An Introduction to Adam Thompson

Monkeyhouse is always thrilled when people introduce us to other artists playing with movement. So you can imagine how excited we were when Monkeyhouse dancer, Caitlin Meehan, forwarded an email to us about the Deconstructive Theatre Project (DTP), an intensely collaborative company that utilizes the benefits of ensemble collaboration in art and education. Caitlin worked with DTP on Brecht & Co. and The Girlie Show. In Brecht, she experienced the DTP's process firsthand and experimented with movement, text, and music.

We were so curious about the company that we encouraged Caitlin to interview Adam Thompson, founder and director of DTP. He is currently creating and directing Atomic Triptych, The Orpheus Variations, and Colonia which was recently awarded a development grant from The Puffin Foundation. If this interview makes you crave more information on DTP, please sign up for their mailing list. If you do, you will also help the company raise some money as a clever donor has offered to give $1 for each new person added to their list this week.

by Caitlin Meehan

Caitlin Meehan: What do you think that dance and movement bring to works of theatre?
Adam Thompson: Dance and movement bring a heightened freedom of interpretation to the theatre. Movement is a curious sort of wonder in that it creates narratives that, geometrically speaking, are not solid lines but rather dashed ones. The audience is required to fill in the spaces between those dashes with their own political, social, and emotional experiences. I believe strongly in the responsibility of an audience to be intellectually and emotionally engaged in performance, and I think kinetic communication both allows for and indeed demands that kind of participation. I am interested in how an entire piece of theatre can be built the way a dance is built: the relationship between the micro and the macro, between structure and content.

CM: Why do you require all ensemble members to experiment with movement (even if they have no background)?
AT: I believe all human visual experiences are born from movement.”I think that’s spot on.I am very interested in creating a hyper-visual body of work. It’s logical that a kinetic genesis is instrumental to realizing that kind of work. Movement is the most basic human vocabulary. We’re born and, for the most part, we can do it. We have to learn language, but movement: that’s inherent.

CM: How do you encourage actors who are previously "non-dancers" to explore that physicality? How do you/have you used movement in DTP's work?
AT: I like to begin by asking actors to share different stimuli that engage them: an image, a type of light, a poem, etc.I then ask them to use a new vocabulary to create that same sense of engagement. If you are moved by a poem, how can you translate the experience of that poem using a physical vocabulary? If it’s a painting, what would that painting sound like? I am interested in theatrical vocabulary – in deconstruction, reinterpretation and reconstruction.

CM: When did you first begin to use movement in your work?
AT: Our first production was Mois├ęs Kaufman’s play, “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde”. It’s the only extant play we’ve fully produced. Everything else, we’re created from scratch. But we tackled it kinetically. For the first two full weeks of rehearsal, we didn’t even open a script. In that play, a hand full of actors play a large number of characters, so the actors spent a good amount of time building an awareness of their own physicality, how that physicality could be utilized to inform the different roles they would take on, and – most importantly, I think – how to build a collective sense of ensemble physicality.

CM: Was there anything in your production of Gross Indecency that you would call choreography?
AT: There were a few things that I would call basic choreography. They grew out of less rigid exercises, toward more formal movement patterns.

CM: What is your own movement background?

AT: I don’t have any sort of formal training in dance, but I’ve studied varying techniques of performance composition: Viewpoints, Moment Work, etc.Actually, I have taken one ballet class (which I loved) and am currently studying aerial silk performance (which I really love). I’ve also been really lucky to have been and continue to be informed by the movement and creative vocabularies of the wonderful folks with whom I work.

CM: What movement qualities do you look for in dancers/actors/performers during the audition process?
AT: I look for fearlessness. I also look for confidence and a strong sense of self-awareness. I like people with strong personalities who are intellectually, physically, and emotionally intelligent.

CM: What has it been like learning about and experimenting with aerial choreography? How is this different from directing and shaping ground-based work?
AT: I love aerial work. I am really interested in its capabilities as a performance vocabulary.I find aerial to be a beautiful way to explore sexuality and sensuality on stage because it is all about trust, danger, excitement, and proximity to another body.The obvious difference between aerial work and ground-based work is that aerial work comes with a heightened awareness for safety. There may be a really great way to use aerial to present a moment in the piece, but it may not be entirely safe for the performer. There are a lot of logistical concerns. On the plus side, because aerial is so heightened in its theatricality, it allows one to really work in metaphor and poetry, which I think theatre is the most well-equipped of any art form to do.

CM: How do you/have you combined movement with text and characters in DTP's work?
AT: Historically, the theatre has primarily been the domain of the playwright. Everyone else comes in afterward and lays their work on top of the text. I prefer to flip that process on its head and lay the text last (if at all), or at least simultaneously with other elements. Often, we will start with a textual inspiration (a poem or an essay, maybe), interpret that via a different vocabulary, and then lay entirely different text on top. I also like to experiment with how a character’s identity can be fragmented among elements or actors: one actor is the voice, another is the physical body, another is the mind, etc.I think one of the great strengths of the theatre is its ability give all of the elements of the stage equal power to convey the context.

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