[INTERVIEW] A New Platform for Contemporary Performance: Miranda Wright’s LAX Festival

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interview by LISA DRING

[dropcap]Miranda[/dropcap] Wright is a mover and a shaker. Identifying as a producer and performance curator, she has been the recipient of Center Theatre Group’s 2014 Richard E. Sherwood award as well as a Cultural Exchange International Fellowship from the City of Los Angeles and the British Council. In 2010, Miranda created Los Angeles Performance Practice, an organization devoted to producing and supporting “groundbreaking theatrical experiences,” and with that company cooked up the Live Arts Exchange (LAX) Festival, now known as an incubator for boundary-stretching contemporary performance. I had a chance to pick her brain as she gears up to produce the 4th Annual LAX Festival, which opens later this month.

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Why did you create Live Arts Exchange?

Here in LA, there aren’t a lot of platforms for contemporary performance. REDCAT is doing a great job at holding the bulk of the work, but they’re only one institution and can only do so much. And then we have a lot of other smaller artist-run spaces that are operating year round that are carrying a lot of that weight. Automata being one, Human Resources is another, Machine Project and Pieter Space: all are contributing to this contemporary quilt-work we have in LA, but those organizations often don’t have the capacity to do anything outside of their architecture. So with [the LAX] festival, we originally started working at the Bootleg because it could provide a little bit of a larger footprint and give more visibility for artists on a national platform.

What is LAX Festival’s long-term plan?

The five-year plan is to expand to five venues. And this year we’ve started that growth; we still have a lot of programs anchored at Bootleg, we’re at Automata, we have a production with Union Station and we have the rooftop at the Ace Hotel as a late-night hangout. That’s four that we’re programming and next year we’d like to add one or two more.

I think our ultimate goal is to introduce artists; we’re not generally driving specific projects, we’re really trying to put a feature on each artist and talk about where they’re coming from ideologically and what they care about right now. The work can be a little esoteric and a little hard to grasp at times, but if you let yourself sit back into it and just take it in it can be some really beautiful stuff.

Can you speak to that — about art that can be hard to watch? Or theatre that challenges audience’s expectations of a show? And why does this experience interest you over more “standard” storytelling?

I think that theatre is constantly evolving, so as the form is evolving and becoming more hybrid in nature, that brings in other components which can muddy areas of the picture. The other thing is, I think we’re living in a really complicated time, and the artists LAPP is working with are making work about things that actually matter to them — and to the people around them and to their community — and it’s not necessarily community or social-driven theatre, but it’s definitely art that’s reflective of our times and the more critical issues of our times. Those topics are not easy with a linear storytelling framework.

And this is just my observation, I don’t want to speak for them — but especially if you look at someone like Janie Geiser, her work does have a narrative, but what she is an expert at is communicating emotion. Visceral emotion. And that communication requires a skill that goes beyond narrative storytelling. A lot of artists that I’m interested in working with have a similar capacity to communicate visceral emotion and sensibilities that really push outside the narrative framework.

It really just goes back to the idea of communicating the world we’re living in right now. There are plays that do that, too— I’m not averse to plays. I come from traditional theatre, I trained at the Utah Shakespeare Festival… and then I went to CalArts. [laughs]

I’m curious about the question of taste. As a curator for this festival, do you have moments of questioning your own taste? Since this work often goes outside of known artistic boundaries, do you have to constantly redefine your definition of quality?

Well I’m “wrong” a lot of the time. [laughs]

What I do love is work that’s new. So what’s often the case is that something is in the festival that isn’t fully formed yet, so there’s no way for me to have seen it or know that I like it. That programming comes out of long conversations with the artist who’s making it and then developing a trust over time with that artist to pull off something with a certain level of rigor.

But yes, there are projects in the festival that we’ve done that maybe I haven’t liked that the audience really responds to, and there have been performances that I love deeply, works that I am so passionate about, that audiences don’t like. And I’ve been in synch with the audience sometimes, too.

The most exciting thing that could happen is if people can start conversations or have new ideas sparked after seeing something in the festival. One of the purposes of the festival and a thread that’s made its way into my own work, my own personal work and some of the research initiatives I’m part of now, is: what can we do as people who are supporting art and culture to encourage more risk-taking? This includes institutions, artists and audiences taking more risk. It has to be okay to go into a performance and not like it. I mean, that needs to be okay. And it needs to be okay to be willing to have new experiences. The whole notion of something being good or bad is what I want to separate myself from, because that’s not the point.

Why is risk-taking important?

I don’t know if I can communicate that with words. I think that throughout our lives, on a daily basis, we have experiences that are physical, spiritual, emotional. We have moments of isolation, we have moments of connectivity with others. What performance does is make space for all of that to happen and it can remind us of certain parts of ourselves that we may lose track of during the day, or we may lose track of from behind our screens.

It feels pretty critical to be — this is really cliché of me to say — but it’s really important for us to be in a room with other human beings, to see people who are not like us and experience things that aren’t familiar, and be able to process that with positivity and with care, and not with judgment and hate. And performance is critical to that. I think some of the horrible things we’re dealing with as a society right now could benefit from people just figuring out how to be comfortable with other people.


Lisa Dring

Lisa Dring

Lisa is a writer and performer who is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at CalArts. She has worked with Circle X, Rogue Artists, Bootleg, Theatre of NOTE, SCF @ Son of Semele, East West Players, Bread & Puppet, Actors Theatre of Louisville, One Year Lease, and Asolo Repertory Theatre.