This week, New Orleans-based performance companies Mondo Bizarro and Art Spot Productions (2013 Performing Arts) launch the national tour of their site-responsive performance, Cry You One, at the Clear Creek Festival Grounds in Rockcastle County, KY. Cry You One is an outdoor performance and online platform inspired by the disappearing wetlands of Southeast Louisiana. Part song, part story, part procession for our lost land, Cry You One utilizes the unique music and stories of Louisiana to inspire connections between people working to steward the natural world wherever they live.
I spoke with Mondo Bizarro’s Nick Slie, one of the leading artists on the project, about the story behind Cry You One, adapting the work for the Kentucky presentation, and the national tour of the work.
Jenny Gill: Cry You One was originally developed to celebrate and mourn the disappearing wetlands of your native Southern Louisiana. Now, you’re touring it to other regions. What has your process been for adapting Cry You One to the Appalachian setting outside of Berea, KY? Was it a challenge to create characters for the performance that hold the same relevance for you personally as the original characters for the Louisiana iteration?
Nick Slie: The best way I can explain this is to take you back a couple of years. In 2009, I attended my first Clear Creek Festival. The festival is an annual, multi-disciplinary event, now in its 12th year, that brings several hundred Kentuckians from rural and urban communities together with artist-activists and other great people from throughout the south and across the country. The intention of the Festival is sharing good music and art, building community, and inspiring all of us to live more sustainably—in harmony with nature and with one another. Started by the renowned singer Mitch Barrett over ten years ago, the festival features nationally recognized music and theater acts next to edible food walks and rocket fuel workshops.
In 2010, at the invitation of the current festival producers Bob Martin and Carrie Brunk, Mondo Bizarro ended our three-month Loup Garou tour at the Clear Creek Festival and were really moved by the power of that sharing, both for the Clear Creek audience and for our crew. From the first time I visited, I was struck by the similarities between Kentucky and Louisiana. The people in Kentucky are acutely aware of place and they bring all of their story and musical traditions to service of the land they love so much. The way they talk and sing about home is really moving. And, like Louisiana, they have been deeply impacted by the extractive industries. In Kentucky, its coal. In Louisiana, its oil and natural gas.
Bob Martin and I met at Alternate ROOTS years ago and had been looking for ways to deepen our friendship. Really, we just wanted to get to know one another better and in the process discovered this well of life between our homes and work. We decided to make an intentional multi-year exchange between Mondo Bizarro and the On the Creek Ensemble. That was 2011. Fast forward to 2014 and here we are. So, Cry You One’s premiere at Clear Creek at the end of this month builds on a multi-year cultural exchange between theatre artists, organizers and musicians from the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Eastern Kentucky.
I cannot stress how important this timescale is for the development of the work. We often work for very long periods of time on a performance. I always say that what we are after during this time is a quality of listening. Our work is site-responsive and requires a lot of dialogue with the spaces where it will be performed. We got to spend years on the land in Kentucky, observing its particularities and we always knew that there was an intention to bring the full show of Cry You One to Clear Creek. Thus, when we went into redevelopment of Cry You One for the National Tour, we had a lot of information to work with regarding the adaptation of these characters, songs and stories for Kentucky audiences.
Bob and Carrie set the producing and cultural organizing bar very high and this makes it easy to breathe into the work we are doing here. In many ways, adapting this performance for other audiences has deepened the work of all our collaborators. For me, it has made the work more personally relevant, as time allows the love I have for my character (Tom Dulac) to grow. It also allows for nuance to develop with my characters. Ultimately, I have to feel a lot of love for any character I create because the same love I have for my home—a love that is bursting with joy and completely troubling at the same time—needs to move through the character work I do in the performance.
Jenny: After the festival in Kentucky, what other communities will you be bringing Cry You One to?
Nick: Cry You One is currently touring in a multitude of forms. Immediately following the Clear Creek engagement, we will travel to Alternate ROOTS to do a one-hour presentation about what we learned through our participation in the Partners in Action Grant we received from ROOTS at the outset of the project. For the ROOTS presentation, we will be joined by Jayesha Dutta, one of our primary partners from the Gulf Future Coalition. Earlier this summer, we performed a musical concert version at the Artosphere Festival and the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven. We are in conversation with both of these incredible organizations about whether it makes sense to bring our full show back to their festivals next year. That is really exciting for us. In September, we will be hosted by Sandglass Theater and the Vermont Performance Lab for a presentation of the full performance.
In 2015, we are also hoping to bring the full show to Houston and then back to Louisiana for more work with the Gulf Future Coalition to honor the five year anniversary of the BP oil spill and the ten year anniversary of Katrina. We remain open to other possibilities as well.
VIDEO: Sean La Rocca, Millicent Johnnie and Nick Slie present Cry You One at the 2013 Creative Capital Artist Retreat.
Jenny: Cry You One is a highly collaborative project. Can you talk about what each of the primary Creative Capital artists on this project (you, Sean La Rocca and Millicent Johnnie) bring to the work? What has your creative process been like?
Nick: From the beginning, we all start in the room and stay in the room together. So much of this particular project has been inspired by Sean’s musical genius. From day one, he brought an open heart and an uncanny sense of musical composition. Some of the music for Cry You One was inspired by traditional Cajun/Creole songs and Sean really did a number on morphing those tunes into something entirely new and infectious. Lots of folks wrote lyrics or songs and it was Sean’s job to create a through line for the music throughout. Given the musical nature of Cry You One, this was no small task. Sean is also our band leader for all of the music concerts we play. And did I mention he is the accountant, producer, etc.?
Millicent was in and out of the room but always with us in spirit. Millicent is a very busy artist and was a full-time professor at the time of our development. When Millicent was in the room, she pushed hard and really invited us to exceed our physical, mental and creative limitations. Millicent is from Louisiana, so the movement of our people is in her bones. She is also a wonderful scholar of movement traditions and she brings all of that to bear on the work.
I share the project director role with Sean and worked as a performer in the piece.
Jenny: Along with the live Cry You One events, you also have an online platform (CryYouOne.com) where you share stories from Louisiana natives affected by land loss and other environmental concerns. Will you expand this with each new presentation of the work? Are there other ways for folks to engage in the project from afar?
Nick: When we finished touring Loup Garou, we recognized how much potency there was in the story we were telling. The idea behind the website is that it will live for many years to come, especially when the live components of Cry You One are not as active. So, yes, its gonna expand. We currently have about 80 pieces of unique content we have not released and we’re continuing to document as we tour. If people want to be engaged from afar, they should write us because that is definitely possible.
Jenny: What other projects do you have in the works?
Nick: Mondo Bizarro has a whole lot of things cooking. We are in the middle of a strategic refresh for the company, trying to find ways to keep life and inspiration in our work. I’m very excited about what’s next. We continue to work on Catapult, a center for the creation of new performance we started with ArtSpot Productions, NEW NOISE and Jeff Becker. We are working on our first Summer Training Immersion Program that will launch next year. We are also looking at different ways to highlight the ten years of performance and digital media work we have done since Katrina. I am trying to organize a book written by New Orleans performing artists to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the storm. And pretty soon we will begin to announce the next big creative projects for the company. Oh, yes, we’re gonna throw a party this year to celebrate our 13 Anniversary. We say we’re gonna do it every year, but this time, we mean it.
Mondo Bizarro and ArtSpot Productions present “Cry You One” at the Clear Creek Festival in Berea, KY, July 31 – August 2. To hear more stories about the land, people and culture of Southeast Louisiana, visit CryYouOne.com.