Documenting DADA

Soireé DADA: Schmückt der Hallen

The DADA show closed over a week ago now and I'm still processing. Processing my thoughts and feelings and also literally processing the mass of photos I generated in the course of the show.

Early in the summer, Don let us know that WNEP had been invited by the City's Department of Cultural Affairs to come back and do a Christmas DADA show in the Storefront Theater space. As a DADA from the previous Soireé, Blinde Essel Hopse, Erica was asked to come back as DADA Flutter. Don asked me if I might be interested in being a part of the writing process. I was flattered and instantly agreed.

In the early fall we began to have writing meetings to start to put together the show. There are (at least) two sides to the kind of DADA that WNEP puts up. There are pieces that come from a very urgent personal and/or political perspective. And then there are pieces that come from a place of nonsense and absurdism. I found that the latter sort of piece was much easier, and much more fun, for me to write, and I was happy that several of the pieces I wrote (for example, Santyclaws and Braided Circle) found a useful place within the show.

As the show began to take shape, Don developed the concept of "swing DADAs" -- the show would have a core cast of principal DADAs but there would be space carved out in the show for drop-in performers who could do a show here and there in the run. Don asked if I would like to be one of those performers. "Suuuuure," I said, or something much like that. The idea made me a little nervous -- WNEP DADA had always seemed so... intense, and I'm not sure I'm that intense as a performer. But I was having fun performing my pieces in front of the writing group and, to a degree, that nervousness propelled me. If I don't keep pushing into new areas of performance that make me nervous, I'll never grow as a performer. (I still use lessons from that Contact Improv workshop I took by accident.) Anyway, I figured, I'll do a show or three out of the 5 week/17 show run and then I can say I did it.

I did the required DADA workshop and assembled my outfit ($20, total, at Village Discount, including my awesome Christmas tie.) I went to several, but not all, of the final rehearsals and tech rehearsals, where the show seemed to change dramatically every time I returned. And then we had our opening night. And something happened that I had not expected: I loved doing the show. Absolutely loved it. I started out thinking I'd just do a few shows -- by the end of the run I had done almost every show.

I loved being on stage when my words were being read (or shouted or squeaked) by the other DADAs. I loved being there for all the weirdness (the walkouts, the 60 Detroit high schoolers, the sound system breaking down). I loved banging that gong. And it took me 5 weeks, but by closing night I think I even found some of my own intensity.

My one regret of being in the show was that I wouldn't be able to document the show. I really enjoy taking show pictures and I'd had great fun with the last DADA show taking pictures with increasing odd and failing cameras. I did end up taking a night off of performing and photographing the show with a nice camera -- that's the middle hundred or so pictures in this set. But the other thing I did, after some internal tussling about what a DADA thinks about documentation, was to take pictures from within the show with some aesthetically appropriate* cameras -- a Holga and a wonderful Nikormat 35mm camera my dad gave me years ago. The Holga -- a super-cheap plastic camera that shoots on medium-format film -- is a terrible camera, but I've gotten reasonable results from it in the past. Under the rough conditions on stage, however, it was a complete failure. The Nikormat, however, was a dream. Something about the smooth mechanical action of the camera really clicked (NPI) with me and it really felt right in my hands. The notions of aperture and focal distance made physical sense to me in a way that working with digital cameras hasn't as much. Anyway, I got some great pictures from inside the show (that's the photos at the beginning and end of that same set). There was a roll with an odd set of blue lines, that reminded me of all the camera failures I'd had with Blind Essel Hopse, but that was an exception. (You may note that some of the photos have a bunch of small dots on them -- that's because I'm lazy and just let Walgreens scan the negatives for most of the photos. I assure you the negatives are awesome :-)

Besides me running around with my camera, the show was documented several other ways. Sarah Jane Rhee came to the show two nights with her camera and took copious, and wonderful, photos. Don Hall wrote a bunch about the process and the show. And Noah created a wonderful sketch of everyone in the show.

* I almost want to say "period appropriate", but the WNEP DADA look is not really early tweentieth century as much as it is non-modern.