It started as a solo skit for a sea cucumber. The roots of ilvs strauss’s MANIFESTO are simple enough, but the past two years have seen that skit evolve into a complex evening-length work for thirteen performers. As a solo show at On the Boards’ 2014 Northwest New Works, MANIFESTO’s take on acts of creation and gender combined with strauss’s dry humor caught the attention of critics both locally and nationally. Don’t miss the new, expanded version of MANIFESTO, which runs at Velocity for four shows this Memorial Day weekend, May 22-24 (two shows on Saturday night). If strauss’s responses to our questions are any indication of her storytelling, MANIFESTO is going to be captivating. And funny. Read on for a slice of strauss’s voice, then purchase your tickets here.
SeattleDances: Tell us about the development of MANIFESTO. What’s it all about? How do you go from a sea cucumber at 12 Minutes Max to NWNW to this?
ilvs strauss: well, this is the actually 4th iteration of this piece. it started two years ago as a six-minute skit for Annex Theatre’s Spin the Bottle cabaret show. i got asked if i wanted to do something for it, i said yes, then thought about what i wanted to do. i had started to volunteer at the aquarium six months prior to that and got obsessed with this video of a sea cucumber eating dirty sand and shitting out clean sand. so my first idea was: i know, i’ll dress as a sea cucumber and poop on stage (as the sea cucumber)! i wanted to stick with the format that i had been playing with, using a voice over narrative and setting movement and dance to it. when i sat down to write about them, i started thinking about taking in dirty and sending out clean as a metaphor and thinking about what it is i put out in the world. i know i don’t want kids, which, you know, is a pretty common woman thing to put out in the world, so if i wasn’t doing that, then what? so the piece went from visual gag to. . .something deeper.
each time i went to expand it i asked myself, is that all i have to say? or is there more? turns out yes. i can be real verbose when conditions are right. yeah, so i just kept writing, adding things like a full body costume, other rando props. and now people. at first i was like, maybe i’ll add like 2 people. . .well, maybe 6. . .then i was researching sleeping bags online and one company sold them in a ten pack, so then i’m like, yeah, 10! so then i settled with 12. (ok real reason i came up with 12: i was trying to figure out what to call the group. like ‘ilvs strauss and ______’. i thesaurused the hell out of ‘group’ and ‘company’ and the like and stumbled across ‘disciple’. i thought that would be funny because i play jesus in Homo for the Holidays. kinda an inside joke to myself. but then the definition of disciple didn’t fit with my vision (it implies followers and me as a leader; my approach to the group section is that we’re all the same), so i scrapped the name idea and the number stuck.)
SeattleDances: All your past press – plus Wendy Perron! – note how funny your performance of MANIFESTO is. Is that important? What do you think humor brings to art about femininity/gender questions?
strauss: funny, i don’t set out with the intention that ‘THIS WILL BE FUNNY’. i definitely value humor and light-heartedness. a friend of mine was giving me rehearsal notes last year on it and commented how i was able to deal with such an intense topic with lightness and humor and only then did it occur to me that, yeah i guess this is a heavy topic! and i think humor is the best approach in that situation. not in a dismissive or depreciative kinda way, but in a way that is respectful and breaks the ice and allows people to open up. it also makes the work accessible. when shit’s heavy handed it can be a real turn off. for me, at least. and i didn’t set out to make a feminist piece. i think in the end it is. but i never say the word gender or queer or feminism in the entire piece. and i think that’s what makes it work. i just talk about everything else openly and that allows those elements to come through. also, my gender presentation does a lot of the talking for me. ha! so saying queer onstage would be, oh, i don’t know, redundant to say the least.
SeattleDances: Why did you decide to bring in more performers? How has the show evolved with a larger cast?
strauss: ah performers. i touched on it a little earlier. i thought about adding people for the NWNW version last summer, but 20 minutes wasn’t enough time to explore that. there’s such a relationship between me as a character on stage and the Voice Over, i was curious what adding another body on stage would do. what the relationship between me and people would be (there’s no VO when the group is onstage). i approached the group section from like a metaphysical standpoint: thinking about all these people as reflections or manifestations of my internal world. an exploded view of my brain, if you will.
the show is kinda 2 parts now, it starts with an expanded solo section, then the whole group enters and everyone is onstage till the end. sometimes it feels like two different worlds, but i’ve been working on them in tandem, and each section needs the other to really round it out. i went to India earlier in the year to find god (wouldn’t you know it, she was in seattle the whole time i was over there), and was really struck by the incredible crowds. being in a mass of humanity was really energizing and humbling and oddly grounding. being totally anonymous but totally sticking out like a sore thumb. with this process, i’ve been playing with dynamics of being part of the group, being one separate from the group.
SeattleDances: Tell us about the title. Is this a manifesto for something?
strauss: oh geez. i haven’t thought about that in a while. i can’t remember how i landed on it exactly. . . i kinda liked the irony of how the word MAN is in the title of a piece about being a woman. . . .and it is a declaration of sorts. i’m a woman who doesn’t want children, but i’m still gonna create, so here’s what i came up with.
SeattleDances: Finish the sentence: You should see MANIFESTO if…
strauss: how is that q harder than all the other one’s combined???? you stumped me. You should go see MANIFESTO if you enjoy a good story. a good laugh. a good cry. and then one more good laugh for the road.
ilvs strauss’s MANIFESTO runs at Velocity Dance Center Friday-Sunday, May 22-24, at 7:30 PM, with an additional show Saturday night at 9:30 PM. Tickets available through Brown Paper Tickets. More information on ilvs strauss here.