As part of Q-STAGE 2017, Devin Taylor has written & created and co-directed THE SMITTY COMPLEX, a brand new work that will perform May 5 and 6 at 7:30pm, and May 7 at 2pm. For more information about this and other Q-STAGE shows, click here!
As one of our 2017 Q-STAGE Artists, can you tell us about where the idea(s) for your show came from?
The idea for the story itself comes from stories I used to make up and tell to my best friend. I would text her poems and limericks about an otter. These poems usually found the otter in some bizarre predicament, having lost his shoes, torn his pants, eaten too much–it was really all about the rhyme scheme. It’s hard to say where the original concept for The Smitty Complex began, but it’s possible that it was a spin off of one of these stories that took a dark and complicated turn.
That was about seven years ago. I carried the idea with me for a few years before finally deciding to write it in the form of a short story four years ago. Since then, it’s been a somewhat slow process of allowing this play to say something “Real.”
It began with a story of an otter named Smitty and a whole lot of semantics that I imagine only a few people (like myself) would actually enjoy reading or seeing performed. Ultimately, I decided that I wanted it to be accessible to an audience and to say something real about the institutionalization of identity–even if it meant dispensing with some of the stylized conventions of absurdist theatre and blurring the line between real and surreal. I really had to fight my own stubbornness on this. I knew the issue of identity was central… I just wasn’t sure how much I was willing to give or how earnest I was willing to let it be.
Have you been collaborating with any other artists to create this show? Who are they are how are they contributing?
I am fortunate to have four veterans of The Naked I series–Courtney Stirn, Beth Mikel Ellsworth, Graeme Monahan-Rial, and Logan Gilbert-Guy–who will bring these roles to life on stage. I am also collaborating with up & coming director Bri Collins.
Why do you feel it is important to share this story/the story(ies) of your performance with the community?
I don’t know that it is, to be honest. I hope that it is. Working on this story for the past four years has really helped me break down some useless and problematic walls that I’d built around myself and allowed others to build around me. I’d like to think that it holds the potential to do that for others. If nothing else, I hope that it is something people enjoy.
What aspects of your queer identity do you hope to express through your Q-STAGE piece?
I have always felt at odds with the act of declaring the “authentic self”–not that such a thing does not exist, but that the act of declaring it is almost intrinsically contrary to its authenticity.
The idea of identifying one’s authentic self implies that this self is concrete and well-defined–something we can stand aside and observe, admire, and criticize. The self is to be lived and it occurs to me that maybe third-party perspective isn’t all that important. Maybe knowing yourself is less like staring at a portrait of your own image and more like the sensory act of feeling your way along the rocky bottom of the ocean in which you live, looking for that next tasty mollusc you need to sustain you.
Talk about your background as an artist. What sort of artistic experience are you bringing to this production? Have you been involved with 20% Theatre in the past and, if so, in what ways?
I’ll confess that I’m not entirely comfortable calling myself an artist out of context. However, I have stage managed a number of productions with 20% Theatre. For the record, I’m not comfortable calling myself a stage manager, either. It’s just something I’ll do for you if you ask me nicely and I think you’re neat.
What social issues are important to you and how do they inform the art you create?
I feel a protective pull toward vulnerable individuals– or those I perceive to be so. Now more than ever, I find myself fearing for the safety, health, and fair treatment of the most vulnerable among us, for right now it is the most vulnerable who are the most under attack–
Those seeking asylum after giving up everything to escape violence and terror. Those living with few rights and little hope of protection as undocumented workers.
Those living with developmental and cognitive disabilities, whose very lives depend on the humanity of the more advantaged and who are at the mercy of those in power to recognize and value them as people without weighing the cost of their needs against their ability to contribute.
The elderly and disabled who depend on government-funded programs.
The children and animals who have no control over the destruction of their planet and its resources.
In many ways, my protagonist, Smitty, embodies this vulnerability. He is the perceived Other. He is at the mercy of an institution with unjustified power over his fate. He is an individual, and that in and of itself is a vulnerability. There is the depressing sense that even if he does clearly call-out the flaws, the hypocrisy, and the injustice around him, it will make little difference, because the institution will always prevail over the individual. It’s a frustration that seemed very personal and applicable to certain marginalized groups when I first began this story years ago. I believe it has lately become relatable to a much broader cross-section of humanity.
What other artists or performances have inspired you over the years?
Actually, the first performance art I really loved was opera. I used to listen to opera records while I played, teach myself to play my favorite arias on the piano, and fall asleep listening to Verdi every night. Whenever the local college put on an opera, my dad would read me the story (in English) and then take me to see it.
I didn’t see many plays–outside of the occasional school field trip–until college. So the bulk of my exposure to theatre came from reading plays.
One of my earliest loves was Tennessee Williams. He had a way of making the ugly parts of reality beautiful, which really gave hope and vital perspective to a deeply depressed teenager. He made crass and pedestrian language lyrical. His characters taught me not just to accept imperfection in people, but to desire it.
Eugene Ionesco was another inspiration and perhaps one of the most influential. I began reading his plays during lunch in high school, just to escape reality during my least favorite time of day. The first play I directed in college was Ionesco’s A Frenzy for Two. It feels strange to say it, but the existence of work like his has been something of a life preserver.
Since coming to the Twin Cities, more than twelve years ago, I’ve seen some truly astonishing theatre. I’ve worked for large, medium, and small companies, and some of the most memorable, powerful, and visually and conceptually stunning work has come from small, nomadic theatre companies working with limited and borrowed resources.
This will to create and to reach people despite the difficulty of doing it is an inspiration–not just for creating art against the odds, but for living life against even greater odds.
I’m inspired by designers who use their talent to help others realize their visions on stage.
I’m inspired by actors who come to rehearsals bone tired with all the problems of daily life on their minds, who then put those concerns aside and delve into the physical and mental work of bringing concepts and characters to life. I’m inspired by their willingness to make themselves vulnerable in every space and then put themselves and that vulnerability on stage.
Are you working on any other projects or are there others you hope to work on?
I’m actually engaged in a couple of different projects right now in which I’m helping other people tell their stories. It’s my favorite way to connect with people, learn about life beyond my own experience, and find inspiration.
Personally, I have multiple projects at varying stages of completion. I probably always will. I may one day write a show called Multiple Projects at Varying Stages of Completion.