boob toob [artlog]

mes amis–

i first met mark sitko at ps 122 years ago. i was wearing my hair loose back then and he mistook me for a lively theatrical performer whose reputation preceded  her. au contraire! needless to say, i was intrigued by this straight white man–an anomaly amidst a morass of downtown weirdos and freak boxes.

but don’t be fooled.

mark–or sitko as he is known to intimates–is a freak box of high form. and a delightful one at that! his company, which he helms with the as-smart-as-she-is-beautiful erica rippy, is called van cougar.


the script from the group’s first theatrical foray rocky philly, earned sitko a spot in the highly prized playwriting section at brooklyn college where svengalis mac wellman and erin courtney instruct. i caught that play and considered it a beautiful bonsai tree. rambling tales about philadelphia were set to the physical scenes of rocky, which i’ve never seen. (al pacino and i are too close for me to judge his work. ) gonna see a movie called gunga din was a mediation on war (stories from real life vets were set to the moves of famous war movies, none of which i’ve ever seen) and now sitkocity takes on Youtube at the incubator arts project. clearly he has a problem with ambition!

i’ve been stuck in karachi but got in touch with erica and mark, who always signs his emails “love sitko” over the interwebs about their latest project. here’s what we discussed.

each more dreamy than the last in this photo!

tell me about the name van cougar… it is so genie.
Well, the simple answer is that it’s a riff on the name of a Canadian city.

mais bien sur!
Van Cougar began when two artists (Ned Buskirk, and Mark Sitko) from San Francisco, and New York traveled to Vancouver to visit a third artist (Erin Shea) that usually resides in LA. Erin was working on a horrible reality television show and we went to take advantage of the apartment her company had put her up in.  Over many glasses of wine, the group started sharing stories and recording them for posterity. After everyone returned to their lives, they started creating theater out of the stories: Van Cougar was born.

Van Cougar’s logo is riff on the name–an awesome cougar painted on the side of a van.

tell me about your writing process. i understand you assemble text from various interviews, c’est vrais?
We don’t like to call them “interviews” per se since they are conversations between multiple people. The idea is to get four to five people together, give them food and alcohol, and let them share stories about their lives.

knowing you, i’m sure some green herbs  are served in addition to libations! why stories?
When someone tells a story they express a great deal about themselves, as well as the people they are talking about.  It’s a beautiful thing, direct human connection. This is, in essence, what Van Cougar is trying to recreate through its theater. We record stories and ask our actors to retell them verbatim. The written text looks more like an epic poem than a play.

how it tube similar/different from your previous works rocky philly and gunga wunga... ?
Tube is very joyful.

the world needs more joy.
Rocky Philly is a love story, Gonna See a Movie Called Gunga Din is a drama, and Tube is a comedy. It’s also the first time we’ve used a lot of the original text from the visual source (YouTube videos). It features live music, which we haven’t had in our earlier plays AND it’s a choose-your-own-adventure play.  The audience will determine the order in which the YouTube videos will be performed.

good lord. i understand you use the term “cheadle it out” in rehearsals, elaborate!
“Cheadle it out” is a shout-out to the inimitable actor, Donald Cheadle. In Gunga Din we recreated a scene from the movie Hamburger Hill and asked the actor playing Cheadle to cheat out towards the audience. “Cheadle it out” was born and is still used today in our rehearsal room.

i recall the term-in-homage was already in use when i popped in to say hello at your very first read through of gunga, but perhaps my memory serves me incorrectly. (it wouldn’t be the first time!)
allora. my research indicates that are reinventing the theatrical form, what say you?
That is a lofty phrase–reinventing the theatrical form.

i aim for the stars!
I’d say that we are challenging the conventions of narrative as commonly practiced in theater. Van Cougar has little interest in plot, character development or prescriptive morality. Instead we focus on giving our performers enough direction to struggle in their performance, so they have no time to “pretend” their character is struggling through some emotional arc.

 gracious. i feel bad for actors who “pretend”..! poor fellows. so basta plot, eh?
An audience can follow a show with no plot as long as there is structure. We are interested in creating theatrical structures that offer just as much comfort and organization as a traditional narrative would. In the end everything humans do is based on ritual. As Mac Wellman would say, when you take everything away all that you are left with is ritual.  Plot falls away long before that, character even sooner–we do not believe that these are essential elements of live performance.

if only we were at cypress bar i might needle (and cheadle) you further on this point!
why youtube? if i don’t know the internet sensations will i be lost?
The most popular YouTube videos are simple and unpremeditated. Someone can post a video of themselves sitting on the toilet or falling off a table, or a video of their dog or cat and have the potential for millions of people to watch it. Amazing! With almost no investment, these videos can become pop culture sensations.

aye. shit floats.
We’re interested in exploring this entertainment medium since it is so unlike what we’ve looked at before: film. And, the size of the audience poses another paradox for art-makers: why is it that theater takes so much time and resources yet only a few hundred people will experience it, while someone can post a simple video and reach millions of people?

If you don’t know the videos, you won’t be lost because the action and text will speak for themselves. Everyone should be be able to follow along and enjoy the experience.  Hopefully our performance will inspire you to go check out any of the videos you don’t immediately recognize.

any other lingering thoughts???
The play has a “choose-your-own-adventure” format. This means that the actors will give audience members a selection of videos to choose from. Each show will be slightly different; you could see a show and see it again and see videos you didn’t see on the first night. So, come see the show twice or three times! You’ll get a different piece of the algorithm each time.

the regional theaters would note your business acumen, my friend.
Thank you so much for taking an interest in us–we love your work as well.

Tube, directed by Mark Sitko, opens tonight, Nov. 27 at the Incubator Arts Project.
 All star actors include:  Samuel Traylor, Martin Brown, Derek Loehr, Sam Soghor and Lucy Kaminsky with design by such genies as Ásta Hostetter, Alaina Ferris and Paul Ketchum.




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3 Responses to “boob toob [artlog]”

  1. toilets, gulls, and who nose it! « Kippywinston's Weblog Says:

    […] … go see tube it’s a hoot and holler and you won’t be sorry. sitko and his band of merry makers […]

  2. toilets, gulls, and who nose it! « Kippywinston's Weblog Says:

    […] … go see tube it’s a hoot and holler and you won’t be sorry. sitko and his band of merry makers […]

  3. Van Cougar’s Three Week Production at Incubator Arts Says:

    […] Kippy Winston Ditmas Park Corner […]

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