Some things are hard to grasp

Some things are hard to grasp. It’s taken me a while to realize this. As a rule, I walk through the world with the belief that whatever it is, I can understand it. I like this arrogance – it is challenging and comforting, and most of the time it is accurate. But despite frequent accuracy, it turns out that arrogance is arrogance, and, as much as it can push capacity, it can also obscure the truth. And the truth is that there are some things that I fail to understand, even as I experience them.

My grandmother died in November, on a Saturday morning. I was on the bus coming in from Boston to say goodbye. My mom and stepfather living five minutes away only just made it to her bedside; she died within 20 minutes of their arrival. Nan was not someone who’d namby-pamby around when there was someplace to be.

I arrived to her home, to her body. She was gone but she was still in bed. Her eyes were closed, skin smoothed of the wrinkles that had resided there for the past 30 years, her features sharper than I’d ever seen. Her hands were folded, beautiful and cold. I held her hand in my hand, in my heart, and in my eyes. It was a different goodbye than I had imagined.

It is different to walk through the world without her. I don’t understand this world yet, and I certainly have not reconciled myself to liking it.

I avoided going to bed the night she died. I didn’t want to wake up in a world she was not in. New Years was hard too. What good is a year she would never be part of? Why would I willingly enter that reality?

About a month after she died, she began appearing in my dreams. I can’t express how good it was to see her.

Another dream, a little later: I was attending a funeral for my grandfather. This was surprising; he has been dead a decade now. His death marked the first time I tried to comprehend the permanency of loss that death entails. But enough. Back in my dream, it was his funeral and all these people I loved were attending. These friends of mine traveled far to be there. We were all outside and they were sitting on a hill and spreading down into a baseball field with no bases. I remember being on the edge of this hill, alone, alternately crying facedown in the grass and waving to these intimate friends. I was far away, inconsolable and loved. I was so grateful for everyone there.

I woke up from this dream thinking I’m gonna have to do this twice more in the near future.

I have two more grandparents in their nineties. Which is lucky as far as these things go.

Art, Anger, and the Choreography of Protest

Over the past few months I’ve been thinking a lot about anger and the place of art and activism. I was feeling feeling angry and tired and demoralized. No big surprise. (See Mike Brown. See Eric Garner. See the list of names that haven’t been as publicized. See the non-indictment of police officers in the murders of black, brown and indigenous people. See America.) I feel the kind of frustration that comes from still having hope but not having belief. The stagnation of anger without action, and the sense that action will not amount to anything. 

I’ve been going to a lot of protests- space for collective anger. I’ve noticed the different energies at each protest: the shift from outrage and grief right after Brown’s death towards greater fury and righteous indignation when his killer was not indicted. The energy matched the actions- the first rally culminating in a permitted march through downtown Minneapolis and the second culminating in a direct action march on 35 W, shutting down the highway. I felt drained with sadness at the first and devastated at the second. #Shutitdown was a hashtag meant for the highways, but it resonated with my emotions, my body, my self. 

More recently I attended the Million March Artist Movement and was struck by the distinct sensibility of a protest organized by artists. Still fueled by anger, the aim was to harness that anger, use the power of people and art to transform that anger into action. While the general format of the rally was the same as the first one I had attended (a gathering of people on the government plaza listening to speakers), the air felt different. Umbrellas emblazoned with positive messages decked the stairs. There was a station for making signs and a quilt of messages that people could add to. There were postcards with a clear message of demands that we could send to our legislators. The speakers were poets, writers, singers. My anger was lighter. The message had morphed from Hands Up, Don’t Shoot to #shutitdown to #blacklivesmatter. And this was a specific #blacklivesmatter with a People Power Change; Art Powers Change chant.This was a protest that had space for anger, hope, and the seeds of belief. 

Though of course one of the major aims of protests it to be seen and heard by outside forces, (e.g. institutions and people in positions of power), it was clear to me that an important function of protests is also internal. These spaces allow us to channel the feelings and frustration out into the world, not keeping the anger bottled up, unable to go anywhere, eating at us from the inside. It resonated with what I’ve been learning about somatic therapy through another art project I’m involved with, Marcus’ Young’s practice called “Don’t You Feel It Too?.” Somatic therapist Thea Lee talked with us about not only regulating individual nervous systems, but also our collective cultural nervous system. Protests and art are ways of helping us culturally and individually move through feelings, through obstacles, through frustration and injustice. In order not to stay stuck in “fight or flight” and “freeze and dissociation” we need to move. The choreography of each of these protests does something specific for the participants, reshapes us and directs our energy.There is a beauty in bringing art and protest together, infusing them with each other. I want to imagine this fusion as a whole, integral thing. Not dressing the protest up in art, or sticking a protest message into a performance. How can our understanding of how to organize a protest change when it is also art? And how does our understanding of how to make work shift when it is also a protest? 

