"When I die, I want the sky to miss me". Thomas Riccio: Professor, Experimental Performance Group Founder, World Traveller on performance and life.
Total Life Complete Podcast. Date: April 20th 2017.
BRETT: Hi, it’s Brett Cowell and this is the Total Life Complete podcast. Today I’m here with Thomas Riccio, Professor of Performance and Aesthetics at University of Texas, Dallas.
The artistic director of Dead White Zombies. Artist, writer, director! Welcome Thomas.
TR: Thank you, thanks so much.
BRETT: Right today, I think this should be a great episode, I’m looking forward to talking about Alaska, Zombies, post-disciplinary performance, you know Holy Bone, one of the projects you’re working on and maybe a little bit about robots. We’ll see how it goes.
TR: Okay, alright, good.
BRETT: So, where I wanted to start, was maybe just for you, you’ve done so much. How do you summarize that onto a business card, what do you say when people ask you what you do at parties or whatever?
TR: I’m just a guy. I mean I’m usually pretty humble about what I’ve done, I just, opportunities have been given to me so I’m in dialogue with a greater reality of the world. So, I’m just kind of, I’m here for eighty, ninety years, and I’m just kind of channeling whatever I need to channel. That’s kind of how I see it, so wherever it takes me. So, it’s kind of a, I’m not into titles, in fact I don’t call myself artistic director of the Dead White Zombies, I call myself the Poo pah doo. which basically, it’s a little snarky, but it also means nothing because I’m a little apprehensive about some people in theater calling themselves like executive producing artistic director and it’s like „Oh jeez”, so for me it’s like I much rather you know…you can interpret it as you will. Let’s put it that way.
BRETT: There’s been an arms war in titles hasn’t there, everybody’s titles have just escalated and got longer and more impressive? I wanted to ask you about the Poo pah doo since we’ve gone there, now was that about the song, did that come out of the song of Ooh Poo pah doo?
TR: Maybe, just yeah. I just wanted something a bit absurd and also, the name Dead White Zombies basically dictates that we don’t do traditional things.
TR: And Poo pah doo is like something untraditional is expected of me and something maybe absurd so in a sense, naming is a prophecy,
TR: And for me, also, when I worked with spirit people throughout the world, generally they don’t call themselves anything. Their name is, you know, John or Jose or whatever. Or Izbekov. They don’t claim to be anything. Their actions speak for themselves so I kind of, maybe that ethos is what I follow and I have a card for the university because I need to have it, but otherwise that’s it.
BRETT: Yeah there’s something about being evolved, the folks that are really doing the business and know what they’re about don’t need a title or an impressive, you know, business card necessarily perhaps.
BRETT: The Ooh Poo pah doo, I think there’s a line in the song which is a Mardi Grass favorite which is ‘I won’t stop trying until I create disturbance in your mind” I can’t believe that’s coincidence, come on, Thomas, please! Is that serendipity or is that just a fact story?
TR: I’m familiar with the song, so maybe subconsciously. .
TR: Well, let me tell you about the name Dead White Zombies. So, I was driving to a playwrights conference and I was listening in the car to some, whatever, some CD and it occurred to me, I was thinking about how should I name this company. It needs a name, it needs a name that will kind of predict what we do and I was considering the fact that, in a way, what I was feeling was that I’m part of a culture which I feel is fading, is dead and is primarily driven by Northern European, or European Caucasian white racial identity so it’s dead in the sense, it’s white but it’s zombies. I mean they’re still around somehow walking. So, in a sense I embody, my life embodies my culture embodies this, this culture that is essentially dead but somehow walking around still. So, and that’s our predicament. We’re kind of in an old phase, yet the new phase hasn’t taken over yet. The work that we do deals with that transitional moment.
BRETT: I’ve got some trepidation now about wanting to go back to how you got into performance now because you’re such an evolved guy. Does history mean anything anymore or has that all become just assimilated into who you are today?
TR: History is important. Actually I read a lot of history, I’m really intrigued by it but I’m intrigued with alternative histories as well. I’d much rather read Howard Zinn (5:08), I took his class when I was a student at Boston university, than a more traditional history. I’m interested into varieties of interpretation. For me, there are multiple truths. So, and if you approach life like that and history like that, maybe it’s healthier and that gives me my perspective. It’s always kind of turning, like a prism is always turning, there’s always like light from different colors coming from different directions and that’s how I look at history.
BRETT: So how did you get from the start, which I’m going to call the pre-Alaska days, because I think some of that, certainly in my readings about you have been pivotal in coming up with this view. This prismic view of the world is that one you’ve always held or is that something that has developed through immersion in performance and indigenous cultures? (6:00)
TR: Oh, I have no idea where it came from. My dad has passed away but my mum and dad were really great parents and they were very liberal, politically, culturally, socially, never forceful and always wanted us to do what we wanted to do how we wanted to do it and also artistically inclined. I also grew up in a little Italy in Cleveland which was very old school which has one foot in the tradition of like an older era and then I went to a technical high school which was pragmatic, maybe those forces somehow constellated to create this multiplicity of views of directions. This liberalness, this tradition and then this real practical functionalism and then being a middle child, maybe that mediator sensibility. And then just maybe a curiosity and dissatisfaction with provincial way of being, which, Cleveland is a great city, but it’s very provincial and a dying city. When I was there growing up late sixties and seventies just very much the rust-belt (7:17) and watching it decline in population and racial violence and riots etc. so it was a real tumultuous era and all those things maybe collaborated to create an understanding and sensitivity but also multiple awareness of different points of view. So maybe, the origin I would say is from that, somehow. (7:37)
BRETT: So that’s been the catalyst, partially the environment and the time that you’ve grown up in. What role did education play in that in terms of literature and looking at theater and theater education? Was that formative? Was that a backbone to soak up and interpret this culture, or is it?
TR: I was eighteen and I was a merchant seaman on the great lakes, I was working in ore boats because a cousin was able to get me on ore boats and there was a man who had retired as a professor and he was a professor of English and Irish literature and so it was a really strange coincidence that he just, for whatever reason, he saw in me, he said “you’re too good for this” because if you’re on the lakes as a merchant seaman for a period of time you basically, that’s it, it’s like an addiction, you get paid really well and all that and he says “ you should read these books.”. So, he gave me like Shakespeare, Yates, Casey and Synge (8:39) and great poets and playwrights of Ireland and Nietzsche as well. He was like my tutor. And then he said “you should go, you should not work this summer and you should work in Ireland, you should go to Ireland and study and I’ll write my friends” And so I wound up in Slago, Ireland (9:00) which is the hometown of Yates, William Butler Yeats and had instructors from University College Dublin and Trinity and etc. and because I’d no college experience at that point, they took a liking to me because I was so like, I had a pocket full of money and was like a big party guy but I also had read the books and everyone else there was from these really traditional schools and so they just thought I was some wild man but they took a liking to me because I was so abnormal and then that was the beginning of my integrating who I was and bridging into something very different.
