The Denver Museum of Contemporary Art Denver will celebrate the holiday season by hosting twelve and a half days of artistic performances in its sleek atrium. What sets the Twelve and a Half Days of Xmas Live! series apart from the MCA's other programs is that the performers will be chosen from an open call for entry and the applicants will be competing for a $500 prize. To learn more about the concept, Westword caught up with Sarah Kate Baie, MCA Denver's director of programming and chief of fictions, to discuss the contest rules, reaching out to the local creative community and Denver's puppeteering scene.
Westword: Is this the first year that MCA is hosting Twelve and a Half Days of Xmas Live?
Sarah Kate Baie: Yes, we started this year with the new program. We're launching December 20 and we'll run through January.
Where did you get the idea to host performance art here?
It's part of what we do in general, part of what our program component is at the museum. So in addition to the exhibitions that we have, of course, we also have an ambitious programming calendar that runs throughout the year, including Mixed Taste in the summertime, which is sort of our flagship summer series. We bring together two lecturers, and they each speak on two different topics; then they take questions and answers at the same time. In addition to that, we were interested in finding different ways to connect to creativity in our area. Ideally, we're looking for a wide range of performers. We're looking for musicians, performance artists, dancers and things we haven't even thought about. Like puppeteers.
What kind of puppets? Not ventriloquists, I hope?
No, it's mostly like marionette-style. We haven't seen any ventriloquists yet. I'll be honest, ventriloquists scare me.
Ventriloquist dummies are inherently creepy. Anyway, how do you currently connect with local performers?
One of the ways we connect with local performers is through our Black Sheep Fridays program, which is going on right now in our cafe. It's a similar kind of thing where we curate twelve Friday night programs with local creative people. Last week we did "Debating for Guffman," where two teams of comedians debated Waiting for Guffman versus Waiting for Godot. Taylor Gonda was part of that. These are the kinds of ways that we're already connecting to the Denver community with creativity, but we wanted to create other spaces to showcase the abundant creativity that's in the region. Maybe some that we don't know about. So rather than create another event like Black Sheep, where we start with people who we know, people who we're sure will know what they're doing, we thought we'd do a program with an open call for entries as a way to get to know some people who are maybe outside of our circle. Maybe they're just starting up, or maybe they're doing things that we would have never even thought about.
Have you had many entries so far?
Yeah, we've had a pretty good response so far. From a lot of people we don't know and people who have some really crazy, fun ideas. What are the rules for the contest?
The rules are pretty simple. We're looking for performers who can perform for thirty minutes on an eight-foot-by-eight-foot stage in our atrium. We ask for no explosives or open flames, no running water and no live animals.
That's something you have to specify?
We definitely have to specify no live animals here because we often work with live animals. The program runs at 5 p.m. on weekdays and noon on weekends, and we ask performers to specify which dates they're available when they apply.
Have you had a lot of variety among the entrants?
We've gotten more puppeteers than we expected. We didn't know there was such a vibrant puppet community in Denver, which is always the kind of thing you like to see. It never fails to blow my mind how many people are doing crazy, creative things that you had no idea existed. They get so into it; they've obviously put a lot of work into their form and are really excited about it, and that's the kind of stuff that we just love here.
How do you narrow down the selection process?
There's a selection crew of five people. Myself, Molly Nuanes, the program producer who's producing the series; Adam Lerner, the executive director; Nora Burnett Abrams, the curator here; and Alex Stephens, our creative and production manager, is going to be the tie-breaking vote. I'm interested in seeing the whole spectrum of creativity. I think parameters foster creativity: By creating a box of rules and criteria, it sparks an interesting tension in creative people who find a way to push the limits of that box. The idea is that it will inspire people to push the limits of their form. Without explosives. We're probably the only museum in town that has to specify that.
Yeah, somehow I doubt that the issue of explosives comes up very often at the Molly Brown House. Are there any other particulars you want to mention?
So to get in to the program, you have to submit a call for entry through our website. The call closes on October 30 and the selection process begins the next day. Based on the videos and photos from the calls for entry, the selection committee will choose the performers for each of the twelve and a half days. The thirteen winners will be announced on November 4. Each of the thirteen contestants gets a $50 honorarium and then the winner gets $500. For spectators, the contest is free with museum admission. They can come watch and then enjoy our gallery or our rooftop cafe for a drink, hot chocolate or some tamales. We have tamales now.
Also at the MCA are exhibitions featuring work from Heimrad Bäcker and the Critical Focus: MCA Denver Installation Team, both of which run through January 5. Check MCA's events calendar for more information.
Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.