Developed by On The Boards in 1981, 12 Minutes Max is one of Seattle’s longest running performance labs for new and multi-disciplinary works. Base Experimental Arts + Space picked up the program in 2017 and now provides actors, musicians, performance artists, and multimedia creators with tri-annual opportunities to apply, audition, and produce experimental works within a twelve minute duration under the selected of artist curators. This fall’s November 24-25 production, curated by Fox Whitney and Barry Johnson, featured nine creators including Minna Lee, Isabella Suave-Collins, Margaret Johnson, Amy Augustine and Mark Boeker, Leanna Keith, Meredith Pellon/SLOWBURN Dance Company, Wryly McCutchen, Lesbian Death Bed (Hanna Hofmann and Laura Aschoff), and Sheri Cohen for an eclectic evening of works.
Minna Lee’s Mama Bear opened the show with a heartfelt ode to her mother – an honest, theatrical contemplation on time, language, love, and listening. She presented in monologue format, using a microphone, chair, and stuffed bear as props, while maintaining a conversational tone as she spoke to both the bear – her mother – and the audience directly. Audio recordings of her mother’s voice, which emanated from the toy bear, allowed the audience to bear witness to Lee’s relationship with her mother through conversation: “Mama, what do you have to say about time?” she’d ask. “I love you, I love you, I love you mom, I love you mama.” Or to the audience: “Do you ever get scared your parents are getting older?” “I’m always scared,” she expressed “that I don’t tell them [I love them] enough.” Having also provided the audience with toy bears to hold onto for the duration of the show and reveling in desire to learn her mother’s first language, Lee’s piece not only broke the fourth wall, but offered humor and honesty in a contemplative ode to family, language, and impermanence.
Mama Bear was not the only theater work of the night; Amy Augustine and Mark Boeker’s The Treading stole the first half of the show with its unmatched content clarity, transitional flow, and acting. Accompanied by musician Aaron Loidhamer, whose sound score set the emotional tone of each scene, Augustine and Boeker took the audience on a sentimental, touching, and at times somber journey as they tread through open water, having fallen off of a ship deck and been left behind. The actors, who bounced and rocked gently behind a blue silk sheet, could only be seen from the shoulders up for the duration of the piece, yet their facial expressions and convincing energy as they swam through each vignette, kept the audience afloat with them. Boeker’s naive optimism juxtaposed with Augustine’s cynicism was an ongoing thread of humor amidst the work, while their tales of childhood and discourse on cause and effect and pursuit of goals were both melancholy and joyful. Overall, The Treading was moving, simply composed, and phenomenally acted.
Isabella Suave-Collins presented I’d Rather Not, a movement solo set to a string of eight or more songs by artists ranging from Billie Eilish, The Oh Hellos, and Jack Conte. Alongside minimal use of the space, directional/level changes, and dynamic shift, the work was compositionally dry and musically disjointed. That said, Suave-Collins was beautifully authentic in her movement, appearing to have a genuine internal experience as if offering a snapshot into her personal landscape. Wryly McCutchen’s solo, too, was deeply personal, exploring trans identity through comedy, visual powerpoint, and poetry. The work, entitled t(Witch), had McCutchen brandishing a wand, magically changing their visual presentation “Top Ten Reasons You’re Gay,” and drawing frequent laughs from the audience before transitioning into more emotional content with spoken word. While their poetic diction often lost logical coherence in the latter third of the performance, McCutchen’s poetry was ardently spoken and relatable in its emotional vigor. Sharon Rochelle Ramona, a new work by Lesbian Death Bed, lacked the emotional feeling of McCutchen’s work, but was highly visual; the performers donned opaque pink rain ponchos and clown makeup from which fruits and multi-hued wigs fell to the floor. Their performance was abstract and theatrical, contributing an entirely different visual effect to the show as a whole.
Dance artists Margaret Johnson, Sheri Cohen, and Meredith Pellon broke up the program with pure movement and visual clarity. Johson’s dark Sweet Nothings played with linearity of the limbs, repetition, and contrasting images of gross motor movement – leaping, turning, and extensions through the lower body – with mime and gesture. Distorted music alongside clear movement made for a standout performance that was altogether athletic and technically performed. Similar was true for Pellon, whose company SLOWBURN Dance juxtaposed different speeds and energies with physical precision. A trio of centerstage dancers moved clearly and sharply, changing shape gesturally in unison while an upstage left duet transitioned slowly between movements, in and out of time. The groups’ energies shifted inversely for the second half of the work, the duet taking center stage for a more full-bodied movement sequence, while the trio rolled slowly towards stage right.
Sherri Cohen graced the stage with a lengthy solo in her work Awe for Small Things, exploring everyday gestures and reiterations, moving, for example, from a tender reach through child’s pose into a chorus of reaches until the shape shifted altogether. Cohen’s gaze in the space and at the audience, openness through the palms of the feet and hands, and breathy sound score felt like an open invitation to bear witness to a story not entirely clear, but fully believable in it’s emotional intent.
Much to the credit of its curators, this fall’s 12 Minutes Max offered a welcome glimpse into the works of an eclectic collection of local creatives, whose ideas, concepts, and performances were testimony to Seattle’s artistic range.
For more information on 12 Minutes Max, visit thisisbase.org.