It's taken me almost two years to make this interview with Adrienne Truscott happen, but I am beyond thrilled to finally have the chance to sit down with her. Adrienne first came on my radar with her one-woman show Asking For It, a show about the rules and rhetoric about rape, comedy and the awkward laughs in between. When I first heard about this show, I, like most people, didn't know what to make of it, so I pushed it off. Well, after seeing it come back around a few more times, I decided to open my mind and go see it. It was one of the best evenings I had ever attended. Adrienne had found a way to bring some humor and laughs to a very tough subject. I left that evening having the upmost respect for Adrienne, her comedy style, and braveness in tackling a subject such as rape.
So when I heard that Adrienne was developing a new show, you bet my ears perked up and I jumped at the chance to interview her. Adrienne's new show THIS is a solo performance which may not always be a solo, created specifically for Live Arts stage. THIS is a small or large or medium act of artistic survivalism and an ever-evolving work that writes, in real time, the libretto of the performance the artist is attempting to do which changes with each performance to reflect the new context brought by the performance at hand. THIS is a run-on sentence. THIS is a grift. THIS is a piece of cake.
THIS will be performed at New York Live Arts (219 West 19th Street) from April 5-8 at 7:30pm! Click here for tickets!
1. It's so great to finally get to interview you after seeing your show Asking For It. It was so good and I hope it comes back around again. But, we're here to talk about your new show THIS. THIS is an ever-evolving work that writes, in real time, changing with each performance. What made you want to have a show that changes with every performance as opposed to Asking For It, which had a more firm script? Well, it was actually that I was focusing on writing stuff that seemed more appropriate for the page than the stage, but I wanted to find out more about what I was writing, so I just gave myself the rule that since I had started this new writing focus, anytime I was asked to do something, I'd do this new written material - that was still developing - wherever I was asked to see how it behaved in different contexts or venues. To date, I've done it as a seven-minute spot in a performance series, as an hour-long "cabaret" show behind a piano (I don't play piano), as a sort of diplomatic artist's address at the Australian Consulate. So it sort of takes the shape of it's container, and it is sort of always in process. So now, at NYLA, it has to figure out how to behave in a big performance space which comes with a whole other set of institutional expectations, audience tropes, etc. Really, it's just me writing a book, but putting that process on stage or something.
2. What challenges does this style of show present for you? What freedoms does it give you? It allows me to play around with form and context, which is really what I'm interested in. And the writing is a lot about the slipperiness between fact and fiction, time and presence - from a vantage point of memory and competing narratives, attention, and other things. I find my memory of things and time are quite challenged from moving around a lot, some childhood dramas and traumas, etc. And I've only recently begun remembering lots of things. I've been finding that writing clarifies memories and sometimes is the key act that helps excavate them. I think the same is true of performance - it educates you about yourself - even when the work isn't autobiographical or if it's really abstract. That can be a bit beautiful and also a little scary. But I have the freedom to choose what writing is included as I continue to write - because the piece is more about form, content, structure and attention. It's also been interesting processing the difference between events you are certain have happened and events that just have vague memories or details attached to them in the current political climate of "fake facts." Plus, it's just been really hard for me to focus on artistic stuff because I sort of at the moment, just wish I was a lawyer or a journalist!
3. You just came back from performing THIS in Australia. What did you learn from doing these shows that will enhance your upcoming NYLA run? I think the main thing I'm learning is how to make writing that was meant more to be read work on stage. And how much - as a theater piece instead - I can use the craft of theater and performance to assist in that, and play around with what's real or not, "true" or not, present or past. In Australia we did the piece in a tiny funny little makeshift "theater" - a room with a "stage" and two lights at a festival with 15 minutes to bump in. NYLA is a huge huge space - not a space I would originally choose to do a solo in, but that's how this particular project worked out timing-wise and stuff. So I was also trying to learn about how a sort of intimate personal piece would work in a huge space for NY audiences during a time of insanely preoccupying political upheaval by doing it in a tiny room in a pop-up venue in the basement of an abandoned postal building for gregarious Australians! What I learned is to let the piece adjust itself to the context. Thankfully, I am working (for the first time) with an amazing director called Ellie Heyman, and she has been helping it have a shape and structure. It's ironic to be an artist in NYC and find yourself with "too much" space.
4. In Asking For It, you had a lot of audience interaction and in THIS, is sounds like you will have a similar interaction if not more with the audience. Hmmm, I actually think I'll have less interaction with the audience in THIS. It's not confrontational like Asking For It, and although there is stand-up in it, it sort of understands itself as a piece for a proscenium stage and fixed audience. But usually I do like to fuck around with the audience. I learned it more from street performing and bringing people up onstage in that context - it's a really strong trope in street performing. I guess I love that the audience is always included in a live show, even if they are just sitting. I saw a Relaxed Performance recently (a performance where people who have all sorts of behavior "along the spectrum" if you will, are encouraged to attend without feeling like they have to keep their physical or vocal behavior within the norms of most audience behavior), and it was brilliant. I've been pretty obsessed ever since with how traditional audiences behave. There are different implied contracts between the performer and audience in different contexts - i.e., at a comedy club people feel free to react vocally and directly, interrupting and heckling, where as at a "performance venue" the audience has sort of tacitly agreed to only about five responses: silence, laughter, crying, that person who inevitably thoughtfully goes, "Mmmm!"
