Over four weekends in January, Out There presents an intriguing mix of theatrical alternatives during one of the darkest and coldest times of the year in Minnesota. For 2016, the Walker Art Center’s festival offers us a road trip featuring Teddy Roosevelt and Elvis Presley; a stage packed with tennis balls; an intense and personal look at the toll of the Lebanese civil war; and a quartet of people who invent a world before our eyes.
For curator Philip Bither, the 27th annual festival showcases the best of experimental theater from around the world.
“Some years we do have very specific themes, and even if we don’t have a defined thematic focus, each artist is questioning the form of theater. Each of them balances this with very moving explorations of what it means to be human,” Bither says.
Along with the performances, each weekend features chances to chat with the artists and to participate in workshops.
“Anyone who signs up for these allows the Walker to introduce different artists and ways to work. The initial idea was to offer the most challenging work during the most challenging month. It was counter-intuitive in the most delightful way. I love the month, even if it is exhausting for the staff,” Bither says.
The TEAM: RoosevElvis
As far as buddy road trips go, one that involves an early 20th-century president and the king of rock ’n’ roll is probably far off Hollywood’s radar. Not so for the TEAM, a young company of New York University graduates who take us across the middle-American landscape with the unlikely duo.
Well, not just that duo. The two actresses also play a couple from South Dakota making the same trip as the 20th-century American heroes.
“It’s sort of a quirky, buddy film or story twisted on its head, interwoven with American male cultural icons,” Bither says. “Then it shifts into the real-life characters who meet online for a date. One is a meat-packer in South Dakota. The other is more educated. They have a disastrous weekend date.”
The show has played in New York and Europe. This is its first foray into the heartland. “We took a close eye on it to see if it was just a New Yorker’s view of the Upper Midwest, but it was playful. It did not have a snarkiness or a looking down on the people of the region,” Bither says.
“Ultimately, it is very moving. It is a reflection on maleness and gender, and the connections between people. It may open the series with a certain level of accessibility, but still lives in the realm of experimentation,” Bither adds.
A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace
1 p.m. Jan. 16
Okay. So. You have five actors quoting David Foster Wallace while thousands of tennis balls are shot at a photograph of 1970's star Chris Evert.
“It sounds like a very processed piece, a formal exercise, but you realize it has this whole arc. It feels like a real homage to Wallace’s work in general,” Bither says
Fish started his career in regional theater, but wanted to move beyond that into his own work. “To make the kind of theater he wanted to make, he knew he would have to self produce it,” Bither says.
Bither had his eye on Fish, and got an additional recommendation from one of the scions of local theater. “Last year at Out There, I bumped into Sally Wingert, and she told me if I ever had a chance to work with this young director Daniel Fish I should,” he says.
The second Fish work is a film, Eternal. In it, two actors play out the final scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind 23 times. “Each time, they use a different tone, a different approach to the language, a different relationship,” Bither says. It runs for a little over two hours, and you are not expected to stay the entire time. It still will be a different experience than if we mounted it in a gallery.”
Riding on a Cloud
As a Lebanese artist, Mroue “is not interested in reflecting the Middle East. He’s not speaking for the entire Middle East. He has a personal relationship with it,” Bither says
Mroue based the work on the life of his brother Yasser, who was shot in the head by a sniper. “He had unique brain damage. He had trouble with the representation of images. He had a hard time telling what was real and what was fake. That played into what Rabih has explored in his life. There have been so many governments in Lebanon. It’s not even clear what caused the civil war,” Bither says.
Yasser plays himself, but also another character. That shifting reality, brought to life by a merging of video and onstage work, gives us a piece that “is very dense and philosophical. It is non-narratively constructed, but you get the experiences of this man,” Bither says.
Harold Goerger and Antoine DeFoort
“I saw this at a festival over two years ago, and it is one of my favorite things I have seen in recent years. It is so witty and smart,” Bither says of Germinal, which looks at a world built up from scratch by four characters.
“They look like rambling, slacker techies. They wander onstage. They have no language. Through the process of the 90-minute piece, they work out ways to communicate, form a language, and experience their world,” he says.
The stage looks simple at the beginning, but that hides plenty of complexity. “There’s a false floor in the stage and a huge projection on the wall above. It explores how they are thinking about ordering the things they are seeing. It sort of covers the universe, but all through this delightful discovery. It is whimsical and funny,” Bither says.
IF YOU GO
Out There 2016
8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays
Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis,
For tickets and more information, call 612-375-7600 or visit online.