By Joanna Furnans
In a few weeks, Faye Driscoll and her cast of performers will return to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for the second installment of her performance trilogy, Thank You for Coming: Play ( Nov. 9-11, 7:30 p.m., Nov. 12, 2:00 p.m., at 220 E. Chicago Ave. ).
The first iteration of the series, Thank You for Coming: Attendance, premiered in March 2014 in New York City and has been touring extensively throughout the United States and abroad ever since. Chicago audiences got to see this finely tuned experimental dance work at the MCA last February and it lived up to its hype as a startling, uncomfortable, joyous and brilliantly complex piece of live art.
The six main ensemble members of "Attendance," including Driscoll herself, gave spot-on performances and their vibrant collective energy was crucial to the work's success given its potential to ostracize viewers adverse to audience participation. Over the course of the evening-length work, the piece gradually devolved into a chaotic playground where audience members donned gold shower caps, held ropes, twirled props and skipped around the stage with the professionals. For those weary of the "schtick" of politically and philosophically loaded fourth wall-breaking theater, "Attendance" can be challenging. For those on board with a free-for-all approach to human connection, the work was a welcome delight.
The Thank You for Coming series is concerned with questions around perception, authenticity, identity and methods of shared realities: through bodies, our stories and created environments. Where "Attendance" was specifically investigating and re-constructing group experiences, "Play" will be more focused on the "dichotomous experience of the self and the performance of self," according to a press release. Presumably less about the interplay between audience and performer, this work promises a deep investigation into the language of the body layered on top of or detached from the verbal stories we tell. And, given the physically demanding nature of Driscoll's work, it also seems to be about a unique style of virtuosity, stamina and endurance for the performers and choreographer alike.
For numerous reasons, most independent choreographers do not set out to make multi-year performances of this scale. Not only are the logistics of rehearsing, funding, producing and touring consecutive performances often Herculean in nature, but one can imagine the additional pressure of sustaining creative inspiration related to the singular ( albeit complex ) thematic arch of a trilogy.
Commenting on her choice to embark on the Thank You for Coming series, Driscoll said, "I'm trying to think of myself as someone who wants to create a body of work over many years and get out of the project-to-project mentality and cycle. That's how the funding system is set up, that's how the presenting system is set up and if you want to use those systems than you in some way have to engage with that model. I was tired of that. And mainly tired of how it made me think of myself and my work and the ongoing hustle and desperation around that."
"Play" premiered in September 2016 at the Wexner Center for the Arts at the Ohio State University and has undergone many fruitful revisions in the past year not least of which included a major shift in content after the Presidential election last November. Remaining astutely aware of the ever-shifting cultural landscapes surrounding each performance, Driscoll said she enjoys the opportunity to revise and refine the work along the way. "It's been one of the works that's actually gone through some of the most permutations of any of my pieces and I think its because the work is trying to actively deal with meaning making, stories, language, and the body in relationship to all those things," she said. "It's a complex and, in a way, impossible topic that I'm dealing with so it demands a kind of constant update."
Thankfully, the most interesting choreographers aren't afraid to take risks, change gears and rework their dances over the long haul. And as a queer female choreographer working in a rather difficult time in our nation's history, Driscoll is determined to keep examining, questioning and reframing the way we perceive the world around us. "Like many of us," she said, "I feel like, let's not mess around. Let's not hold back. Let's be bold. Let's be in this as artists."
For tickets and more information about Thank You for Coming: Play, visit MCAChicago.org/Calendar.