Why Make Performance

It seems like everyone is talking about Gob Squad, so why not take it as an excuse to indulge in their YouTube channel?

Why do I make performance?

It has something to do with standing in a circle of rocks with my eyes closed, Cheetos in my hand, and deciding to make performances.  Something to do with Judith Howard’s Dance Improv and Dance History classes and Jerome Bel. It has almost nothing to do with Swan Lake, except when it does (like last night, when I tried to learn the Pas d’Quatre in my living room).

I make performance because I don’t know why I make performance.  I want a show/thing/event that fills out the spaces between people. I want to love that show/thing/event. I love and hate that performance evaporates when it’s done.

Somewhere in me is a reserve that knows its own measure.  I don’t know what that means, but it developed while I was busy reconciling the fact that I want to do weird things with the fact that I don’t feel comfortable doing them in front of people. 

Phew. I have gotten nowhere. Maybe it’s just that stage lights make me giddy.

Gob Squad


I saw a show! I really liked it! Then I wrote about it! 

You can read about it here, on the Walker website.

Mad King Thomas is blogging about the shows in the Out There series, so each weekend in January one of us is posting an overnight observation. We love Out There! It’s a pretty sweet deal, ’cause guys, they let us watch the show for free! I mean, it’s pretty sweet until you leave the theater and realize that you can’t go out for a drink with your friends, and that you have to go home, but you can’t even go to bed ’cause YOU HAVE TO DO SOME WRITIN’. That part’s hard. Guess nothing is for free y’all. For realz. 

Anyway, I loved the show, and I recommend anyone seeing it. I’m going again tonight! Gob Squad’s Kitchen at the Walker! Then maybe go to the Walker blog and leave YOUR impressions?

A toe in, I guess

Theresa and Tara have spent the last two weeks splashing around this blog like fish in water, and I’ve been standing around mumbling things about how I just ate, and cramps, and also I don’t think I believe in water.

Turns out water exists guys.

Water: actually real. This water lives in Oregon.


Related to the search for “how to talk about our work”: 

Here is a link to a page that Tara found on the great wide intarwebs. It’s a bunch of excerpts from Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.” It made the think about how Mad King Thomas is sometimes and sometimes not playing with a camp aesthetic. It’s certainly a word people have used to describe us before.

I also ran across this definition of burlesque, which people have not used to describe us before, but which I think is relevant – specifically the first definition, but maybe in multiple ways:

  1. A literary or dramatic work that ridicules a subject either by presenting a solemn subject in an undignified style or an inconsequential subject in a dignified style. 
  2. A ludicrous or mocking imitation; a travesty: The antics of the defense attorneys turned the trial into a burlesque of justice.
  3. A variety show characterized by broad ribald comedy, dancing, and striptease.

Too bad if we put burlesque on our promo material people will keep showing up asking “where’re the naked girls?”

Wanted: An Elevator Spiel

So it is always a struggle to try to explain to people what it is we do… 

When I tell people I’m a dancer and choreographer, I usually get a response something like, “Oh, do you watch ‘So You Think You Can Dance’?” or “What kind of dance, like ballet? Tap? Jazz?” 

This makes me laugh. And die a little inside.

And when I try to explain that it is not really any of these, and more like an amalgum of theater and dance, it only brings to mind musical theater or, God forbid, one woman asking if it was like liturgical dance. 

I don’t want to call it performance art (as that usually calls to mind cliches of naked people pissing onstage and throwing it at the audience or pouring chocolate on their bare breasts and having a lizard lick it off… both admirable activities, but not what we do). Saying we make theater suggests more narrative than we provide, and also, none of us really have theater training. Our identity is wrapped up in a history with dance, a dance community, and a dance sensibility, so while I feel happy for people to attach additional labels to what we do, I can’t let go of the dance identifier.  I feel better when I describe it as satiric or social commentary dance, though I’m not sure that’s any clearer, and I always end up following it up with a description of that time I fellated a unicorn horn, or ate a tofu dog out of my own underwear. (Now it does sound like performance art!) So I’ve been trying to come up with a sentence that puts together the right randomness to give a messy but illuminating picture of what Mad King Thomas makes. 

“It’s like if you take a classical ballet, chop out the dancey parts with lots of people, put the everybody in gold lame and replaced their toeshoes with monster claws, then have them spout Oscar Wilde quotes while waving bananas to the music of  Queen.”

No? How about:

“Take one bad pop music video, throw in some post-modern posturing, insert random dialogue, pour on the irony, stir in plenty of irreverence a strong dose of anger, a hint of earnesty, and complete with a dash of sparkles.”

Neither of these clearly encapsulates Mad King Thomas dances in a witty thrity-second speil that I can deliver to strangers at cocktail parties and in the elevator. I need help! Suggestions?

Doing things you’ve never done before.

There’s an article up at MNplaylist.com by Max Sparber about chaos in theater that (of course) piqued my interest.

A line will be flubbed, or there will be some accident onstage, and suddenly the cast will find themselves winging it. And, with unexpected frequency, these moments don’t hurt a show, but suddenly send an electric charge through it. … In their way, it’s these moments that make live theater genuinely live. We’re no longer seeing actors mostly duplicating what they’ve done the previous performance and the performance before that. We’re seeing them do something they’ve never done before.

