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BWW Interview: Liminal Archive's Producing Directors Talk Inspiration and More

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Producing Directors, Leah Bachar, Monica Hunken and Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li discuss the inspiration and motives behind Liminal Archive

BWW Interview: Liminal Archive's Producing Directors Talk Inspiration and More

The debut of Liminal Archive was presented at the New Ohio Theatre in part of the 28th annual Obie Award-winning Ice Factory Festival (June 30 - August 14), which returned with live in-person performances this year. The immersive theatrical production highlights the ongoing pandemic various performing artists from all over the globe providing intense glimpses of isolation during quarantine.

We spoke to the Al Límite Collective's Producing Directors, Leah Bachar, Monica Hunken and Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li about the inspiration behind the show and why it's so important to be told right now.

How did the idea for this show come about?

Dennis Yueh-Yeh Li: A year ago as the whole world entered one of the hardest moments in humanity with the COVID-19 pandemic, Al Límite reconvened online to celebrate Passover, a significant ritual that members of Al Límite experienced during the years working with The Living Theatre. It was not a normal Passover. Instead, we read from the adapted scripture of the Haggadah by our mentor, Judith Malina, with the great mission of the BNVAR (Beautiful Nonviolent Anarchist Revolution), hoping to have us re-enlightened in order to better understand how a theatrical collective can move forward with creation in a non-hierarchical structure. We still don't know how this mission has evolved within ourselves and within our society, but we do know that this small seed was sowed in each one of us, and we have been dedicated to nourishing it ever since.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we wanted to create a similar ritual that could be carried on and remind us that we are all in this, and always will be, together. With an ultimate goal of staging a live performance, we started by inviting friends and artists from across the world to reflect upon this particular moment in history through writing. What does this moment mean? Is this the end of something, the continuation of something, or the beginning of something? We collected an abundance of creative writings which later turned into a completely new scripture allowing us to witness how the pandemic affected ways of living. After that, we furthered our invitation and had our friends and artists come together artistically, based upon our core mission of decolonizing the body while building community resiliency through art and performance, to document and archive how communities are using artistic collaboration as a survival tool during the pandemic. That is how Liminal Archive started, an ongoing artistic documentation of humanity throughout the pandemic.

How did you choose these particular artists to work with? What stood out?

Leah Bachar: Because of our large creative community, we often find the artists we work with through other projects we may be involved in, connections through friends, and a process we like to call "magic casting" (a term used often during our time at The Living Theatre) where those who end up in the production are there because the timing and circumstances were right. We do not hold traditional castings or auditions, but instead allow the moment to determine who will be present and involved in any iteration of a project.

The cast we worked with for Liminal Archive was a powerful mix of colleagues and past performers and there already had been a synergy established from having worked together before. After collaborating on a few prior performances, this cast has gravitated towards continuing to work with each other and has developed a strong bond that grows with each performance.

This particular cast are also a group of directors, performers, dancers, writers, visual artists, and activists in their own right. Their ability to handle various creative outlets, paired with their passion for social justice, made them a perfect fit for the topic of isolation that Liminal Archive deals with and the empathic abilities they contain allowed them the capability to connect to audiences in an authentic manner, especially after theatre doors had been closed for almost 1.5 years.

We believe that whoever we work with always has the open door policy to come and go, they may be involved in one project but not another, and once you have been a part of one Al Límite production you are welcome back at any time in the future. This was something we learned from working with Judith Malina at the Living Theatre, and this way of working creates a rich and diverse community of artists and performers who find their way back to a production when they feel the timing is right and the stars align.

What was the thought process behind making this show immersive and having the audience participate? Why was that important to the show?

Monica Dudárov Hunken: Since Liminal Archive explores the realm of isolation, fear and grief so many of us experienced, and are still experiencing, during the pandemic, it was important for us to create a show that dissolved borders and gave the audience intimate access to the worlds we created. While in the height of isolation, flooded with news about far off countries devastated by the virus, it was easy to dissociate and we are interested in bridging that distance by bringing stories, words and images from immigrant artists and an international community into one space.

We envisioned a sort of "peep show" aesthetic in which each performer invites audience members to peek into an enclosed space, hearing stories or watching solo performances that are vulnerable, personal, true and interactive but the audience is only able to witness for 4 minutes exactly before they move on to the next box. There is just enough time for an idea to be transferred, a gift to be exchanged, a moment to breathe together. We chose to keep the audience moving so they have the chance to take a unique journey in small groups of four together, actively engaged throughout, never able to get stagnant or passive. The collective repeats these micro performances 12 times each night and the repetition of that is a strong ritual in itself. It is not one-sided. The audience are asked to show up for us as well in simple yes or no responses, in offering a message for an international radio show, in letting their hands be touched, in writing a name of a lost loved one, in being human with the collective. We are interested in creating dynamic, beautiful theater but we are more interested in creating possibilities for transformation, for human connection and for healing.

What are you hoping the audience walks away with after this experience?

Leah Bachar: We hope the audience walks away from Liminal Archive with a sense of release. We do not expect to properly process and address a year and a half of isolation, uprisings, and the world changing in 45 minutes, but we strive to at least begin to make some sense of what it is we have all gone through collectively, on a global scale, and to redirect that energy into a world of new possibilities. We know that for many it was the first time they had been back in a theatre since the start of the pandemic, and we hope that the experience of being back together in a space allotted for creative purpose reminds all of us that gathering is a powerful action. That we are still here for one another, no matter what, and that we acknowledge and honor the stories and experiences everyone has gone through in the last year and a half.

During the show it was stated that this platform was to continue on at a later date. Can you tell us anything about what is to come?

Monica Dudárov Hunken: We released our first collective video response to the Liminal Archive exactly a year ago from the day we opened the show at New Ohio Theatre. The project began as an open-source platform, providing a cultural exchange where International Artists could collaborate together during a lockdown and mass uprisings, and it has collected more than 40 artworks, including music, digital art and theater. We have these prompts online, "This is the End of..., This is the Continuation of..., and This is the Beginning of." available for anyone to respond to and now we have collected a wall full of scrawled messages from audience members after they emerged from the show to add to this growing virtual document. We will continue to make these texts available for artists around the world to use as inspiration to create new works, to affirm one another's experiences and realities, to let our collective grief, anger, dreams and desires become seeds to spark the imagination to envision our future selves, our future world.

We hope to use this show as a workshop model to collaborate and build more micro worlds with other artists globally, to continue to evolve the show, and bring it to other countries as soon as it is safe to do so.

(Photo courtesy of Erik McGregor)

 


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