Portland's newest theater company, Source Material, is an artists collective with members that live all over the world, and it just debuted, premiering a multimedia concert from Danish singer Nini Julia Bang at the Fertile Ground Theater Festival on January 22. In A Thousand Tongues, Bang performs original songs in front of a backdrop of changing art pieces to a mixture of Danish, Middle Eastern and Flamenco music. Before the show, Source Material Artistic Director Samantha Shay told WW why interdisciplinary work makes for accessible theater, and why the artists—who mostly met at California Institute of the Arts—chose Portland.
WW: Can you tell me a little bit about Source Material?
We officially became a company in 2014, but we've been making work together since 2010 when I was in college. We primarily make a lot of theater, that's our background and our training, but we have been moving into music and making some films. We have members who live in Copenhagen, New York, LA, Berlin and Chicago, so we're kind of everywhere. But I think we came to Portland because we wanted let our art grow in a community. We were really struck by the way Portland is super excited about experimentation and art and really shows up for it.
How do you manage the organization of a company whose members are international?
We tend to structure with workshops. We'll meet up for one or two weeks and workshop a piece and six or eight months will pass before we can meet up again. Even if it's more time-consuming, it facilitates an amount of time that is normally not granted for an artistic project. It's definitely not easy, but I'd say it also really diversified the work in a very special way. Bringing in people who live all over the world has totally changed what the work looks like.
What will A Thousand Tongues look like?
At it's simplest, it's a concert. What's emerged from this workshop is the beginning of a visual dreamscape that interrupts some of the music. What people will see this weekend is stripped down version, but we played a lot with light and shadow. What does it mean for Nini to sing to her shadow? It's really just listening to the music deeply and creating a visual story that's evocative of this extremely powerful music she's singing.
Why is interdisciplinary work important to you?
I definitely don't set out to make my work interdisciplinary for the sake of it. When I started directing, I found that a lot of theater was really left brained and academic.I longed for something that felt truly theatrical, like dreamscape, like the art of spectacle or magic; I feel like that's where theater really captured me. Unfortunately, a lot of theater productions stage their pieces based on the assumption that the audience knows the background of Ibsen or Chekhov. And they usually don't, so I think that's why a lot of people don't go to the theater. That's really where the interdisciplinary thing came in: How do I create something that someone comes and is like "this is theater?"
What's next for Source Material?
We will premiere A Thousand Tongues at the Grotowski Institute in Poland and we'll premiere a new opera called Of Light in Iceland in July. It explores the celestial livings of the human body and it explores initiation and what our relationship is to light and darkness both literally, emotionally and spiritually. Much of it is a group of people singing to an audience in total darkness. I hope that we will bring it to Portland. Honestly we have so many other projects; we'll see when they all get done.
GO: A Thousand Tongues, The Headwaters Theatre, 55 NE Farragut St., Ste. 9., 508-308-2427. 8 pm Friday-Sunday, Jan. 22-24. $15.