In Dialogue with director and creator Clara Wiest
The theater work Exploration Of The Everchanging is an experimental interactive theater piece exploring the relationship and dynamic between audience and performer. Clara Wiest created it in 2018 and has directed it in four iterations performed in NY and Denver Fringe two years in a row. Their fourth iteration took place at FiveMyles Gallery in Crown Heights, where it has been adjusted to the gallery space and visitors. Clara Wiest says this work was created out of their love for collaborative processes and their mission to bring humanity back into the rehearsal room and on stage.
Tell me a bit about how you got to theater.
I grew up in Switzerland going to circus school for 12 years, so I fell in love with the performance arts very early on. I knew I wanted a life in the arts. When I was 12 years old, we moved to China with my family, I had to change my passions around a little bit because of the circumstances. So I randomly tried out for the Theater Club in school in Beijing. I thought I wanted to become an actor, so then after High School in Hong Kong, I started my university career at The New School in NYC after auditioning as an actor. In my second year there, I was introduced to directing and immediately knew this is what I wanted to do.
At that point, I still had no idea what kind of theater I wanted to create. I spent the rest of my school career learning how to direct while always feeling like there was something missing in the process for me. I knew I wanted to create a different rehearsal space for creatives than I had previously been in. I was longing to create a space where the whole team felt engaged in their curiosity and seen as creative humans – a collaborative, inquiring rehearsal space.
What is the idea behind Exploration Of The Everchanging.
Exploration Of The Everchanging established itself in the course of my thesis work at The New School. A big question for me in the beginning was understanding and dissecting the questions “What is left of theater when we take away theatricality?”. And turns out, what’s left is the connection between audience and performer on stage. My search for presence, connection, authenticity and vulnerability between audience and performer – between humans at the end of the day – is a driving force for our investigative rehearsal approach.
Our rehearsal process is filled with questions and we try to find answers through explorations, discussions, readings, findings. Questions such as – “What happens if you go to watch something but in turn you are being watched?”, “How can we transform an inactive observer into an active participant?” – have shaped this work from the beginning of its creation.
What would I see and possibly experience if I were a visitor?
As an audience member in our show, expect to be challenged in your own preconceived ideas of how to experience theater. Visitors come prepared in their own ways. They follow unspoken rules that govern a theater experience. In our show, we aim to divert those expectations and explore different ways we can experience live performance. At the core in our show is the audience. Our work is carefully crafted to create a conscious, experiential experience for our viewers, to go within themselves, reflect on their behavior, their feelings, their way to interact with the work and the others around them.
Our work is mostly non-verbal, we want to communicate with the audience beyond the confines of words. We have found with our work that if we do use words, they have a specific purpose but are not the main means of communication – our bodies, senses, reactions, behaviors and intentions are.
What would you like to share about the collaborative process?
I created this work with a longing for a fruitful, introspective, intentional rehearsal process. Exploration Of The Everchanging starts in the rehearsal room. The way we interact with the work, with each other, with ideas, with explorations, with questions reflects our work on stage. I believe that the energy we have in the rehearsal process is what the energy will be on stage, and therefore what our energy will be with the audience.
We are always respectful, intentional, listening, observing ourselves and the space around us. Every person in the rehearsal room affects the work simply by being present. And in our process, we honor that. We play, we try everything at least once. Collaborating means putting our own egos aside and putting the work first, the intention first, always keeping our investigative nature – even on stage and during each show.
How do you see the relationship between theatrical work and performance art?
Theatrical Work and Performance Art become more and more intertwined for me. The more EOTE grows, the more I realize we are investigating performance art within the framework of theater. Our roots, our ideas come from a theater background, with a curiosity for live performance art. They are inseparable for us. Since our center piece is the audience, there is a level of improvisation and presence and listening that is needed from the performers, as well as the ever-changing nature of the work. If the audience is different every night, the show is different every night. I wanted to create a piece of work that is malleable, that can shift and change and be present with every audience, with every place, with every circumstance of the work – from iteration to iteration everchanging.
Clara Wiest is a NY based stage director, movement director, acrobat, dancer and performer who is focused on the human expression through the connection with the body and the mind.