Tag Archives: Heidi Rodewald

Notes from Kristy: Come On In, The Water’s Fine

The other night we heard the resulting song cycles and creative framework of a new work by Heidi Rodewald and her collaborators Donna Di Novelli and Kevin Newbury, who just completed their residency here at the Center. While their time in residence was concentrated, they generated some truly remarkable material in pursuit of collaborative ideas.

And if my reaction to what they shared is any gauge of the future life for this work, it is going to strike some very resonant chords. The project is called “The Good Swimmer” and is based in part upon the found text of a lifeguard training manual from the 1940s (when women had to assume traditional male job roles as they were all off to war).

There was a particular conceptual through line in it that I cannot get out of my mind. A central thread from the instruction manual for lifeguard training: “The Lifeguard knows what she must be most alert to, and most concerned over, which is the good swimmer. The good swimmer knows how to take care of themselves when they swim out beyond where most would venture. The danger for the lifeguard is that those less capable will follow. The good swimmer therefore poses the greatest hazard to the lifeguard’s duty of care.”

I love it when an unexpected and pristine clarity knocks me sideways.

We are about to play host to a whole season of pristine clarity coming out of the artists that are soon to arrive as we open the 2013-2014 program. I thought it might be good to mention a few of the firsts – The Moth kicks off the Spoken Word series, LACO returns for their illustrious program at Royce Hall as our Resident Orchestra, Deer Tick sets UCLA’s Welcome Week off with an alt-country twist to our Roots/Folk series, and Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock – while marking 30 years of amazing music together – kick off our Jazz offerings.

Crossing over from both the Atlantic and the Pacific we welcome the mega-theater work, “Shun-kin” by Complicite in collaboration with Setagaya Public Theater — putting a momentous start to the Theater season, with a work that is quite simply not to be missed. Our Dance series opens the following week with the North American premiere of Lucy Guerin’s most recent choreography, “Weather.”

To put this into some statistical perspective, that’s about 100 independent artists over three weeks, hailing from cities and countries far and wide converging in Los Angeles this September. We are going to be heaving with the generosity of brilliant artists taking the stage to send up their finest for our ebullient audiences, and I for one am BEYOND READY.

One of the aspects to bringing that much creative mastery into a place like this, is what happens on campus, in Westwood Village, and in the venues themselves when unanticipated and astonishing moments in art between impassioned people come together in unique exchange…well, it makes the fight against the traffic and I-405 closures and daily irritations melt away and we get to be joyously AWAKE together. For the artists– the equivalency is that it makes the airport delays, visa approval processes and all of the rehearsals well and truly worth it.

This is a big and important season for the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA. It marks the deepening presence of our mission and purpose, and a heightened relationship to our supporters and audiences, along with these extraordinary artists. For those of you already reading this, it means that you are interested in the Center sustaining the work of our purpose. Know that I consider one and all of you to be the exact people it will take for us to continue to develop and evolve regardless of the ever-vexing pressures that can work against a great public promise. In short, you are the good swimmers, and here’s hoping that by watching you swim out into the great beyond, others will indeed follow.

–K

In Residence: Heidi Rodewald and Collaborators Dive into ‘The Good Swimmer’

‘In Residence’ will be a periodic feature of this blog as we check in on the activities of our residency artists throughout the season. For more information on the complete list of artists who will be working on projects at UCLA thanks to space and time residencies with CAP UCLA visit: cap.ucla.edu./artinaction/residencies

Heidi Rodewald, who you may know as an essential creative half of LA.’s own “afrobaroque” rock band Stew and the Negro Problem, is branching into an exciting new creative direction that we are incredibly proud to be a part of. It’s always intriguing to get a glimpse into an artist’s process, and last night Heidi and her partners Donna Di Novelli and Kevin Newbury shared some of that with a handful of high profile CAP UCLA donors and staff, offering insight into her new musical project and playing a few recently recorded demo tracks from the work-in-progress.

The three have been closeted together here at UCLA for the last week, living in the dorms and working on their upcoming stage project, “The Good Swimmer,” an ambitious, melancholic and thought-provoking pop requiem that explores kinship, heroism and grief as told through the experiences and sorrows facing a family of lifeguards in the early days of the Vietnam war. The storytelling is based on “found texts” including The American Red Cross Livesaving Manual, the story of Antigone, The Army Guide to the Culture of Vietnam, and quotations from ancient Vietnamese warriors The Trung Sisters.

