Category Archives: 2020-21 Season

Director’s Note: Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare: At Home

Complete Works: Table Top Shakespeare: At Home is a new version of an existing project in which we present the complete works of Shakespeare, using an ordinary table top as a stage and casting everyday objects as the characters. We’ve been presenting this work all over the world since 2015.

In this new version of the project the plays are presented at a table in the performers’ own homes – in the kitchen or amongst the books in a bedroom or workspace. We’re all in some version of lockdown still here in the UK, theatres are closed, as they are through much of the world, thanks to the current Coronavirus pandemic. Presenting the pieces over the internet helps us keep in contact with our audiences around the world and really suits these intimate performances. The project has always been about the collision of these great significant Shakespearean dramas and the everyday world – presenting them from the domestic space of the performers really opens up and emphasizes that element, underscoring the informality and personal approach that’s inherent in the project. Each presentation begins with a short informal introduction from the performer. 

The project is very much a celebration of the adaptability and resilience of theatre – it can be done anywhere, with the most limited means. The table top can stage the most intense psychological interactions and journeys, the most complex historical events and the most ridiculous comical confusions. With informal energy that’s more YouTube tutorial than Stratford-Upon-Avon the performances are compelling and intimate and always a little comical, a little absurd, but what’s important for us is that they do really, in their own ways, succeed in bringing the plays to life.

Setting up for the project has certainly been a logistical and technical challenge – ensuring that all the performers (presently in 4 different cities) have their casts of objects and that the internet, camera and another tech in each of their home-bases is compatible to create and broadcast the pieces. We are getting there, ironing out the kinks in the system, and figuring out how things need to be done. We do really hope that people will join us for the presentations of this work and help spread the word about it.

Tim Etchells
Artistic Director of Forced Entertainment
August 2020

Interview: Constance Hockaday on Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020

 

We sat down with artist Constance Hockaday to discuss her project, Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020, which was commissioned by CAP UCLA and will be available online starting in September at cap.ucla.edu and at artistsinpresidents.com. 

Q: Can you tell us about yourself and this project?

I’m Constance Hockaday, the director of Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020. Artists-In-Presidents is an art project, but it’s also a civics project. We’ve invited over 50 artists to deliver fireside chat-inspired addresses to the nation alongside the 2020 presidential campaign.

Q: What is a fireside chat?

A fireside chat is what people called this type of national address that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was doing in the thirties. After the Great Depression began, FDR became president and he realized we had this huge crisis, people had lost their faith in democracy. The radio had been invented and he realized he could speak directly to people to overcome their cynicism and ask them to participate in democracy as an act of faith. He takes that moment and he shows up and he says I’m going to come in like this priestess, I’m going to manifest a collective, a new American mass public, I’m going to describe what you, American citizens, could look like if you came together.

This is where the project becomes potent to me. It becomes important because it’s about this overdue need to update the performance of public leadership. After all, even our most celebrated president, in his most famous policies, specifically excluded brown and black people and he interned Japanese-Americans. Our national legacies of liberation have always excluded and erased the voices of the majority of people who live within our arbitrary borders.

That’s what this project is about. It’s about taking these strategies, this conjuring of a potential American mass public, and bringing those strategies to the bodies and the voices of black people, brown people, women, trans people, indigenous people, queers, people that have been erased from the performance of public leadership. 

Q: Can you talk about the shape the project has taken?

So I reached out to hundreds of artists and we ended up with about 50 committed artists who are writing their national addresses. We’re recording their performances via audio and turning that into a podcast that we’ll roll out alongside the presidential campaign. So starting at around 50 days out from the campaign, we’ll start releasing one artist at a time on the website and a podcast app, to give our audience the experience of hearing these voices alongside the actual presidential campaign. We’re exploring performances of power, performances of leadership, the history, and the legacy, and the posturing of our public leaders. We have built relationships with retired presidential speechwriters to help artists find their presidential voice. 

Each artist is also asked to create a visual companion piece—their presidential portrait. We have left that open to being their aesthetic of power, however they want to do it. 

Q: How did you choose artists to participate?

I didn’t want to be the only one choosing artists, so I put together a board of curators and poets that I trust. I asked them to give me names of people, and I sort of whittled down that list and sent the invitations out in waves. Whoever said yes, I then asked to recommend who they thought would be a good person to add to the cast. So it became a chain letter invitation process. 

Q: What kind of voices were you looking for?

As I was inviting all these artists, the Black Lives Matter movement reached this place in the public view that it had never reached before, and I asked myself, “where are people that are living in the intersections?” I was particularly drawn to women of color, to complicated identities. As a queer feminist with an immigrant mother, I want to hear from immigrant queer women, I want to hear from trans folks. I want to hear from emotionally intelligent and beautiful Black voices. 

