Even on this theater city abounding in innovation, The Tarot Studying stands out as an unique. I can’t consider something it’s fairly like. After I noticed an iteration final yr (The Tarot Studying IV), I wrote that cocreators Quill Nebeker and Alan Katz “had conceived what appeared an entirely new framework for experiencing reside theater.”
Quill and Alan don’t often name themselves cocreators; in Tarot lingo, they’re the “Summoners.” And they might say that The Tarot Studying experiences are literally cocreated by a forged of seven “Mediums” who cocreate “Revelations” (refined mini theater video games), every carried out in entrance of an viewers of “Witnesses” for a single “Seeker” who has drawn one of many 21 Tarot playing cards.
With The Tarot Studying V about to open at Anacostia Arts Middle, I proposed to Quill and Alan a recreation of Q&A:
Your Revelation, do you have to select to play alongside, will probably be fulfilled if you see one another’s solutions to the next ten questions as soon as they’re revealed collectively in DCMTA. However till then, no peeking! You have to submit your solutions on to this faux-Medium with out consulting one another and with out cc’ing or bcc’ing anybody. (And yeah, that is like Newlyweds Recreation apart from the obtrusive dissimilarities.)
Alan Katz and Quill Nebeker, from ‘The Tarot Studying III.’ Photograph by Ryan Maxwell Images.
John: What have been The Tarot Studying’s influences and what do you think about The Tarot Studying’s closest kin?
Quill: Probably the most instantly recognizable affect is Too A lot Mild Makes the Child Go Blind. We straight-up jacked the construction of the factor from the Neos [Neo-Futurists]—it’s twenty-one artist-generated micro-plays advised in utterly random order. The less-recognizable affect is the physique of efficiency by Tim Miller, whom I had the good pleasure to see, research, and interview throughout school. From Tim, we received the “no lies” facet of it, which is one other approach of claiming the private storytelling bit. He additionally gave us I suppose an ethos of a sort, the concept in performing one’s personal story, one might make a distinction on the planet in a means that fiction can’t. You possibly can see a few of his his extraordinarily queer, completely intimate, hilarious and heartbreaking efficiency artwork on his YouTube Channel.
Alan: There are three influences that I can level to, although all of them are tangential. The primary and most blatant is the Neo-Futurists, whose work Too A lot Mild Makes the Child Go Blind is baked into my theatrical bones. I don’t go to NYC or Chicago with out seeing them. Their driving concepts—that a theatrical night might be product of many discrete and delightful moments, that theater ought to come from the lives of the performers, that theater ought to make a elementary change on the planet, that iteration is the important thing to persistently bringing an viewers again to the theater—are the identical concepts that drive The Tarot Studying. Personally, I draw a ton of affect from Mike Daisey, who (for all of the controversy surrounding his work) I rely as one of many biggest solo performers of our time. His All of the Faces of the Moon—29 monologues carried out on 29 nights and never coincidentally filled with references to the Tarot—confirmed me that issues that appear really unimaginable could be finished with sufficient ambition, and, extra importantly, that there’s nothing that may transfer an viewers just like the true private vulnerability onstage. One other affect that deserves mentioning is native playwright Gwydion Suilebhan’s Transmission. Whereas the content material and values of Transmission contrasts starkly with The Tarot Studying, that work confirmed me absolutely the necessity of consolation and security within the creation of interactive experiences. Strolling into Transmission at Atlas was like coming right into a front room, and consequently audiences have been capable of present far more of themselves than they could in any other case.
Why did you provide you with The Tarot Studying within the first place? What void have been you eager to fill in DC theatergoers’ lives? What have been you lacking as theater practitioners personally?
Quill: We needed to make a spot that audiences might and would need to come again to again and again. We additionally needed to make an establishment, of a sort, that shined a light-weight on the extremely artistic individuals in DC. We used to joke round that we needed to be the indie model of Shear Insanity, one thing that confirmed up on résumés everywhere in the metropolis and introduced individuals collectively for having each carried out this bizarre factor.
Alan: The deepest motivation for me was and is the shortage of constant platforms for theatrical storytelling, versus productions. Most theaters in DC are or try and be variations of the regional theater mannequin: discover a play, rehearse it for a couple of weeks, carry out it for a number of weeks, then be executed with it. That mannequin doesn’t actually curiosity me creatively. DC audiences want locations that they will return to many times and nonetheless discover new and revolutionary storytelling. We’d like one thing that issues now, within the second, that we all know can be right here sooner or later. We’d like a theater that doesn’t die on closing night time. However most significantly, DC wants a spot that may empower artists to inform their very own tales with their superb, variegated talent units. A lot of the regional theater mannequin is artists making an attempt to pressure their tales on different artists: an inventive director demanding sure tales be informed, a playwright prompting others to say their phrases, a director figuring out how an artist emotes, a choreographer controlling how an artist strikes. DC theater wants freedom. DC theater wants empowerment. That’s what we attempt for. And that’s why we do that time and again: so we will get higher at offering that service for artists and giving audiences a real and wild style of what artists can do when they’re empowered.
