sea, and beyond. “I really enjoy the illusion and transformation aspects allowed by compositing animation and live performance,” said Matreyek.
This surreal aesthetic allows Matreyek to explore themes such as the relationship between technology and human existence with ease. “Human nature and nature have a strange relationship,” said Matreyek. “It has created this interesting and strange landscape inside of our lives; human nature wants to control, sanitize, shut out nature, while at the same time we are organic beings who ultimately yearn for nature and can’t live without it.” She explores this landscape in fantastical performances such as Myth and Infrastructure, which premiered at TED Global 2010 in Oxford, England. Matreyek projects her animation on a screen, and simultaneously steps behind the screen as a shadow, becoming a part of the fantastical worlds of the video in order to create and alter whole worlds.
Matreyek enjoys the challenge of working to integrate animation and performance. “Creating a visual composition live is interesting in terms of problem solving,” she said. “I love setting up physical and visual puzzles. It’s exciting to figure it out!” Often, that problem solving is solitary, full of long hours of creating animations and testing how they combine with her body movement. “I have a projection screen set up in my living room so that I can immediately play with simple animations, and from there I polish, refine, and expand on my discoveries,” she said.
That solo work is offset by collaborative work with Cloud Eye Control, which Matreyek founded with singer-songwriter Anna Oxygen and experimental theatre artist Chi-wang Yang. Creating with artists from different backgrounds “pushes me outside of my comfort zone,” said Matreyek. This mingling of artists from different disciplines mirrors the mixing of artistic practices in Matreyek’s own work, and perhaps explains why her solo and collaborative work “feed into each other,” as she put it.
Matreyek’s journey to theatre is filled with similarly disparate-seeming influences. “I came into theatre sideways from animation. Theatre surprised me,” she said. Originally a physics major, she switched to art, exploring painting, photo, collage, and eventually music. Putting her collages to music ultimately led her to animation, and the realization that “the music gave my art the quality of time and movement.” As an MFA candidate studying animation at Cal Arts, she began collaborating with theatre artists, who “opened my eyes to telling layered stories combining a sense of ‘liveness’ with animation,” she said. Her passion for science has not dimmed, however, and her work frequently explores “the mechanics of the body and the universe—what I would call the visceral experience of physics,” she added.
Winning the Sherwood is already leading Matreyek down new paths. While accepting the honor at the Ovation Awards at the Ahmanson Theatre, she realized for the first time “the vastness of the L.A. theatre landscape,” she said. And while she is already a part of that landscape—including through previous collaborations with Center Theatre Group, like working as an animation designer and video design consultant for Kirk Douglas Theatre productions—she is looking to root herself in it more deeply, with some help from the Sherwood Award. “For emerging artists, who often have to find and carve out their own path, that recognition, that financial support,” she said, “is very important for establishing yourself.”