Dramaturg Janice Paran Discusses the World Premiere of FALLING OUT at OZ Arts Nashville

Dramaturg Janice Paran Discusses the World Premiere of FALLING OUT at OZ Arts Nashville

Serving as dramaturg for Falling Out, a provocative new performance piece from the New York-based Phantom Limb Company, which has its world premiere this weekend at Nashville's OZ Arts, has been unlike any other project Janice Paran has ever worked on.

"This is new territory for me," Paran admits. "And it was really fun to be pulled into this wild world of performance installation."

"Each piece [in the trilogy] examines our current climate crisis through a specific lens, all with the same end goal: to go straight to the heart and then mind of the viewer, inspiring in them an energy to go out and create or conserve in a way that best serves their own communities," says Phantom Limb Company founder, director and set designer Jessica Grindstaff.

Dramaturg Janice Paran Discusses the World Premiere of FALLING OUT at OZ Arts Nashville
Janice Paran

The set design for Falling Out began taking shape when Grindstaff noticed the way her daughter's tutu crept across the bedroom floor, impelled by the breeze of a nearby window. The unseen effects of radiation from Fukushima came to mind.

Grindstaff and Erik Sanko, company founder, puppet designer and composer, are lifelong fans of the modern Japanese dance style Butoh-and the group Sankai Juku in particular. Butoh first appeared an artistic response to the bombings of Hiroshima, and the pieces began falling into place.

Working with Sankai Juku Butoh master Dai Matsuoka, Phantom Limb Company started merging the principles of Butoh and puppetry. The story of falling out of relationship emerged on a personal scale, highlighting loss on a grander one. And still, upon reflection of this work, the trilogy and its larger lessons, Grindstaff discovered that while one person cannot solve the world's enormous problems, an accumulation of many people doing small things does return a sense of hope and optimism for the future.

Falling Out, then, incorporates puppetry, video, original music, flex dance and Butoh, swirling in a diaphanous installation that promises to move, inspire and continue prompting questions about humans in relationship with the planet. Falling Out will travel to New York following the OZ Arts premiere and will be part of the BAM Next Wave Festival.

As a dramaturg, Paran usually works with a written narrative, a script in which a new world is often created, but with Falling Out - which comes from a totally different, wholly creative world of its own - the creative process happened, as she describes it, in fits and starts over time, due to the fact that it is actually created "in the room": "They can't go off and write a script, they need all the elements in the room as they create the piece," she explains.

Falling Out is Paran's second collaboration with Phantom Limb; she first worked with the company and its founder Jessica Grindstaff on Memory Rings, the second part of the trilogy. "It was fascinating to see how the piece evolved in the room with all the collaborators present," she asserts. "Jessica works in a highly collaborative fashion and from the beginning of this piece she knew she was interested in creating a piece about the relationship of Japan and water."

Dramaturg Janice Paran Discusses the World Premiere of FALLING OUT at OZ Arts Nashville"I've spent most of my career as a dramaturg on text-based work, with new writing in the theater, so I was thrilled to be pulled out of those habits into a world that maybe thinks about dramaturgy in a new way," Paran says. "I had to look at how a performance experience is created in a way that allows meaning to be organized in space and communicated to an audience, whether that's through words, pictures, movement or, in this case, all of those things combined."

Falling Out, the resulting performance piece, is difficult to describe, Paran admits. "Jessica creates tone and space around an idea," she suggests. "For Jessica, her passion for environmental awareness can't be separated from her passion as an artist to create something that has sensory appeal, something that is kind of magnetic and mysterious."

Paran describes the piece as an example of art helping to convey a sense of "environmental awareness."

"I shy away from calling it 'climate change,' because I think that phrase is deceptive," she says. "By putting audience members in a space where we, along with the people onstage, are kind of in a dream space, experiencing and thinking about how we as humans live in the natural world. Obviously, in this case and obviously in this case the inspiration was the disaster at Fukushima...the tsunami, the earthquake and the radiation that followed are all natural disasters and there is no matter of recycling that could change that."

Because such natural, cataclysmic events are becoming more and more common, Falling Out gives audience "a poetic and imaginative way of enterting into a deeper awareness of the swirl of events that create such disasters. it's quite beautiful and mesmerizing."

As a result, instead of being treated to a didactic presentation of climate watches and warnings, Falling Out will give audiences something entirely different.

"This is a way of engaging audiences on a deeper level in a theatrical space, a magical space," Paran suggests.

And while it is theatrical and quite magical, Falling Out - through the use of video imagery - starts at a real place and time, with the reality of what happened at the Fukushima nuclear plant as a result of the tsunami and earthquake is not ignored.

"It moves from that reality into a consideration of something that happened half a world away," Paran says. "The performers and, by extension, audience members are able to take on that story and to attempt to understand some of the elements of that story and to make it our own story in the process."

