Image courtesy Dreamland Arts
Born out of a seven-minute piece presented in a class at Macalester College last fall, Bid'ah has grown to be a full-length show to be presented this weekend at St. Paul's Dreamland Arts.
The experimental piece is the brainchild of Taylor Helfand and Mohamed Samatar, and includes not just the show but also an art gallery. The pair took time to talk about the work's development, and the use of Kickstarter to fund their creation.
City Pages: How did the piece grow from a class project into a full-length piece?
Samatar: We decided to extend the piece after performing it and getting feedback from the audience, our classmates, and our professor, Harry Waters Jr. Taylor and I got together and talked about continuing this piece for our own purposes, exploring these questions.
We weren't necessarily looking to put on a full-length show then. We used the time over winter break to think about the piece and digest it more, because we were in different places geographically. Then, one night, I watched Ai Wei Wei's film Never Sorry, and the second after the film was over, I sent a super hyper email to Taylor, telling her to watch the movie, and we need to do a show.
Also, while we were thinking about the piece, I spoke with Brother Ali, and after a conversation we had, I was really inspired to continue working on this. I think he explores stories with his music, and I wanted to try and do that with performance. There's two Brother Ali songs in the show.
CP: What was the experience of using Kickstarter like?
Helfand: It was a hell of a hard time! There was a wonderful mixture of optimism, pessimism, and realism among the members of our Kickstarter group, which was beneficial because making realistic goals for fundraising was necessary to reach our desired amount. Thankfully, we have a great community, and I was amazed at the support and participation of friends, family, and strangers.
It's crazy though; I have a friend who just put up a Kickstarter for a technological thing, and she's gotten so much financial support. It's just amazing how much harder it is to fund theater or performance than other parts of society. Kickstarter is definitely a great resource, but when you're dealing with something geographically contained like this performance, it becomes harder to reach large audiences. Though, we have had donors from across the country who won't actually make it to the show.
How does the show and the art exhibit work together?
Samatar: The whole show is an exhibit, something to see and take in and engage with mentally and emotionally, and that goes for the performance as well as the photographs. A lot of what we're trying to do is blur some of the lines between exhibit and performance, because our show literally takes place in the exhibit. We are moving pieces, moving installations within the performance gallery.
The first thing we do when we enter the stage is unveil the photos. The first thing the audience does when the performance ends is come up onstage and walk on the same ground we have been marking, in order to view the photos. The themes of the photos are paralleled in the themes of the performance; all the photos were taken specifically for this show, and features us in different spaces. Because they are hanging in the space, they also get lit at certain moments in the show.
What do you hope people get out of the experience?
Helfand: I hope this performance can serve as a catalyst to begin and motivate the conversation about innovation of ritual and tradition, about interacting with modes of traditions, and about innovation of these traditions. I would love for the performance and photos in Bid'ah to pique audience members' need to discuss these concepts from their own backgrounds and experiences. I see Mo and myself in Bid'ah as agents intended to trigger audience members to engage with their own experiences.
Samatar: The hopes for the show for me are both limited and infinite. It all depends on the people in the room. The stories we tell in this performance gallery all come from lived experiences, and there will be members in the audience who will know these stories intimately. I am curious about how people will engage with the piece.
7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday
677 Hamline Ave., St. Paul
For tickets and more information, call 651.645.5506 or visit online.