It's hard to live on the edge for 25 years, but the Walker Art Center's Out There festival this month celebrates a quarter-century of innovative, sometimes puzzling, and often enthralling work.
"Way back, someone had the brilliant idea to not call it a new theater festival or a performing arts series, just Out There," says Philip Bither, senior curator of performing arts at the Walker. "It allows us to sidestep labels that these artists have been actively defying for years."
The series has brought the likes of Anne Bogard, Ping Chong, the Elevator Repair Service, and the Gob Squad to Minneapolis. Local artists have also found a showcase, from Bad Jazz to Slug of Atmosphere. This year's edition features regional and national debuts by an international array of artists.
Out There 25: Reality/Identity/MythWalker Art Center1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis612.375.7600; Jan. 10-Feb. 2
"The avant-garde does not neccesarily equal a lack of pleasure or even a lack of accessibility," Bither says. "In an earlier era, experimental was a completely opaque work. Now artists are interested in reflecting the culture we have and making connections."
As Out There has evolved, so has the type of theater it supports. "There is no hesitation to absorb influences and collaborators from dance, movement, architecture, or philosophy," he adds.
Multimedia has recently become much more integrated into the performances. "In early years it was handled awkwardly, but now there is so much immersion in media form," Bither says.
The 25th anniversary edition features four touring companies, each playing for a full weekend. There are also other regular and special events associated with the festival and its anniversary. The current version is a far cry from the original 25 years ago, when Out There consisted of a pair of shows at the Southern Theater on the West Bank.
Growth has been steady, from including more performers and performances to the size of the hall. The Southern grew from 120 to 200 seats. Then, when the McGuire opened at the Walker, the festival moved in-house to a 385-seat theater.
The artists selected for 2013 are all presenting "substantial scaled works," Bither says. That ranges from She She Pop's exploration of King Lear with actors performing with their real-life fathers to Australia's Back to Back Theatre's Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, in which the Indian god travels to Germany to reclaim the swastika from the Nazis.
The artists in the series are "using their own lives and their real-life experiences combined with a theatrical fiction that constantly asks questions between what's real and what's imagined," Bither says.
This year's look back also includes recollections from artists, directors, and others who were there in the early days. These thoughts will be part of an opening reception on January 10. In addition, each touring group will hold regular Saturday-morning workshops.
"If it doesn't connect, you can come back the next week for a completely different experience," Bither says.
The Method Gun
The Austin, Texas, collective previously did Lipstick Traces. Here they create a fictional theatrical guru who crafts highly dangerous acting techniques for her acolytes. In the play, "they are trying to create A Streetcar Named Desire without the four main characters," Bither says. "In some ways it pokes fun at experimental theater itself."
She She Pop
The German company also looks at remixing a classic work. In this case, it tackles King Lear. "They are quite faithful to the structure of Lear and the arc of the work, but there is a lot of whimsy and performance-art elements," Bither says. The company members are joined by their actual fathers.
(M)imosa — Twenty Looks or Paris Is Burning at the Judson Church (M)
The third Out There piece harkens back to an earlier era, as it imagines the voguing scene of the late 1980s coming downtown from Harlem and invading the Judson Dance Theater. The presentation features a collaboration among the five artists. "It's a crazy, transgressive cabaret with all of them trying to convince us that they are the true diva," Bither says. "At one point there is a dance to 'Little Nikki' that is an amazing lip-synch performance-art celebration of all things Prince."
Ganesh Versus the Third Reich
Back to Back Theatre
Jan. 31-Feb. 2
The Australian company features many artists with disabilities, and the conversation they have surrounding exploitation and power. The story is there in the title, but the piece also features a play-within-a-play structure and plenty of questions along the way. "Rather than have these questions plague the outside edge, they put them in the story itself," Bither says.