The Performant: Left Coasters

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Right Brain Performancelab stakes a claim Out West. (Ed Note: While the Performant is off hugging trees in Oregon, please enjoy a series of interviews with the curators of three innovative performance spaces.)

Since 1998, Jennifer Gwirtz and John Baumann of Right Brain Performancelab (performing August 24 and 25) have been haunting black box theatres and dance studios with their quirkily cerebral brand of performance art. After staging a variety show in their Richmond District living room as part of Philip Huang’s International Home Theater Festival, they decided to keep running with the concept—and the Due West Salon was born.

SFBG: What is the main purpose of the Due West Salon?

RBP (Jen): The Due West Salon is our way to produce performances in a realistic and resilient way. Performing in a home, specifically our home, is especially wonderful to me because at its core, performance creates sacred space, especially community space. In the world of DIY theater, home theater is something that makes a lot of sense right now. It feels like part of that movement to come back to the local, to create more resilient communities...it’s all of a piece.

SFBG: Talk a little about the house performances you did in New Zealand. What turned you onto the format in the first place?

RBP (John):
In the late 90s, shortly after RBP was formed, we were introduced to New Zealand theater artist Warwick Broadhead.  Warwick was in the Bay Area with his traveling solo production of Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark", which he performed entirely out of a suitcase complete with portable, remote controllable lights and music. (He’d) arranged to have a show in someone's living room in the Oakland hills, for a flat fee, a place to stay, and a light supper.  We were in the audience and were both charmed and blown away by the poetry and economics of his production. We talked with Warwick after the show and began planning our trip to New Zealand, eventually deciding to perform our very first show "Not A Step" in his house in Auckland. The aesthetic of low-fi, DIY traveling theater is a terrific thing for art and for the company's bottom line, focusing on performance rather than production value, encouraging the audience to engage their
 imaginations, and saving much money and effort.

SFBG: Right Brain Performancelab has a uniquely playful approach in a lot of its work. What inspires that, what does it inspire?

RBP (Jen): John and I have always had a playful relationship, which is where this all started. We love to make each other laugh. Then when we started to draw other performers into what we do, we realized that if it wasn’t going to be fun, or at least enjoyable and satisfying in process, then it wasn’t really worth doing. I’ve also had a deep attraction to these old archetypes of the tragic clown and the bumbling clown sorts of characters, as well as to the practice and imagery of Butoh, which can be a deep and skillful clowning practice on a certain level. At the same time, making work with lots of layers, some of them very dark where all the difficult ideas and impulses live is important to both of us.

(John): Jen and I have a deep connection with playfulness in our relationship, which grew out of our common love for The Muppets, Buster Keaton, Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin and other performers who are playful. We have found it easier to explore weighty subject matter while deploying rubber chickens and funny hats, and it's surprising how play can generate truly rewarding discoveries, even when working with and honoring a difficult theory or method.
 
SFBG: When is the next Due West Salon?

RBP:
The Due West Salon will take place on August 24 and 25 at 8pm. The link for tickets is here: duewestsalon-aug24-25-2012.eventbrite.com

SFBG: Anything you'd like to add?

RPL (Jen):
I’d love to see home-theater become a real force for great performance in the next ten years. Small is good. Bigger is not necessarily better.