Dallas — For the past five years, Thomas Riccio’s Dead White Zombies has produced work in abandoned warehouses, factories, and crack houses. He’s earned a reputation for taking risks and being the “weirdest theatre mind” in North Texas. Riccio’s current performance will utilize more non-traditional performance spaces, but not the ones you might assume.
No one would think a DWZ performance could happen at a place like… Whole Foods or Urban Outfitters, right? I thought NorthPark Center was the place that middle school choirs perform, not experimental theater.
Also, I shouldn’t say that these performances are going to happen, because they’ve already started. And perhaps you were there.
Holy Bone brings DWZ into uncharted territory through a number of complex means. Riccio is well known for his work with indigenous peoples across the globe, and he’s utilized foundational components of certain groups to structure previous DWZ pieces. Now with Holy Bone, he aims to completely submerge the performers into a ritualized, open framework that will evolve through a full year of public experimentation. If you thought DWZ bent the rules before, Riccio is making it his mission to completely toss out the fast-held structures of traditional Western theatre creation and production.
In November, Riccio worked with veterans of DWZ to develop small fragments of action, or “bones.” The structure is somewhat recognizable, with small two to three person scenes and characters—but that’s where the familiarity ends. These bones are meant to be presented in the real world as an undercurrent, not a formal performance. “Present” is also a tricky word to describe this work, as Riccio is interested in personal interactions with the public rather than a separation between performer and audience. They should meld together.
The performers merge into public places, shops, and restaurants without any warning or announcement. Holy Bone contains a highly ecological awareness as there is nothing physically created or destroyed. The zombies simply occupy the space for some time, performing bones and answering “bone calls.” Those who happen to be in those spaces become aware of some kind of disruption or strange activity happening around them. That awareness is one of the elements Riccio aimed for in the first stage of the experiment.
Another element of Holy Bone introduces multifaceted digital media platforms on holybone.com. On the website, you can find a list of all the key personas—a collection of “Boners.” Riccio has hopes of creating a new cosmology after the months of collecting text, images, and video—through highly collaborative means with the performers. “It has to be organic. I’m actually taking performers and giving them roles that I thought would be aligned with them.”
Each character has their own web page containing an assortment of images, text, audio and video. These fragments that resemble an abstract Tumblr page were selected or created by Riccio and the performers. They hold some connection to the character and inform how the character may evolve over the coming months. While this continuous experimentation can seem confusing, or an endless wandering, Riccio aims to keep the process as open as possible, mirroring his experiences with indigenous people. “They have a relaxed and improvisational attitude. There’s structure and culture and tradition behind it, but they are very relaxed about how they go about it. It’s a mental adjustment.”
At the moment, DWZ slowly builds the archetypes within Holy Bone by playing out segments and improvising in the public. Through weeks of playing, a number of relationships, gestures, and actions have emerged. Riccio notes, “We are coming in subtle and underneath rather than hitting them with performance. The actors are learning and getting more confident. If they are more aware, they will make the environment more aware.”
At the heart of Holy Bone lies a need to reject the notion that performance can only be found in confined and formal parameters. Traditional performance has grown continuously elitist and formalized through rising ticket costs, economical demands, and the strict separation of audience and performer. Riccio wants the public to see that “performance is a functioning entity. It’s not just something to think about, but it is functional and immediate.”
The first phase of the project has completed, and Riccio hopes to be more daring in the second phase during the spring. What that entails…is a mystery yet to be revealed.
In the meantime, do you want to attend the Boner’s Far Side of Consciousness Assembly Meetings? Here’s my advice…
Wake up. Stay alert.
You never know when or where it may show up.
» Look for reports on the upcoming phases of Holy Bone on TheaterJones.
» Shelby-Allison Hibbs is a Dallas-based teaching artist, playwright, director, performer and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. In her Work in Progress column, she'll have conversations with playwrights, theatermakers, directors, designers, dramaturgs and others involved in the process of realizing new work from page to stage as she explores new plays and musicals being developed/created by theaters of all budget sizes in North Texas.
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