By now The Tarot Studying’s obtained ardent followers who’ve some concept what they’re in for, even when it’ll all be brand-new. What ought to first-timers know to anticipate?
Quill: Some individuals once they hear that its interactive get nervous; it’s like they anticipate we’re going to haze them or one thing. First-timers ought to know to anticipate us to all the time ask earlier than we do one thing collectively—it’s like intercourse, affirmative consent is each essential and in addition makes the entire thing far more enjoyable. I feel associated to that’s that first-timers typically assume they’re about to expertise some type of, like, darkish, ritual indoctrination. There are cult-y issues concerning the present, and typically I assume we get just a little spoopy within the identify of enjoyable, however it’s not ever gonna be like Youngsters of the Corn or Rosemary’s Child. They need to anticipate a spread present at coronary heart, not a horror present.
Alan: Selection and truth-telling. We hope to point out audiences a barrage of really felt and significant entertainments that may have real-life impact past the room. Anticipate your interplay to be opt-in and consensual, and anticipate to see actual dangers being taken. Anticipate a efficiency that seems like a celebration, talks like an occult ritual, and opens its coronary heart like an expensive good friend.
From ‘The Tarot Studying IV.’ Photograph by Ryan Maxwell Images.
What are your personal beliefs or inclinations or hunches about superstition, the occult, mysticism, and the like? And why may The Tarot Studying attraction to somebody who thinks that’s all hokum?
Quill: I maintain a handful of superstitions, most of them having to do with sports activities. A lot to my unhappiness, I shaved my playoff beard final night time, and I’ll stare daggers at anybody who dares utter the phrases “no-hitter” or “shutout” in the midst of what may be one. I additionally respect a variety of theater superstitions, partially as a result of I’ve seen how breaking them can have an effect on individuals who genuinely consider in them. So far as the occult, mysticism, astrology, and so forth., go, I don’t purchase into it a lot besides so far as the enjoyable of web memes is worried. The truth is, when Alan proposed to me the thought of utilizing the Tarot playing cards as inspiration, I used to be skeptical. It took him some time to persuade me that was a good suggestion, artistically talking, as a result of I had a skeptic’s bias towards the idea.
I feel The Tarot Studying may attraction to somebody dismissive of these issues as a result of, for this skeptic, it turned a solution to expertise the magic of the Tarot mythos that doesn’t ask to compromise both one’s perception in it or lack thereof. We’re not truly doing divination or cartomancy. We’re not asking whether or not or not you consider in some foretold future. We’re solely asking you to be impressed and entertained by the best way the cardboard manifests itself within the actuality of this present, within the current.
Alan: The factor about hokum is that it’s constructed to deceive, to cover, to grift. All we do is present religion and belief in one another and within the energy of leaving area for one thing magical to occur. To not make it occur, nor pressure it, nor for manipulation, however merely to open the door to a spot the place individuals might be liked and revered in the best way that each one individuals have to be. Relating to magic, our belief and adherence to randomness (within the order of the present and within the selecting of the playing cards for Seekers) has produced superb, sudden outcomes. A elementary rule of magic is that one takes out what one places in, which is why we ask each viewers member for a Sacrifice once they arrive. I’ve seen individuals sacrifice a number of the most superb issues—a child blanket, a childhood toy, poems torn from their journal, mementos of an ex-lover. The individuals who surrender these issues invariably obtain experiences that they’ve wanted and enriched their lives greater than they might have recognized. I don’t have to consider in magic, any greater than I have to consider within the Solar or a scorching fudge sundae or this keyboard I’m typing on. They merely exist. They’re concrete regardless of my perception. And it’s my selection, all of our decisions, to react to and use that actuality in methods which are good for us and our world.
From ‘The Tarot Studying IV.’ Photograph by Ryan Maxwell Images.
At each efficiency there’s what you name a “security valve”—a gesture anybody within the viewers could make at any time to sign that they’ve been triggered or need to choose out of their participation in a revelation. Has that gesture ever been employed? In that case, what are you able to say about why and what occurred?
Quill: I can say that that the security valve has functioned as meant earlier than, however I can’t say something extra particular than that. Why and what occurred in these moments, that’s not my story to inform. Our job is to ensure individuals have a superb time, and have an area the place they will attempt one thing perhaps just a little dangerous in a managed surroundings within the identify of leisure. If somebody doesn’t need to do one thing, or doesn’t really feel protected for no matter cause, my job isn’t to ask “why” or “what occurred”; it’s to maintain them in that surroundings the place they’re not having an excellent time. A part of that can also be honoring their privateness in these moments.