BRETT: Bridging into something different in terms of who you were or bridging into the different, into an entry point into literature, study and formal education?
TR: For me, they’re all interwoven, the self and study. I don’t really make a distinct separation. My academic scholarly life and artistic life and personal life were all intertwined and my girlfriends will say that, that’s a detriment. I don’t make distinctions.
BRETT: On a show that deals with work life balance we might come back to that a bit later or revisit as we see fit! So, you made an entry point into formal education and gone through that process and worked in theater for a bit.
TR: Yes, I was a lit major I went as an undergrad to Cleveland State, a local communal university and there was a man who wanted to do an adaptation of Tom Jones, Eighteenth century novel and I was studying particularly Eighteenth Century English novels and so my professor recommended me and so I became an adapter along with this man, Joe Garry. We adapted Tom Jones which became this big hit, musical with a harpsichordist (11:02) well known harpsichordist playing on stage and all that stuff and it just wouldn’t die, it was revived a few times and so that’s how I caught the bug of theater. Up to that point, maybe I’d seen three plays in high school like Guys and Dolls and stuff like that but that’s about it and I really didn’t have an interest in it but that was maybe entry into performance.
BRETT: And another story about influential people in your life that come around at that right time, that you’ve met, that have drawn you into other things?
TR: My life I see, I’m reading a book on labyrinths now and symbolism of labyrinths is an apt metaphor and symbol, that I kind of see it’s like a labyrinth, we’re always traveling this journey rather than a straight line and along the journey, you find things that are unexpected and you have to be aware that in a sense, you’re walking through a larger narrative and that’s been something that has intrigued me for the last five years. Essentially, every day we walk through narratives and they’re always speaking and we kind of think these narratives are something like intellectually imposed but in a sense, they’re incarnate around us and when someone manifests, in a sense they’re manifesting because that’s the part of the story that they need to manifest in. And if you look at it from an indigenous worldview in many indigenous cultures you see what you need to see when you need to see it of course. And that’s how the spirits speak, is when someone comes to you. Sometimes when I’ve met shamans and other healers, they’ll look at me, stare at me wide eyed; what they’re doing is why is this guy here now-because nothing is coincidental. It’s all, in a way; the spirits told me to come here or somehow directed me to be there. (13:08) So that’s how they view things. So, I look at people I meet like yourself as appropriate to this moment in my life. You needed to meet me, I needed to meet you and of all the possibilities throughout history and the origin of our species how the hell did we wind up in an office in Dallas, Texas on this day talking? Is that coincidence? And we can logically say genetics, culture or history or is it something else why we need to meet now.
BRETT: Well, since you’ve asked the question, one reason that we’re speaking probably is, so how did I find out about Dead White Zombies -that’s my path into you. We talked earlier about cycling along the White Rock Lake and one morning I was cycling around the lake and there was., I parked my bike and just next to the bathroom there and there was a car with a bumper sticker with Dead White Zombies on it. That’s right up my alley, I love the intrigue of a bumper sticker and it was a great idea, I had to find out what it was. The name was great and it compelled me to find out more about what it was about and attend one of the performances DP ’92 and that’s kind of led me onto you so that was the answer. A bumper sticker. Is it serendipity or a bumper sticker? Or are they one and the same?
TR: They’re one and the same. Some people think we’re a motorcycle group, some occult group (14:45), the interpretations are crazy, or a rock group or a punk rock group.
BRETT: But isn’t that great? That it’s so open ended here and invites speculation and wonder and intrigue? So, I want to get onto, given we’ve just talked about, labyrinths and meandering, I would like to apply into my logical management consulting brain to get us back onto a straight line. And you’ll do your best to do (prevent) that. Okay folks, this is what we’re up to for the next thirty or forty minutes or so. Okay, so I want to talk about Alaska as a point that you’ve mentioned previously in other interviews as being a formative or a turning point or certainly one that’s worth talking about. Getting from your start in theater to Alaska. Maybe tell us a little bit more about how that evolved.
TR: I was really smitten by theater and I was intrigued by it and so I went into grad school and interestingly, my father basically disowned me when I went to grad school and wanted to study theater, because he didn’t understand it at all. And I remember vividly at Amtrak (16:03) station in Cleveland he gave me forty dollars. That was for my graduate school. And then about three months later he wrote a long letter saying he understood why because he had read something about how theater really communicated in a way that nothing else did as an art form and he accepted that. It was very important for me that he would come to those terms with that. So, for me, the world is performed, as I mentioned like we’re walking through narratives it’s a performed narrative so I’ve evolved from theater as a discipline where I went to school, which was fine, and more to looking at performance more broadly. (16:44). Because Dead White Zombies, I don’t term (16:48) as a theater group though people call us that. We’re basically a performance group, meaning we use theater as one of our vocabularies, but not the only vocabulary we use. I’m trained in drama therapy, I’ll use media expressions, digital expressions, video, whatever we need to use. Dance, religious ritual, whatever performative expressions that apply, to respond. So, it’s more breoad and I think it’s more appropriate and that’s why I say post-disciplinary or maybe poly-disciplinary is how I categorize our performance work. It doesn’t restrict itself to how and where we perform. We don’t perform in theaters; we perform in site-specific spaces. And we shape the work to those spaces so we’re looking at this space. Many times, that will offer… people will leave remnants of from the manufacturing or whatever and we’ll look at it and we’ll use it. And so, it’s like a gift, or an offering, like going to going to the forest. If I’m like an Amazonian Yamamtu (17:58) tribe or something. “Well this fruit is here because the spirits or the gods left it so we have to figure out why they left it.” So, we do the same kind of approach to it. So that transformed my work when, and was in transformation when I went to grad school and to Chicago where I ran a theater company. I did regional theater, very dissatisfied, I went to New York first, thinking I wanted to be a Broadway director and was totally disenchanted with that idea and so when I left Chicago, I went to, I took the job in Alaska. I was there maybe a week or so when this man from Alaska native (18:37) studies called and he said, “can I see you?”, and I went to visit him not knowing what he wanted, and he said, “we have this theater group, Tuma theater (18:47), Alaska native performance group, and the man who was running it left unexpectedly to take a job elsewhere”, and he says, “the budget is a hundred thousand dollars.” And I go: “I’ll do it” I had no idea Eskimos had theater. Then the next day I went back, because I’d driven up there, it takes ten days to drive to Alaska, I mean it’s far. And during these ten days I go to myself “whatever I do, I must do well, whatever I feel that is.” And so, I went back the next day and I go “you know I know nothing about Alaska native people, or their performance tradition and I can’t honestly do this, without feeling qualms about it.” He goes “I understand, take the money for the next two years, use it as you will because it’s very expensive to travel in this state and meet everyone you need to meet and then, when you’re ready, you do theater.” So, I went and I traveled, it was quite generous and insightful. His name was Mike Gaffney (19:47) and so I traveled the state. I met with elders, interviewed them, because no one had done a comprehensive analysis and research project just focusing or primarily focusing on performance. And so, I learned to dance, speak some Yup’ik Eskimo (20:00) learned about various sea rituals performed etc. and then invited people into Fairbanks and hired people to, commissioned them to make drums, dance etc. and then created a new Tuma theater performance group.
