The Sherwood Award for emerging theatre artists is awarded each year to an innovative and adventurous Los Angeles-based theatre artist of promise. This year’s finalists are Hana Kim, Gina Young, and Marsian De Lellis. We asked them a few questions about how they innovate and what’s led them here.
- Tell me about your latest project
- Gina Young
- My latest project is Butch Ballet, a love letter to female masculinity that I created for REDCAT's NOW Festival this summer. It's a movement theatre piece created for and with a cast of butch, trans, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary performers. Most of the cast did not have a background in dance or theatre, so we created a gestural vocabulary unique to their experience, and explored their vulnerability and their power, butch eroticism and aesthetics. I also curate a monthly performance salon called SORORITY and lead a paradigm-shifting workshop called Feminist Acting Class.
- Hana Kim
- Back in October, I designed both the set and projection for Eva Trilogy, written by Barbara Hammond and directed by Loretta Greco at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco. The three plays in the trilogy revolve around a central character named Eva, a young woman who makes the irreparable choice of euthanasia when her ailing mother’s fate is placed in her hands. All three plays are written in distinctively different styles; the first play is a monologue orated by Eva alone on the stage. The second is a sonic collage of testimonies given by the individuals affected by Eva. The last is a visual collage where Eva, 30 years later, is now living in a forest with a nymph… The logistics of doing three plays in a row pushed me to present one bold idea for each play, creating three distinct gestures. 1.) A white out 2.) A landscape, fractured and mirrored 3.) An experimental film. Together they pose the important question:
What is the true ownership of life?
- Marsian De Lellis
- I am fine-tuning Object of Her Affection, a puppetry performance focused on a woman who, in her search for true love, develops intimate relationships with inanimate objects. The performance follows Andrea Lowe after she has mysteriously fallen from a building. In the performance I am exploring the collision of objects and personalities through the lens of someone who experiences object sexuality (an actual romantic desire toward things). Object of Her Affection was the recipient of funding from the Jim Henson Foundation and I will be premiering it at Automata under the direction of Michele Spears. I am simultaneously developing Model Killer: Giant Crimes and Tiny Cover-Ups, which I was invited to workshop as an artist-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
- Who are your influences?
- Split Britches, Karen Finley, and Holly Hughes made me think there could be a place for voices like mine. Lorraine Hansberry is an all-time hero too…in elementary school, A Raisin in the Sun made me want to make theatre way more than Shakespeare did. It was a perfect play that represented, to me, everything that theatre could (and should) do to make the world a better place. And Hansberry was also active in the civil rights, gay rights, and feminist movements. Contemporary interdisciplinary artists Young Jean Lee and Ryan Heffington also inspire me a lot right now.
- One of the odd memories from my youth is watching The Wizard of Oz with my uncle in a tiny room in Seoul. It was a time when Korea’s political atmosphere was extremely volatile, and as a human right activist and documentary maker in South Korea in the 1980s, my uncle hardly ever managed to keep down a job. He had a lot of free time to watch films with me. His situation was pretty dire in many aspects, but he always kept a great spirit. Both my uncle and my father (an anthropologist turned filmmaker in his later years) had a fundamental influence on me. Through them I learned not to be afraid of the life of an artist and to embrace uncertainty. But I am constantly learning from my collaborators. It always amazes me to see how our different takes on a project can become a singular vision. If I am to name a few more influential people I would have to include Julie Taymor and Robert Lepage (for the way their singular visions are able to reach broad audiences), as well as Olafur Eliasson, Yaoi Kusama, and William Kentridge (for the unique experiences they create through their art).
- From an early age (maybe too early), I became enamored by the eccentric outsiders turned unlikely heroes in the films of John Waters. In middle school I was fixated on the playful deconstruction of femininity and celebration of dissociative identity disorder in the music videos of Annie Lennox. In high school, while reading Omni, a science magazine, I encountered an article on performance artist Rachel Rosenthal, (whom I later studied with). When I moved to Los Angeles, I studied with Janie Geiser at CalArts. But I also have found the community of puppet and theatre artists at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center to be a catalyst in developing my voice, especially Canadian marionettist and playwright Ronnie Burkett. My current body of work draws inspiration from offbeat characters whose private manias become public fodder for tabloids and reality television, and I would be remiss not to include My Strange Addiction and similar docuseries.