Di Novelli has been extracting song lyrics from the texts and Rodewald is setting them to her distinctive brand of pop-rock. When paired with Rodewald’s haunting and riffy compositions, the initial randomness of the varied texts alchemizes into a kind of erasure poetry that, even when heard in a sparse room with just our imaginations as a guide, created a compelling visual of what this unique stage work will look and feel like when it comes to life as early as next year.

Rodewald is no stranger to applying her substantial rock sensibilities to the stage. She has embarked upon this new project with obvious relish and the seeming effortlessness that comes from being simply a quintessentially cool L.A. chick. She said she especially liked the challenge of working with found texts.

“I like homework assignments,” she joked. “I’m from rock bands and it is so interesting to work with something like this. I give myself the assignment of ‘I’m gonna make this sound like a pop song.’”

Di Novelli first encountered Rodewald’s work when she saw the Tony-award winning “Passing Strange”(which Heidi wrote and performed with her longtime musical partner Stew) on stage at the Public in New York in 2007.

“I thought, ‘I have to work with this woman,” she said.

Kevin Newbury, erstwhile “Good Swimmer” director said he jumped at the chance to get involved.
“It’s a unique piece that has something to say, in a way I haven’t seen before.”

Newbury said the staging will be simple and versatile, letting the dialogue inspired by the found texts, the unique lyrics and constant original music that will underscore the entire piece drive the theatricality of the work.

Next the team is planning to do an intensive workshop with actors—they are intrigued by the prospect of seeking out performers who are the same age as the 17 through 19-year-old four main characters of the piece, knowing the natural vulnerability those performers might bring to this deeply nuanced libretto. (There will also also be a small greek chorus of female lifeguards clad in the iconic red bathing suits of the ‘40s and ‘50s).

Heidi, Donna and Kevin said it was an invaluable experience to have the time and space carved out at UCLA to simply be together as a team, try things out, shed ideas that aren’t working, investigate new directions—all with no pressure to produce anything beyond their own investment in the creative process.

That’s what our residency program is all about, giving safe harbor to new or risky ideas, investing in the possibilities and aspirations of an artist, and manifesting new ones.

Keep your eyes and ears pealed for more from this team as “The Good Swimmer” continues to take shape.

We thank Heidi & Co. for giving us a glimpse at their work in an exciting and nascent stage and look forward to hearing more from them in the future.

Stew & Heidi in Review

It’s a great time to get up close and personal with Stew & Heidi Rodewald. They’ll be on the Royce Hall stage March 9 with The Negro Problem for a rare full-band performance centered around their creative residency at UCLA in November and their new album, Making It, which has been getting rave reviews since its release in January. The album thematically chronicles the demise of Stew & Heidi’s romantic relationship. The duo’s ability to heal from the split was exacerbated by the fact that they still had to work together every day at the time, performing in the Tony-Award-winning musical Passing Strange.

It’s an amazing story of stress and success and interestingly enough, what came out of it is some of the pair’s best work to date.

Heidi was reluctant to even work on the album at first.

“I didn’t want to do this record,” she admits. But when she heard a bit of her own truth in the climactic track ‘Leave Believe,’ she says, “We decided that I should be involved.”

The new twist on the creative process, the raw exposing of their romantic life for album fodder, was personally challenging but ultimately gratifying for Heidi, a much more private person than Stew, who gave and took what he needed from it too.

“Stew said Making It was like his ‘therapy’ and I told him that therapy only works if you tell the truth.” The resulting song, “Therapy Only Works If You Tell The Truth” is as bare-naked as it is straight/no chaser rock ’n’ roll.

Music magazine Blurt says of Making It: “Musically Stew and Rodewald hit a new peak, deftly mixing the psychedelic pop that’s The Negro Problem’s usual stock-in-trade with the musical sophistication acquired from writing for Broadway. Lush melodies slow-dance with quirky textures and vice versa, each musical universe merging with the other.”

LA Times/KPCC music critic Ann Powers called the album “the Shoot Out The Lights of the slacker generation,” referring to Richard and Linda Thompson’s infamous post-breakup album. Listen to Powers review from “The Madeline Brand Show” here.

Stew and Heidi talk about their history, their music and the way both their hometown of Los Angeles and working in New York has affected their creative lives in a feature article in the March issue of Los Angeles Magazine, available on newsstands now.

And, read more about the he said/she said of Stew & Heidi’s fascinating stuck-together-breakup tale in this recent no-holds barred interview with the Wall Street Journal.

Hear Stew talk about the making of Making It, and reflect on his creative approach to life in this recent interview with NPR’s Terry Gross.