BRETT: At the University in Fairbanks?
BRETT: How far away was it when you went to meet the Eskimo people from where the university is?
TR: It’s a big state; they say if you cut Alaska in half, Texas is the third largest state. It’s just enormous. And it’s expensive. A lot of times to fly those six-seater planes, four-seater planes, is like five, six hundred bucks to a village. And they are probably like maybe sixty villages. Yup’ik, Inupiaq Eskimo, Athabaskan Indian and then down in the Southern Area the Tlingit and the Haida, Tsimshian etc.. So it gets really costly very quickly. Then you go to some villages, they have no hotels formally, so people rent out their houses, they’ll be hundred or a hundred and fifty bucks a night. This is like in the late eighties, early nineties, and then they don’t have a bathroom. Basically, they call them honey buckets, a toilet seat on a five-gallon bucket. That’s for a hundred and fifty bucks a night! They heat, sometimes it works and then sometimes you get stuck in a village because there’s a freak snowstorm. So, one time, in the middle of the Bering sea, there’s an island called Saint Lawrence and I was stuck in Savunga (21:50). If you look at the map, there’s a little jut (21:51) that goes to the east and that jut on the International Date Line is for Saint Lawrence Island. I was stuck there, thinking I was being there five days, I wound up there for two weeks! And so at the end of (22:04) two weeks, I’m like a regular. At the dancehall, and out hunting with them. I didn’t hunt, but I’d accompany them, but and then there’s a freak snowstorm.
BRETT: Or was it serendipity?!
TR: It was enjoyable.
BRETT: This kind of situation, that most people would get annoyed at, may have turned out for the better, given that you got to fully immerse in there and have some ….
TR: Yeah, you can’t be in a hurry when you work with indigenous groups and native peoples. It’s slow travel. Where ever I go, I just recognize that it is what it is. Not to be impatient. It comes out the way it comes out and always I try to make my trips buffer. Sometimes a month, two months when I do projects, it will be three months at times, so
BRETT: So, would the folks from traditional populations be attending the university? Or are they completely divorced from that kind of education system and culture that you’d find in the big cities?
TR: No, because they’re between cultures so you’ll get students, native students from villages going to the university to, working in wildlife management, biology, I think at University Alaska Fairbanks there is maybe sixteen, seventeen percent Alaska native. So, it’s a large population. One woman, who is a member of our company, was a biology major and she went on to work for her corporation, her native corporation and she was a bridge working with elders, because she spoke Inupiaq (23:46) and with biologists, with marine biologists, who for years, basically sidelined, marginalized native elders’ information about spawning and various patterns of the salmon. But the thing is they proved them biologically and scientifically correct! And so, then they started going “Well, maybe we should listen to this native knowledge that’s not metaphor, it’s actually a reality.” So, she was a bridge in doing that. And that has happened throughout the world, people disavowing (24:39) native knowledge and now accepting it.
BRETT: Okay, so definitely want to come to that. There might be a representation of those populations at the university but one of the things that you did after learning about theater and performance was to stage a production back at Fairbanks, to, I don’t want to say showcase, but to present this.
TR: Well, it wasn’t just…before, the person who had run it before, the performance group, basically did western theater and with costuming and with native people. There was an important moment of revelation when it was my first time I started teaching the course, I had the actors circle up and warm up. Just to kind of prepare the body. And you know, when you warm up in a traditional theater class, or acting class, you isolate body parts like the shoulders, the arms and neck and all that, the legs, and then…and halfway through I go “stop! This is wrong.” It kind of came out intuitively. And they looked at me like if they had done something wrong. I go “No, you didn’t do anything wrong, this is wrong.” We’re basically talking an Alaska native cultural context but what we’re doing is isolating and breaking down the body-parts, which is really a Western paradigm of analysis and then putting it back together. Whereas we’re talking about a holism, a holistic culture. So, we had to find and question every aspect of how we created and how we produced work, how we envisioned work. So, what we did, we created what came to be known as the ritual warm up. That ritual warm up was essentially drawn from this wonderful vocabulary of actions and movements that are dance actions and ritual actions and what I asked was people to bring in three movements for the next session. One that was personal, one that was cultural and one that was spiritual. They brought them in and then we shared it and we realized that we had a vocabulary there and from that vocabulary we created collectively as they would in a village, we created a half hour warm up and/or ritual. So, when you are in a western context and you’re an Alaska native (26:48) person, you’re basically surrounded by this narrative which is like, it’s not native, it’s Western. University is a Western institution and so in a way, we opened a window, by this, into their worldview their tradition. And, we warmed the body, we accomplished the thing we needed to accomplish, we did it on the terms that were organic to the culture itself. In a way, it’s a whole in a thorough questioning of even the methodology and approaches. 27:14]. Which is very different than just mindlessly adapting. “Oh, I’m going to do Western, indigenous vocabulary in a Western context.” 27:29
BRETT: So, you reacted to this once you found yourself on the ground there, to put it that way, maybe going in having been educated in Western traditional theater and then getting on the ground, seeing this with your own eyes in various parts of Alaska and then kind of allowing this insight to come in that in fact the mental model you might have had what would overly constrain the possibilities of what the performance could be in the expression of the …. (28:01)
TR: Yes, absolutely. In a way, it’s like you and I learning Russian to talk to each other. We have a language already, why can’t we express in our own terms? Rather than learning another language. In a sense, the form of Western theater is another language that they basically have to shoehorn into it. And you think about it like a theater. A theater you go to now, our connotation is we basically go in and sit, the audience sits in a dark theater watching the illuminated mind which is basically a diagram for the Descartesian (28:34) mind- body split. And we’re observing things; we’re seeing things, not experiencing. We’re basically dormant in the dark. Whereas, when you go to Alaska native performance, you’re not dormant, you’re not in the dark, you’re there moving and your part of it. And it’s in a circle. It’s a very different…even the set-up of how you perform and where you perform it shapes how you are interpreting and receiving it. So, in a way we question everything.
