Concrete Folk Variationsurban folktale set in the lesbian bars of McCarthy era Los Angeles. Originally a three episode puppet play mapping the labyrinthine culture of 1940's Silver Lake - secret codes, clandestine homosexual societies, flamboyant transgressions and soul crushing silence. Concrete Folk is performed with small-scale puppets, projections, and a minimalist mid-century Los Angeles cityscape. The show appeared regularly at The Manual Archives in 2008 and 2009, as well as at the Santa Monica Museum and the Great Small Works Toy Theater Festival in Brooklyn. Puppets from the play were exhibited at the Sheehan Gallery at Whitman College in 2009. It is currently being adapted into a graphic book.
Exhibit A is a multimedia performance inspired by the ephemera in the archives of Jim Kepner. It is rooted in the utopian visions of early gay organizing and in the language and aesthetics of science fiction. Jim Kepner was a writer and activist in the early years of the gay rights movement in Los Angeles. He was also an avid science fiction fan and occasional sci-fi writer. His archives are full of artifacts from both of these thriving subcultures. The overlapping rhetoric of the two communities speaks to the fantastical forward thinking that fueled both worlds.
This piece tells the story of a dry summer of 1948 in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. The reservoir is drained for repairs, Harry Hay and Rudi Gernrich are convening the first meetings of the Matachine society. John Lautner is surveying the site for a space age palace. Amidst the manifesto writing, initiation rights and walks around the dry reservoir, restless aliens wander modernist boxes and cottages of the hills exciting and disturbing inhabitants with unsettling acts of liberation. The Alien presence is met with a rush of pleasure and terror. Cataclysmic shifts in consciousness follow.
Exhibit A is performed with life-sized puppets around a replica of Silver Lake hills circa 1948. Live feed video of the action on stage is mixed with feed from miniature alien landscapes, constructing a live hand-made cinematic science fiction spectacle.
Concieved, Designed and Directed by Susan Simpson
Music by MKatz
Video Design by Gina Napolitan
Costume Design by Kate Mallor
EXHIBIT A: Phase 1 Created in collaboration with Monica Oller, Katie Shook and Tom Petck
The Manual Archives, June 5-7,2009
Santa Barbara Forum for Contemporary Art, February 4, 2010
Rio Hondo College, Whittier, CA March 10, 2010
Links Hall, Banners and Cranks Festival, Chicago, IL May 7-9, 2010 (excerpt)
This project was made possible by generous support from The MAP Fund and The Jim Henson Foundation.
excerpts from Exhibit A at Automata 2013
Exhibit A Performed at Automata in Los Angeles, 2013 Designed and Directed by Susan Simpson Music by Kari Rae Seekins and Matias Wagner Lighting Design by Heather Carson Video Design by Gina Napolitan Performed by Whitney Rodriguez, Baxley Andresen, Moira MacDonald, Mark Simon, Stephen Schilling and Hilario Saavedra
Lead Feet and Nothing Upstairs: A History of the Lifelike
An original puppet play by Susan Simpson tracing the footsteps of The Ditto Sisters, identical triplet troubadors who enter the city of
Los Angeles and set off a wave of architectural and perhaps human replication. A creation myth for our city, in which characters multiply
and contract, and generations of artificial bodies mimic and intermingle with one another.
Written and Directed by Susan Simpson
Puppet Design: Susan Simpson
Original Music by Emily Lacy and Eric Lindley
Costume Design by Sarah Brown
Lighting Design by Kristy Baltezore
Scenic Design by Susan Simpson with Alison Heimstead
Performed by Marsian De Lellis, Jackie Knox, Katie Shook, Kendra Ware. and Anne Yatco
Lead Feet and Nothing Upstairs: A History of the Lifelike, a piece that radicalizes and reinvents the notion of puppet theater" - F. Kathleen Foley, LA Times
Sound Design Composition by Sean Rooney Music performed by Crispus Lighting Design by Justin Townsend
Pseudoflora combines traditional marionette theater with the aesthetics of natural history dioramas, and architectural models. The story is inspired by the works of Bruno Shulz and transferred to the margins of Los Angeles sprawl. The show creates a portrait of L.A. which encompasses the rundown modernist box and the carefully nurtured gardens of the tropical desert. The setting reflects a story of quietly observed loss and the unexpected comfort of the strange, beautiful and artificial surroundings. An elliptical narrative follows a family through a hot summer as their business slowly sinks. A father suffers visions and hypersensitivity that give him the ability to ferret out pockets of the sublime. A mother immerses herself in a routine of fitness and re-hydration. Their son searches for the water his mother seeks and the wonder his father sees. The performance takes place on a marionette stage built to reflect the architecture of typical Los Angeles apartment buildings. In the place of curtains there are sliding glass doors. These open to show anything from sweeping panoramas to small isolated details. The setting moves from a typical heavily stuccoed East Side street to the blank interior of an apartment to a nearly empty warehouse. Periodically the smaller windows open to reveal vivid blow-ups of the subliminal layer of the story. Characters are hand-carved puppets. The figures are initially move in style imitative of human gesture, but this careful mimicry frequently disintegrates into mechanical loops, strange means of locomotion, or dead stillness. The result is the creation of a netherworld hovering between the animate and the inanimate. There are words spoken sporadically, but the sound of the performance comes mainly from the band Crispus, who plays live throughout the show. Crispus, lead by composer Sean Rooney, combine instrumental music (clarinet, saxophone, guitar, unusual percussion, and toy piano) with processed sound samples. The resulting score is a collage of melodies and found sound that comes together to create an off beat, slightly abstract melancholia.
Theater Works 99-2003
Written By Eric Ehn
Directed and Designed by Susan Simpson and Janie Geiser
Part 1 performed at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in May 2004 Part 2 Performed at the Velaslavasay Panorama in June 2005 Full Version performed at the Velaslavasay Panorama in October 2006, December 2007 and HERE Art Center, New York, NY January 2008
Frankenstein: Mortal Toys is a toy theater production of Eric Ehn’s contemplative and abstracted adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, told with the visual vocabulary of 19th century landscape painting, and portraiture. It is accompanied by the music of Severin Behnen. The voice of Frankenstein played by Chris Payne.