Truly, within the spirit of your Revelation-qua-interview, I ought to inform you that Alan and I pulled a security valve on you and did confer about this specific query, as a result of how we answered it will impression the security of the individuals who come to the present. The enjoyable we’ve at The Tarot Studying can’t occur if anybody ever looks like we’re going to air out their trauma later, so we strategy that facet with a substantial amount of care. I don’t need anybody to get the impression that The Tarot Studying is, like, a dour, group remedy expertise—that couldn’t be farther from the reality—I simply don’t need anybody studying this to really feel like they’re gonna be pressured to do one thing they don’t need to do within the identify of different individuals’s enjoyable, or that what they do at The Tarot Studying might be placed on show later with out their consent.
Alan: I can say that it has been used and been used successfully. I can say that the individuals who have used it have been cared for by others particularly employed for that objective and that has been carried out with respect and discretion. What I can’t say are any particulars of these circumstances. However right here’s why: the one purpose that folks can take the dangers that we ask them to take and (as we are saying) put the private at stake is that they’ve entrusted us with their bodily and emotional security. To share the circumstances of one other individual’s misery with out their permission can be a betrayal of that belief. I might need anybody, together with you, to know that when you wanted to be elsewhere throughout a Revelation, we would offer that area for you. And it doesn’t matter what you stated in that place of security, it might be held in confidence.
Within the two Tarot Readings I’ve attended, there are comical conditions with very witty ad-libbing juxtaposed with parts which might be from-the-gut emotional and really private for the mediums. How a lot of that’s plotted out beforehand? And because the sequence of the emotionality of various Revelations is principally random—actually the luck of the draw—what management do you’ve got over the dramatic/comedian arc of a given present?
Quill: Properly, when it comes to temper or tone, we encourage the Mediums to discover a variety—it’s a selection present in any case—however we don’t ever dictate, like, “okay that’s your haha one, now present me your cut-my-guts-out one…” It’s as much as the Medium to interpret the cardboard; we’re not right here to demand that what they do matches right into a style or no matter. That may get stale quick.
So far as the sequence goes, you just about coated it. It’s principally random, actually luck of the draw, we don’t have management over the dramatic/comedian arc of a given present. I gotta say it’s hilarious how typically individuals ask us this query, particularly after the present—I promise you, we aren’t rigging the run order! When you really feel what seems to be one thing of a story thread at The Tarot Studying, it is just that which weaves by means of this factor referred to as human existence. Alan would say, as he does to his daughter, “life is an excellent cycle of track.”
Alan: A part of our technique as Summoners (for Tarot V, Joan Cummins and I) is to organize Mediums for really being current through the efficiency. Recognizing errors and acknowledging them, checking in with their true emotions in a state of affairs, and studying the physique language and voice of a Seeker all contribute to that feeling immediacy as a result of they’re, properly, really fast. We additionally work with Mediums on tiering methods that open the chances in a Revelation for a Seeker to choose in to extra participation whereas protecting well-crafted directions and choices for them in reserve in the event that they get caught or nervous. So far as arc goes, there are methods that may be employed to offer the impression of an arc whereas nonetheless staying true to the randomness of the present. Encouraging the Mediums to discover a unique feeling in every of their three Revelations helps, as does utilizing the Idiot (the MC of the night) to anticipate, defuse, or reset emotions from Revelations. However truthfully, the dramatic or comedian success of The Tarot Studying is rooted in a belief of the randomness of the method and never making an attempt to pressure or rig one thing out of view.
From ‘The Tarot Studying IV.’ Photograph by Ryan Maxwell Images.
What are you able to reveal concerning the behind-the-scenes course of for rehearsing and getting ready Revelations and Mediums? And may you briefly introduce who the Mediums will probably be?
Quill: Uh, I imply I might say so much about it. It’s an iterative course of; we discover ways to do it higher each time we do it. A number of staging a Revelation is studying when to disregard the issues we’ve achieved beforehand with a purpose to assist the Medium by means of no matter their inventive course of is. We’ve gotten fairly good on the orientation facet of it, although; like there’s an entire “that is what the Tarot Studying is” rehearsal, and there’s an entire “check your Revelation with an precise random one that didn’t assist make it” rehearsal. We attempt to give them a construction to strike towards, one thing that generates somewhat artistic friction.
The Mediums for Tarot V are Gwen Grastorf, who does a variety of vaudeville-style bodily comedy; David S Kessler, who’s a retired biologist and a solo-performer; Rachel Menyuk, who’s an archivist, a dancer, and puppeteer; Toni Rae Salmi, who’s an actor-singer-director; Rebecca Speas, who’s a classical theater actor, a historian, a bookseller, and ebook podcaster; Shaquille Stewart, who’s a rapper, musician, poet, and actor; and Yasmin Tuazon, who’s a motion and dance artist, voice actor, and yoga instructor. They’re nice, come see them.
