Exclusive: Q&A with REDCAT’s Artistic Director Mark Murphy

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Having recently celebrated the completion of its fifth presenting season, LA’s REDCAT has turned what could have been a fate as red-headed stepchild of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and forged its own distinct identity, firmly rooted in a search for new language and forms. In an economic environment that is increasingly challenging for the exploration of new work, the annual New Original Works Festival (kicking off a three-week run on July 23) provides a much-needed platform where risk is encouraged and new languages are privileged.

On the eve of the 2009 edition of the NOW Festival Flavorpill Contributing Editor Allen Moon spoke with REDCAT’s Artistic Director Mark Murphy’s take on where the festival has gone, where it’s going, and what has been learned along the way…

Flavorpill: What is the role of NOW in developing new work in LA?

Mark Murphy: What we try to do is put the resources of REDCAT at the disposal of the artist. In a normal booking framework, artists would be hired to perform, but in this case, essentially we’ve selected artists on proposals they’ve submitted and are doing what we can to help them realize their vision. There are very few alternatives to self-production in this town — especially in contemporary dance, theatre, and performance art. What we try to do is remove the burden of production costs and logistics from their shoulders so artists can focus in on what it is they want to say and how they want to say it. We really want to try and give people a chance to take risks and utilize the resources of this remarkable facility.

FP: Is there an overarching theme or trend to this year’s NOW?

MM: There isn’t a theme in the sense of a topical through-line, but I do think that there are a couple of key elements that are common to a lot of the festival. One is an interdisciplinary approach; many of the projects are undertaken by a collaborative team of artists, perhaps involving visual elements, especially quite a bit of video imagery this year as well as movement and text to try and find a new way to express an idea or tell a story.

For instance someone such as Sheetal Gandhi, who is exploring the multi-generational traditions of the art forms that she and her ancestors have been trained in and mixing those with contemporary forms, looking at the roles of woman; and Ayana Hampton, who is out there creating a really fun show, but even in her portrayal of Michelle Obama, which she does very well, she’s commenting on certain economic times and the passion needed to get through tough times.

FP: As you look back over the years of the festival, is there a trend that has developed within the performance community? Have you been able to connect the work from the first year of the festival to this year’s?

MM: You know, there had been quite a trend of identity politics performance here in LA and there has been some of that in the NOW Festival, but if there is any change I’ve seen in these six years, it is that the artists are tending to get away from the more obvious sledgehammer approach to identity politics and looking toward a more intellectually rigorous way or a more personal abstract way of approaching issues of identity, whether sexual or socioeconomic. They’re taking a more complex approach to a topic that has been so dominant here for a long time, especially in performance art.

FP: Is there a style that you see LA artists are specifically predisposed toward? Is there a Los Angeles regional flavor that you can trace?

MM: I’m fascinated to see the growth a visual form of performance in LA. The visual arts community has always been more accepted and more advanced in LA than a lot of the other performing art forms And, I see in this year’s festival especially, a lot of collaborative teams involving artists who come from a visual arts background. For instance, Carole Kim, who is collaborating with Oguri and Alex Cline, is using video on multiple layers of scrim and materials to create work that is as much of a visual installation as it is a performance. Similarly, Early Morning Opera is choreographing steadicams in order to create a real time visual experience. It’s not that artists from all over the place aren’t working in these visual forms, aren’t incorporating video —but there is something about the conceptual approach to these visual components that results in a time-based art that is making itself distinct here in LA.

FP: Have there been works that have been incubated here that have gone on to tour?

MM: Yes. I just got a very nice letter from Kristina Wong that she just received significant funding to develop the work further for her piece Catwoman that appeared in a previous NOW Festival. And, Cloud Eye Control, a team of three collaborating artists working in a visual medium form, was in last year’s festival, and as a result of that, we’ve put together a national co-commission project between Portland’s TBA Festival, Recdcat, NPN and the contemporary arts center’s network. This is really what we’d like to see happen to the work.