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I’m not surprised: The three-and-a-half week festival combines just-right proportions of informality, experimentation, and high standards to give it a sense of momentum and dynamism. Three full-length plays allow audiences to sink their teeth into something meaty by newer writers, while the slate of 10-minute plays (18 in all) means you can watch something new and potentially risk-taking without having to commit to the possibility of cringing in your seat for an hour or more.
But my favorite element is the Artistic Blind Dates feature, which has its first show tonight and will run throughout the festival. It’s a full-on experiment: Source Festival administrators choose artists from widely different disciplines and task them with jointly creating a performance piece. Sure, it can easily be a recipe for some truly crappy art—and has been—but it requires the performers to leave their comfort zones and open themselves to the possibility of creating something totally new and fresh.
For the artists, the process began around February, when they were matched up for the first time. The pool of participants includes visual artists, dancers, musicians, directors, and a puppeteer, who were organized into four groups of three and then set on their merry way.
From there, the three artists in each group had to figure out what the hell they were going to focus on, and how to get there—not easy to accomplish with a couple of total strangers and the pressure of a looming deadline.
“It’s been hard because of logistics, and also having totally different approaches to making a piece,” said Ilana Silverstein, a modern dancer who was chosen for the project and will be premiering “Collapsing Silence” together with visual artist David Carlson and director/composer John Moletress. Silverstein explained that she and her fellow collaborators developed a list of questions that they hoped the project would answer, then began to home in on those points that seemed most intriguing.
Gradually, the group developed a theme and corresponding structure, but Silverstein added that staying open to new concepts was crucial: there was never a time when the artists could rest on the laurels of their individual expertise and divest themselves from the work they were jointly creating.
Which doesn’t surprise me. Last year, those Artistic Blind Date shows that stood out invariably included artists trying on new disciplines: the visual artist speaking lines, the actor rolling on the floor. Pieces in which dancers just danced in the background, for example, didn’t go anywhere.
Whether or not this year’s pieces are successful, the initiative is one of the only formal mechanisms in town where artists from totally different mediums seriously collaborate. Which makes it a very good thing, especially in a city where crossover—at least in the performing arts—doesn’t occur much, even on an informal level.
“It hasn’t been difficult because of different ideas; that’s been really interesting,” said Silverstein. “You learn about different forms of inspiration happening, like performances and books and articles and movies—we’re constantly sharing things with each other. And we’ve all gone to each others’ openings and performances, becoming a new audience member for a new neighborhood or venue or company.”