For the past few weeks, Texas Tech undergraduate and graduate theatre students collaborated with Titus Tiel Groenestege and Ria Marks, Emmy nominated guest artists from Amsterdam, to devise an original movement-based piece for the Outside In Festival. This partnership was developed by Cory Lawson, a student in the Fine Arts Doctoral Program, who spearheaded the Outside In Festival as part of his dissertation:
I was at the New School for Drama studying for my MFA in acting in 2004 or 2005, and I met Titus and Ria in the development of a new play for a festival on Governor's Island. I fell in love with this style of performance that is very physical, and it opened my eyes to the different ways that theatre can be made and done. A few years after that, I went to Holland with Titus and Ria to make a new piece. Later, I attended the Over Het IJ Festival, a series of short performances all inside shipping containers. Yes, that is where the shipping containers come in.
The Outside In Festival showcased devised works through fostering the work of both national and international artists whose mission is to “serve as a bridge between artists and audiences outside of the established artistic centers in order to expose more communities to non-traditional avenues of artistic expression.”
Cory desired to put together an arts festival that was accessible to everyone, including live music, art vendors and live theatre: “I envisioned parents bringing their kids, grabbing a bite to eat outdoors, and catching a show going on nearby.”
He added with a chuckle, “And yes, the shows are all in shipping containers.”
The idea behind the containers is to encourage creativity through limitation. A unique, restricted space prompts creatives to seek alternative methods of staging a work. Some artists made use of the distinctive space, incorporating it into their piece. Others transposed an existing play into the container space, such as the production of The Playwright and the Producer, written by Garret Milton and directed by Titus Tiel Groenestege.
“You could see this type of performance in New York or Los Angeles,” Cory explained: “It's the sort of experimental thing that would be put on by a dozen people in a basement. Here, we want it out in the open so people can experience something new and celebrate the craft. Devised theatre, or even traditional theatre like people haven't seen it before. We want a mix of everything.”
Cory added that events at the festival were all free: “We don't want anyone to be too upset that they saw something they didn't like! Everything isn't for everyone, but I know that there is something there for everyone. We want an audience to see something they haven't seen before, and hopefully that leads to a discussion of process and creating art a new way.”
He admitted that appreciating new art forms such as this can take time, but the first step is to expose audiences: “This certainly may be the case for Titus and Ria's way of working, which has felt like a breath of fresh air for myself, and my peers involved in their work. I was indeed one of the fortunate students who collaborated with our international guest artists, which granted me a perspective on Outside In from the inside out.”
Titus and Ria's unique process, which includes elements of slapstick, absurdism, and large amounts of imagination, is an example of the School of Theatre & Dance's emphasis on international connections: “They worked with me and other students to create a performance piece through improvisational movement paired with physical expression.”
In Titus and Ria's world, dialogue can be part of the piece, but it's only as much of a layer as lights or sound. Rather than building from an existing script, we sprinkled dialogue over an image-based story to add small amounts flavor. Ria told us on our first day, “We use dialogue in our work, but our work is not based on dialogue. The foundation of our work is movement, expression, and reaction.”
“When we first started working together, we never intended to not use text,” Titus explained. “It just happened that way. We improvised movement to music and told a story, and it turns out, we never spoke. For me, the magic of theatre is the make-believe. We use the audience's imagination to our advantage. It increases our flexibility as performers, allows us to achieve more. In that way, we treat the audience as collaborators, as co-creators.”
Ria agrees: “The more abstract the performance, the more universal it is for an audience. More people can project their own perspective on it or add their own meaning. They finish our work with their imagination. They see a bit of themselves in our work, as we try to express human behavior.”
For Titus and Ria, art is about recognizing human nature in a humorous way. They explained that they measure the success of their work through whether they enjoy it themselves. They create something they would want to see, and hopefully that translates to an audience's desires.
Cory affirmed that Titus and Ria's perspective on art and performance is what Outside in is all about:
This festival is a success if people find something that catches them by surprise. If they say, "I came here not knowing what to expect, but that was so cool." Or, even the opposite! "I came to see Ballet Lubbock, but that other devised work was amazing!" That's the experience I've had at festivals like this, and that's the experience I want to pass on to others.
The Outside In Festival launched on April 29th and 30th after years of delay due to the COVID-19 virus. With a standout combination of local talent and international artists, amateur and award-winning work, Cory's vision breathes fresh breath into the arts in Lubbock.
For more information, visit the Outside In Festival website or view a sample of Titus and Ria's work.