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The Commons
The Arts

Family secrets

Parent-child, mother-daughter relationships explored in Kali Quinn's 'Overture to a Thursday Morning'

Find more information at www.kaliquinn.com and www.sandglasstheater.org.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #98 (Wednesday, April 27, 2011).



PUTNEY—In Overture to a Thursday Morning — the first solo theater performance written, directed, choreographed, and acted in its entirety by former Windham County resident Kali Quinn — themes of loss, identity, and family secrecy merge in a multimedia performance rife with visual and aural complexity.

Overture to a Thursday Morning will be performed in a four-night run at Putney’s Sandglass Theater (17 Kimball Hill, 802-387-4051), Thursday, April 28, through Sunday, May 1.

April 28-30 performances begin at 8 p.m., while on Sunday there is a matinee to raise funds for the Saxtons River female empowerment organization, Making the Most of I, at 2 p.m.

This one-hour piece focuses on Lila, a young woman who wants to be a violin rock star. Her mother, Stephanie, with whom Lila hadn’t spoken in a while, has recently died. Lila receives several of Stephanie’s belongings, such as suitcases filled with objects from Stephanie’s childhood, journals, clothing and a photo projector and slides.

As Lila moves through the collection of objects, the real story of Lila’s birth becomes clearer and reveals a wholly different narrative of her mother’s life than she’d previously assumed.

As Lila, Quinn sings, plays violin, interacts with the cadre of objects onstage with intense physicality, and often moves from girlish reverie to sorrowful bewilderment and back in the space of a few instants. The unique type of performance of which Quinn is a devotee, called physical theater, shines in Overture with little precedent in southern Vermont’s theatre world.

“I’m interested in family secrets and the idea that all people who become one’s family in life are not blood-related, and how easily blood relations can seem to falter,” said Quinn recently in a telephone interview from her home in Rochester, N.Y., where Overture was being performed in a two-night run at University of Rochester’s Todd Theatre.

“Parent-child, mother-daughter relationships usually have a ‘catch’ somewhere within them,” she added. “There’s an emotional snag somewhere if the story is probed deeply enough. Everyone who has come to see the play has shared ‘where they’re at’ with their mother, and how whether their mother is alive or dead, pieces of her or their combined story continue to emerge, and the relationship must evolve from there in their minds.”

Quinn was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and earned her master’s degree from the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, Calif. Following her 2006 graduation, she formed a theatre company called GUTWorks with partners Daniel Burmester and Jonathan Maloney. The trio would share writing duties if not performing others’ material, with Maloney often directing, Burmester handling lighting and technical direction, and Quinn acting  — though these roles occasionally merged within the atmosphere of creative incubation favored by GUTWorks.

The three relocated to Athens, where Maloney grew up, a village nine miles outside of Bellows Falls. GUTWorks landed a residency at Vermont Academy in Saxtons River, and was granted access to the state-of-the-art facilities at the campus’ Horowitz Performing Art Center.

While GUTWorks incubated ideas and performed original pieces and respected one- and two-person plays across New England — while also mentoring students in Vermont Academy’s theatre programs — Quinn became heavily involved in the surrounding arts community. She held the position of theatre events coordinator at Bellows Falls Opera House from 2007-2010.

Culling from her previous professional clown training and commedia dell’arte education in California, she taught workshops and choreographed performances at New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro. Additionally, she traveled to Guatemala to direct, create and perform with Clowns Without Borders, taught physical theatre and violin in Brazil, and became a board member for the respected Network of Ensemble Theatres coalition.

Physical theater, Quinn’s niche, is a mode of performance that utilizes objects and actors’ physical relations and interactions with these objects as the primary mode of storytelling. Advanced by Polish theater innovator Jerzy Grotowski (1933-1999), physical theater relies heavily on choreography, props and often-experimental manipulation of setting to drive narrative. In some views, puppetry and clowning are related. A small but dedicated group of professionals worldwide practice physical theater. Quinn’s company, GUTWorks, came to be regarded as a vanguard of the art form in the Northeast.

A testament to her talent and drive, all of these accomplishments occurred before Quinn was 29 years old. Yet although her collaborative career was booming, she desired an experience she’d never allowed herself: to create and perform a piece completely on her own, taking her career solely into her own hands.

“I’d been torn,” explained Quinn. “Was I a physical theater artist? A clown? A violinist? I’m continuing to evolve and find my own language of how I combine elements of interest and communicate and perform onstage. It’s very liberating — just allowing the performance to evolve by itself and not needing anything more from the work than what I have to give to it.”

Quinn moved to New York City in the summer of 2010, seeking opportunities to advance her career. Although, in October, she allowed herself a one-month retreat to create a solo work, returning to Saxtons River and staying with friends.

“It was one of the first times I’d spent the majority of four weeks by myself, working from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. everyday,” she said. “I finally learned how I create as a solo entity.”

For a year, Quinn had been collecting 1950s objects from antique and thrift stores in Vermont (“I loved the oldness of them. The happiness, the texture, the realness of them,” she mused.) Inspired by these objects, what began as a story about a repressed 1950s housewife — possibly involving clowns and violin — evolved into a psychological journey into the minds and hearts of three women (Lila, Stephanie and grandmother Eleanor), brought together through these 1950s objects once Lila is the only one left alive.

The title comes from a plot point of Lila discovering that she was born on a Thursday. “The ‘overture’ is everything leading up to her birth,” added Quinn. “Through performing this piece and encouraging audience interaction in the talk-backs following each show, I’ve discovered how many people simply don’t know the details of their birth: was it a planned pregnancy, who helped that day, where they were born, what exact time, etc. And those aren’t even the murkier details.”

Overture to a Thursday Morning experienced an initial run at Vermont Academy last October, before moving to the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City in November. From there, it played off-Broadway at The Tank in Times Square in February, at University of Rochester last week, and will follow up its current Sandglass Theater run with six days at the KO Festival of Performance in Amherst, Mass., July 21-26.

An audience talk-back follows each performance, with a special discussion after Sunday’s show on the concept of birthing, how birthing has evolved, and reactions to teen pregnancy, facilitated by members of Making the Most of I.

Tickets are $15. If patrons use the code “mom” when purchasing tickets, they get one ticket free if they bring their mother as a guest.

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