Shannon Jackson, Associate Vice Chancellor for the Arts and Design, TDPS Professor and the Cyrus and Michelle Hadidi Chair in the Humanities, has just released The Builders Association: Performance and Media in Contemporary Theater, a new critical retrospective of the award-winning intermedia theater performance company The Builders Association, together with the company’s artistic director and founder Marianne Weems.
What inspired you to write The Builders Association: Performance and Media in Contemporary Theater?
I learned about The Builders Association when they performed in San Francisco at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. I met Marianne Weems, the artistic director, and she discussed how much she enjoyed working in the creative landscape of the Bay Area. I was Chair of TDPS at the time, and we were able apply for an artist residency program at the Arts Research Center. In that residency the Builders created the first version of a show called Continuous City; this was a piece about digital connection in a globalizing world. It ended up being a collaboration that involved students from across the campus and TDPS students served as primary actors in technical theater and design.
Having The Builders Association in residency made me realize how much research they did toward every show and how deeply they were experimenting with the theatrical apparatus. When Marianne mentioned she’d been talking to different editors about a book on the Builders, and asked obliquely whether I would do it, I jumped at the chance.
What do you hope your readers will take away from the book?
I hope readers get a sense of how hard these artists work at the arguments and aesthetics of their pieces. When we designed the book we looked for terms that gave readers a sense of theater-making as a process of construction: “R&D,” “Operating Systems,” and “Storyboard.” The Builders deeply research every topic, whether it is ethnographic work, archival work, or secondary literature reading. They think imaginatively about technology and new media systems as artistic forms; they are a theater company that uses new technology and also provokes reflection and debate about the role of technology in our lives. I also hope that readers come to an understanding of the courage and perseverance required to sustain a company over different iterations for 20 years. It takes a great deal of labor and personal sacrifice, commitment, friendship and love to sustain an artist group.
What was the most intriguing fact/story you uncovered while working on the book?
What’s interesting about The Builders Association is that they are billed as a “new media” performance group, yet what’s really striking is how much of their theatre is about investigating “old media.” The excavations of 19th century popular culture, early cinema and the “cinema of attractions” have all inspired the Builders’ sense of what theatre can be now. In a climate where we wonder and worry about new media evacuating the essence of our art forms, the Builders recognize that technology has been embedded into the deep history of theatre — and embedded into all art forms — for centuries.
To get your copy of The Builders Association: Performance and Media in Contemporary Theater, visit here.
Angela Marino, Assistant Professor at TDPS, will release her new book Festive Devils of the Americas in December. Edited with Milla Cozart Riggio and Paolo Vignolo, Festive Devils of the Americas is the first volume to present a transnational and performance-centered approach to this fascinating, feared, and revered character of fiestas, street festivals, and carnivals.
What inspired you to write Festive Devils of the Americas?
For me, inspiration came from collaboration. Once I knew that others were working on this fascinating figure of the devil in performances all over the hemisphere, it almost felt like I had to write this book. I was at a conference in Bogota Colombia, dedicated entirely to research on fiestas and carnival in Latin America, and it was then that I proposed the idea to Zeca Ligiéro, one of the preeminent scholars in performance studies at the Universidade de Rio de Janeiro in Brasil, and Paolo Vignolo who was just then getting tenure at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. From there the book grew, over several encounters with Zeca and Paolo and Milla Riggio who would later become a co-editor. Collaboration fuels inspiration, which I think is also much of what makes up the fiesta experiences in which the devils are performed.
What do you hope your readers will take away from the book?
My hope is that readers of this book come away with a genuine appreciation for how large-scale outdoor, public performance practices like festival, fiesta and carnival can be a source for healing the very real violence of devil-beliefs and so-called evil. The devil as an embodiment of evil was always a political strategy to demoralize an adversary, take over land, and justify war. People were associated with the devil figure in a deeply racist and imperialist ideology over centuries in this hemisphere and beyond, and to think that these cultural, political, spiritual and economic consequences have not taken their toll to the present day is to underestimate or ignore the impact of our social world. In many ways, the devil figure in festive performance is a way of exposing these histories and also healing from them. In the fiesta there is a communal production that transforms fear into familiarity, creativity and marvel.
What was the most intriguing fact you uncovered while working on this book?
One of the most intriguing things to learn is how important a figure like the festive devil is for telling afro-descendant, indigenous and Jewish histories. These were the groups who were most often performing devils; it was not the Spanish-blood white elites of Latin America. People were at times forced or cajoled into the role, especially during the Inquisition; at other times there were incentives and very often favors that were issued through the Church. Despite the friars’ belief that some didactic ‘bad’ would stick to the performers, the devil performances grew to become extraordinarily popular by virtue of the songs, instruments, costuming and movements that were important to those who produced them. As they grew in popularity, they carried with them all of these forms and styles, from the steps of the dancers, a particular way of making or wearing the masks, the rhythms or percussion of the music and so forth. Now the devils easily upstage the priest in some of these performances.