Xfest to feature artist workshops, talk back sessions and world premiere in theater and dance

Nuns in Seattle during the 1960s. Cinema puppets interacting with humans. Antarctica adventures fused with an insurance company. And a world premiere by a dance and theater company.

These comprise productions coming to SIUE this week for Xfest: an Alternative Theater and Dance Festival.

Theater professor, Chuck Harper, also Xfest artistic director, said the weeklong festival features four “very different kinds of groups” that present original material.

“That’s one of the values of this for our students–to see all these variety of pieces,” Harper said.

By week’s end, The Seldoms will premiere “Power Goes” at the university.  Xfest, SIUE, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the National Performance Network collaborated to financially support the piece’s creation and production.

The Seldoms, according to Harper, began developing a new piece and full-length dance since their previous performance at Xfest.

Harper said The Seldoms were applying for a national grant and SIUE in conjunction with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago agreed to help fund the project.

According to Harper, when he and theater professor Peter Cocuzza, also Xfest executive producer, established the program five years ago, they set a long-term goal “to not just present but also be part of the process for these groups…to create new work.”

“This is one of our biggest manifestations of that so far– that we co-commissioned a world premiere,” Harper said.

Cocuzza said all of the artists have “generously given of their time” to hold workshops or master classes for students from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 8-13.

The Seldoms will hold dance master classes; Matt Smith, monologue performer, will lead improvisation workshops and others will offer insights into their professions.

According to Harper, Smith is “a very successful solo artist” who will perform “My Last Year with the Nuns” telling stories about growing up in a Seattle neighborhood and Catholic School during the 1960s.

Harper added that many students in the department are interested in comic performance/solo performance.

Cocuzza said he looks forward to students spending one-on-one time with Smith.

“We may talk about it in the classroom. But they have somebody who’s literally out there doing it day after day…year after year, and to be so successful is just a huge advantage…,” Cocuzza said.

Split Knuckle Theatre, a company based in Connecticut, will perform “Endurance” Wednesday.

According to Harper, the group performs acrobatic clowning and physical theater within a story that “combines the tale of Ernest Shackleton’s adventures in Antarctica with an insurance company going out of business.”

“Ada/Ava” by Manual Cinema which is based in Chicago will perform a live multi-media show on Thursday.

Cocuzza said “Ada/Ava” should be “an interesting performance.”

“Even though you’re watching a film [during the show] you’re actually watching them do the creation of the piece as it’s happening,” Cocuzza said. “I think you’re almost going to have to come to see this thing manifest itself in front of you.”

Talk back sessions, where the audience and artists exchange dialogue following performances, have been a “fun” and “very engaging” tradition according to Harper.

“This sense of people grappling with what they’ve seen, processing it and then being able to do that with the people who created it is a lot of fun,” Harper said.

According to Harper, Xfest was moved from summer to fall to enable more student involvement.

“What we really figured out was that we were doing this really amazing festival and none of our students were actually getting to participate in any way in it,” Harper said. “So by moving the festival into the fall semester we ensured that all of our students will now be able to participate…”

Cocuzza said the cost is small considering the value of what audiences will see in the productions.

“You’re not going to see [this] anywhere else in this area. Even in St. Louis, there’s not a lot of this that happens…” Cocuzza said. “We really serve not only our student audience, our fellow colleagues here at the university, but the community at large, and I can’t think of a better way to introduce people to the arts.

SIUE student admission is free.  Faculty members and community can purchase $15 tickets for each performance. For more information visit http://siuexfest.com/


X-fest 2.0 from CoryB on Vimeo.

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