Colby Calhoun, Monet Lerner and Nick Leos will perform in a new sexually exploratory theater piece designed for a post-COVID world. (Photo courtesy Justin Locklear)
Danielle Georgiou took inspiration from the coronavirus for a world premiere experimental theaterwork
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
It’s a dire time for the lively arts. Concerts are not coming to a bandshell near you this summer.
Broadway will be dark at least through Labor Day. Forget about a dance recital.
Then again, artists have always thrived during dire times. They somehow find a way.
The latest content creators to find that way is the venerable Undermain Theatre, which has specialized in experimental stagecraft across five decades (a planned play festival this summer had to be scotched). It will take more than a pandemic to stop them. In fact, it took a pandemic to inspire them.
“The relevance to our 2020 lockdown was a deciding factor in how to proceed with our production,” says Danielle Georgiou, associate artistic director at Undermain, founder of the Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and, with partner Justin Locklear, creator of their newest work, The Savage Seconds.
“Having slowly developed this story for about five years, we were excited that it would finally be on stage at Undermain, but as the pandemic hit, we realized that drama must sometimes evolve [to] parallel real life.”
Although an in-person production — which was already scheduled to be a special offering this summer — was not possible, Undermain has decided to launch the world premiere as a streamable performance… a decision made all the more possible once they figured out a new take on the piece. At first, they weren’t certain how to proceed, but after more research and discussion they landed on a core concept to get them through: honesty.
“We decided to center the narrative on a pandemic, both as an undeniable reaction to today and as a nod to our research of Oedipus Rex, which featured its own epidemic event: the plague of Thebes. It felt correct and compelling, and it really launched a momentum in the narrative that pushed the characters closer together in a way which we were feeling in our lives,” Georgiou says.
The plot involves a family living a public life surrounded by turmoil. Baby, now 14, has spent half her life in boarding schools but returns home during a pandemic where she becomes a pawn of her grasping father, malicious siblings and viral fame. Meanwhile, she’s still a teenager coping with celebrity during times of crisis and her own sexual awakening. Like much of Georgiou’s work, it’s not easy to categorize: an opera, a dance, an experimental think-piece. There’s even a puzzle-box of a website (thesavageseconds.com) to accompany the production — a digital program, yes, but also an exploratory adventure into the plot, characters, themes and creators. It takes the theatrical experience down an online rabbit hole designed to engage the audience.
The title The Savage Seconds, Georgiou explains, refers to “the brief moment between innocence and experience, when a character experiences a revelation, and their life is forever changed. We see many stories like this called ‘coming of age,’ which are told from the perspective of experience and maturity so that the trauma of growing up is pictured as charming and quaint. We know that our protagonist, the youngest daughter of a powerful political family, is experiencing a life-changing discovery, and we wanted to frame it really as something more sinister.”
Just how to rehearse, block, choreograph, record and perform a piece with social-distancing protocols with a cast of 11 is such a challenge that even the creators don’t know how it will come out. But that’s part of the artistic process.
Undermain/DGDG are “essentially creating a narrative art-film, infusing our dance-theater multi-disciplinary perspective,” Georgiou says. It will not be on a single stage but rather “in spaces that we can more easily control in terms of safety and sanitation. We are not certain what it will look like, in regards to theatricality, but we want to tell this story at this time, and making a movie seems to be the best practice. It will be an exercise in creativity, making sure that we are masked, distanced and rehearsed in private.” The company has held Zoom rehearsals and production meetings, and when it comes time to shoot, “it will be strictly scheduled to eliminate shared space.”
The final product will be available June 4–10; once you purchase your ticket, the viewer will be permitted unlimited access for the entire window — yet another innovation in this brave new world.
“We aren’t sure of the future of how we will create our shows, but for now, keeping connected with our audience through our site, videos and social media will be our priority,” Georgiou says. Live theater will survive, with the same creative momentum, “but in a different form.”
It has to. That’s what artists do.
Available online June 4–10. Visit TheSavageSeconds.com for the interactive experience and it or Undermain.com for information about streaming.