I have seen clarity and solidarity of the choreography of Hands Up, Don’t Shoot. I have felt the choreography of a die-in and the performance of standing to the sound score of Black youth reciting lines from Maya Angelou’s poem “Like dust, I rise.” We have practiced the dance that is people marching and chanting together and the dance that is stillness, sitting to occupy the Mall of America rotunda. I want to know, what is the dance that we will do next? What can we do to choreograph liberation?


Mad King Thomas had our first post-mortem face-to-face meeting!  Google Hangouts has been surprisingly effective, but there’s nothing like actual face time.

We went to Hollywood, Joshua Tree National Park, Venice Beach, and the Salton Sea (the new setting for Welcome to the Shattering World). 

We schemed and planned. We talked for an obscenely long time about how we are going to improve our website.  Paul bought us a surprise pizza. 

Mostly we fought long and hard about our upcoming tenth-anniversary show.  Put the dates on your calendar now: June 18-21, 2015.  More details forthcoming!

Rehearsal report: a question.

Monica assigned us, about a month ago, something she had done in her Power, Privilege and Oppression class (What a class title!)  

The task, as summarized by me: Find your resistance. Who, if they walked into your life tomorrow, would you struggle to serve to the best of your abilities, more or less because of groundless (and perhaps unintentional) bias on your own part? Is there a group of people who you just don’t react well to? What three steps can you take to reduce your resistance to that group?  

I think, in the context of her program, this is about moderating how your perspective and place in society affects how you can help your clients.  

In the context of Mad King Thomas, I think it’s about making ourselves better people, which is a corollary of our motto, Making the World More Awesome. We’ve had a while to think on it. I think Theresa and I were meant to settle on a specific demographic, but it seems we’ve both unravelled the assignment about to the edges of usefulness.  Sorry, Mo.  

I’ve been developing little tests to figure out when that resistance is flaring up: If I feel a physical tightening in my body when I encounter someone I don’t personally know. If I find myself withdrawing into my mind and overthinking when I contact someone. If I don’t want to listen to a person, or I discount what they have to say as “illogical” or “irrelevant”, or I try to shut down the conversation as soon as possible, or I just look away like they aren’t there.  

Sometimes the test yields false positives: A guy at the grocery store tried to talk to me and I averted my eyes and walked quickly on. He called me out for “not being supportive”, which made me feel a little bad. But the reason I was avoiding this guy is because he was there as a representative of the L.A. Times, and while I have no particular beef with the L.A. Times, I don’t need to feel bad about resisting corporations. (In response, I said I support him but don’t wish to give my information out or subscribe…so it helped even in this case.)  

Anyway, once you start to notice this resistance, you also see there’s a flip side to all of this, which is the groups of people you feel comfortable around. Of course, all comfort is relative, isn’t it? A professor warned us that the end result of a postmodern education was permanent alienation, wherever you go. And maybe they were right. Postmodernism of the sort Mad King Thomas acquired at Macalester reduces the comfort level you have within what you perceive as your “own” group. It reminds you not to make assumptions, not to live so Euro/America/self-centric. It dismantles the idea that you belong in any kind of group at all.   

But! The key with this exercise is not to remember people are different from you (duh) but to make active effort toward understanding those you don’t (and in some ways can’t) understand. To make effort toward expanding outward from your own self-centered humanity to the humanity of everyone around you, and, eventually the humanity of everyone on earth. Right? You make sure you are, yourself, a human, and then you extend the courtesy to everyone else. That’s the basic deal.  

Anyway, it’s not hard to leap from there to what’s been happening in Ferguson and New York and …. It’s not that hard to leap from examining why you feel nervous around X group of people to seeing how a cop might react inappropriately to a group. And we’ve all been separately agitated about the #blacklivesmatter situation. We are sad that this shit is happening, and that it has happened for generations, and that the system is STILL failing to address it. I am sad, selfishly, because I’ve lost family to police violence, and I am sad, socially, because other people are still losing family that way.  And I am privileged because, as a white person, it’s way, way, WAY less likely to happen to me or my family than it is to a black person.  

