How our themes inspired our work
At the beginning of each year, we set our intentions by naming themes that will light our way. This year’s intentions were especially important and foundational as we embarked on a most ambitious course to devise our new theatrical production, Constant State of Otherness.
Spark. This year, a major spark was ignited as we launched the Otherness project, which is both a new full-length performance work which we are still devising, but also an ambitious project that is stretching us in new ways to create within a deep community engagement process. Through solid partnerships providing financial and outreach support, our ensemble had invaluable space and time to work with communities across the country and also engage in a thought-provoking development process.
Vulnerability. The premise of the Otherness project is rooted in building empathy through listening, sharing our stories and unique challenges. Unlocking these stories in our community and in ourselves requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to ask and answer questions that isn’t always easy or comfortable.
Catalyze. As we deepened our commitment to engaging communities in our creative process, we embarked on a new level of understanding of the role we can play in catalyzing these connections. Whether it was connecting with Philadelphia API communities through workshops with our partners at Asian Arts Initiative, or community members in Helena, MT with our partners at The Myrna Loy, we have been inspired by the power of bringing people together for conversation, story sharing, and discovery.
What we learned about otherness during our creative residencies
This year has been so full and enriching for Unit Souzou as we’ve dedicated ourselves to creating our new theatrical work, Constant State of Otherness. We want to share a snapshot of some of our experiences during creative artist residencies hosted by our partners.
In September, our professional ensemble journeyed to Helena, MT, where we were hosted by our co-commissioning partner, The Myrna Loy. A highlight of our time in Montana was meeting several inspiring members of the community, who shared stories of their life experiences deeply steeped in navigating otherness.
One person we spoke with, Rob Bonnes, is currently introducing adaptive ice hockey (which we got to spend an afternoon trying out) to Helena through the Montana Independent Living Project. His was a story of constant otherness and intense questioning of self worth, and his fight to find his place in his community. Over time, his has also become a journey of vulnerability and resilience. He has found the value of sharing his story with others to provide solidarity for others who are struggling, and to give a new perspective to the things we take for granted and the ways we move through our lives.
We were also honored to spend time with a number of other community members who generously shared their stories: Valerie Hellerman, who shared her experiences of working with refugee camps around the world; Moe Wosepka, who is dedicated to helping former inmates with their complex transitions to new lives; and students of the PAL high school with whom we explored taiko as a form of genuine and representative expression of otherness. The compassion and perseverance of the community inspired us to dig deeply into our own stories of otherness and find the meaningful connections through our differences.
Soon after a very formative time in Helena, we traveled to Caldera Arts in Sisters, OR, nestled amongst the gorgeous trees and lakes of the Deschutes National Forest. In a space so tied to nature, it was impossible not to find a connection with the earth, with each other, and with ourselves. In this vast space, we found invaluable time to bring ourselves into our bodies so that we could feel and create from a vulnerable and authentic place. As we explored what otherness means to us, we found our own stories of family and community that shaped who we are and the burdens of what we represent in our multi-racial society. We are incredibly excited to return in January for further creative work, and in Spring for our Oregon debut performance.
We are grateful for the opportunities these residencies have provided. Through this deep immersion in building connections and listening to moving stories of otherness in the communities we’ve visited, we have developed exciting ideas and scenescapes for this new theatrical work.
LOOKING AHEAD: CONSTANT STATE OF OTHERNESS DEBUT
2020 will be an electric year for Unit Souzou. After 3 years of deep, thoughtful creative process in conversation and practice, we will be debuting Constant State of Otherness throughout next year. We hope to see you!
February 1, 2020 Sisters, OR Work-in-Progress
Through Caldera’s Open Studios in partnership with the Deschutes County Library, we will share a work-in-progress of Constant State of Otherness as a culmination of our January creative residency.
March 21-22, 2020 Portland, OR Otherness Collaborator Performance
Otherness: Togetherness will feature our collaborative work with Horatio Law, a Chinese American visual installation artist and Joe Kye, a Korean American violinist-looper coming together to share stories of experiences grappling with ideas of identity, home, otherness.
May 1, 2020 Helena, MT Debut Performance
Lead commissioner, The Myrna Loy, will present the premiere of the full-length theatrical production, Constant State of Otherness.
May 9-10, 2020 Washington, DC Tour Performance, Dance Place
May 13, 2020 Minneapolis, MN Tour Performance, Taiko Arts Midwest
June 6-7, 2020 Sisters, OR Tour Performance/2-day Festival, Caldera
Fall 2020 Philadelphia, PA dates tbd
Fall 2020 Portland, OR dates tbd
Constant State of Otherness is a National Performance Network/Visual Artist Network (NPN/VAN) Creation & Development Fund Project co-commissioned by The Myrna Loy in partnership with Caldera Arts, Asian Arts Initiative, Dance Place, Risk Reward and NPN/VAN. The Creation & Development Fund is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information: www.npn.org. Constant State of Otherness has received development support from the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Theatre Project and Regional Arts and Culture Council.
LOOKING MORE AHEAD: EAST PORTLAND RHYTHM PROJECT IN PARTNERSHIP WITH APANO
Thanks to a seed funds from a prestigious Creative Heights grant from Oregon Community Foundation, we are excited to announce a new project we are developing in partnership with our friends and colleagues at APANO. Through a community-embedded 18-20 month, Unit Souzou will create RHYTHM: Walking to the Heartbeat of our Community, a series of experiences, conversations, workshops and performances centered around pedestrian safety in East Portland’s Jade District. This project, which will debut in 2021 seeks to develop lasting relationships, discover new narratives about this neighborhood, engage in direct conversations around safety to help build a stronger, more welcoming, and more resilient neighborhood, and spur ideas for how Unit Souzou’s approach to taiko and community-engaged creations embody placekeeping and positive community changes. Look forward to more information in the near future!