The phrase "avant garde" gets applied fairly frequently in the 21st century, if not always accurately, as the tag is sometimes affixed to anything just slightly out of the mainstream. A production opening this week at the REDCAT theater, however, lives up to the name.
On Wednesday, Sept. 26, New York-based Cynthia Hopkins kicks off the 2007-2008 REDCAT season with Must Don't Whip 'Um. The Los Angeles premiere of the multimedia narrative spectacle will play a run of five shows through Sept. 30. It is a sequel/prequel to Accidental Nostalgia, the first in a trilogy exploring the pros and cons of amnesia. Hopkins is quick to point out that you do not have to know anything about the first installment to see or understand part two.
Must Don't Whip 'Um combines music, video, dance, set design, lighting and theater to tell two parallel and intermingling narratives about fictional 1970s pop star Cameron Seymour. Cameron mysteriously disappears at her farewell concert in order to join a Sufi brotherhood in Morocco. The audience watches a documentary film being made in the future, while in the present Cameron's abandoned daughter is haunted by the ghost of her mother.
"It can't be described really using the term 'musical theater,'" said Mark Murphy, executive director of REDCAT, "but it's a theatrical event and a musical event, and they are also using interesting technology to great effect. It represents a really innovative and unique approach to both music and theater to create something that is very, very fresh."
Fresh is what Hopkins, along with co-performers Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg, and members of the band Gloria Deluxe, have proven to be. Hopkins has won numerous accolades over the years, including two Bessie Awards and two Obie Awards, and recently snagged the Alpert Award administered by The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts, which runs REDCAT), which is initiated and funded by the Herb Alpert Foundation and presented to cutting-edge artists.
For Must Don't Whip 'Um, which debuted at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn in January, and has since been staged in Ohio, Seattle and Philadelphia, Hopkins brings her autobiographically fueled form of self-expression to the stage in a format that she acknowledges is a mingling of fact and fiction. "I like to go to the extremes of… fantastical fiction and extreme personal truth at the same time," she said. "The idea of a farewell concert or giving up being a public artist of any kind was fueled by my feeling of wanting to do that."
A Brooklyn resident who started out playing her music solo in New York clubs, performance spaces and subway platforms (she plays the accordion, guitar and saw - yes, the saw), Hopkins' work is an amalgam of apparent opposites. She describes her composition style as a "hybrid form of music" with elements of country, cabaret, jazz, blues, rock and roll and folk.
That, and the sheer performance style, appealed to Murphy. It is part of what propelled him to launch REDCAT's fifth season with her work.
"One of our important missions is to introduce audiences to artists who are very influential in the evolution of the performing arts, as well as the visual arts," said Murphy. "She represents someone who, with her collaborators, has invented a new form.
"The combination of the ways in which [Hopkins and her collaborators] used technology to create a very, very smart theatrical event that is something other than just a play really excites me," Murphy continued. "It's developed as an ensemble, it's completely original, and I think that it's theater that's so difficult to describe that people just need to come see it for themselves."
For Hopkins, amnesia is a driving creative force. In staging the show like a concert, she explores a subject that has touched her personally. The work intentionally blurs the line between memory and creation.
"It's also just escapism and escapist tendencies in my own life," Hopkins said, "and then amnesia. I mean, I experienced amnesia for a period in my own life and so I was interested in that, and also I lost my mother at a pretty young age, and so the idea of trying to go back and rectify somebody's life after they've disappeared or died is something that resonates with me very strongly."
Although there will be no formal post-performance discussion, the bar at REDCAT will be kept open for an hour after the show, and Murphy hints the performers frequently come out and mingle with the audience. "So I hope that people, especially Downtown residents who don't have to rush to their cars, will stay and have a drink and talk about what they've seen with new friends," he said.
Hopkins, meanwhile, is excited about the ensemble's first performance for a Los Angeles audience. She said she hopes that people are "inspired and kind of lit on fire inside their minds and hearts in whatever way is most conducive to their success." Then, with a laugh, she added, "I mean, I hope it changes people's lives for the better, you know?"
Samples of music and video clips from Must Don't Whip 'Um can be found at accinosco.com. The show runs Sept. 26-30 at REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., (213) 237-2800 or redcat.org.
REDCAT Puts Together Subscription Packages
For the third time, REDCAT is offering seasonal subscription packages, allowing attendees to get ticket discounts while grouping like-minded performances. The 2007/2008 season begins this week with Cynthia Hopkins' Must Don't Whip 'Um. There are three subscription options: A Contemporary Performance Series ($108-$120) features Hopkins' work, The Wooster Group's Hamlet, Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula's Festival of Lies, and two other works. The Musical Exploration Series ($88-$100) presents Hopkins' work, separate performances by the California EAR Unit and the Degenerate Art Ensemble, as well as two other shows. There is also a create-your-own series, with five performances and 20% off the ticket price. More information at (213) 237-2800 or redcat.org.
page 20, 9/24/2007
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