I wanted to create an affirmative experience for a listener, to create the experience of being spoken to with dignity, of being witnessed and spoken to from the voice of a leader that sees and hears you. I was looking for people who could speak to some of the most marginalized voices or the most marginalized communities in this country. Our politicians, our public leaders, they talk about black people, they talk about brown people and trans people, but they very rarely ever talk to them.

If we provide people with the experience of young queer black women speaking with vision and speaking intimately from this fantastical national platform, will that ignite in an audience or in other black, young queer women, the thought that maybe they could run for office? 

Q: Have recent events affected the project?

I’m an artist who historically works with boats and urban waterways. Around the time that Trump got elected, I was introduced to FDR’s retired presidential yacht, which is docked in Oakland, California. I am not a history buff, I’m not an academic, but I’ve come to understand a lot about the history of this country just through becoming obsessed with this ship. The project was originally about recreating the Fireside Chats, broadcasting these messages from FDR’s ship back to the nation. 

Suddenly a pandemic happens, and there’s a complete and total lack of leadership. I’m just thinking, “where’s dad?” You know, where’s the guy that’s going to come and give me something I can believe in? And I realized this project isn’t about broadcasting from FDR’s ship. This is about broadcasting back to FDR’s ship. This is about us becoming “Dad/Mom” (the voice of care) for ourselves and each other. If that makes sense? This is about sending these voices back to the ship to update that history, to update all of the voices that have been erased, have been left out.

Q: What were the biggest surprises in putting the project together?

It struck a nerve. Not just in the artists, but also the speechwriters. A tidal wave of speechwriters showed up in my inbox. There were even conservative Republican speechwriters who worked for the Bush administration that wanted to do this! 

Maybe the biggest surprise in this is that I have more empathy for our public leaders than I ever have before. It’s like you’re walking straight into the dark towards a feeling. If there are leaders out there with a true commitment to the common good, they don’t know what an equitable world looks like. Nobody knows what an equitable world looks like. It’s similar to creating new work, it’s just walking towards a feeling… you don’t know what it’s going to be, and it starts to become real by saying it and saying it and saying it, and saying it better and saying it better and saying it better. 

Q: What do you think is the role of artists in times of crisis?

In my work, I’ve become very interested in this thing called the normalcy bias, where we get on autopilot and our bodies just continue to see the world as it always has been. To break free of the normalcy bias we have to usually have a fire alarm. The role of the artist is really to just be this sort of professional fire alarm. It’s about breaking us out of our normalcy bias, articulating these complex parts of our human experience that often just get glazed over or taken for granted. The artist is excited by a certain kind of chaos, both making it and finding it. Chaos is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Being in the unnameable, unknowable places is being close to lifeforce.

Message from the Artist: Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020

Constance Hockaday

Artists-In-Presidents: Fireside Chats for 2020 is a creative project directed by Constance Hockaday that recasts the presidency as a multi-vocal entourage. With the support from UCLA’s Center for the Art of performance, she has invited fifty artists to assume authority over our collective future. Alongside the 2020 presidential campaign, artists, including Lewis Hyde, Eiko Otake, Ishmael Reed, Ann Hamilton and Natalie Diaz, will write and deliver national addresses that will roll out over radio, podcast and social media. 

Like every American president, we have offered participating artists access to professional speechwriters who will support them in finding their presidential voice. Each artist will also create a presidential portrait of themselves for social media and future gallery exhibition. 

The project is inspired by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Depression-era Fireside Chats. Today, Americans are faced with the crippling social and economic fallout of a global pandemic that has brought the existing disparities in our communities into stark relief. Many parallels have been drawn between both the upheavals and the possibilities of the present moment with those of the 1930s. Similar to Depression Era FDR, we have arrived at a moment of crisis and possibility.   We are not calling for a Fireside Chat re-do, but rather an acknowledgement that many of the national narratives of liberation have erased the voices of women and people of color. It is time for an update. We are expanding the vernacular and aesthetics of power with the bodies and voices of the most brilliant thinkers of our times– calling on artists, writers, performers and musicians to assume authority over our collective future. 

Artist-In-Presidents is directed by artist Constance Hockaday and produced in partnership with UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance and also with support from The Kenneth Rainin Foundation and TED.

What is the Fireside Chat? 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took presidential office during the Great Depression, when the nation’s economy was decimated and trust in government was at an all-time low. Under these conditions, Roosevelt began to speak directly to the public via a series of radio broadcasts dubbed “the Fireside Chats.” His aim was to address Americans’ greatest concerns.  The Fireside Chats were the first time that a US president’s voice entered the living rooms of everyday Americans. Never before had an American president spoken so frankly and intimately with the citizens of their country.   In intricate poetic detail, Roosevelt unfurled an accessible vision of a unified American public and called upon citizens to participate in democracy as an act of faith.

