Pursuit of Happiness
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About the Show
A Mexican bar man. An Austrian sales rep. A trip to Baghdad. A modern-day magic potion. Unsettlingly uplifting cowboy dances. Creators Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper of Nature Theater of Oklahoma (named after the theater in Kafka’s novel Amerika) and internationally renowned Slovenian dance troupe EN-KNAP Group follow the American Dream from a Wild West saloon to the battlefields of Iraq.
Part barn dance, part movie pitch, part comedy of manners, Pursuit of Happiness plays with language, movement, setting, and genre through an endlessly morphing folk tale of ultra-violent Western expansion, taking on the myth and legacy of the American Dream and its aspirational aftermath.
All performances have open captioning.
There’s a lot of despair about what it means to be an American and an artist who desperately wants to make a difference and wishes they could change the world, but is so flawed a human being that they just make a mess of their biggest dreams. That’s not idle metaphor for us. We didn’t come in with “this is the idea” – we remained open and playful but also open to some serious thinking and fully engaged with the world around us, the people we were working with, the country we are living in… and also the life we were living at the time and our own personal failures.
When we started over a year ago, working on this project with En-Knap, we came with just an old 1939 vintage book of cowboy dances in our hands, and an inclination to work on something “American” from the distant vantage point of Slovenia.
The piece has evolved, since then. We’ve made Pursuit of Happiness over the course of a remarkably turbulent year, not only in America, but throughout the world – a year where guns and freedom and foreign policy have all been at issue – as well as happiness and who can have it and at what cost.
At times working on this project has felt like making a manifesto; at times, making a
monster. We’ve worked in anger and in heartbreak and in hope – but also very much in
friendship and in gratitude. Most especially we’d like to thank everyone at Spancki Borci and En-Knap; and, in particular the performers: Luke, Anna, Bence, Ida, Lada and Jeffrey, for their generosity and patience and friendship.
–Kelly Copper, Nature Theatre of Oklahoma
Creative and Production Team
Authors Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper Performed by EN-KNAP Group: Bence Mezei (Hungary), Ida Hellsten (Sweden), Ana Štefanec Knez (Slovenia), Tamás Tuza (Hungary), Giorgia Belotti (Italy), Radoslav Piovarči (Slovakia) EN-KNAP Artistic Director Iztok Kovač Rehearsal Director Nohemi Barriuso Light Design Luka Curk Costume design Katarina Škaper (Costumes by: Atelje d.o.o.) Technical Team Leon Curk, Gal Škrjanec Skaberne, and Špela Škulj Executive Producer Karmen Keržar Public Relations and editing Nina Smerkol Production Manager Marjeta Lavrič Originally created and performed by Luke Thomas Dunne (Great Britain); Ida Hellsten (Sweden); Bence Mezei (Hungary); Ana Štefanec Knez (Slovenia); Jeffrey Schoenaers (Belgium); Lada Petrovski Ternovšek (Croatia)
Production EN-KNAP Productions
Coproduction Théâtre de la Ville, steirischer herbst
Photos and video by Andrej Lamut
About the Artists
“Personnel is being hired for the Theater in Oklahoma! The Great Nature Theater of Oklahoma is calling you! It’s calling you today only! If you miss this opportunity, there will never be another! Anyone thinking of his future, your place is with us! All welcome! Anyone who wants to be an artist, step forward! We are the theatre that has a place for everyone, everyone in his place! If you decide to join us, we congratulate you here and now! But hurry, be sure not to miss the midnight deadline! We shut down at midnight, never to reopen! Accursed be anyone who doesn’t believe us!”
—Franz Kafka, Amerika
Nature Theater of Oklahoma is an OBIE-winning New York art and performance enterprise under the direction of Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper. With each new project, we attempt to set an impossible challenge for ourselves, the audience, and our collaborators—working from inside the codes and confines of established genres and exploding them. No two projects are formally the same, but the work is always full of humor, earnestness, rigor, and the audience plays an essential role—whether as spectators or—just as often—as participants in the work. Using ready-made material, found space, gifted properties, cosmic accident, extreme formal manipulation and plain hard work—Nature Theater of Oklahoma makes art to affect a shift in the perception of everyday reality that extends beyond the site of performance and into the world in which we live.
EN-KNAP Group, led by its founder, the internationally renowned choreographer and dancer Iztok Kovač, is the only permanent contemporary dance company in Slovenia. Since 2009, this ensemble of remarkable dancers has been based at the Španski Borci Cultural Centre in the Moste neighbourhood of Ljubljana.
Since its establishment ten years ago, EN-KNAP Group has worked with over 30 Slovene and international choreographers and theater directors of aesthetically diverse backgrounds, and created a repertoire of 26 full-evening stage works and a dance film. In addition to making over 50 domestic appearances per year, the company regularly tours internationally.
Join us at 4pm on Saturday, September 21 at Cherry Street Pier for a community conversation with Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper from Nature Theatre of Oklahoma, Iztok Kovač with EN-KNAP Group, Cathryn Miller-Wilson of HIAS PA and Yaroub Al-Obaid, a Penn Museum Global Guide, moderated by Tenara Calem (FringeArts). RSVP here.
On this episode of Happy Hour on the Fringe, we chatted with Nature Theater of Oklahoma’s Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper about their latest Fringe Festival offering, Pursuit of Happiness. Liska and Copper discuss how reality TV and the current state of American politics have influenced this part-dance, part Western movie, and part comedy of manners. Listen below or read the transcript on the FringeArts Blog.
On the FringeArts Blog, you can also read our interviews with Kelly Copper of Nature Theatre of Oklahoma and Bence Mezei of EN-KNAP Group.
Supported by City of Ljubljana – Department of Culture and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.
Festival Executive Producers: Andy & Bryna Scott
Festival Producers: Robert M. Dever; Edward & Anne Wagner
Festival Co-Producer: Christie Hartwell
The Fringe Festival is sponsored by The Durst Organization, the University of Pennsylvania, M&T Bank, Getaround, and Parx Casino.
Learn more about our Fringe Festival Neighborhood Partners here.
FringeArts is Philadelphia’s home for contemporary performance, presenting progressive, world-class art that expands the imagination and boldly defies expectation. Our programming exposes audiences to genre-defying dance, theater, and music performances by accomplished and emerging innovators who push the boundaries of art-making and redefine the artistic landscape worldwide.
Now in its 23rd year, the Fringe Festival is a three-week, Philadelphia-wide celebration of innovation and creativity through performance, visual, and digital art. With more than 1,000 artistically daring performances, the Fringe Festival explodes into every nook and cranny of neighborhoods across Philadelphia. See the full lineup of events here.
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