Walker-Commissioned Work Examines How Technology Alters Our Sense of Distance and Intimacy
“The Builders Association is itself an innovator in multimedia theater, using video, animation, sampled sounds, and god-knows-what sorts of computerized gizmos to produce gorgeous illusions.” —Village Voice
See the future of theater today. New York City-based wizards the
(Alladeen, Super Vision), with fingers firmly pressed to the pulse of today’s changing world, weave an engrossing fable about ways that constant connectivity alters our sense of distance and intimacy with the Walker Art Center-commissioned
, Thursday–Saturday, October 23–25, 8 pm, in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater. A globe-hopping father and his homebound daughter, whose lives are transformed by digital speed and failing cell phones, and the other intriguing characters who populate this story are propelled by leading-edge computer animation, electronic music, and live performance. A participatory Web site (www.continouscity.org) and local sights and sounds further conflate the global and the local, the mediated and the real.
Marianne Weems is never content to simply play show and tell. Her New York company, the Builders Association, merges media, text, sound, architecture, and theater to explore the impact of technology on humanity, leaving audiences with much to chew on long after the lights and video screens darken. That’s a tall mission, particularly given the radical technological evolutions that have altered our lives, individually and globally, since Weems began the Builders Association in 1994. But almost like clockwork—or more appropriately, calendar-work—Weems has fostered another idea into an ambitious stew for the senses.
After leapfrogging from travel and the erasure of geography (Jet Lag, 1998) to global outsourcing (Alladeen, 2003) to the datasphere (Super Vision, 2005), the Builders Association returns to the Walker with Continuous City. The show stems from Weems’ curiosity about ways that social networking Web sites distort the concept of distance. “They’re all mammoth projects—a lot of reading and writing and research that accrues like sentiment,” she says. “Thematically, the last few pieces have been linked because one piece grows from the next. This new piece is either the epilogue or the beginning of a whole new thing.”
Weems is interested in the concept of global networks replacing social networks. She calls Continuous City “a meditation on how contemporary experiences of location and dislocation stretch us to the maximum as our ‘networked selves’ occupy multiple locations.” Computer-generated animation, new video techniques, and electronic music wrap around a narrative involving a globe-hopping father and his homebound daughter, transnational businessmen, an Internet mogul, and a nanny desperate to work as an actress. Unpredictable fodder to the narrative comes from a participatory Web site (continuouscity.org) and video blogging from within a local immigrant community during the company’s stay in Minneapolis.
“We are looking at the sense of place within a global context, and how electronic connection contributes to and complicates that sense of place,” Weems says. “A lot of my job is somewhere between thought-wrangler and editor. I sort of come up with that central idea, and the rest of my job is bringing everyone’s focus toward that idea. This show—the Web site, set design, and video design—has really surprised me because of the way the artists [I’m working with] visually manifested a network.”
The largest challenge, she says, is making room for the unexpected—in this case, the video and live blogging generated in Minneapolis—in a show requiring tight technical cues and polished transitions between narrative and media. “Our pieces are technically complicated and full of stuff already, but after touring for 15 years, it’s important for me to make a piece that responds to where it is, bringing the place we are into the globalization we probe in the piece,” she says. “We create something more porous—the networks between the show and the people watching it.”
Material gathered and generated in Minneapolis will become part of Continuous City as the Builders Association tours it internationally. The developing show is already coming under the study of researchers at Stanford University and universities in the United Kingdom, whose Presence Project explores the question “What creates a sense of presence?” Ultimately, Weems says, the show is less “dystopic” than anything the Builders Association has produced in recent memory. “My idea is to meditate on the situation we’re in, but there’s a more positive spin in the end of how contact can be maintained. As soon as you look at what some people might consider sci-fi but are really contemporary ideas, there are obvious changes that are problematic. It’s trickier to come down on the side of hope.”
Founded in 1994 and directed by Marianne Weems, the Builders Association is a New York-based performance and media company that creates original productions based on stories drawn from contemporary life. The company uses the richness of new and old tools to extend the boundaries of theater. Based on innovative collaborations, the company’s productions blend stage performance, text, video, sound, and architecture to tell stories about human experience in the 21st century. From BAM to Bogata, Singapore to Melbourne, Minneapolis and Los Angeles to Budapest, the Builders Association’s OBIE award-winning shows have toured to major venues the world over.
The Builders have collaborated on ten large-scale theater projects: Master Builder (1994), The White Album (1995), Imperial Motel (Faust) (1996), Jump Cut (Faust) (1997), Jet Lag (1998) with Diller + Scofidio, Xtravaganza (2000), Alladeen (2003) with motiroti, Avanti (2003), Super Vision (2005) with dbox, and Continuous City (2008). The Builders Association is currently one of the most active international touring experimental theater companies in America. Their work has also been presented at The Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2003, 2005, and 2008.
Tickets to the Builders Association’s Continuous City are: Thursday, $18 ($15 Walker members); Friday–Saturday, $28 ($23) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.
Workshop: The Builders Association
Thursday, October 9, 6–9 pm, Free
Star Tribune Foundation Art Lab
Use the Walker Art Center’s media lab to upload your own story to the Builders Association Web site. Stories may be included in the performance of Continuous City.