I like encouraging people to do things they’ve never done before, or that they want to and CAN do, but feel held back by imaginary concerns (“culture” as the anthropologist likes to call it).  Mad King Thomas doesn’t often (ever?) include strictly improvised moments in our pieces, but we do present pieces after only a modicum of rehearsal. 

(Don’t tell the theater police, but we’ve even gone on stage with nothing more than a vague blocking run in our living room. Also, we’re completely unlicensed to practice performance art in the state of Minnesota. Shhhh!)

There’s a connection between rawness and a sense of freedom, isn’t there? At least, I want there to be a connection. Maybe letting people see you figure it out makes us all feel more comfortable with occasionally looking foolish as we try something we’ve never done before. 

Feeling foolish, and a little cold.

Hi, Walker patrons!

Maybe you came here from the blogs at the Walker, about Betontanc/Umka.lv?  If so, welcome! If not, you should go see Betontanc/Umka.lv this weekend…and hello anyway. We still love you.

Anyway, I’m not here to talk about the show, but to say, hi, hello and welcome. Here’s an introduction to what we’re doing on this site.  Theresa wrote it.  She’s great, isn’t she? The long and short of it is that we’re going to write here, about particular shows, about the form in general, about the world and…about other things!

Here are some dances we’ve got online:

Every day I die a little bit, and I get that much colder

Fish on Bikes: A Picture of Free, Untrammelled Womanhood

Throw a Big Boulder on the Stage (you are so beautiful you are so beautiful you are so beautiful)

Excerpt of GTFO

What else? I want Mad King Thomas to ride bicycles down the Las Vegas strip while wearing bikinis. Can you imagine? Man. Sounds great.

Theresa Begins to Blog! (Not an Adventure for Small Children)

I feel like a blog needs an introduction. I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel like I don’t understand the Internetz. I can has cheeseburgers.
So what is this all about? What is it here for and what am I doing?

Mad King Thomas has had to discuss our mission statement lately. It seems like “Making Things More Awesome” isn’t quite clear enough. (I mean, come on folks, that’s pretty self-explanatory, right?) So we’ve been talking about what it is we do, what we want to do, and what we care about. One thing we’ve mentioned (which we’ve known for a long time) is that our work exists as part of a discussion, and one of its functions is to spark more discussion. If I were back in college I’d say we’re interested in adding to the discourse. Hell, I don’t have to be in college to say “discourse.” Discourse discourse discourse. That sounds dirty.

We’ve also been talking about our approach to dance, which is what I like to call “the kitchen sink approach.” Anything could go into the performance. Talking, eating, posing, on-stage costume-changes, bananas, farting, pop music, silence, poetry, cardboard sets, elaborate Victorian furniture, overheard conversations, ping pong balls, off-key singing, and, maybe, if we’re feeling truly adventuresome, some dance moves. Whatever moves us, whatever forwards the exploration of whatever subject it is we’re interested in.

If thinking and talking about the world is the idea- the things we love and the things we hate, the problems and mysteries- if making the world a better place is our motivator, why stop at performance? If we believe in collaboration (and we do!) then why stop at our three heads. Let’s get the world in on this thing! Let’s ask the Intarwebs!

So we’re putting our process online, in hopes that others will chip in with their thoughts, and in hopes that people who are interested in hearing and thinking more will find some of it here. Usually we sit around in our living rooms and talk about our dances for months before we make them. We’ll still do that from the comfort of our living-room-rehearsals, but now we’re also committing to putting some of our thoughts out (at least once a week!) into the vast series of tubes that Al Gore was kind enough to invent for us.

Ultimately what will this blog contain? Sometimes essays or personal narratives. Sometimes photos. Sometimes rants. Sometimes links to articles or YouTube. Sometimes long stream-of-consciousness mental vomits. Sometimes just a couple of sentences. Sometimes stories. Sometimes reviews or impressions of shows we’ve seen. Sometimes images or ideas. Sometimes found text, poetry, quotes. Sometimes discussions about feminism. Hegemony. Theories of Oppression. Queer Theory. Bicycles. Sustainable living. Performance. Art and art-making. What makes dance. What makes us mad. What makes us swoon. What sustains us. Uncensored blatherings that will make us un-hire-able in any respectable setting. Anything else we think of. Sometimes a shout-out to our moms. Hi Mom!
Pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. Maybe that too. We hope you’ll enjoy, comment and come back!

The Epic of Mad King Thomas

Three women on a stage.

Mad King Thomas is a genius with three brains and three hearts and sixty tough nails.  He was born on April 19, 2005.    His middle name is TaraReneeTheresaHelenaMonicaSimone.  His last name is unpronounceable in any tongue spoken by mortals.

He loves unicorns, cats, moustaches, robots, asymmetry, dancing, people, duct tape, black plastic, bicycles, women (who doesn’t?), pop music, excess, glitter, football, manatees, cleaning house while drunk, small things, large things, and the Schleppenwolf.