Thankfully, I have been able to figure out a comeback while onstage. With Asking For It I feel so aware of the audiences tensions and weird feelings and so in control of that show. I've always understood exactly who I am and what to do onstage in that show. Also, when you're up there you sort of go in to survival mode, I think fight or flight type mechanisms kick in. I think I'm good in general in those situations.
5. The description for THIS, ends with these three sentences: THIS is a run-on sentence. THIS is a gift. THIS is a piece of cake. So, for the next few questions, let's play with each of these. First, "THIS is a run-on sentence." What is something in your life you feel is like a run-on sentence? How my brain works a lot of the time. I've been told that as I start talking about one thing, I start putting it in context and relating it to other things, so I think the analytical part of my brain synthesizes lots of things at once in a slippery kind of way. The writing in THIS has a sort of "run-on sentence"/stream of consciousness aspect to it. Ohmygosh! I love your questions. I'm so glad you didn't just ask me if "I think you can make jokes about rape and why I do it with no pants on!" Which I've answered a thousand times!
6. Next we have, "THIS is a gift." What has been the best gift you have ever received? Oops! I have to correct you on that one, because the copy actually says "THIS is a grift." Which for me was sort of about if this performance, or any performance is a swindle or not. Or a game with the audience's expectations. Sometimes I think living as an independent artist, and the survival strategies you learn falls just on the "right" side of being a petty criminal! A grifter.
That said, I have been given many gifts in my life. The most recent favorites both have to do with art: an amazing grant; a life-size cardboard grand piano.
7a. Lastly, "THIS is a piece of cake." I'm going to break this into two questions. First, what is something you find so easy to do? I guess one is to work on a lot of different art projects at once.I don't know if that's easy or just survival methods and the result of life as a freelance artist/performer. Also, solve problems.
7b. Second, what is your favorite kind of cake to eat? Hmmm, chocolate cake. Pure chocolate - meaning, I don't like when people fuck around with chocolate cake and put raspberries or something in it.
8. Who or what inspired you to become a comedian/writer/performer? Oh geez. I always loved comedy when I was little. Like, I would nearly die to watch Carol Burnett or Sonny and Cher (especially when Chastity would come out!) That REALLY dates me. And I cried after seeing Singin' In The Rain, because I realized I'd been born too late for that sort of thing (even though I was terrified of singing). But that was the kind of thing I always imagined doing, so it's funny to have instead become a frequently naked comic performance artist weirdo!
9. I know I tried to focus on the new, but I can't do this interview without asking you one burning question I had when you were doing Asking For It. While the premise of that show was about rape and the title is a reflection of that, I'm going to take the title in a different direction. What is something that you are "asking for," still hoping to come true? I think about that a lot now that that phrase is such a part of my life. I think the thing that sticks with me is the power of that phrase meant literally, not as that bullshit excuse for someone else's violent behavior. I did a kickstarter to help me tour that show and it was a strange feeling for me to ask for money from other people to do something that was really important to me, and then I got it. And all this amazing support, and I thought. Wow, I just very simply and clearly asked for something I needed and I got it. So now, I try to think about that, when or if I am asking for something, versus hoping for something, and to be empowered by the notion of just asking for something and seeing if it comes back. It won't always, obviously, but. Right now, I would ask for a little more time to rest and recuperate between projects. But I think that's just something I have to ask of myself!
10. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? Water intake.
For more than 15 years, Adrienne Truscott—choreographer, circus acrobat, dancer, writer, and as of late, comedian—has been making genre-straddling work in New York City and abroad. She is one of 20 artists selected nationally as recipients for the Doris Duke Impact Artist Award. Her evening-length solo comedic work and group choreographic works have been presented variously at Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Just For Laughs, Darwin Festival, PS122, Joe’s Pub, The Kitchen, Dublin Fringe, Danspace, and Dance Theater Workshop among others.
The Wau Wau Sisters, her neo-vaudevillian collaboration with Tanya Gagne, have been presented by such iconic venues as the Sydney Opera House (Aus), Joe’s Pub and CBGB’s (NYC), Victoria Arts Center (Melbourne) and The Roundhouse (London). The Wau Wausisters are fixtures at among others, the Edinburgh, Melbourne, Brighton, Adelaide, Perth and Philadelphia Fringe Festivals and are seen regularly in the international sensations La Soiree and La Clique. Their contemporaries broadly recognize the influence of their radical and ludicrous take on circus and cabaret.
Adrienne has taught at Wesleyan University Dance Department as a visiting artist, and guest taught at Sarah Lawrence College’s Theater and Dance Departments and Yale Universtiy.