A Theasy Interview with Artistic Director Eamonn Farrell
by Nancy Kelly
Nancy: Tell me about your name.
Eamonn: Back in 2001 when the company was started, we were young and interested in process. We developed this group text generation technique called "Catswrite" -- it was a little esoteric, involving group breath and resulting in pretty far-flung poetic language. Anyway, the name Anonymous Ensemble was catswritten.
Neat! OK, on to the work. I see a very eclectic bunch of influences in your work; how did you develop your aesthetic? What role do music and movement have in your theatrical vision?
We've changed a lot over the years. Live music has always been pretty central in our work. Several of us have a background in musical theatre -- though I would say none of us are active in that scene now. I personally have a great love for the history and tradition of the American musical -- though I have little interest in most of its current manifestations. We were more interested in popular forms like circus and rock and roll and how to play with those more dynamic performer/audience relationships.
I would say that most of our work starts with an exciting musical collaboration of some kind. Our last large show started with the idea of working with several of the talented Rebetiko musicians that our composer wiorked with in Greece, and building a show around that.
In terms of movement, we're interested in intense physicality, skill and virtuosity but I wouldn't say that we're a movement based ensemble. We tend to bring in professional dancers and choreographers to work with. This city (and the world at large) is full of amazingly talented, highly trained dancers and circus performers; we love what these artists can add to our shows. The dance and circus styles and specific skills that we draw from vary from project to project, however.
That strikes me as a more European or International approach to theatre. Seems like your company might have a Germanic/Eastern European bent, am I right? What interests you about that part of the world?
One of the core Anonymous Ensemble company members, Jessica Weinstein, has developed the persona of Hilda, a faux German, ten-foot tall powerhouse. So, it's really more about character than anything else. But yeah, there is something fascinating to us about Eastern Europe -- the music, especially. It's where we get most excited about traveling to.
Your company tours a lot, but you also make work abroad. What interest you about cross-cultural work, such as your upcoming project in Greece, collaborating with the National Opera?
We feel that cross-cultural exchange is something that theatre is uniquely able to achieve. Theatre forces bodies into a space together to share air and an experience together. It's also about the inherently social aspect of theatre. Theatre means nights out, dinners before, drinks after, and conversations. In an age where we increasingly don't have to come in contact with each other in a physical space, theatre still requires actual interaction and we think that is important.
So when were are abroad working, or working with foreign artists here, we are both creating a dialogue on stage to examine different ideas about humanity and engendering a dialogue around the performance. All this is useful as we move, as a planet, toward s a global culture. It helps us to better understand both each other and ourselves.
Totally. So how do you feel about being a New York based company? Why are you here?
We're ambivalent about being a New York-based company. New York is that one place in this country where the "Next Big Thing" could get totally missed. Honestly, New York City has to be one of the most hostile producing environments for theatre. But not necessarily in a bad way. There's a ton of amazing artists in New York and that means both competition and a vibrant arts culture. So while we're being fed artistically, we might literally be starving. There just isn't the audience base and culture of theatre-going to support the amount of theatre-makers. You go somewhere like Madrid or Bogota or Athens and it's a totally different balance. I guess that's another reason we go abroad a lot -- simple economics. That's why the cultural work that Theatre Is Easy is doing is really important.
Thanks! I hear you about NYC.
There would definitely be easier places to base a company. On the other hand, the talent pool here is incredible and it's a good place to see what's going on both locally and internationally -- which is important for an artist. Also, there's a lot of cache to being a New York based company, with good reason; if you survive here you have to be producing good stuff.
At least that's true in your case! Are you an ensemble company in the sense that you work with a consistent group of people? What is your process?
We are a core ensemble with a large community of artists that we draw from. essica Weinstein, Liz Davito and myself are involved in nearly all AnEn productions. We're also all freelancers so we are able to do the overseas work. Then there's other core members like Janelle Lannan (performer -- editor's note: she is also a writer for Theatre is Easy), Lucrecia Briceno (lighting designer), William Antoniou (composer), Josh Hoglund (performer) etc. who are involved in most of our productions. But the organizational structure is intentionally loose and on a project to project basis. Usually, a project starts with me getting an idea and entering into some kind of a writing process -- often times in collaboration with a composer. But the ensemble always gets involved with the script very early. We do everything on Google docs so that everyone can make tweaks to the text, etc. But we like to play with different models too -- for example our last show, "We The Emperors" was totally ensemble generated with all four of us as writer/director/performers equally.
That's awesome. So tell me, what is the most fun about being a theater/performance
artist for you?
The most fun is doing the shows themselves. There's nothing like the rush of an opening. I think that most of us in theatre are probably adrenaline junkies of some some sort. I love when you can feel the rapport between an audience and the performers and it sizzles.
And how about the least fun?
The least fun is probably trying to stretch dollars and make tough decisions about what we can afford to do and what we can't.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? I'm definitely impressed with not only your work, but your work ethic. Anything else about your work or your life that you would like to share with our readers?
Here's our mission statement: Anonymous Ensemble creates new theater and performance that asks what makes us humans and what makes us gods. Our storytelling is a place where virtuosity and meticulous preparation can collide with the thrill of a raw, spontaneous, hands-on experience. We want our work to be touched, tasted, felt, participated in so that you end up creating it as much as it creates you.
Eamonn Farrell (writer/director) has developed the following works with Anonymous Ensemble:Troop Troupe, a Wonderland, Wanderlust, The7 Battles TheBest, OEDI@:us, OEDIrx, El Best, Release The Best, All About The Best, Long Live The Best, The Best of The Best's Flesh, The Worst of The Best, The Best's Valentine Special, The Best, Lysistrata and Junior High Pep Rally, Threshold, All Saints Day, The Emperor's New 'Vestments, Oracle.
(Look out for a fundraiser for the company in NYC in January, and follow the progress of their collaboration with the National Opera of Greece, creating an original opera based on the life of Alan Turning, in the spring of 2011. For more information about Anonymous Ensemble, visit www.anonymousensemble.org )