September 20 + 21, 2019
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.
“Trump and Chekhov joined together in a bizarre fusion of thriller and comedy.” TheaterKrant (Netherlands)
“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.” Kelly Copper, Nature Theater of Oklahoma
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Concept, text and direction 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
Supported by City of Ljubljana – Department of Culture and the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia.
Photos and video by Andrej Lamut
Festival Executive Producers Andy & Bryna Scott Festival Producers Robert M. Dever; Edward & Anne Wagner Festival Co-Producer Christie Hartwell
Happy Hour on the Fringe
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.
About Nature Theater of Oklahoma
“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.
About EN-KNAP Group
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.
Interview with Kelly Copper of Nature Theater of Oklahoma
FringeArts: What themes and ideas did you talk about during creation and rehearsals?
Kelly Copper: We don’t really talk about ideas so much during rehearsals. We play. Hard. We test things out, we work with what’s available to us, we try to stay open in the process, not shut it down with ideas of where we want things to go too soon. If you start out knowing exactly where you want to go it’s pretty boring and ultimately predictable. We generally take longer to develop something, but we have a good time doing it.
For example the saloon came up during rehearsals because there was a ballet “barre” in the studio where we worked and we just started using it as a bar. Then the performers were getting too good at speaking the text, and we wanted to challenge them further so we asked them to speak in a southern accent and chew tobacco… in the end it all comes together to form something, and of course you’re thinking all the time—but this is subterranean. Surprising and hopefully inevitable.
FringeArts: What were those subterranean thoughts?
Kelly Copper: Obviously we took our work―and also our fun―very seriously, so I don’t want imply the show is just a hilarious yuck fest, because it’s not. 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. It wasn’t like we came 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.
FringeArts: How did the settings and performance style contribute to exploring the themes and ideas?
Kelly Copper: We don’t set out in advance and decide “well, let’s dress them as cowboys and have them chew tobacco and set this thing in a bar and that will highlight these themes and ideas.” It’s more a playful exploration of circumstance and opportunity. It’s about what’s in the room. You just keep tossing things up in the air—one day Luke, one of the dancers, brought in a bunch of cowboy hats he had purchased at a costume shop—and then at a certain point it all starts to line up.
It’s also about what’s in the world outside the rehearsal room. In our case the making of this piece fatefully sort of lined up with the election of Donald Trump, another kind of American myth and monster… you cannot even imagine these things sometimes when you start working.
Can Art Change the World? With Song, Dance and Cowboy Clichés Two Shows Offer Different Answers by Molly Grogan in Exeunt
Pursuit of Happiness is the very loaded title and premise of the newest show from Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, the hyper-creative team behind Nature Theater of Oklahoma, and performed by the Slovenian dance troupe En-Knap. Loaded because Liska and Copper never take anything for granted (as evidenced by their dizzying epic of spoken-word banality, Life and Times); they have a mordant sense of humor (the clipped phrase of the show’s title is a sardonic poke at their collaborators’ stilted English, mined throughout the show for humor); and because they don’t keep their opinions to themselves. We know “the pursuit of happiness” as one of three “unalienable rights” enshrined by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence. But what is happiness, exactly, Liska and Copper want to know, an exercise that, in a country that is starting to deny basic rights to its citizens, has become a political question too. They hint at a few answers, before making it clear, with unflattering frankness, that it is definitely not how your average (narcissistic) American would define it.