From the hinterlands to The Hinterlands: Meet Milwaukee's new theater group
First production Isaac Newton Is Our DJ plays Saturday at Moct
Imagine a highly trained cadre arriving in a smallish city. They've spent years honing their skills and have now arrived to transform the community. We're not talking Jedi, but the artists of The Hinterlands, a newly formed performance group that recently announced its intention to set up shop in Milwaukee. Led by Marquette alum Brian Moore, the group's name refers not only to its distance from major cultural centers, but also its intent to "explore the unmapped region of our culture, our world and ourselves." The five main company members share a network of connections that include The Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre in California and Double Edge Theatre in Massachusetts, and individually have performed in Kosovo, Serbia, Macedonia, Columbia, Denmark, Sweden, India, and Afghanistan, plus all over the United States.
The Hinterlands’ inaugural season promises original performances inspired by William Burroughs' Western novels, Gabriel García Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, and William Butler Yeats' poetic dramas, as well as workshops specializing in "explosive-ecstatic" physical training. The group’s first show, which previewed in December at High Concepts Laboratory in Chicago, is Isaac Newton Is Our DJ. Billed as "one part sensual science experiment, one part rave," Newton plays for one night only at MOCT bar on Saturday Jan. 9. Co-founder Richard Newman chatted with The A.V. Club about the group’s move to town and the upcoming performance.
The A.V. Club: Why did you decide to set up an avant-garde theater in Milwaukee?
Richard Newman: When we decided we wanted to work together, I'd been pretty much itinerant for a year and a half—which has its ups and downs—but I started to realize the importance of having an artistic community located within a broader community. Double Edge and Dell’Arte are both rural companies: Dell’Arte is five hours north of San Francisco, Double Edge is in the farmlands of Massachusetts. I wanted to see, is it possible to make this kind of daily physical work and long-term collaborations happen in an urban environment. That was one of the first goals, and we started looking at different cities. We didn't want to be in New York or Chicago or San Francisco or L.A.
AVC: Why not?
RN: Well, no one in New York is wanting for art, you know? [Laughs.] They're wonderful cities, but we are not needed there. So we started looking at cities where we thought, A) there was a need, and B) an artistic lineage, a history, and C) where it would be feasible to base a company like this. We need space that we can have access to and we need it pretty cheaply. [Laughs.] Our short list ended up being Milwaukee, Baltimore, and Detroit.
AVC: You probably made the better choice there.
RN: [Laughs.] Well, Baltimore and Detroit have quite a bit of need. But we found that those two cities couldn't really support an endeavor like we were trying to embark on. There's a history in Milwaukee of experimental performance, with Theater X, artists such as Daniel Stein, as well as the performance art community. When we visited Milwaukee, we didn't just meet with theater people; we met with visual artists, musicians, dancers, to get a broad sense of the artistic climate. And we found that people were creating work. Red Line had just opened up; they're also doing some really interesting community-based projects, which is another aspect of our work. They have an exhibit of puppets from the Milwaukee Public Theater. It seems like there is a fair amount of support for theater in Milwaukee for a city of its size. Also, the proximity to other cities makes it possible to tour, which is a big part of how we're planning on sustaining ourselves.
AVC: What's the premise behind Isaac Newton Is Our DJ?
RN: It's a performance dance party with a dramatic arc. We took Isaac Newton's laws of motion and tried to apply them to personal relationships, how people are brought together and pushed apart. So we created these two scientists who throw a party in honor of Newton's 366th birthday, but they have different takes on Newton's Laws. One believes they imply that we are drawn together as human beings, and we can use Isaac Newton's laws to make ourselves more physically attractive. The other scientist believes that Isaac Newton's laws push us apart, that they imply an isolation of the individual. So through the course of this party, there are experiments which are conducted on both the actors as well as the audience members. There's a series of demonstrations done through puppetry, dance and music, illustrating these scientific laws. The audience travels throughout the club, there's going to be dance breaks, live animation puppet shows, and quite a bit of minimal techno. [Laughs.] I'm the DJ.
AVC: You often use the word "explosive" to talk about your performance training. What’s explosive about it?
RN: The training aims to push the individual and the ensemble beyond their daily limitations. It's really about risk; physical risk and emotional and imaginative risk. There's a whole section of the piece based on games that people in a relationship play, but we use actual games, so they're really competitively playing these games with ropes and balls. It becomes like a sporting event, which we feel is really exciting for an audience.