My work in performance art is an effort to bring the arts and sciences together in service of the wild. Each performance is based on an issue or place in nature that needs support or visibility. I combine poetic and scientific material with artistic intention towards a theme that is shaped into a theater piece in the wild or open space. We invite the public to experience the metaphors and themes that are inherent in the subject matter we have chosen, and express the need and care necessary for a particular species or place to survive.
Each theme is developed over several months and a visual element, writing element and spoken performance goal or staging of that theme is created. I take those various sections and weave them into a performance. We spend the last month of work just developing the performance and adding other props and portable set design pieces together to have a moveable performance. We do not want to impact the outdoor site with our performance and so whatever we make is foldable, packable and set up in such a way to keep it simple and not destructive to the site.
It is a community based piece and I look for families and performers that can work with commitment but not with their particular career in mind as a star. It is important to have a together and appealing performance but not a slick presentation. The shape the performance can take can be as simple as reading poems or it can involve dance, a parade, a ritual of some sort or song. It depends on the talent we gather and the incentive of the group. I have had some fine music people involved and some very simple sound effects. The magic is in the doing and working together and the amount of heart there is for the subject since it is that feeling that reaches the audience and not how dazzling the costumes are or the staging.
Stories move the content of life forward and rarely clever ideas. People always remember a story that has moved them or an experience that was related through a story or an old legend. I try and find what is numinous and universal in our themes so there is no escaping the meaning of our story. There is so much fine material in poems and stories available that any story or animal totem can be the take-off point for a performance. If you are doing the story of a river that is in danger of being damned, it is not hard to tap into the theme of personal health and freedom and how that applies to a river. If the river must face certain dangers then we too must think of what we need to carry upstream on a tiny boat through life. Is it really necessary to have fancy supplies or do we need our own personal strength and courage to even embark on the journey? We find parallels within ourselves with everything we intend to perform regarding nature.
These are some of the questions we ask ourselves when we enter a theme based on nature. We go outside to find the inside and go inside to find the outside and then we meet right in the middle of both worlds to find the heart of nature in our personal lives. This is where we must start to help the natural world as a performer.
Bringing Nature to Life—The Use of Performance Art for Environmental Restoration is a compilation of stories, exercises, poems and art ideas for creating a performance piece to help the natural world. The guide introduces several projects and a section on young women coming of age. There are many photos, drawings and pastels to help illustrate some of the themes we worked on for the performances. It is useful for teachers and parents and young people wanting to work in the arts in service of the wild.
Riverworks—Performance and Community Art for Rivers is the outcome of a wonderful community arts endeavor. The performances presented in this guide supported the Annual Gila River Festival, an on-going effort to help the last wild, and free flowing river in New Mexico. Environmental stewardship is an essential part of our work, and science is brought to life through performance art.