Provocative and insightful theatre experiences are what excite theatregoers and encourage theatre companies to push the boundaries and challenge themselves creatively, while also challenging audiences to open their minds to new thoughts and experiences. Dancing Monkey Laboratories is a local performance collective that delivers just that, and luckily for theYYSCENE, The Monkeys were able to take some time to collectively answer a few questions about their latest production, Karl Nimeni is Not Dead – I Killed Karl Nimeni being performed as part of Theatre Junction’s Next Stage Series.
“Have you ever had a dream and then found yourself being interrogated for a crime you may or may not have committed in a Groundhog Day-like scenario? If you have, then this play will really speak to you. If you haven’t, then think of it more like an interpersonal struggle with the existential dread that is being alive being acted out in front of you in real time.” – The Monkeys
Q: Dancing Monkey Laboratories — who are you and what are you about?
A: Dancing Monkey Laboratories is a collective made up of Mike Czuba (playwright/director), Melissa Tuplin (choreographer/performer), Nathaniel Schmidt (composer), Leon Schwesinger (designer) and many part-time Monkey players we’ve collected along the way. We are an interdisciplinary collective interested in finding the connections between different artistic elements and how they can then connect back to a human experience. Every time we conceive a show, it includes each of these elements in a significant way. We collaborate, argue, champion, and elevate each other.
Q: When choreographing dance for theatre, which comes first — the script or the movement? How do you choreograph dance to fit the script, or the script to fit the dance?
A: The way we approach a production tends to be quite fluid. Since we also have music and design these need to fit in as well, so we often have a lot to think about. However, what we’ve found over the five-plus years of collaborating is that having all of these different art forms working together helps us in each of our creative processes and also influences the creation and outcome because we’re always thinking about how it’s going to work with the other. To answer what comes first, so far, it has always been the script. Some shows have been informed more heavily early on by choreography while the music and design have commonly been designed once the shell of the show is created. What is so interesting about writing for dancers as well as actors is that it is written not just through spoken text, but in the structure of the work. There’s a freedom to it, like writing in a new language. Choreographically, it is about creating character and supporting narrative through movement. The choreography must be deeply connected to the text, movement and design simultaneously, and it is challenging not to draw the audience’s attention too much to a moving body if it isn’t meant to be the focus.
Q: Who is Karl Nimeni? How about a brief-yet-intriguing description of the show?
A: Karl Nimeni is a philosopher and one of the most influential researchers in the fields of the Night, The Un-Clear and Dreams. An elusive figure, so not much biographical material exists. The plot of the play is that we are watching the re-enacted, real-life interrogation of a writer named Charles Fleming who was arrested and accused of killing Karl Nimeni somewhere around the year 2010.
The play is also about what happens when we lose touch with who we are and that even in the darkest of times (nights of the soul) there is light, there is hope.
Q: What is the role of movement in terms of the show’s narrative?
A: A dream can move like a dancer. But a dancer is still a body, just as dreams are in your head. They might appear untethered, free, but they are still tied to who we are. The dancer is both a part and apart from the protagonist’s dreams, and when she is gone, you never know if you’ve actually seen her….
Q: Karl Nimeni as a production seems to reappear every so often — how does the show change each time you mount it?
A: The material allows for multiple interpretations and due to the flexibility and absurdity of the narrative, it never settles, there are always new layers. We also keep keep finding new information and facts about the original case.
More seriously, when you are dealing with material that is about the human condition, hope and mental health, it constantly changes and permits us to find new things in ourselves.
Given the time and resources we were afforded in collaboration with the Next Stage Series, this time around we were able to have the time to work through our ideas more. And over time you also evolve as artists so we’re all more mature in our own ways and are experimenting with different things that we’ve added to our repertoires over the ensuing years.
Q: How important is something like the Next Stage Series to performers?
A: Very. The most significant costs to self-producing work is the theatre space and technical hours. Theatre Junction has created the space for smaller companies to explore and create work in a professional environment, which is invaluable. We’ve been able to open up brain space for the art, rather than expending all our energy on simply producing a show.
We are also excited to have the space at Theatre Junction to produce an exhibition about Karl Nimeni, featuring photographs, papers, video, and documentation of his experiments on the science of Nocturology. We are encouraging people to come early, grab a drink, and learn a little about this mysterious figure before the show!
(Photo courtesy of Dancing Monkey Laboratories.)
Karl Nimeni is Not Dead — I Killed Karl Nimeni opens at Theatre Junction Next Stage May 3-5, 8 p.m., with a pay-what-you-can matinee on May 6 at 2 p.m. For more information go to https://dancingmonkeylab.com.
Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE and her event listings page, The Culture Cycle. Contact her at email@example.com.