Alan: We’ve created a from-scratch strategy to the rehearsal course of that has developed and altered over every iteration. Proper now, we have now an introductory assembly the place Mediums study concerning the course of as an entire after which draft their playing cards, identical to a sports activities draft. Then they get a while to percolate on concepts and ask questions on their playing cards earlier than they pitch concepts for Revelations. We whittle their many concepts down to at least one within the Alpha part, the place every Medium has a rehearsal dedicated to them, culminating in a showcase the place they Search for one another and provides one another suggestions. Then one other spherical of particular person rehearsals earlier than we usher in individuals who haven’t been part of the method in any respect to playtest their Revelations in what we name the Beta showcase. The next week, we incorporate the suggestions that’s been acquired and solidify what every Revelation shall be, with a concrete construction that gained’t bear any extra main modifications. Then we combine tech and do run-throughs then we open! We have now an awesome group of weirdos this time round, and you may learn their quirky bios right here.
This yr are two methods to absorb The Tarot Studying—a 9-card model and a 21-card model. Why would somebody select one and why would somebody select the opposite?
Quill: In case you are tremendous into the interactive factor, and need to assure that you are able to do that, you need to get a Seeker ticket for the 21-card Basic Tarot.
In the event you might take or depart the interactive factor however are nonetheless into massive, communal, immersive experiences, you might need to see full cycle of 21-card Basic Tarot however simply as a Witness.
In case you’re tremendous into the variability present, see cool performers doing random issues factor, however choose to see a present that doesn’t maintain you out previous 10, you need to see 9 Card Draw. This will even be true in the event you assume you can be into the interactivity factor, however aren’t positive, and perhaps don’t need to decide till you get there.
Alan: It is dependent upon how you want your theater. Some individuals need to get solely enveloped in a world, consuming in as a lot content material as their mind can stand and making an attempt to expertise completely each feeling they will. That’s who the 21-card model is for—individuals who need all of it, regardless of how a lot time it takes.
Some individuals say that their favourite theater features greatest inside a selected format and that they’re most snug with getting in, having a good time, and getting out with time for post-show drinks and an early bedtime. Typically these individuals will say that their optimum present is 90 minutes with no intermission, and that’s precisely what our 9 Card Draw performances are.
From ‘The Tarot Studying IV.’ Photograph by Ryan Maxwell Images.
What does your crystal ball say? What’s your dream or imaginative and prescient for the way forward for The Tarot Studying?
Quill: “Ask once more later.” By that I imply The Tarot Studying is by design a factor the place our trajectory is charted by iterating upon what we’ve executed earlier than, so I gained’t ever know till I see what occurred this time round, and begin enthusiastic about how we will enhance upon that. If I knew precisely what I needed the longer term for The Tarot Studying to be, I don’t assume it will be The Tarot Studying anymore.
Alan: My dream is to have a house. Have a spot the place individuals can come persistently to expertise selection and truth-telling in theater regularly. Give us a spot, and we’ll fill it with marvel.
What’s the wildest/weirdest/funniest factor anybody ever stated to you as they have been leaving a efficiency of The Tarot Studying?
Quill: The wildest issues to me are the issues individuals say to me about The Tarot Studying, like, days or perhaps weeks afterward, once they inform me that they’re doing one thing in a different way than they used to due to one thing they skilled, or they present me what they did with a factor we gave them. It’s wild to me that what we do on this factor that’s principally for leisure can have an effect on individuals in that approach, even when it’s just a bit factor. If there’s a approach during which we’re enjoying with visions of the longer term at The Tarot Studying, that’s it.
My mother places each card she will get on her fridge, like she did with my childhood drawings. I received a kick out of that for some time, as a result of it’s not like I made the Revelation—the Medium made the Revelation! I stated that to her, and she or he informed me it was useless to imagine that she put them there for me. She gave me the okay to share this story.
Life is an excellent cycle of track.
Alan “I couldn’t learn what it stated in your butt. I feel a number of the marker sweated off. What did it say?”
Operating time: About 90 minutes (9 Card Draw); about three hours (Basic Tarot).
The Tarot Studying V performs Might 9 by way of 26, 2019, produced by The Arcanists on the Anacostia Arts Middle – 1231 Good Hope Street, S.E., in Washington, DC. Tickets can be found on-line (the place you’ll find explanations of the varieties of tickets—9 Card Draw or Basic Tarot, Witness or Seeker).
For details about future performances, comply with The Tarot Studying on Fb or be a part of the Tarot Studying mailing record.