But I feel so encouraged that people are out there, navigating this situation with more and more grace, more grace than I could really hope for, even as the system fails, even as white people overstep and fail to listen, even as people get mad that their Christmas shopping was interrupted. I want to keep noticing when my shoulders get tight and to take that as a reminder that I’m not treating someone with the most dignity that I could.   

Anyway, there’s the rehearsal report for this week. 

This may mean nothing to you, but I will share it anyway.

We’re back in rehearsal, you guys. Monica’s the boss! When we were planning out this weird year of experimental long-distance-choreography, we thought: we’ll let the person who has the biggest life change lead rehearsals! They’ll be able to make it suit them!

It turns out that big life changes are a little hard to recover from. We started a month late, but we’re here and in action (right in the middle of my own Big Life Change).

We’ve been doing exercises related to Monica’s coursework in Dance/Movement Therapy, which is great for me because it’s free!

Week One: Timelines of our art history

Announcing the plan for the rest of our lives

FIrst let me say this: Rumors of our death have been greatly exaggerated. Not only are we NOT dying, we are planning all kinds of excellent activities during our time apart. 

In case you haven’t heard the news:

Monica is moving to Boston to learn about dance/movement therapy; I’m moving to LA to learn about palm trees and radical pedestrianism; Theresa is moving to South Minneapolis to learn about pond ownership.  

Thursday (THIS Thursday) is our last we-all-still-live-in-the-same-city rehearsal. This weekend (THIS weekend) is Monica’s last as a Minnesota resident. I can’t and won’t recount the history that I feel bearing down around me every minute right now. It’s all too much. 

Which is to say I’m psyched about what’s coming up, which is good because otherwise I’d be sad, walking backward and wiping tears away. So here I am to hold your hand, turn you around to walk forward.

Let’s address the facts of the Tenth Year of Madness, a.k.a Today through July 2015. 

The King has convened himself and issued the following five edicts: 

1) We shall perform artistic experiments!

We’re taking this time apart as a hard reset on “our practice”. This is a curious thing to do, because it’s hard to say what “our practice” is exactly, as it doesn’t even look the same every time. Sometimes we make dances for the telephone or sometimes we pour flour all over a gallery and regret it deeply the next day. But usually it involves sitting together in the same room for 3 hours a week, minimum, and talking about ideas, images and movement.

We can’t sit in the same room anymore, but it turns out that the internet has been invented and can help us communicate. 

Over the next 12 months, we are trying something new:

  1. Each of us gets to be real, actual King. Whoever is King decides what Mad King Thomas does for two months.
  2. We make the other two participate in this crazy idea we have.  Maybe we meet via telephone, or maybe we write a cookbook, or maybe we set things on fire and send the ashes to each other via post. 
  3. ??? 
  4. New artistic practice!

The future feels so wide open and so different for each of us. Ain’t no reason trying to have three hour Skype rehearsals if they suck. Ain’t no reason trying to make a hard-and-fast plan when the whole is slipping and sliding beneath us.

2) We shall unleash the results of our experiments upon the unwitting public!

Rather than keeping all these experiments to ourselves, as is our selfish wont, we are going to put evidence of our wrongdoing artistic practice here on this blog.   We’ve sensed with our little tyrannical antennae that there could be a lot of internetting in support of our mission to Make Things More Awesome, but we always get busy making a stage show and all those high-falutin’ thoughts falute right out the window.

As the world’s only Virtual Dance Company (this doesn’t count ), we want to give good internet. Starting this fall you will see more blogging, more medias, more internets. 

3) We shall procure fancier digs for our experimental results!

AND we’re planning a big overhaul of this here corner of internet. It will look more like us, it will have more content about our work, it will maybe be funny. That’s all I am at liberty to say.

4) We shall celebrate our 10th Anniversary with a show!

Did you know that Mad King Thomas is about to turn ten? Did you know that ten is the last year when you can still display your age in fingers without confusing people? In any case, April 2014 is our tenth birthday, and we’re putting together a tenth anniversary show for next summer. Monica and I will fly back, there will be much dancing and rejoicing and maybe even cake with buttercream frosting (Italian or French-style frosting is not yet decided). I’m keeping all the juiciest details under my hat for now (not a comfortable place to keep juicy things) but there will be trumpet fanfares and all that stuff.

