Lucky Plush Productions is an ensemble dance-theatre company based in Chicago, led by founder and artistic director Julia Rhoads. The company’s work is recognized for its nuanced dialogue, layered choreography, surprising humor, relatable storytelling, and for provoking a palpable live-ness that is shared in real time among performers and audiences. The company has presented work in thirty-eight US cities, from Maine to Hawaii, and its international partners span from New Zealand to Cuba. Commissioners include the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Krannert Center at the University of Illinois, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, and Links Hall. (See figure 1 and Lucky Plush’s website at http://luckyplush.com/.)
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Lucky Plush’s approach to devising hinges on our collaborative commitment to generating authentic experiences through action and impulse. We use rehearsal methods that help the ensemble disrupt habits and inhabit the work from a place of responding, as opposed to performing. We find that when a show settles into overly familiar territory it becomes flat. This training process translates powerfully into the completed work. Although rigorously composed, much of our work feels like it is generated spontaneously because we create space for real-time reactions to the crafted circumstances.
For fifteen years I have worked with my collaborators to seek new vocabularies and logics within a uniquely hybrid dance-theatre form that maintains the integrity of the disciplinary traditions we draw from. Dialogue isn’t used to convey the literal, and dance does not illustrate dramatic scenarios. Consistently, we find that audiences respond to the unexpected lucidity of these collisions and our ensemble’s ability to balance nuanced dialogue, technical choreography, and off-the-cuff improvisation.
All aesthetic decisions are in service to storytelling and creating anchors for the audience to understand content. We find a productive tension in overlapping and intersecting forms when it serves the dramatic or rhythmic arc, as opposed to being an experiment for the sake of itself. Designers are engaged throughout the devising process and contribute heavily to the aesthetic decision-making. As a result, design participates in narrative, provokes action, and establishes a visual, sonic, and dramatic world that is embedded into the show’s DNA.
With an interest to shed presentational aesthetics and foreground individual performers, I draw from the unique skills and experiences of ensemble members to connect them to the fictional circumstances of the work. This fosters ownership and ease in the material and increased audience investment in the characters onstage. The ensemble’s ability to translate raw experiences into productive material requires vulnerability, risk, and a range of skill sets that they have in spades. We seek it in our company, we train for it, and we foster it.
The audience plays a crucial role in Lucky Plush’s work, and we want to be generous with them by delivering content that is both thought-provoking and relatable. We also strive to make work that is easily humorous and beautifully human—where performers leak emotion and come up against their own limitations, and where audiences can build expectations and laugh when the unexpected is delivered. (See figure 2 and the Chicago Sun-Times’s review of SuperStrip at http://chicago.suntimes.com/entertainment/dance-meets-satire-in-lucky-plushs-superstrip/.)
The initial impulses for my work are generally triggered in two ways: some arise from personal and cultural contexts, and others begin with a text that provides the framework from which to depart. An example of the first is Trip the Light Fantastic: The Making of SuperStrip (2016) in which a band of washed-up superheroes attempt to reinvent themselves in a nonprofit think tank for do-gooders. SuperStrip draws from my experience leading a nonprofit and the tragicomic circularity of organizational efforts in order to simply “do good.”
Departing from an existing text was the impulse for two of my collaborative works with Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, The Better Half (2011) and Rooming House...