BRETT: How did you come up with the circle, or was that just kind of “OK, this is how we do it, why would you do it any other way?”
TR: It looks at the practicality of how it is produced and its origin. Look, in a sense, mining what’s already there, rather than laying on. So, for me, the form, it’s like in a sense, the form and that’s where I think we are now in our history of the species, we’re at a point now that we have to question the form. A lot of people have a lot of new and interesting ideas but in the sense, we’re hamstrung and confined by old ways of thinking. I mean the form of thinking. Until we deal with that thoroughly, we’re not going to be able to implement new ideas in a coherent and cohesive way. So, in a way, it has a radiance.
BRETT: So how much, I want to get to this point, which is a good one, how much of this insight did you find…because you went on from working in Alaska to then going on and becoming a specialist in indigenous performance essentially by traveling around the world to a number of places. How much of that was like ongoing discovery and how much of it was proving up what you’d observed in Alaska and gone okay, there’s some commonalities between this and the lessons you’ve been talking about now, did those develop over time or is it already apparent at the start?
TR: Well, what I learned in Alaska served as maybe a loose methodology or approach. I should mention I never sought work outside. The first time it occurred, I was sitting in my house I had in the woods there, and it was thirty below, and I got a call. There was some guy on the phone with this British sounding accent saying, “Do you want to work with the Zulus?” I go “Who the hell is this? Is someone pulling my leg, okay I worked with Eskimos, so I’m going to work with the Zulus now?” He goes “No, no, I saw your work in Chicago so I know you can direct and I read this article that you wrote and we are developing, because South Africa is coming out of it, you know, it being sanctioned by the world because of Apartheid, and previously Zulus were not allowed to perform because it was thought of as potentially seditious and we have no idea how to develop a Zulu program.” And so within, that was like in January, and in May I was there, I was in Durban.
And another instance was a year later. We opened a show with Tuma Theater. I go to a cast party afterwards, and the door opens again. It was in January so it’s like forty below. The door opens and this guy is waiting for me. It’s a little short guy with a monobrow and he just bear hugs me. My friend Anatoli, who is Russian, and this guy is talking to him, I go “Anatoli, what’s he saying” and he goes “The performance he saw tonight is the performance of his people in Saha (32:10) which is central Siberia. He’s inviting you to work with Saha.”. That was in January, in June I was in central Siberia in Yukutsk. (32:22) working at the Saha national theater. I didn’t predict it, it kind of moves in its own pace. But what I brought to it was the same methods adjusted to each environment.
So, we created a ritual warm up in Saha and one in Zulu land as well and one in Zambia. It’s something that, on our terms, the method was something that served and could be transportable, which was very nice. When I was in Saha, I had to get to South Africa, because they invited me the second time, and so I was trying to figure out a way. So, what I did was fly to Moscow and took the train to Finland and fly down to South Africa but by chance, totally again by chance, the last day I was in Fairbanks before I had left for that summer trip, I had seen a newsletter on the last day for me to pick my mail up from my mailbox, thereafter it would be forwarded to my mom for the rest of the year. In that newsletter, I found stuffed in my bag, was an announcement for an international theater conference in Tampere (33:42), Finland and so I faxed them. I’m like “you know, I’ll be in Finland if you want, I’d like to attend, if you want I can do a workshop” and they said yes.
So, I get there, and I arrive in Tampere and there were people waiting in a railroad station. I thought my workshop was the next day. They were like “no, it’s like right now. They’re waiting at the library.” I go to the library and there are a hundred people there. Okay, I take these slides, put them in and, then what was happening was that there was this guy in the front, he was actually sleeping, and snoring! Now and then I’d clap my hands and he became like this running joke for this talk. I was still trying to catch up on myself and this guy is sleeping and afterwards, an hour later he comes up to me. He goes “I’m sorry I’m sleeping”, I go “I’m not going to repeat anything”. “I’m sleeping because my friend wanted me to see and I drove all the way from Samiland last night and I was very tired and I wanted to see you”. He goes “Do you want to work in Zambia?” So, he did work for a finish volunteer service for the last five years. Doing theater for communities. That was in July, no that was in August, and than next year in March, I was in Zambia working.
BRETT: Wow, so, you’ve kind of tapped into this rich seam of one thing is leading to another and your plane tickets are mounting up (35:19) and destinations…
TR: Yes, but all my work has come that way. It was nothing kind of really planned. It’s like meeting people. I believe if you’re authentic and you’re honest, then you attract. You can’t teach that, you just have to be that. Life has to teach that to you or something.
BRETT: So, we talked earlier on, off mic, about the characteristics of a world travelling indigenous…anthropology, what needs to be on the personality and character trait checklist if there was one to make you suitable to that kind of work? One of the things we talked about generosity of spirit and interest in people.
TR: Not being judgmental and being fully open. There was one of my performers with the Zombies, she was interviewed for a magazine article and they asked her about me, and she was recalling an incident where…something about my…. it was talking about bullshit. She gave something bullshit, she had said “This might be bullshit, and you may not like it,” like in a rehearsal. And I said, “Well that depends if it’s good bullshit.” She cited that as an example of my being open, even to bullshit. Because, it’s like, I don’t know. Sometimes you may think it’s crazy but it may be right on the money and I don't judge anything, I just kind of look at it like another opportunity, another expression. I look at everything in a similar way. My image of myself is a big radar dish and then I just take in anything. I understand in my head, but I try to move beyond my head and understand it in my body and my soul and my emotions. And let the head be secondary. We’re trained to think logically and rationally and how it fits into categories as a consequence. And what happens is, we filter. A lot. And that filtering actually keeps us from innovating and being imaginative, so I try not to filter anything just interpret it, I just bring it in and it will settle itself. And that’s a confidence maybe, a working-methodology I have no idea how it came up, and maybe even a courage because some people are afraid if you go beyond the lines, that it would be wrong because we’re trained from writing script when we’re in second grade: don’t go beyond the lines. I don’t use line paper. It’s a way of thinking too.
BRETT: Right on (38:35) and that’s certainly something that kind of ties into the themes of personal growth and people realizing their potential as to what they are learning about themselves. A lot of folks get stuck in what they’re doing with a certain mindset, they filter out other possibilities such as things they are really curious about or potential jobs, whether to try something different or….
TR: Or themselves, what makes them happy. “This is not making me happy, okay so what are you doing there?” Let’s talk about how to get out of it, how to exit.
BRETT: And there’s a battle between mind and heart and soul and I think that openness to be able to interpret something and see how it feels at another level, that will tell you what is right and wrong and that openness, that unfortunately we need to cultivate because we’re not trained in our schools and, in society, often rewarded for innovation.
TR: Increasingly not. Even now with this whole, fanatical obsession with testing and renew our schools and stuff. We’re coded, we’re narrativized by a larger culture to serve the needs of a larger culture and to maintain a larger culture. That means whether there’s a cop in the head literally at the police, or self-censoring in cop in the head as far as like “how do I succeed” so I’ll find here at university certain students who won’t do certain things because they feel it’s not appropriate for their ambition. It’s like they’re seeing themselves almost on a grid of some sort. And they have to proceed in this logical step. And what’s happening is they’re on their way to being lifeless. They’ll be thirty-five or forty years old and they’ll be like “I did this because my parents wanted me to do this and it’s not me”. And so, you just wasted half of a life, you know what I mean? How do you…. It’s a way of thinking, it’s a way of how you process and that’s going back to the Zombies as well as the indigenous groups, you have to question the form. It’s all about the form now. It’s no longer…. It’s about content still, but it’s really digging deeper beyond content, because in a sense we’re filled up with content. Everything is repeating itself; it’s like a recursive loop now. Everything is being appropriated or post-modernism is a kind of symptom of that. It’s no longer about that surface noise of things swirling around, repeating recursively. Now it’s about questioning, interrogating and transforming the form. Which is much more difficult and much more deeply rooted and much more contentious for people because it’s so branded on us.
BRETT: So how much, just to join this up to the …. we started off talking about character traits, how much of this was, if you’ve reflected on this, how much of this is you as a person, really led you into this path of traveling the world to understand different cultures’ performance and how it relates to their life and how much is, after having had that experience of going around, you’ve gone “well. okay, I think I’ve really learned a few things”. Which is it and what did you learn after this period of travel?
TR: I think being awake and alert and accepting. Alaska native people …… Yup’ik (42:00) have a saying, it says “accept, don’t expect”. It’s not meaning I accept everything, not meaning I’m wishy-washy, I’ll go whichever way the wind blows, it’s like I don’t expect anything. I just accept what’s there and what’s there given this worldview that everything is there because it needs to be there. Then that’s fine. In our performances with the Zombies, the underlying theme is you’ll see what you need to see. If you don’t see it, that’s fine, which is antithetical to like how you produce theater. You want people to see this plot moment, you want to see them feel intense and orchestrate and manipulate this emotion. It’s like: “Well, we’ll present it, and if you happen to see it, fine, if not then that’s fine too.” The greatest compliment for the Dead White Zombie experience for me was, we did “(W)hole” several years ago and this couple came to see it. They enjoyed it, so they invited a second couple. They enjoyed it. So, the four of them wanted to come back and invited a third couple. The six of them were at dinner and the third couple, the newbies, said “Well, what’s it about?” And they all explained another play, a performance and they were going “It sounds like you all went to a different performance.” And they go “That’s the point!” Which is in a way, trying to enliven people, getting back to the idea of form, that you create your own reality. I’m not going to manipulate, if I empower you in a performance, which is a metaphoric microcosm, then hopefully you’ll take away a deep form awareness of the reality. I’m seeing what I need to see, and that’s it. There were times at ‘(W)hole’ for instance where it would depend on the event, the evening, the audience members or the energy or whatever, there’d be thirty people looking at one scene. And we were talking about maybe four, five scenes going on simultaneously in this big thirty-five thousand square foot building, former machine shop. The next night, there’d be two people there. At times, there’d be two people performing in the distance and you’d see maybe a hundred feet away and they’re by themselves, they’re just performing for themselves. The thing is, you never knew, the next day, there’d be five people there. So, in a sense, you saw what you needed to see. And the actors, it was really important for them, at first were going: “I’m performing. At first, it was like the reason I rehearse is for people to see me.” And then they realized there was a great freedom in having a performance audience there or not. It’s like who are you really performing for? So, it even questioned that whole understanding and framework and expectations of a performer. Who do I really perform for? And it turned out, that when they performed for themselves, they performed even more intensely. Or with more freedom.
BRETT: But if you draw a line back to the indigenous performances, that’s not necessarily there as a form of entertainment all the time. It serves a number of other purposes; cultural and spiritual and people are going through rituals etc. The performance has a life and a purpose of its own. It spills out of people.
TR: It’s about something greater. I mean, if you pray, are you praying for yourself or are you praying for a god? Or a spirit? Who are you praying for? It’s in a sense who are you performing for. In a way getting back to life choices, it’s like who you’re performing for in your life. If you have this executive job as a consultant, are you performing for yourself? Are you performing for this pattern, this coded pattern of what consultants do or this fabled, mythical lifestyle that was presented to you in all those training books and training seminars and in whatever else, and then the regalia that you have with the tie and the lifestyle and the credit card and all that stuff, and the speak and the scripts of how you talk to people and how you greet them? In a way, you’re totally coded. Is that you? Are you performing for you? Are you performing for this drama which we have in a sense that’s kind of like pushing you along? So, you can see how I really pull things down into a performative analysis.
BRETT: I think you’re spot on. You know in terms of a consulting in any job as a performance any expectations on, and certainly some of our work is literally standing in front of people and trying to make them feel, or think or do something or to reach consensus or whatever. But I think you are right and whether is a consulting job or another where you take on the clothing and the costume and the identity of that job. And then that takes you a certain period of time and then you think, oh look I’ve become hollowed out inside, who am I really? I’m working from the outside in rather than form the inside out in terms of expressing myself or understanding, you know, my performance being initiated motivated by an internal expression as opposed to conforming to something.
TR: Which is really kind of a machine based diagram, it’s like a functional diagram, it’s like I’m designing this to be functional part of a larger working machine. And that’s systematic in our age how technology is dictating our patterns and the form of our existence, that we are basically no longer following nature as a pattern that we relate to, but basically, we are following technology. We created it but we created in a sense, we projected into space how we function and how we move through, everything is kind of originally and logically and progresses in a way that’s very machine-like. Which of course is going to hollow out a human being. In a way if fell it’s like industrial animal husbandry, like slaughtering animals like a production line, they’re no longer animals in a sense. That’s antithetical to how I look at the world and for me, antithetical to being human.
BRETT: Right, right so there’s that element of humanity and I think this is probably a good time to segue through the Dallas, you know we’ll take you from, I just really want to make a comment that you are finding culture in Siberia and then coming to Dallas! You know, so how did Dallas come about ? I love being here and I think once you get under the surface of Dallas there is amazing things happening and amazing people, but that may not be the perception for folks outside of Dallas I think, this what’s going on here will slowly percolate out to others. So how did you get here and what were your expectations and thoughts before coming and…move us to Dallas?
TR: I spent 15 years in Alaska so I felt and travel a lot during that period of time and I was really generous with giving me time off and stuff and I felt I’ve done everything I needed to do there and I was starting to repeat myself I mean I’d hiked , I skied, snowboarded, you name it rock climb, kayaked and I’ve done all that stuff personal stuff as well as, I basically explored as much as I felt I could and gave to Tuma theater over to Alaska natives as it should be because I’m Italian American from Cleveland because it is kind of weird place to be. So I wanted to come to a city again, I felt the need to be in a city and I wanted a city that wasn’t developed, meaning culturally. Dallas, has a lot of opportunity here, there is a lot of vibrancy, but it still doesn’t know what it is yet. And what I feel is that there is like the elitist culture that are here and the arts district etc., for example what they do is they’ll hire in, these Pritzker prize winning architects because they think that’s what they should do, and they’re kind of looking over their shoulder at what’s happening elsewhere, but their money is made in here in oil or TI or whatever. Ross Perot and whatever. So, they’ll do it but they kind of like don’t know how, so they take on the artifacts of culture and wealth and “this is how I should be behaving and what I should be wearing” and stuff like that. So, I understood that but in a larger city sense it wasn’t sure what it wanted to do and what it wanted to be and that was wide open. I like places that have kind of a wide openness. This is different than my indigenous work is looking at indigeneity and what’s there and crediting and supporting and basically foregrounding that work. The culture rather than myself. I serve in a sense. Whereas here I wanted to bridge the gap from what I had learned with the indigenous cultures and performance and ritual cultures into a city that was basically didn’t know what it was and then infuse that and kind of create a company and explore because I feel it’s more viable to do here.
At that point and still to an extent it’s still very open, there have been some very generous people who have given us space etc., and I have been able to do basically what I wanted to do. You know there is some struggle in it because if these projects are always producing issues. The project we are working on now is like…I’m adept and I kind of like revel in talking and working with people so it kind of makes it easy. It’s like my way of socializing as well as producing and so, and I’m able to do that here because it doesn’t know what it wants and what it is. And so, we’ve made a scene we have a following and we do the work we do and people anticipate us. There was one guy who has a large Ad agency and he told me without my soliciting he goes “you know if someone said to me let’s go see theatre tonight and I go nah and he says if someone says to me let’s go see Dead White Zombies I go yeah!” So, it’s kind of like and I go that’s an honor you know what I mean because we are theatre but we’re not and you know one thing we are going to do we are going to give you something that you’ve never experienced before because we’ve never experienced it before and we’re along on a trip with you and this is as much as a gamble for you as it is for us.
BRETTL: So, what would you say to folks that you’ve got a following already but that are not aware of Dead White Zombies and what you might call post-disciplinary performance groups or experimental theatre performance art etc. That may have some in trepidation on not really knowing what it’s about or whether they will enjoy it?
TR: Our biggest, we don’t spend a lot on advertising like social media and some e-mail blast and stuff like maybe post cards. A lot of it is word of mouth and that’s how people find out and in a way, we like it like that we kind of like because the world is become so marketed and so consumerized and so many theatre companies they look like they could be selling a corporate you know object. I don’t see the difference they’re using that kind of language that’s their motto. Ours is kind of like we’re just doing what we are mission statement is we do what we want to how we want to do it where we want to do it because we don’t know what else to do. I mean that’s basically that’s how we guide ourselves and all our of works are different and they are guided by what we are feeling at that moment and what space we have and the personnel that’s involved and where we are kind of are on the currents. We do original work that’s for that moment.
BRETTL: Just before moving on to actually talk about your current project with Holy Bone do you think it is easy to do original work here because we talked to you before about trying to conform to a mental model you know the job role, what about conforming to an artistic role you know what’s Broadway theatre or off Broadway or whatever you know. Does the same thing apply and then you know kind of doing anything that we think of is that the road ultimately to creativity or is it to push forward something that has already been accepted?
TR: We do research and development. Any scientist any scientifically grounded corporation, the government, a human being, a child I mean it’s research and development is how you grow I mean that’s our mission that’s our kind of our niche. We don’t reaffirmations’ or reiterations of previous work either in form or in content because everything is different. How we created Holy Bone is very different than how other pieces were created, so the form and the methodology of how it’s created is shaped to the content and the content is shaped by the form. So, it’s really kind of a more of a holistic ecology. Ecological or Gaia kind of self-regulating system that we set up that’s unique to each performance. Which is time and emotion intensive and if not you can see if I have to do 5 shows a year I can’t be inventing the wheel all the time but if we do one a year and if you’re committed to it we’re kind of like that old Japanese craftsman in the seventeenth century you know. It’s going to take us this long to make this bowl or this sword and it’s specific to it and it has us in it. It’s not something, we not mass manufactured and people feel that, they feel the heartfeltness . They feel the authenticity of what we do and that’s really important to me. Because, and it’s counter to everything that you should be doing as far as like making more money you know. And that’s never been drive for me I mean I need to have money to survive I’ve never been driven by my idea of success being accumulation of wealth and into making Zombies into a corporate like behemoth and if it wants to fold and become something else then that’s what happens. Longevity and establishment is not the priority, the work is a priority. So, it’s kind of like a lot of different values that we’re putting out there that others would question you know why do you do this and how do you do this and why do you take this on. We don’t, that’s kind of how we work and what’s interesting for me is I’ve taken friends to because they give me tickets of various theatre companies with my friends there and some of them I can’t invite to the theatre anymore because these are people they are not theatre people because they are bored. They’re going this is like 1980’s you know and these are good groups here in town. It’s like community theatre with adults. You know it’s kind of like time has kind of passed that form up but they these people who are doing it don’t know what else to do. So, it’s kind of like that guy who has that weird hair cut that was cool in 1979 but he’s still wearing that same haircut or that woman who is like 65 and wearing a haircut style that she wore well when she was 25. You know you have to change with the times and it’s not just content. Okay I’m going to put a gay guy there or someone with disabilities or a transgender issue you know it’s important to voice those in content but it’s a questioning of the form as well and how it’s presented.
BRETT: So, let’s talk about Holy Bone specifically now and that’s the current project you’re working on. What sort of influences of the times if there are what ingredients or what environmental factors went into the creative process of coming up with that?
