Live Action Set past and future

Though three of the four former artistic directors of Live Action Set (LAS) have moved on from their central roles in the company, and the sole current artistic director, Noah Bremer, has been leading LAS from afar while he performs with Cirque du Soleil, the company is still going strong. Bremer says he envisions LAS producing more shows per year than in previous years, with a wider variety of styles, performers, directors, and writers.

The experiment has begun with The 7-Shot Symphony, directed by Ryan Underbakke and Matt Spring, which opens in March at the Loring Theater (formerly the Music Box). The show, which intertwines seven classic myths from Norse, West African, Greek, and Mesopotamian cultures and unfolds them in America's epic Old West, is having a fundraiser this Sunday at Red Stag Supper Club featuring a preview of the show, music by Tree Party, and special guest Noah Bremer while he's on vacation from Cirque du Soleil. City Pages took a moment to interview Bremer over email about where LAS has come from and where it's going.

City Pages: How did the company get started?

Noah Bremer: The company began when I returned from the Dell'Arte School of Physical Theater in 2002 and created a short piece with colleagues from dance backgrounds whom at that time I hardly knew. The key players emerged and eventually an official company was formed in 2003. LAS further evolved when I decided we should collectively run the company. That experiment, I'm proud to say, resulted in some outstanding work.

CP: What was outstanding about the first show? Were all the people who would become artistic directors in it?

NB:  After returning from school, I participated in a series called Works/Plays, curated by University of Minnesota classmate Molly Balcom and performed in the old Rogue Buddha Art Gallery space. The series attracted Megan Odell, who was inspired by the performance. Natasha Hassett, Vanessa Voskuil, and Galen Treuer performed the piece, and I directed and choreographed. After the show was over, Odell approached me and encouraged me to lengthen the piece and submit it to the Fringe Festival for which she unabashedly extended her interest in working with me to create. Knowing her work already, I took her advice in casting her and created a longer version that premiered in the 2003 Fringe Festival, titled Exposure. The show had its strengths in combining dance and theater in a way that hadn't been done in the Twin Cities before but was still a young effort.

CP:  What made you decide to collectively run the company?

NB: About two and a half years after coming together, we decided to run the company collaboratively. The decision was made to share administrative workload that was becoming impossible for me to handle on my own and for everyone to have greater sense of ownership of the company and the artistic product.

CP: Why did you decide that you wanted to lead it yourself in 2009? What was the time line? 

NB: If I dig into my brain, and ask around, I'm sure we can create a flow chart of events, but I don't think it would be all that interesting. Chronology is just a way of making sense of the chaos that happens to us everyday. But order really doesn't exist.

In the context of the history of the interpersonal relationships within Live Action Set, events are the lesser of the timestamps. Emotions are the landmarks of these relationships. As we grew together, intentions were made known, lives changed, and structures changed. For instance, Galen had been talking for 3 years about pursuing his interests in behavioral economics, and now he is. Megan had become a licensed acupuncturist after 5 years of study and a new mother, and she's good at both! Vanessa has been cultivating her solo choreographic work since I've known her and her dedication is paying off with critical acclaim and prestigious awards.

I think Live Action Set is often misperceived as being only the four founders. The four of us were simply the ones who volunteered the most hours to direct the metaphorical ship. There are countless others who have, throughout the years, created along with us. The collaboration was always broader than just a few people. To be successful, organizations like ours must build healthy ongoing relationships. Joanna Harmon and I currently put in the most hours plotting the course and steering, but without our collaborators we would surely sink.

CP: How has it been going leading a company when you are so far away?

NB: Leading a theater company is no small feat and leading from afar is a challenge. However, with challenge comes clarity. With distance comes greater perspective. I am able to guide the company on a sensible artistic path. My colleague Joanna Harmon, who is executive director, upholds the mission of the company and diligently acts as the in-person contact for Live Action Set. And with the power of technology, I'm able to watch rehearsals and have online production meetings. We also planned the show's preview party and performance dates to coincide with breaks in my tour schedule. 

CP:  How do you keep the spirit of how Live Action set began with new artistic voices?

NB: The voices of the founding artistic directors are always with me while guiding the future of Live Action Set. From advising guest directors to conversations with granting organizations to planning the next productions, those voices are always with me. New voices are exciting and add to that knowledge base. They push the work forward and incite inspiration.

The 7-Shot Symphony runs March 11 through 27 at the Loring Theater (1411 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis).  The preview party for the show is January 9 at the Red Stag Supper Club at 509 First Avenue Northeast in Minneapolis from 6 to 11 p.m. Admission to the party is $20 in advance, $30 at the door (visit for reservations). 

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