REMA HORT MANN FOUNDATION

Elliot Reed

Within the past year, my performances have become more ambitious, notably by hiring ensemble casts, and taking a role as director. I’ve been performing solos for years now, and finally have developed the language and skills to bring others into my practice. What excites me most about casting, is the potential for a deep, somatic response within my audience. I use a lot of storytelling techniques in monologues, but other bodies add a layer of depth and physicality that excites me as a maker.

America’s Procession was a landmark piece for me this past year. The work was originally planned for a gallery in the arts district but ultimately moved to NAVEL, an arts space downtown 10 months later. My challenge for this work was to write a piece centered around the story of my great grandmother America Bell Miller. During a low point in my studio practice, I decided to look towards my family history for inspiration. I came into contemporary art through experimental music, and will always claim my grandmother’s piano lessons as my first key to the creative world. My grandmother taught me scales, and notes in addition to being the organist at our church. To this day, I can think of few things less impressive than a large, booming, full-size organ. Seeing my grandmother with total command of this instrument, and by proxy the congregation, had a major impression on me as a child. My family moved out of state when I was 10 and we stopped going to the church, but I’ll never forget it.

After a few casual phone calls with my grandmother, I decided to ask her how she learned to play. Her mother (my great grandmother) America Bell Miller, was a poet, musician and active member of the church in Muncie, Indiana. She died of a massive heart attack in 1954 while singing “Peace In The Valley” during service. My great-grandfather, grandmother, her siblings, and and the entire congregation were in the room. Prior to her passing, America taught a select number of her nine children music. I imagine she focused on the ones with the aptitude and patience to continue with lessons. My grandmother was one of the few who stuck with it.

As a performer, this story holds a particular resonance with me. I have no desire to die, but felt a strong sense of communion with my great grandmother after learning the story. I developed a renewed sense of pride in my work, and made the decision to dedicate a piece to her. I centered my inquiry around the concept of intergenerational transfer. Specifically, using methods of divination and chance. America’s Procession is a structurally simple piece. There are 4 sections, with cast members reading a script and alternating with dance choreography. The superb musical score by Antonio Harper keeps the pace. For the dance portions, I invited America’s spirit to co-choreograph the work in real time. I accomplished this by teaching my performers every role in the piece, and split the characters by section, wrote them on pieces of paper, and called the performers to pick a new character at the beginning of each section. This chance element is America’s hand guiding the progression of the piece.

The dance in this work in decidedly non traditional. The choreographies were built around trance states, lovers, arguments, psychic breaks, and other “events.” I privately wrote a series of character vignettes, and then working from those narratives, composted movements to accompany the stories. By the time my cast arrived for rehearsal, only the movements and emotional cues were taught to them, allowing space for more complex interactions between the 6 performers.

The work ends in a final room, with artist Dove Ayinde singing the aria, accompanied by Antonio Harper on guitar.

500 Questions- I was invited to produce an original work at The Getty Museum in July. During my first site visit, I instantly gravitated towards the Robert Irwin designed garden and decorative labyrinth pools. 500 Questions starts from a secret, staff-only door on the second level of the museum. My co-performers and I are in costume and lead a private procession through the grounds while repeating only question words. I chose not to have a starting location marked on the map, so visitors could happen upon us wherever they may. This first half up the piece ultimately led us to the famous garden. It was at this point, we remove wireless microphones from the bushes, and proceed to read a script of 500 questions while weaving through the grounds. This sound was amplified, meaning that visitors could potentially hear 500 Questions throughout campus without ever seeing us. 

 Two Business Women Trek To An Undisclosed Location was another fun project this year. I was commissioned through the Los Angeles Metro system, to participate in a small festival at Union Station. The theme of the event was “Changes.” Union Station is a particularly interesting cultural landmark in LA. Its the only destination that is designed to take you somewhere else. While considering this fact, I came up with the idea for this performance. During peak time on a Sunday afternoon. Two business women take a synchronized walk from one end of Union Station to the other. Their pacing relies on each other. If one breaks stride, the goal for each of them is destroyed at the other end of the tunnel.