Julie Phelps: Is there a politic to the ways that the work you are developing in CounterPulse’s ARC Program with the Affinity Project is experimenting with duration, repetition and mutability?
Emily Hoffman: It might be more of an attitude than a politic, but I do feel an impulse to disrupt certain structural tropes in performance. I’m wary of the structures of narrative theater even as they – the climax, the end – compel me. Even in more experimental work certain structures are replicated again and again – the false start, the delayed climax. Perhaps structures are always destined to become clichéd. But I think the Affinity Project is interested in finding new structural logics, of reorganizing how time might pass in the theater, or reconsidering how a fiction can function. We’re investigating what happens if you invoke an aesthetic that carries with it a certain structural logic – i.e. these are characters in a play, events will happen to them in chronological order – and then change or disrupt or halt that logic. This also has to do with disrupting certain rote paths to sentiment. There is a politic implicit in avoiding easy sentiment.
Julie Phelps: What’s the potential for the way this work exists in liminal space? How is this work negotiating the melding of traditional theater forms and experimental body-based practices?
Emily Hoffman: In earlier iterations of the work, it felt very freeing to leave behind traditional theater forms almost entirely, especially because the work began as a proposition to adapt the short story Sleep, by Haruki Murakami. It felt very exciting to work as abstractly as possible. We worked with gesture and with task and with text, but only in sculptural ways. However, I began to feel that we were running away from ourselves – our extensive training in theater – and it seemed that it would be more interesting if we could work with our training as a sort of source material. So we’re now working with really traditional theater material, such as text from Chekhov’s Three Sisters. It’s been instructive and generative to see how and if 19th Century Realist drama can coexist with gesture, with symbol, with different states of being, with different modes of embodiment. This material is quite aesthetically dominant, and the challenge now is to conjure it in a way that does the material justice, but in a way that doesn’t take over. We are seeking a way that allows us to be transparent about the mechanisms of more traditional performance. We’re asking how to use it and more experimental body-based work without cheapening either, making a new kind of structural logic that might reveal something about ways of being, levels of fiction and fantasy, and maybe more.