Future of the project text:

Pending the results of the 2020 election and the pandemic Artists-In-Presidents will take the form of print publication, a gallery exhibition, and ultimately a live performance – bringing people together for a joyous event aboard FDR’s retired presidential yacht in the San Francisco Bay.

Announcing CAP UCLA’s 2020-21 Season

The 2020-21 CAP UCLA season ahead is the result of constantly evolving discussions with artists, managers and producers who are dexterously adapting to unprecedented change while exploring new possibilities.

While every season is the result of copious planning against challenging headwinds, what went into the 2020-21 program is truly unparalleled. During the initial months of the COVID-19 impacts to our health, work and economy the many unforeseeable challenges ensured that what seemed concrete and doable on a Monday could easily fall apart within an hour, a week or a month. As the pandemic settled in for the long haul, projects had to again be postponed as new urgencies quickly stepped forward. The number of times we have re-planned each event is past counting. My point is not about the exhaustive frequency of disruption in our lives and work, but to acknowledge the fortitude and faith that has been in constant evidence. To conceive of how we would offer a reliable programming framework for artists and audiences while every facet of our organization was upended has taken some doing. We are extremely proud of what we have in place. It is not based on what remains, rather, it is the exuberant response to navigating uncertainty with an abiding commitment to the incredible artistry at work in the world.

I want to express my gratitude to organizations and colleagues who have rallied together to share information and strategies, and to express my profound admiration for the artists who are facing the largest cataclysm of their professional lives yet who remain steadfast in extending all they can towards any and every solution that may be at hand on a moment’s notice.

I also want to acknowledge our audiences and supporters. When CAP UCLA shuttered our stages in the face of what public health requirements rightly asked of us, we also turned to you for input and support. In shifting our professional know-how from staged events as our principle way of gathering people together, we rapidly developed our humble newsletter into a weekly online publication. We wrote honestly about what we were experiencing, emphasized what artists were doing, linked readers to where urgent support was available, and put a high beam on the local, national and international perspectives we found useful in this new chapter of life at home.

The intuitive form of our newsletter was an effort at preserving the informal exchanges that take place in our diversely populated cultural commons — our lobbies, lounges and stages — the places where social encounters can illuminate what’s on people’s minds about any number of topics at hand in our communities here and afar. The value of these exchanges is as much a part of why we gather as the art itself. Your tremendous response to what we shared each week inspired us to press on and spare no effort in generating access to perspectives we may not have encountered anywhere else.  Rather than bemoan what is not possible in our theaters (however tempting), we have focused on what can be sustained.

CAP UCLA took a fierce and early stance that an immediate financial commitment to artists was the single most important priority for moving forward. The heart-rending reality of the economic freefall in our operating model spurred us to develop creative initiatives that would drive resources to artists wherever possible and required us to bypass long-ingrained conventions (see Artists Commissions).

Our remaining resources are modest to say the least, and we have invested in what we believe will be essential to our mutual recovery. Artists have always been at the forefront of what we do and they will remain so.

For the foreseeable future, every performance CAP UCLA presents in our 2020-21 Season will be shared online. Royce Hall will become a studio for high-level documentation of live performances. Many performers will be travelling to (or across) Los Angeles to stage their projects with us while our audiences remain safely at home. For our international artists, film crews have been organized to capture their projects in their cities of origin with CAP UCLA’s support. Visa applications and/or renewals for travel to the U.S. have all but stopped for the remainder of 2020. As we look ahead to 2021, we have ensured we are able to resume our presentations while recognizing that quarantine periods and distancing requirements may also make the presence of live audiences difficult if not impossible.

Assuredly, when we have the ability to invite you to join us in the theater, pending health and safety requirements, you will be the first to know.

The word adaptation will surely be a constant companion as we navigate the lengthy period ahead. With each shift, we will adapt accordingly. It is tempting to suggest that in doing so we will all be making history together, but the humbling truth is that the history of right now is re-making us. We envision that this transformative time will serve our collective betterment — one requiring more humility, more justness and more availability to the realities of the world we have neglected and must now actively address in order to correct course.

We hope that where you can support us, you will. Where you cannot, we totally understand and wish you every strength in the challenging new reality we find ourselves in. There is a cultural bottom-line behind CAP UCLA that ensures we can and will continue to be a resource for our communities for as long as we remain standing. This is what it is to sustain the cultural commons regardless of and despite unevenly applied market pressures. At the heart of CAP UCLA’s continuity efforts, we will put our values above our spreadsheets to leave an evidence of care in everything we do.

Here’s to everyone having a seat at the table in our exploration through wholly new terrain. May it bear meaningful fruit for the future that we are all part of creating.

—Kristy Edmunds,
Executive and Artistic Director
UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance