When a manic episode prompts a struggling artist to create a YouTube Live persona and disappear into Times Square for four days, he emerges with a primer on how to survive Late Capitalism.
That is HUNGER presented by The How at IRT Theater, running through August 19. With showings on August 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18 at 8:00 pm (75 Minutes. Tickets: $15 General and $25 Patron). IRT: 154 Christopher st. NYC #3B (third floor).
This fascinating exploration is brought to you by William Hand (author/performer),
Polina Ionina (performer), and Paulina Jurzec (designer/videographer).
Tickets available at https://hunger.brownpapertickets.com/
Hunger specifies theater-making as an act of labor, and examines the collective reimagining of labor in our digital fame economy.
William Hand says “I am exploring the work of Knut Hamsun, whose extraordinary novel, Hunger, shares my assumption that artistic endeavor is a means of survival. Hamsun and I believe that art making is a high wire act. My production of Hunger is a schizoanalysis of Hamsun after Deleuze and Guattari. I got hungry to superimpose that analysis onto the contemporary mode of celebrity guru status, i.e. for everything that is a job, there is someone on the internet who plays at that job as a performance for extra cash.”
The How joined forces for this residency with Dirt[Contained]. We took a moment to speak with Mr. Hand about HUNGER.
William Hand: Polina and I run this little org, The How. We work with a lot of different artists from around the world, in different disciplines, and it informs a lot of what we make and how we make it. What We Do and Hunger are very different pieces, but we collaborated with each other on them both. Polina performs in mine, and I in hers. We’ve trained together with our friends and colleagues for three years in our junky little rehearsal space in Brooklyn, and even though Hunger is a text-based multimedia piece, and What We Do is a wordless dance theater piece, they share influences, collaborators, and themes. Both pieces are definitely about alienation, both pieces are definitely about trying to find meaning in a very lonely world, and both pieces place the human body as the center and starting point of this search.
When asked about his creative process, Mr. Hand shared a story that began in Munich and included so deep personal details
William Hand: I was in Munich at a theater festival and seeing how freely the German theater talked about labor in their work. I started attempting to make a play about the labor of being an artist in the 21st century- the eerie pull of the digital fame economy, the vertigo-inducing loneliness of social media, and the ongoing alienation of American culture from honest creative theater.
A year prior to this, the first friend I had made in New York City committed suicide. He suffered from treatment resistant mania, and throwing himself into the theater with a wild abandon gave him the strength to weather his mental state. He was one of only a handful of people I have ever met to have the true artist’s spirit. The more I continued to write a piece about YouTube and celebrity gurus, the more obvious it was to me that the reason I was writing this piece was that it seemed as though my friend’s genius was wholly incompatible with this current modern dystopia.
Discontent to write solely from a place of rage, I dove into Knut Hamsun’s novel Hunger, about a writer who’s subconscious mysteriously wills him not to eat. His inability to eat cuts him off from writing, which cuts him off from money, which further inhibits his ability to eat. Eventually he becomes completely incompatible with society, but this mysterious subconscious drive also seems to be a source of power for him as well. He sees through illusions of society with greater clarity, and while his writing doesn’t get any more marketable, or even any better necessarily, it starts to provide him a kind of almost religious joy. I realized that the romantic aspect of this book comforted me greatly. It seemed to portray a radical psychology that didn’t exist in our world until the author willed it to exist, and I recognized it as having a resemblance to the type of revolutionary psychology that might have kept my friend alive. So our piece Hunger is a kind of contemporary adaptation of this novel written as a vision of hope.
To create the world of this piece, Polina and I have developed a half ingenius half insane multimedia apparatus to convey the digital perspective of the characters. One character seems to live entirely in a VR simulation of his own life, which he watches on repeat. Another stares into a smart phone’s reflection of himself as he records a philsophical podcast which slowly deteriorates into a painful personal trauma. A third interacts only with her viewers, who send her gifts but only on the condition that they get to watch her unwrap them. Three smartphones broadcast these three worlds live on stage.
The How delves where few companies go.
William Hand: Created by William Hand and Polina Ionina, The How aims to be a place for artists of different disciplines and backgrounds to come together to create pioneering pieces of theater.
December 2016: The Vyuga Project was an ongoing series of ‘studies’ of Sarah Kane’s Crave directed by Polina Ionina with dramaturgy by William Hand. We premiered the piece at Dixon Place featuring the musical direction and composition of Laura Bowler. Bowler’s enigmatic and challenging score, featuring two violinists, highlighted the texts remixed from Wim Wenders, T.S. Elliot, Knut Hamsun, and others. By creating an associative landscape around Kane’s piece, and by diving into her original source material (Elliot), Ionina and Hand created a context for the ensemble to reignite the flame of Kane’s work.
Ionina used a blend of somatic practices and musical experimentation to unite the artists across disciplines and create a language of improvisation and formal experimentation.
June, 2017: In a brownstone/artist collective/gallery space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Polina Ionina, Akmal Rakhimov and Lucie Vitkova played in Jon Fosse’s I Am the Wind. directed by Will Hand. Coming off the success of Vyuga Project, the collective wanted to explore the ways in which musicians and actors can deepen their collaborative relationships in the rehearsal process to find new ways of telling stories. Vitkova, a composer and accordionist, created a soundscape that served to translate Fosse’s imagistic poetry into a more immediate, visceral, and inherently dramatic allegorical space.
Throughout 2017 The How created an experimental music and dance series that premiered new cutting edge pieces throughout Brooklyn. Premiering monthly, the How showcased over 50 different artists on 40 different acts in 2017.
October, 2017: Again a part of Dixon Place’s summer residency program, the company developed a devised piece around the topic of Confederate monuments in America. With artists Tanya Chattman, David Glover, Weronika H. Wozniak, Linus Ignatius, and Ilker Oztop, Hand and Ionina developed a rehearsal process that allowed for a deeply diverse and international cast to reflect on monumentality in their hometowns and native countries. Discontent with the style of political theater in our current climate, the ensemble attempted to create a space that worked towards utopia in the theater in real time, with art action protests personally devised and performed by every member of the ensemble. The piece was developed over the next year, and premiered at The Tank in Midtown Manhattan in October 2018. Based on the success of this piece, Hand was selected as one of six North Americans to attend the Politik Im Freien Theater Festival (Politics in the Independent Theater Festival) in Munich, Germany.