Go Deeper

Thaddeus Phillips Prepares Something New: See it this Thursday at the Live Arts Studio!

Posted May 10th, 2010

This Thursday night, May 13th, Thaddeus Phillips, artistic director of Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental, will show off some in-progress work from his in-progress show Whale Optics. The showing will take place at the Live Arts Studio, 919 North 5th Street (at Poplar) at 7pm.

“I’m usually just forced to act in things,” explains Thaddeus, so he is thrilled to be directing a cast that includes his wife and artistic collaborator Tatiana Mallarino, Makoto Hirano, Brian Osborne, and Christina Zani. For Whale Optics, underwater imagery, stage design, improvisation, story-boarding, music, video, and random bits of information all play a part in developing the show. He utilizes a “whatever works” approach, though he eschews being beholden to any particular technique or school of improvisation. “The key to the process,” says Thaddeus, “is how to intuitively and naturally find the material.”

Thaddeus is a native of Colorado, where he went to East High School (other alums include Don Cheadle, Pam Grier, Hattie McDaniel, and Douglas Fairbanks) in Denver and later attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs. While his mother likes theater and his father is a film buff, Thaddeus’s real introduction to the performing arts came in the form of high school musicals. Luckily, in college his theater interests turned away from South Pacific, and toward an entirely different direction.

“I got introduced to a more European way of making theater,” says Thaddeus, specifically “action design,” in which the design is intertwined and developed along with the story. There are very few passive elements in such theater–everything plays a part, everything has the potential to come to the fore. Seeing director Robert Lepage’s The Dragon’s Trilogy also help coalesce Thaddeus’s ideas about the type of work he would like to do. In fact, Thaddeus would soon be working for Lepage.

After the jump, learn about Thaddeus’s continued journey and his upcoming show.

After college, Thaddeus traveled to Prague and studied at Charles University’s DAMU school, a bastion of “alternative” theater arts, and immersed himself in everything from scene design to puppetry to dance. He then began his theater career in earnest, without much of a home base and traveling about the world, in the employ of Robert Lepage. Soon he began staging his own work, “mostly solo, lo-tech creative things.”

On his travels, he met his future wife Tatiana Mallarino in Bogota, Colombia, in 2000. Four years ago they bought a house in South Philly. Tatiana, a director with a background in television production, has become the other creative force behind Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental. The company has put on numerous shows for both the Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe including Flamingo/Winnebago, The MeLTING BRiDgE, and MICRO WORD(s). Directed by Tatiana and featuring video performances by Colombian telenovela (soap opera) stars, this year’s ¡EL CONQUISTADOR! follows the adventures of a Colombian doorman (played by Thaddeus) who dreams of being a telenovela star but instead becomes entangled with the nefarious plots of the building’s insane residents.

Thaddeus has been developing his latest work Whale Optics at the Live Arts Brewery as an artist-in-residence. “It’s been great,” says Thaddeus, “it’s nice to have the time to really workshop the whole thing.”

Whale Optics started with a very vague concept–whale songs or this image of someone recording whale songs, and this idea of fiber optic cables running along the ocean floor.” The two share the theme of underwater communication, and so inhabit the same strange world. But just what is that world, and what is going on down there? The performers began to improvise with related materials–a sail that becomes a wave, a trunk that becomes a boat.

Thaddeus enjoys setting up “quite bizarre” situations to improvise against. For instance, when he remembered that whale songs were included on the recordings which were sent up on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, he investigated the rest of the albums known as The Sounds of Earth. This led him to play “Dark was the Night, Cold was the Ground,” a blues tune by Blind Willie Johnson, which is floating in space to this day, and ask his actors to improvise a scene of underwater exploration of deep sea creatures.

Thaddeus records all the work on video, sometimes with his comments whispered into the microphone, so he can sort out what works later. He also story-boards the various scenes on paper, taping them to the wall in the studio, finding ways to rearrange them, and devising the connections and transitions from scene to scene on post-its. “Eventually I would like to pattern the show on the structure of a whale song,” says Thaddeus, but he is careful not to trap himself into such a format if it proves too obtuse or limiting. Despite the “anything goes” process to discovering the material, he is keen on the work–like all his work–becoming a tightly structured performance–everything ties together in as intricate a manner as any written text.

“So what we’ll be doing Thursday is presenting where we are so far,” states Thaddeus. Slated for its official premiere in 2011, come see Whale Optics in its infancy.

–Josh McIlvain

When? This Thursday, May 13, 7pm
Where? The Live Arts Studio, 919 N 5th St (Free onsite parking + abundant neighborhood street parking)
What? Second Thursday Series, where Live Arts Brewery artists show works-in-progress and discuss their work, and you get to enjoy free beer and snacks.
Cost? FREE

Photo of Whale Optics by Thaddeus Phillips. Photo of ¡EL CONQUISTADOR! by Evan Kafka.