Put “Sometime in Summer 2015” in your calendars now!

5) We shall travel to the Old World and study dance-making with Julyen Hamilton!

We were awarded a Jerome Travel/Study grant to study with one of our favorites, Julyen Hamilton! WHOOO! I finally get to go to Europe. We get to trip out on dance as it pertains to the space/time continuum, mathematics or whatever and we could not be more thrilled to have this time to regroup and hang out together while working our dancer tails off.

Mad King Thomas has, in many ways, just been a vehicle for negotiating our lives via an artistic practice. Sure, it mostly results in us eating things we think are gross, but it’s a way for us to be ourselves, to investigate the things that are happening around us, and to bring all of you around us to talk about it. And it turns out when you hit thirty, some things in life start to change. Like, maybe you need to make a living wage. Maybe you need to live somewhere new.  But some things don’t change, and our desire to work with each other is one of the latter. 

If you want to keep up with Mad King Thomas’ next adventures, let us know and we’ll add you to our mailing list!

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

Well, word is getting out and the rumors are starting to fly: “Mad King Thomas is breaking up.” “Mad King Thomas is over.” “Mad King Thomas has died.”

And while it’s true that Mad King Thomas died in our last show, (those of you who came to the Narrator Is Suspect kindly witnessed our elongated death scene), it’s also true that we’re still alive and kicking. (As the audience toasted at the end of the show: The King is Dead; Long Live the King!) Metaphorically we’re not going anywhere, even if physically we’re spreading out across the United States. Monica is about to go to grad school at the end of the summer (either in Boston or Boulder, CO), and Tara will be moving to L.A. in the fall. I’ll be staying in Minneapolis, moonlighting at the karaoke bars singing off-key renditions of “All By Myself” in the style of Celine Dion, which is kind of like moving.

So ultimately, it’s a time of transition. We’re not breaking up, though. We’re doing the long-distance thing, and we’re figuring out what the long-distance thing means. Maybe we’ll keep making stage performances, and we’ll just rack up the frequent flier miles. Or maybe we’ll keep making non-stage performances, and we’ll still rack up frequent flier miles. Maybe we’ll keep making phone dances, and we’ll save ourselves a shit ton of money. Or maybe we’ll focus on dance videos or writing or maybe the traveling will become the performance itself. As Monica-as-circus-ringleader shouts in the beginning of Like a Circus, Only Death, “Anything. Is. Possible!” 

Death has been a reoccurring theme these days. The death scene (which, spoiler alert, occurred in the future) was both an ending and a promise. We are together until our final performance when we are 103 (or 107 if Tara has her druthers), but there is a reason we are re-enacting (future-enacting?) that death now. And there’s a reason that our final toast in The Narrator Is Suspect is becoming the title of our next piece: The King is Dead; Long Live the King.

We’re asking all these questions, talking and writing and going on a retreat to figure some of it out. We decided we should also ask those questions artistically. So we’re making a piece for the April 30th Pleasure Rebel at the Bryant Lake Bowl that incorporates our death, our phoenix-selves rising from the ashes, and lots of left over gold lamé because we also have some unanswered questions about home, and we never feel more at home than when in gold lamé. We hope you’ll join us, that you’ll cheer us on, and that you’ll offer us your hopes and dreams to be burnt together with ours and reshaped from the ashes.

Reaaaaaach for it: Mad King Thomas’ quest for immortality

So, our Kickstarter. We’re close. Really close.   We’re at $3,215, 91%, and I can practically smell it.  I imagine that when we cross the finish line, some kind of alchemical magic will be triggered and the smell of lilacs will pour out of my laptop in celebration of a successful kickstarter.   (Is this weird fantasizing jinxing us? I hope not.)   In any case, we’ve been scheming.  You know what happens when a kickstarter succeeds, right?   THE DREADED STRETCH GOAL.  

 I mean, we’re no Potato Salad so here goes nothing.  We still have fourteen days and we hate LOVE fundraising!!   I’ve been on vacation in Washington, DC.  I came to see the cherry blossoms and crush on Thomas Jefferson, but I’ve also been going to a lot of big, imposing museums.  You know, the kind that will last forever.  I spend a lot of time thinking, “Man, when Mad King Thomas becomes president, those Kickstarter t-shirts are totally going to end up in the National Archives.”   

