Home and the American Dream Mythology

When I first sat down with Steve Liggett a couple of weeks ago to talk about New Genre, he told me that Living Arts had recently received a grant from the National Performance Network to develop new performance art pieces in Tulsa and that the gallery would be using the grant to offer a free, week-long performance art workshop to anyone who wished to participate the week following New Genre.

Jose Torres Tama, who performed "The Cone of Uncertainty" at the New Genre Festival, has led the week-long workshops, which will culminate in a final performance tonight at 8pm. Tama's performance piece deals with New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the government's response to the disaster and the very broad ideas of home and the American dream. Those are the themes that the eight or so individuals participating in the residency will explore in their ensemble piece, "Home and the American Dream Mythology," tonight at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St.

The ultimate goal of the residency is to inspire more performance art works by people in the Tulsa community. Through his workshops, Tama is arming artists with an arsenal of techniques and strategies for performance art, which include movement and the creative use of the human body, film and video, politically charged objects as props and improvisation.

I had the opportunity to sit it on one of the workshops, where I observed a couple of the elements of tonight's show. I was moved by each individual's interpretation of "home" and how they each articulate their thoughts and feelings on home through original text and simple movement. Using a flag of the original 13 colonies, each participant told a story of home, his relationship with his home and where he is now in proximity to it. The stories were improvised, but within a set of defined boundaries. Rather than making something up on the spot (the sort of improv local audiences are likely most familiar with), the artists told their stories -- stories they know well and have told before -- as they felt them at that moment. The result was a very raw, very personal, very moving exchange between the artists on stage. And it was by watching this exchange that I really understood the goal of the residency -- to prove that anyone who has a story to tell can write and perform a piece of art. Many of the workshops' participants have no performance art experience, but you'd never know that by the way they express themselves while on stage.

Tama talked to me before the workshop began about what performance art is, and he described it as the offspring of both visual art and theatre, but one that neither of the two wants to claim. And the goal of this project, and of similar workshops Tama will conduct in Alaska and London this season, is to give something back to the community by way of performance art. Liggett said Living Arts plans to have more residencies like this every year. He said one will always be associated with New Genre but he'd also like to conduct one or two others each year.

If you're curious at all about performance art, about what it is, what it looks like, how it's done, I encourage you to attend tonight's performance. I hope it inspires others to consider what they have to offer local audiences and what stories they have to tell so that the next workshop is twice or three times as large, with multiple performances. Tickets to tonight's show are $10, $7 for students. To read more about the residency, check out Tama's blog at elbigeasyamigoblogger.blogspot.com.