Naked Stages at Pillsbury House Theatre

AUTOPILOT, a pop-eretta on covert aggression by Ephraim Eusebio
AUTOPILOT, a pop-eretta on covert aggression by Ephraim Eusebio
Photo by Ann Marsden

Naked Stages, a hotbed of performance art, is coming into its own at Pillsbury House Theatre, where the program has lived since 2009. During the event -- which runs this weekend and next -- you'll have an opportunity to check out some of the emerging artists fostered by the program.

Naked Stages was founded by Eleanor Savage in the 1990s as the Jerome Performance Art Commissioning Program (it was re-christened as its familiar name in 2002). Savage was succeeded by curator Laurie Carlos, who ran the program with administrative facilitation by Molly Van Avery at Intermedia Arts. In 2009 Intermedia Arts was forced to suspend the majority of its programming temporarily due to economic collapse. It was at that point that Naked Stages moved to Pillsbury House. 
Photo by Ann Marsden

According to Van Avery, Pillsbury has worked to make Naked Stages integrated in all that the theater does. For instance, the venue is trying to create a bridge between Naked Stages and the Late Nite Series (an underground performance event featuring local and New York artists) by offering workshops for Naked Stages artists led by Late Nite artists, and by offering opportunities for past Naked Stages artists to perform in Late Nite (Carlos also co-curates Late Nite with e.g. Bailey). 

According to Carlos, both series are about sustaining emerging voices. The Naked Stages artists can "continue on with support to develop their artistic voices," she says. "This has been extraordinary in terms of what artists are allowed to create." 

It's all About Process

According to Van Avery, one of the biggest pushes that has occurred since Naked Stages moved to Pillsbury House is in releasing any expectations about the work. "Intermedia was really wanting to become a center for artists interested in making art for social change," she says. "Laurie felt strongly that in Naked Stages, artists had no expectations put upon their work whatsoever -- no expectation that it be political." 
Photo by Ann Marsden

Carlos says that as an artist, she doesn't create for an audience. "I personally am not interested in what audiences think or care about," she says. "That's not my job. That's not my practice." Instead, she creates because she is an artist. "I'm not interested in whether someone likes it or approves of it," she says. 

According to Van Avery, Naked Stages' focus on the development process is quite rare in the performance world. The seven-month process includes workshops, one-on-one meetings with Carlos, and monthly showing sessions, facilitated by Van Avery, where the artists gain skills in giving and receiving feedback that is artist-centered, and supportive of the work the artist is attempting to create. 

The program gives artists tools to understand how they thrive artistically, including knowing what needs to be in place "to create their most honest, most true-to-themselves kind of work," says Van Avery. 

Oftentimes, artists state in their applications that they want to explore complex subjects, but through the process the work becomes profoundly personal. What's really happening is that the artists are learning to believe that their voice matters. 

"All art is intensely personal," Carlos says. "We're intensely invested in who you are personally. We are all up in your personal business, in a big way." 

For Ephraim Eusebio, who performs the first weekend, the process was intense. "It got to the nitty gritty of asking myself why putting this work out there is important to me at this time," he says. "Presenting work on a monthly basis was raw and vulnerable and led me to the meat of my matter." 

Eusebio -- a father, peace activist, musician, and artist -- has created a piece called Autopilot about trying to be a father and husband in a culture of violence. His character, an unmanned drone airplane pilot, "lives a domestic life bombing targets in South Asia by day and then goes home to have game night and pizza with the wife and daughter," he says. He wants to address "the covert nature of some of the disconnect that one can experience in this culture, and how it can lead to misunderstanding and feelings of loss and depression."

Also this weekend is the work of Max Wirsing, a local dancer who explores queer identity. In his piece, We All Died and Came Back Easier, there are wigs, unicorns, drag queens, and more as the artist grapples with "what he wants to celebrate, reject, and change" about queer culture. 
AUTOPILOT, a pop-eretta on covert aggression, by Ephraim Eusebio
AUTOPILOT, a pop-eretta on covert aggression, by Ephraim Eusebio
Ann Marsden

Eusebio and Wirsing perform on November 30, and December 1, 2, and 3 at 7:30 p.m. Beginning December 7, Argentinean-born Paulino Brener performs Don't Cry for Me, a piece Van Avery describes as an edgy, dark-humored work about how the artist's personality changed after he moved to the United States and learned English. Also next weekend is In and Out of the Body by Moe Lionel. The piece explores the artist's relationship to whiteness, maleness, and what it means to be male in his family. "He deals with themes of war within the body and outside of the body," Van Avery says. "It's minimal, and really deep and multilayered." 


Naked Stages
November 30 through December 10
Pillsbury House Theatre
3501 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis
For tickets call 612.825.0459 or visit

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