And then I thought, “Shit, well, that’s great, but WHAT ABOUT THE WORK, MAD KING THOMAS?! WHAT ABOUT THE ACTUAL DANCES?!”   I’m here because Mad King Thomas wants to finally create an enduring monument to itself.   

So we decided to create a DVD of our tenth anniversary show! It’s like a big, Italian marble monument, but you don’t have to schlep it around when you want to show your friends.  

We want to raise enough money to pay a professional (aka Ben McGinley) to create a mini-documentary of the show: The cast involved, our amazing mentors, us gibbering on like gibbons, the show itself, and some audience moments too.  If we hit the stretch goal, we’ll probably give everyone who kicked us kickstarted us download/streaming access and, for those who want it, we may even be able to provide a physical shiny round disc that will transfer this documentary to your television. The details aren’t quite sorted yet but the idea is solid.  

I’m so stupidly excited about this. I’m excited to have something to show people beyond the few video clips we’ve managed to upload. I’m excited to have something of Quality, not just our shitty hand-held camera in the back row.  I’m excited to have a DVD to leave secretly in museums all over the world.    I hope you’re excited, too.  KICKSTART US, YOU GUYS. WE’RE WAITING!

House shows.

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…”

-Some guy

We’re doing a show in houses. It’s a show about life, family, home, dying, and all the other things. It’s not about blond hair or sparkles, except when it occasionally is.   The entire house is the stage. It starts when we enter the house. The dance is about the people in it, and made by the people in it. It feels incredibly circular and sometimes I wish we’d just written a monologue and called it good.   I’m terrified of doing a show in a house. I’m terrified of how unshowlike it is, how blurry the lines between performance and life. I’m terrified that it will seem too much like life, and too much like performance when I want something right smack in the middle.  

  But the piece calls out for the comforts of a home. For the objects, sight lines, smells of a home. Watching Monica in her grandfather’s house was different from watching Monica in a studio or theater. The content of the piece asks for it. Why build a fake home when we could invade someone’s home, have their memories laced with ours? Where are we from if the places where we grew up used to belong to someone else? Why not ask the audience for support and complicity throughout the piece, just like we do of family?   We’ve learned an incredible amount about families, and homes, fitting in, supporting, history. And these house shows feel more like another step in the research than they feel like a big present wrapped with a bow, which is how I normally like it.   Come see these experiments. We have two public performances–March 28 and 29–with very limited seating. Come to the show. Rub shoulders with us, hold our hands, tell us about your grandparents. Move and speak with us. We’re learning a lot and want to share with you. And we want to hear your stories and see your family vacation pictures.

The Narrator is Suspect – an immersive performance experience

Mad King Thomas presents their newest dance: 

The Narrator is Suspect

an immersive home performance

Over the past year and a half, Mad King Thomas has traveled to each of the places they grew up (and then some) on a quest to find out how they became who they are, to experience the culture that shaped them, and, like an awkward boyfriend, to meet the families they grew up in. In the resulting show,  Mad King Thomas leads you through a house sharing stories, lies, semi-religious episodes and decidedly secular cake. 

One part troubled relationship with Ken Burns, one part drunken stories around the Thanksgiving dinner table, three parts unanswerable questions, a smattering of death, intimacy and birthdays, and a dash of post-colonial consideration, The Narrator is Suspect is a performance about how we make home. And what better venue for a show about home than inside other people’s homes?

Your friends, our friends, and generous folks with a sense of adventure are hosting 10 shows throughout the Twin Cities.  Most of these are private, but two shows in the Powderhorn neighborhood are open to the public-at-large. 

 Friday March 28 and Satruday March 29 at 8pm!

Sliding Scale $10-20
Reservations are required as space is extremely limited.

Please e-mail for tickets. Include your name, number of tickets desired, and date of show you wish to attend.  Mad King Thomas will confirm your reservation and send you the address and further details.

Please note: The public shows move through a two-story house; audience must be able to climb a staircase and stand for short periods of time. If you have limitations that do not allow this, or if you have other handicapped-accessible needs, please let us know in your reservation e-mail. We will do our best to accommodate you.

This project has been made possible with generous support from a Jerome Foundation 50 year Anniversary Grant and was developed in part though The Inkub8 Residency Program, funded through John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s KnightArts Challenge Grant.