First developed in 2013, "Hush" is an evening-length dance theater work by Joe Goode, on tour this week at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago. Goode, a writer and choreographer, has long been interested in multiple mediums, and Hush uses text, requiring his dancers to vocalize and physicalize his narrative in equal proportions. Inspiration and source material for the work came from a series of interviews; though the setting of six characters in a run-down bar is fictional, the stories came from real people.
"I let that be the text for the piece," said Goode in a phone interview with Windy City Times. "I interviewed people about moments in their lives where they were disappointed in themselves, or they had failed. Something happened, and life took a turn they weren't prepared for." Talking with young college students, mostly LGBTQ millennials in their late teens and 20s, Goode was surprised at how forthcoming interviewees were about their experiences on campus and elsewhere, particularly regarding identity and feelings of belonging.
According to Goode, the experiences of LGBT young adults has changed over the last several decades, though maybe not by as much as one might hope. "I was a gay teenager in Virginia," said Goode. "I was the only queer kid that existed. I felt that perhaps there was something deeply wrong with me. That wasn't quite the story that I was hearing." Goode went on to explain that young LGBT people have more agency, but still face feelings of alienation and isolation despite increased visibility of gay people in society.
"The piece is about more than thatmore than the struggle of queer peoplebut it's definitely in there," said Goode. He spoke with female identifying college students who have grave concerns over their sexual safety and heightened anxiety about the realities of sexual assault and other crimes toward cys and trangender women on college campuses. "I spoke with highly educated, world-travelled women really feeling unsafe crossing the street," said Goode, saying that women felt continually "under the gaze," and several had been victims of sexual aggression or assault.
By speaking with these young people, Goode, who came of age during the 1960s and '70s, had forgotten what it felt like to feel unsure about the future. "Something important to them was friendsa sense of community. They find safety within a network of friends," he said, which perhaps contributed to their willingness to talk. By sharing their experiences, a long distance support network is woven into the fabric of Hush. Though the stories' owners are anonymous, the "who" is less important than the "what."
Most of the things Goode heard weren't surprising. The prevalence of sexual aggression toward women, the alienation and feelings of isolation among LGBT people are, sadly, supported by statistics. What surprised him was that, when asked, people were very forthcoming. Goode felt that these individuals wanted to share their stories in order to be of some assistance to others; having had few role models with whom they could identify, they perhaps saw and opportunity to be useful to someone who might be having a similar experience. These stories are not secrets because the people who own them are unwilling to tell, but because nobody had bothered to ask until now.
In addition to text, acting and dancing, Hush features a live Foley artist, which enhances the action onstage through exaggerated sound effects, particularly in the characters' most vulnerable moments. "These are the stories that we don't tell," said Goode, "about areas of our lives that we don't feel comfortable discussing. I wanted to break that apart. The moments that people are revealing those stories are super amplified." It creates a surrealist atmosphere, and brings moments of levity to heavy topics.
Part of Goode's investigation, rooted in times of struggle, is tied to how individuals cope and thrive despite serious challenges. Hush is the artistic extension of this investigation, and a companion community initiative titled The Resilience Project follows Hush on its nationwide tour. Where Hush's main focus is LGBT young adults, The Resilience Project allows other marginalized groups to tell their stories as well.
Recently, Goode's focus for The Resilience Project is working with combat war veterans dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, physical disability, etc., and/or their immediate family members. Goode creates a safe space for these individuals to physicalize their stories through movement, song and gestures to create an artistic expression performed for an audience. Each participant in the workshop gets a free ticket to Hush, combining very different communities in an artistic exchange.
"I didn't want to trivialize these very important stories. Movement adds a visceral quality, urgency, reality to the words, and allows them to experience their stories in a different way," said Goode, who has no formal training in psychology or dance therapy. "This process had a lot to teach me, because we all need to learn resilience. That's the way I focus the project." Many workshop participants have never seen a dance performance; likewise, many dance-goers have varying levels of exposure to this type of community engagement. "Audience members who are not in those communities [involved in the Resilience Project] come to it with different expectations. They leave differentthe experience of those people is profound."
Joe Goode Performance Group presents "Hush" at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, 1306 S. Michigan Ave., on March 10-12. All performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30; call 312-369-8330 or visit colum.edu/dancecenterpresents . The theater is accessible to people with disabilities.
More Windy City Times theater news and reviews at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gaynewsarticles.php .