And when the performance ends, Paran maintains that a survey of 100 audience members will likely elicit 100 different responses to what they have just experienced, because, as she explains, "we all try to put a narrative to whatever it is we may be watching - that's one of the strengths of a performance piece - because that is how we make sense of it."

Dramaturg Janice Paran Discusses the World Premiere of FALLING OUT at OZ Arts NashvilleAbout Janice Paran Janice Paran is a New Jersey-based dramaturg and consultant in support of new work in theatre, dance and opera. She has served as a Program Associate for The Sundance Institute Theatre Program since 2007, and as a Senior Program Associate since 2012. Prior to joining Sundance, she spent 14 seasons as the Director of Play Development at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ. Current and recent projects include Phantom Limb's Falling Out (OZ Arts Nashville and BAM, 2018), The Last Dream of Frida and Diego (Fort Worth Opera Festival, 2020) and Mfoniso Udofia's Sojourners and Her Portmanteau (New York Theatre Workshop). She has taught at Princeton University, Drew University and NYU, and she holds MFA degrees from Catholic University and the Yale School of Drama.

Dramaturg Janice Paran Discusses the World Premiere of FALLING OUT at OZ Arts NashvilleAbout Falling Out OZ Arts Nashville is set to challenge and to delight local audiences with another world premiere in Nashville this weekend with a distinctive collaboration with the acclaimed New York-based Phantom Limb Company.

Phantom Limb Company, which premiered its work Memory Rings at OZ Arts in 2015, returns for the world premiere of Falling Out, the final installment in the same trilogy. The company incorporates puppetry, original music, projection design and dance to heighten environmental awareness.

In 2015, the world premiere of Phantom Limb Company's Memory Rings captivated OZ Arts audiences with its creative use of puppetry, storytelling, multimedia and environmental emphasis. Told from the perspective of the world's oldest living tree, Memory Rings served as the second in a trilogy exploring human connection to our surroundings.

The trilogy began in 2011 with 69?S., inspired by Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. This year, the trilogy completes with the world premiere of Falling Out, inspired in part by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, Japan, and its resulting nuclear disaster.

"Each piece examines our current climate crisis through a specific lens, all with the same end goal: to go straight to the heart and then mind of the viewer, inspiring in them an energy to go out and create or conserve in a way that best serves their own communities," says Phantom Limb Company founder, director and set designer Jessica Grindstaff.

The set design for Falling Out began taking shape when Grindstaff noticed the way her daughter's tutu crept across the bedroom floor, impelled by the breeze of a nearby window. The unseen effects of radiation from Fukushima came to mind.

Grindstaff and Erik Sanko, company founder, puppet designer and composer, are lifelong fans of the modern Japanese dance style Butoh-and the group Sankai Juku in particular. Butoh first appeared an artistic response to the bombings of Hiroshima, and the pieces began falling into place.

Working with Sankai Juku Butoh master Dai Matsuoka, Phantom Limb Company started merging the principles of Butoh and puppetry. The story of falling out of relationship emerged on a personal scale, highlighting loss on a grander one. And still, upon reflection of this work, the trilogy and its larger lessons, Grindstaff discovered that while one person cannot solve the world's enormous problems, an accumulation of many people doing small things does return a sense of hope and optimism for the future.

Falling Out, then, incorporates puppetry, video, original music, flex dance and Butoh, swirling in a diaphanous installation that promises to move, inspire and continue prompting questions about humans in relationship with the planet. Falling Out will travel to New York following the OZ Arts premiere and will be part of the BAM Next Wave Festival.

The New York-based Phantom Limb Company has received support and grants from the Jim Henson Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Artist and Writers Program, the New York State Composer's Grant, MAP Fund, Edith Luytens and Norman Bel Geddes Design Enhancement Fund, New Music USA, the New England Foundation for the Arts National Touring Project, New Music USA and the Japan Foundation, as well as being Hermitage Artist Residency Fellows, Rauschenberg Residency Fellows and recipients of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award.

If you go: Doors open at 7 p.m., with the performance starting at 8 p.m. Run time is 80 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets are $60 per person and are available at www.OZArtsNashville.org.

About OZ Arts Nashville Since opening in 2014, OZ Arts Nashville, a 501(c)(3) contemporary arts center, has changed the cultural landscape of the city. Housed in the former C.A.O. cigar warehouse owned by Nashville's Ozgener family, OZ Arts brings world-class performances and art installations to the city and gives ambitious local artists opportunities to work on a grand scale. The flexible 10,000 square-foot, column-free venue, nestled amidst five acres of artfully landscaped grounds, is continually reconfigured to serve artists' imaginations, and to challenge and inspire a diverse range of curious audiences

photos by Sierra Urich

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