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A New Foundation for Growth: An Interview with Niki Cousineau and Scott McPheeters

Posted November 2nd, 2017

Niki Cousineau and Scott McPheeters are co-directors of the Philadelphia-based performance company Subcircle. Founded in 1998 by Niki and Jorge Cousineau, for nearly two decades Subcircle’s work has transformed theatrical and site-specific spaces, merging dance, sound, set design, lighting and film, conveying to audience and performer alike an inseparability of performance from environment.

This month they bring their latest piece to FringeArts. HOLD STILL WHILE I FIGURE THIS OUT is a daring experiment in spontaneous creation featuring Niki, Scott, and Christy Lee, with live sound design from Jorge. Each night a previously unseen performance will unfold before audience’s eyes, with most of the movement, sound design, and set construction being created in the moment. Described by thINKingDANCE as “a dance of mild idiosyncrasy, enhanced by the dancers’ subtle balance between logicality and lunacy,” witnessing these artists’ ingenuity from moment to moment is enthralling, entrancing, and giddying all at once. Earlier this year Niki and Scott shared some insight into what it’s taken to create a show that constantly recreates itself.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title HOLD STILL WHILE I FIGURE THIS OUT came into being? 

Niki Cousineau: The title came about during the rehearsal process at the Maas Building. There is a section of the piece where we narrate/interpret what is happening on stage. As I was going through my notebook after a few rehearsals I was looking at some of the texts we generated during these improvisations. One of the things I’d written down was “hold still while i figure this out.” It felt both fitting for the piece, art making, and life.

FringeArts: How has the show evolved from where it started?

Scott McPheeters: The vast majority of material in this work is developed live and in direct relationship to one another. For the year and a half that this piece was being created, we often found ourselves entering the studio in dismay of the state of the world. What had originally been a weekly exploration of various improvisational scores eventually turned into a question: “What if we could start all over from scratch?”

We spent a year and a half essentially studying how to begin again, and how to build upon different proposals of a new foundation for growth. We were fascinated by how quickly entire environments could be constructed from a single source of inspiration and that depending on the day and the source of inspiration, the environments would be completely different.

FringeArts: Can you discuss how the various components, from movement to sound to visuals to text, relate to each other?

Scott McPheeters: Each time we perform the work, it is from scratch. We choose a starting point—usually an image from a book or online along with a piece of text chosen from a book. This informs a movement solo which inspires original text generation. A new audio landscape is developed nightly from sound bites sourced only from the performance space itself. Set design is constructed live to complement or provide contrast to the dance taking place. The most exciting aspect of the work is that everything unfolds for the very first time right in front of you. Through example, we hope to inspire deep listening, reflection, and action.

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