- What excites you most about working in L.A.?
- The weather, the dance scene, and the fine arts scene. The feeling that L.A. doesn't already have the kind of performance scene that I came up in—the more New York kind of scene—so that when I created my performance series, SORORITY, it felt like a needed new space; like nothing existed at quite that exact intersection here yet. I like that everyone I know here works in film and new media and doesn't necessarily understand the value of live performance or doesn't necessarily have a space for it carved out in their lives. That's something I enjoy challenging. Also the weather—for real.
- The multi-centric aspects of L.A. allow for a vibrant cross-disciplinary cultural scene. I love encountering different corners of the city that I’ve never seen before. I keep getting surprised by the diversity of people and culture. Because it does take more effort to
go out thereand
be togetherin a bigger space, when it does happen, it is more powerful and the reward is bigger.
- I once believed I had to move to New York to make it as an artist, but after arriving in L.A. 11 years ago I have found a home in this global capital of fantasy. Between the shadows of multibillion-dollar entertainment companies thrives a vibrant experimental theatre and art scene where people are creating some of the most adventurous and groundbreaking work. There’s something about working in L.A. that seems limitless and full of possibilities.
- Tell me about the first theatre piece you ever worked on
- Well, I was Peter Pan in seventh grade…but I guess the first theatre piece I can really call my own was a one-act punk musical I wrote and directed fresh out of high school, she cuts herself / she likes to write. It was about coming out, and self-injury, and the sort of darker side of the teenage years. It had a good run Off-Off Broadway. Then some local high school students wanted to produce it at their school and this strange censorship thing happened, where the administration got wind of it and canceled the show. They said the subject matter
wasn't appropriate for high school students.Which was very strange because…it was about things my friends and I had experienced…in high school. So it was an eye-opener about who gets to be represented, and what it means to speak out against the dominant narrative. Thankfully, the high school students went rogue and did the play in a park, without school funding, so what started as a disheartening/disillusioning experience actually turned out pretty cool.
- In college, I played the part of March Rabbit in an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland written by students. At the time, I knew that I wanted to get into the theatre club to do backstage work, but in order to be accepted you had to act at least once. But during that time, there was a new musical that all freshman HAD to be a part of. In it, I had to sing, dance, and act. Which turned out not to be my forté.
- My first foray into theatre was a musical adaptation of a book on dinosaurs. I designed and performed shadow puppets as a first grader in Mrs. Amidon’s class. In the process we explored our creative differences and worked with all kinds of people, including the musical director, Ms. Houk. Ms. Houk was strict and uncompromising. She ruled the piano and glockenspiel with an iron fist. Mrs. Amidon also had us write and illustrate our own stories. Years went by and the stories evolved into screenplays that spawned installations and time-based visual narratives that became ever more elaborate. Fast forward to my adult life at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I created my first performance art piece, The King of Pop’s New Clothes—a surrealist nightmare in which a reclusive pop star’s drug-fueled attempts at being loved through reinvention go horribly wrong.
- What are the first three questions you ask a new collaborator?
- What images come to mind when you read this?
- How do you see it?
- What references does it evoke for you that are not overtly mentioned in the text?
- Why do you want to work on this piece?
- What is the world you hope to create?
- How do you want people to feel?
- How many personality disorders do you have? It's important to have a sense of humor about yourself and I admire people who have been able to flourish with and capitalize on their neuroses…like Martha Stewart.
- Have you seen anything problemagic in your newsfeed lately? In the social media sphere labeling something as
problematichas become a shortcut—a way to brush off further discussion of something complex, potentially triggering, or that falls outside a binary—or to label something as oppressive without actually doing any of the work to think about what the problem is or why it exists. But where some see
problemagic—an opportunity to welcome dialogue and generate new ideas and solutions in a world where tweets have all too often supplanted discourse.
- Often I don't even have to ask any questions. There’s something about working with dolls and puppets that occupies a precarious border between beauty and terror. People volunteer information. They seem to go to their darkest places right away—recounting their most creepy and macabre moments with inanimate objects. They tend to disclose a lot. And while I try to keep their secrets, sometimes they’re just too juicy, and I have to fictionalize them.
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