TR: I had been working in China for my new research project and I was there and I had a day off because usually when I’m there I don’t have any days off I’m just working every day. So, I was reading this book by an anthropologist and this word stuck out “holy bone” in I forgot the context but basically it talked about how doctors use holy bone as the bone that is behind the women’s uterus and that’s the holy bone. Historically this holy bone is the last when body is dissolving in the grave it is the last one to dissolve. So, it has a density the greatest density. I think it was (Leonard) Shlain I think it was one of his books I was reading and how in many cultures historically we’ll talking early hunter-gatherers how they used this bone as basically a diagram for artwork. So, it was kind of something like the female genital bone in support of that it was a fertility right and how that became in terms transfigured into a design and then how fertility, the women etc., were part of this early sense of like spirituality. So, that kind of got me thinking about our current ecological crisis that we’re in the midst of right now, it is a crisis, and yet we’re all happy here. We all got air-conditioning and we think everything is fine but it’s not. So, how can I bring this Gaia or sense of mother earth as progenitor to the stage without being declamatory or this is terrible and how to bring it to a deeper awareness that when people go through it they understand this female perspective and this, the germinating perspective of a female world view brings. Which we’re learning on the surface men are becoming more sensitized, women are becoming more empowered. It has a ways to go but they’re in different power positions etc. in the U.S and developing world but also in developing world and so now that’s all part of it but how do we go into the form. How do we go into the form of the sub-consciousness and the perceptual area? So, in a sense it’s a stepped initiation into an understanding of a deeper sense of self and when that deeper sense of self is this holy bone. The holy bone is if you want to interpret it any whatever way you will it is nonetheless a female consciousness and a spiritual travelling through it. Experiential travelling through it. The power of emersion and travelling through something is that it makes a psychological, psychophysical impact on your body, which is different than just making an idea. If I’m sitting in the dark observing and I’m taking it in logically oh we all consider that but if you’re doing it you can combine thought and with feeling and emotional interaction then you have a profound effect that will haunt people and many people mention, they’ll say months later they’re still thinking of these images that came up or scene that kind of comes up in a moment of their day or a dream and that’s the kind of we want to get to that lower level or that subconscious level of perception and that’s what Holy Bone is about. So, that’s ambitious but again we’re doing research and development so hopefully it will work and at least some indicator if not it will be one a hell of a great time.
BRETT: So, when can people see that?
TR: It’s May 4 through the 27th and it’s Thursday, Friday, Saturday and we bring in 6 people every 10 minutes so we can have a highly-individualized understanding of the project as you move through and you move through 12 steps or 12 stages of the evolution and each is another, they’re connected they’re inner connected but each is another revelation or a teaching.
BRETT: So, we talked about the experiencing and I think when I first contacted you I said that I’d experienced a deep a former production DP92 that’s how I would describe it and it was a positive experience in a lot of ways. You know if I think about I kind of want to go to this place which is about kind of 2017 and where we’re at and you know millennials and a move from status and money you know it’s kind of “oh look let’s focus on experiences now” but I think the experiences that people are focusing on is kind of still materialistic experiences. “I’m going to travel to this place, I’m going to open this bottle of champagne, I’m going to jump out of a plane”. You know as where the experience I think we have been talking about throughout or time together is something a lot more deeply felt and significant and timeless in our makeup as human beings. So, it sounds like that’s what you’ve tried to tap into. Is there a need to? Given the way that we have our attention is so fragmented and we’ve got lots of narratives going in there and if you kind of want to buy into this “difficult times” and “terror” and “fear” and all these sort of things. Is that something that you have to cut through for someone in Dallas or a major city in 2017 to allow them to have a true experience or something or is it just really you need to just introduce them into the environment and let the process take care of itself?
TR: I think yeah, the latter, the process taking care of itself. What we present is a secular non-religious spiritual journey…all of our works is what we aspire to. If you’re ready for it fine, if not then at least you’re going through it. You’ve experienced it, we’ve touched you in sensorial ways whether it’s smells, smoke, lights, walking through corridors or whatever interactions, not knowing if the person next to you is performing or not. I mean those things a lot of questions are jogging your perception barriers there. That’s all we can ask for.
What we find too is that several people come back because the first time it’s overload or they realize that they didn’t appreciate everything and they want to see it again. And because it’s so many dimensions going back to the prism that we were talking about there’s so many dimensions that can be perceived that they come back to see another perception and it will be different because they way that we work it is the performers are encouraged to respond to the moment they are in and DP92 was scripted but within that there was probably 15 to 20 percent of their menu I call them and they can loop into whatever they feel like or they can improvisation and grow from it.
So, what’s remarkable for me is I can’t see everything every night. It’s not like I can sit down and see my show from beginning to end it’s like if I’m one place I’m not another place and there are like 2 or 3 other things going on and the same would be the same for Holy Bone. I can only be 1 place of 12 so there basically there are 12 simultaneous scenes happening as I’m standing in one place and so the thing is I’ll get to another space which I hadn’t seen maybe in a few performances and they’ll have totally transformed it. And in a way, that’s just so beautiful that I would never have perceived or could have constructed a way, extrapolated a way, of them doing that and then it grows. So, it’s not like something that is fixed it’s actually organic even in its performance and it’s shaped to the audience.
We started Holy Bone in earnest in October and we took it and this was very different a process of methodology of working it. We took it into public spaces unannounced and so the audience would basically they even know they were the audience. So, as it evolved reactions told us about, in a way we went into the texture of the city by how people reacted and that in turn became the fuel to develop their characters. Which now they carried into the Holy Bone the initiation we are doing now. So, in a way this in its period of time has marinated but in a sense, it was co-conceived with the city, with the people that it participated with.
I wrote scenes which they performed but as we went on we left the scenes and they were just like seeds and now it’s become still you can still trace it to its origin but now it’s become something very different. There’s some scenes that were very verbal, very based on word and now it’s all action. There are no words. So, in a way it’s a long performance, we’ve been performing through the last 8 months. So, in a way we folded one into the other.
BRETT: And that’s a completely different process then any kind of fine-tuning a script and people doing a little bit of improvisation. Do you think if you moved this performance elsewhere would you go back and do I’m going to call it “field work” again to soak up the juice of the city?
BRETT: To inform the way that…
TR: Yes, we would for sure. We would learn we’d have a prototype from what we have here so if we went to Pittsburg we would bring that to it because human nature is basically human nature where ever you go in the world but it would be the particulars that are affecting that area would shape the interpretation and then the time too because we’re passing to another moment would be different. I mean when we started in October it was before Trump now we have Trump so it’s definitely clouded and shaped and evolved with us. So, yeah it would move with it which is how rituals move. I mean, if rituals don’t always adjust and evolve then they die. People think that they are stagnant. Early Christian mass or services were very different then what we have happening at a mega church today with microphones, and video and everything and Prestonwood and whatever. If they don’t evolve then they pass away. We are always reshaping it. So, yes, I would agree with that.
