Artist in Focus: Elizabeth LeCompte and The Wooster Group
For the third time in a row, the festival is dedicating a programme focus to one of the most important living figures in international theatre. Following Angelica Liddell in 2021 and Robert Lepage in 2022, the FIND 2023 is hosting the New York director and auteur Elizabeth LeCompte and her theatre collective, The Wooster Group.
The now legendary group, named after New York’s Wooster Street where it still has its venue, is a transdisciplinary, internationally acclaimed company whose productions feature an ingenious combination of video, film, sound and space. The company was founded in 1975 by LeCompte along with the writer, performer and actor Spalding Gray. Being less of a fixed ensemble than a collective that is constantly reconfiguring and further developing itself, thus remaining open to new inspirations, The Wooster Group quickly became one of the most influential theatre formations of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Today, it is recognised as a pioneer of post-dramatic theatre and the theatre of deconstruction. The group achieved its international breakthrough with the projects »Route 1 & 9« (1981) and »L.S.D. (… Just The High Points …)« (1984) — both reflections on the hubris and violence that characterise American society. Artists who have collaborated with the group include Joan Jonas, Ken Kobland, John Lurie, Jim Strahs, Richard Foreman and actors such as Steve Buscemi, Frances McDormand and Maura Tierney. Some members who have left the group over the years still return regularly. A particularly long and formative collaboration exists with Kate Valk, who has been part of the group since the beginning and can be seen on stage at the FIND in two productions: »A PINK CHAIR (In Place of a Fake Antique)« and »NAYATT SCHOOL REDUX«, both of which reference the history of the theatrical avant-garde as well as that of the company itself. The group has also worked for many years with Willem Dafoe, who can be seen as a protagonist in its film works, and with the late Spalding Gray, who died in 2004. Gray remains alive in the group’s work to this day: in the programme, he is present both in the theatrical re-enactment of his work in »NAYATT SCHOOL« and in a film reconstruction of the ground-breaking production of »Rumstick Road«. The plays, created collectively and directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, deal with topics such as repression and violence, the collision and integration of different cultures, loss and death, spiritual transformation and materialism, social decay and regeneration — and, ultimately, with the position of the artist in society. Furthermore, they feature a sophisticated use of sound, film and video. Canonical theatre texts and images are quoted, recontextualized and linked to current discourses and autobiographical elements. Central to both works is a virtuoso alternation between different levels of reality and visual worlds, live action and pre-produced material, as well as between formal and incidental structures, and the inclusion and simultaneous destruction of naturalistic conventions. This gives rise to a theatrical reality that not only represents life but also incorporates it, creating in turn a highly idiosyncratic artistic reality.
In addition to the two current productions, film works by the group, directed by LeCompte, are being presented on two evenings in the Schaubühne auditoriums. And in a panel discussion, the New York collective will take the audience on a deep dive into its history and present. In a digital highlight, The Wooster Group is linking its extensive video archive to the Schaubühne website for the duration of the festival, thus expanding this year’s focus with a virtual retrospective.