"Once upon a time," "heroes," "villains" and "happily ever after" aren't good enough for Shana Cordon, the Boulder-based solo performer and writer of Dancing With Demons: A Fractured Fairytale, a play about a writer held hostage, a demon gone wild and a narrative structure that vanishes. Cordon, who has been touring the piece throughout North America, is bringing it back home to Boulder for two nights this weekend; in advance of that run, Westword spoke with Cordon about her creative process, fairy tales and the fine line between stereotypes and archetypes.
Westword: Talk about your approach to theater? Shana Cordon: I've been in the theater-making world and arts-making world since I was a child. I went to an arts-integrated school in the Bay area, so that was all part of growing up. In grad school, I focused on creating performance. I went to the Naropa MFA Contemporary Performance Program, but that was after ages of really traditional theater. I got really excited about creating new works for theater and what stories the body has to say or characters have to say when you're improvising. While I absolutely love traditional plays, I'm really passionate about creating new works and new stories through improvisation.
Is the performance improvised or is that your writing process? That's my writing process. I come from a world of physical theater, so a lot of the characters come from physical forms and then they improvise. Some of it's a little grotesque, some of it's clown-like, some of it is just standard, theatrical characters. But they all have very specific and very unique physicality to them that really creates the emotional state and the mental state and just everything they have to say. How does that work in Dancing With Demons?
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It started a couple of summers ago with experiments for myself. I teach physical theater at the Boulder Ballet School. My students there are incredibly well-trained. Their physicality is amazing. I tell them: You have a form, but you have to find what the content is within the form. Within every form there can be a psychological state, an emotional state, a feeling, a passion connected with it. I decided, "Hey, I should get into the studio and start making my own characters, just from that place of a neutral body." Then I started to create a character and to create a form and then see if really grounded, really articulate characters and story can develop out of it, which is what happened.
I worked with a really amazing woman named Claire Patton of Quake Theater, who has been performing a lot lately with The Awkward Art of Flying show. She has such a great skill coming from the Lecoq tradition of really seeing the forms and the stories within characters, within the body. So, through various processes of improvisation, we hear what stories these characters had to tell, and then through that, a narrative arose. Once the narrative was there, I really dove into it as a writer to try to connect it and form a coherent story.
Talk about what that story is?
It starts as an archetypal fairytale, your "once upon a time," with your heroes who are good and great and your villains who are just creepy and evil and all those various characters and what they're supposed to be. Pretty soon, in the beginning, the fairytale archetypes get shattered. One of the characters steps out of the narrative and just calls bullshit, basically, really fighting against the two-dimensional stereotypes that they're put into, and it goes from there. So what happens when the hero all of a sudden has no idea what's next in the journey or why they're on the journey to begin with and what happens when the bad evil villain all of a sudden has control of telling the story and has all of these vast and sometimes beautiful things to say, just about life and stories in general and about archetypes and stereotypes. It's called a "fractured fairytale" because it starts out and wants to go that way and then it gets fractured. I think what comes out of it is a lot more substantial than your basic happily ever after.
Read on for more from Shana Cordon.
Talk about what you see as the relationship between archetypes and streotypes and how those things play out?
Well, archetypes are really kind of an essential blueprint that we see in humanity, in story, just an essential blueprint. Stereotypes are when those blueprints get reductive, two-dimensional. I think that's a pretty good way to look at them and, also, archetypes can also be a little more symbolic. So you have "the evil character," but that's just representing the specific sort of type; whereas, stereotype is "This kind of person is bad. People that do this are bad. People from here are bad." That's stereotyping, and that's really dangerous. We see that any time we look at any news. I think it brings attention to some stereotypes we have culturally.
Talk about how you get a play like this out?
It's been fun and fantastic and educational and hard and everything. As a solo performer, not connected with a big theater company or a big production machine and budget and organization, getting the word out can be a little challenging. So connecting with festivals that are promoting the art of theater, in general, has been a very fantastic way to get the work out. I've been to Fringe Festival in Seattle. I just did a tour in Canada, which was quite exceptional. The Fringe Festival there is very well-attended and very well-promoted and marketed. You already have an audience that has been gathered for you. So it's just about connecting with people and saying, "Hey, this is what my show's about," inviting them and making that connection there.
The Fringe format has been a really great way to get to travel and get the work out. But I'm also really excited, because it's also given me some press, which has given me this backing to be able to approach theater companies. So, in January, I'm going to be produced by a company in Colorado Springs, and it will be awesome, right, because they do all the publicity, and I just come right in. I love that. That will be really awesome. That's the Millibo Art Theater, The MAT. They're wonderful people, and they're doing a series with me for a long weekend.
You're still in the throes of this one. Are you developing new work in the meantime?
It's bubbling up. That's one of the reasons that I wanted to do a show here in Boulder. This is where I created the show two years ago. So I've toured it, refined it, and now I'm bringing it back. So, this is not an endpoint but a completion of that cycle, as I get ready to create new work. I'll be going into the studio in December and starting on a brand-new project, so that will be fun.
What can audiences look forward to when they come to see this? What's the experience going to be like for them?
It is fantastically fun, very playful. It's also really intense at moments, right? There are some characters who definitely have something to say about the way the world runs. It takes you on a really big roller-coaster of substance and complete play and entertainment. I think one of my favorite reviewers said, "It's great silly fun, but smart." He said, "Delightfully demented." I love that. It's the kind of theater I like to see. It's the kind of movies I like to see. I like stories that get me laughing and keep me engaged in the moment. I also like something that has some meat on it that I can chew on and think about afterwards. That's what I appreciate in stories, and that's also what I like to give.
Dancing With Demons will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, October 10 and Saturday, October 11 at the Wesley Chapel, 1290 Folsom Street in Boulder. Tickets are $15, or $13 for students and seniors; purchase them here.
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