BRETT: So, we haven’t talked at all about your role as an educator formally and informally. There is a number of things you are working on if you’re looking to the future giving where you are at, what is the relationship you see educator at a university as one role and then the what you’re doing with Dead White Zombies is something else and your other collaborations as something and what are your hopes and expectations of each of those roles or are they all part of the same?
TR: It’s all the same. I’ll bring my research into the classroom, which I think, students have told me, makes it really vital and serves as an example for what and how they can work as well. So, whether articles I’ve read or documentation to present and talk about it. Or I’ll shape a course so the content is coherent to the course but I will also choose content that is also a current and running preoccupation. So, what it does is I feel the instructor has to be involved and excited about the material. I will never teach the same course twice in the same way. So, if it’s just something “I have a yellow sheet of notes giving it over and over again for the last 20 years” then that’s like death. So, this is what I’m working on now or what my preoccupation is then I’m going to include it so I’m like a student myself and that engages the students whole heartedly.
BRETT: How would you respond to yourself as a student if you were sitting as your younger self in a classroom and a related question where I’m coming from here is we talked about over scoring and a preoccupation with scoring everything. At universities, it’s kind of part of the process. The need to innovate through trying and failing things., well if a student really took that to heart and wanted to try something that didn’t work, how would you interpret and score that or come to some sort of conclusion in the context of a course?
TR: It depends on the course. I try to assess the student where they start and where they end. So, it isn’t like I have a standard a certain artificial standard. So, if there is a student who has a difficulty with expression and grammar or writing and they have improved then that’s part of it. I will try to identify sometimes in a brutally honest way what their failings are as I perceive it and I will tell them it’s my perception but to consider it and that I’ve learned myself and sometimes I will do this depending on the course, I’ll have a student read an article that I’ve published in a major international journal and then I’ll bring in the notes that the editor gave me and it’s all crossed out, this is before they did text edit, things just slashed here and there, I go geez! I go I learn more from this than I learn from anything else. Depending on the course if it’s a directing course I’ll bring in 2 reviews. The first one I show them is this incredible review from the Chicago Sun Times and it’s like “man my mother wrote this”. It’s agilation all over the place. It’s love you just feel it. Then I will show them the Tribune and its scathing, it’s whip marks and I go yikes and they cringe when I read it. It’s the same night and these guys sat like 3 seats from each other. Just to show them you have to have the skin of an elephant and the memory of a flea when you do a performance because people will love you and people will hate you. I don’t care what you do. If I was a major-league baseball player, if I was batting 500 I’m doing well, so if I’m doing 300 that’s great. I got a million-dollar contract with that, so I look at it that way.
Everyone here now a day wants to please and I want people to like me but I’m not going to go out of my way to make you please me and say something that just is to please you. I’ll say what I need to say and I feel that will ultimately serve you better. That’s just 2 weeks ago with the class I’m teaching now and reviewing everything they presented, there was a video production class. I said “what was presented here is everything that the intent of the assignment was addressed”. However, “it was nothing beyond mediocre”. I said if you want to be mediocre in life that’s fine but you can’t be mediocre in this class. If you are mediocre for this you accept mediocre for this then you start to accept it in other parts of your life and it will seep in on its own value system. I’m only here for this course and I can just tell you that it’s up to you. It’s your ethos. If I wash dishes I’m going to wash dishes well because it carries over to every aspect of your work. The next assignment superior. You gotta tell ‘em and it’s hard and they took it hard. People don’t like their work to be called mediocre or poor quality but then you have to tell them that.
BRETT: Absolutely and I’m trying to draw these lessons back to peoples’ approach to life and some of the listeners here in different fields of business, working in the community. How do you grow, get to the fundamentals of that and there seems to be an expectation that we can kind of just have everything happen automatically, and it’s going to be a painless process and certainly in my experience that is not the case.
TR: It’s never ending.
BRETT: And I think the truth is that it never is and I think anything of worth happens over time and at some level of sacrifice and…
TR: You have to stay aware, you can’t be lazy. It’s easy as you get older to be lazy. It’s like oh man I have to do that again I didn’t do that before. That attentiveness keeps you alert and alive, in the game. That’s life, that’s a full exciting life. Your body gets older you go “oh geez” do I have to do it but yes you got to. You have too. It will keep you younger it will keep you fitter as you move forward.
BRETT: So, is there any final words or anything we didn’t cover that you wanted to say? I think we promised to talk about robots, I might have mentioned it at the start and we didn’t do that because “are machines coming to take over the world” and will they eventually be good performers when they do it?
TR: I don’t think they are going to take over the world, we are becoming machines we are taking over ourselves. We think it’s external but no it’s internal transformation which is happening which I think is far more nefarious then something attacking us. We are in a sense doing it to ourselves.
BRETT: So, my final question is continuing on that theme is we haven’t explicitly talked about consciousness. I think we touched on it and maybe that’s not the right word for it. As you know as you look to the future and what you are working on creatively and your various projects here, you have been doing this for a while now do you actually set broader objectives apart from artistic and the self-exploration of the form and other things. Do you set broader goals in terms of society or what you want to achieve and what you have achieved in your life’s work and influence in others?
TR: There are things I want to do before I leave this plane and that is document and record, articulate things that I’ve learned. They were gifted to me in a sense I feel I have to gift it to someone else. So, it’s only mine to transform and so I feel very strongly about that. Service is important to me and the legacy I want is I served well and not necessarily I think by serving others you serve yourself and there is a great satisfaction in that. I need to be comfortable, I need to have food. Toys never really, I enjoy it but, but being, you’ve been to Africa, and going to Friday night and you’re like in Ouagadougou and there’s a dance party at this bar in the corner and you’re just laughing and having a great time and you just jump in there and you’re like home. That’s beauty. I had a birthday once and I was in Nairobi and I was following a puppet company that would do work for bringing AIDS awareness and the use of condoms. We went to this slum and it is the largest slum in Kenya it’s all Somalians and Sudanese there and it supposedly doesn’t exist but there are like 300,000 people there.
And just travelling with this puppet company and the music playing through the wild and crazy, smelly, smoky streets of Nairobi and then just rocking up to the stand and setting up and doing a performance there. It’s just like “I was in heaven”. A lot of people wouldn’t think that but for me that was just pure beauty of life. The spirit of my compatriots was just so beautiful and so like unselfish. And the people were so open and the cause was good, so it was all there. That’s maybe how, what my values are. I think that something was said by an Athabaskan guy which I’ll adopt as well as well as my own, he said “when I die I want the sky to miss me” and that’s where I want it to be.
BRETT: And that’s a perfect moment to end our conversation for now. Thanks Thomas Riccio it’s been a wonderful time together and for listeners check out Holy Bone. If you’re in Dallas, if you’re not make your way here and also look online.
TR: We’ll tape it.
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