I love press releases. There is always so much happening in and around the Upper Delaware River region that without them, I’d be up the creek, so to speak. One such notification recently caught my …
I love press releases. There is always so much happening in and around the Upper Delaware River region that without them, I’d be up the creek, so to speak. One such notification recently caught my eye.
“Farm Arts Collective founding artistic director Tannis Kowalchuk is developing a new solo performance titled ‘Decompositions.’”
“Hmmm,” I muttered to the dog. “Tannis is up to something new—surely we need to know more!”
“Featuring a compost pile at center stage, the performance begins with Kowalchuk invoking excerpts from a Gertrude Stein essay, ‘Composition as Explanation,’” the announcement informed me, “giving the performer (and the audience) entry into the existential monodrama, ‘Decompositions.’
“Structured as a series of compositions, ‘Decompositions’ explores questions that grip Kowalchuk as a woman in the middle of her life.”
I read that the performance is being developed in collaboration with Mimi McGurl (director), musicians Rima Fand (song composer), Janhavi Pakrashi (beats, soundscapes, soundart), visual artist Phyllis Lehrer (animations) and the Farm Arts Collective design and production team of Jess Beveridge and Ace Thomas.
Intrigued, I gave Tannis a call, and sat down with her, Mimi and Jess a few days later to discuss.
JCF: What the heck is a “work in progress?”
Tannis: Mimi, Jess and I are all experienced theatre-makers, and we really want to develop this piece with audiences. I feel that when I get something in front of an audience, that’s when I really understand what I’m doing.
JCF: I get that there are people like Jess and Mimi and others behind the scenes, but why a one-woman show?
Tannis: We have the opportunity to just keep working on it, without other performers’ schedules, so over the next year, we’ll be able to present it in other locales as well.
Mimi: It’s actually a lot like compost—always in process. Always creating, always breaking down, and then recreating. And the show will always be like that, because it’s about Tannis’ life. And if she needs to write another episode [along the way], it will probably go in the show.
JCF: It sounds kind of serious. Not exactly a comedy, in my humble opinion.
Tannis: It’s kind of funny, though. And there’s absolutely music, and definitely comedy. It’s about my life, Jonathan; of course there will be comedy!
Jess: There’s story-telling, there’s sound design, there’s multi-media, a shadow play—
JCF: Wow. And when did this all begin to take root?
Tannis: When I was sitting on a couch, dealing with having breast cancer surgery and trying to figure out how I got here. I couldn’t do anything for a while during radiation after surgery. I couldn’t just sit on the couch watching television and eating bon-bons, so I thought “Maybe I should write something.”
JCF: Aren’t you a little young to be writing an autobiographical piece?
Tannis: It’s not really just about me. It’s an existential piece about how life is a metaphor—how it mirrors the composting process. We talk about farming, what happens in the compost process. It’s a fun biological, biographical study of life in general. Each decomposition, or essay, if you will, mirrors one of the steps of composting. So it’s a series of scenes, or essays, like a composition notebook. Chapter 1—Germination. Chapter 2—Breaking down. Chapter 3—Mother Nature. It’s about farming, living, theatre. It’s about life.
JCF: Since it’s a work in progress, will you be asking for feedback? Are you planning a Q&A with the audience after the performance?
Tannis: We’re not doing a formal Q&A, but instead we’re going to ask people to write to us. After the performance, we’ll have an opportunity to share libations, have some soup and encourage audience members to ask questions with a critical eye. We want to know what they thought was missing, what they loved, what they didn’t love.
Jess: We’re going to give everyone our email addresses and encourage them to give it some thought, and then write their observations down.
Tannis: I think people will appreciate having time and space to think about it before giving us their feedback.
JCF: So, has this project been cathartic for you?
Tannis: I don’t know yet. I’m still processing through anxiety and fear. I’m still working on making it good, making it a strong piece of art. Until “Decompositions,” I haven’t really had a performance that’s strictly all my own, created with the help of my team, of course—these amazing people.
JCF: What happens next?
Tannis: We can go places with it over the next few years. I really want to take my time developing this. There’s no rush. After the workshop presentation at the Delaware Valley Opera Center in Lake Huntington, we’re going to take it to the Pontine Theatre in Portsmouth, NH, and then to another venue in Kentucky. We need to try it in different places. The whole notion is to build the show through exchanges with audiences.
JCF: I know that Broadway shows like “Hamilton” and “A Chorus Line” were developed in workshop over time. Do you see “Decompositions” being in process for long?
Tannis: “Hamilton” was in workshop for seven years, and I want this piece to be as tight and as strong as that. To make it the best piece of theatre that I can, and be able to share it with the world.
JCF: it almost sounds as if it might never be done.
Tannis: It will eventually be finished, but it’s like compost. It’s always becoming. It’s composing and decomposing at the same time.
There will be a workshop presentation for a public audience on Saturday, November 12 at 7 p.m. at the Delaware Valley Opera Center in Lake Huntington, NY. For more info, call 845/887-3083
Purchase tickets at myrivertickets.com/events/decompositions-11-12-2022.
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