Home from Humana

Barney O'Hanlon's picture

Hi all,

Well the last time I blogged was back in our studio, sketching choreographic ideas for Steel Hammer, our collaboration with composer Julia Wolfe and the Bang on a Can All Stars. Now as I write you, I’ve been home for a week, the show was made, performed and our bodies are still recovering. It was definitely an endurance challenge for both performer and audience alike. I’m deeply proud of what we made and so look forward to the next phase when we get to actually put what we made in Louisville together with the band to be performed live. In Louisville we worked with a recording of Julia’s music which was enormously helpful for us, but I think a challenge for an audience. If the band were there playing live, it would have give the audience a little more to hold on to…I think…

Steel Hammer was the eighth Humana Festival that I have peformed/created and my eleventh show at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville overall. SITI Company and ATL have a long, rich history. Every stage at ATL has seen mutliple SITI shows. It was very moving to be back but it also made me feel my age and I was acutely aware of the passage of time and my body’s ability/inability to fulfill what needed. The last time we were in Louisville was for Chuck Mee’s Under Construction and that was five years ago. Nobody could believe that five years had passed since we were last there, least of all myself. But we were in our beloved Victory Jory Theater, the VJ, as we have been so many times in years passed. It is our home, our laboratory, our theater, my theater frankly. My first Humana Festival was in 1993 when I was 26 years old. A devised piece called Deadly Virtues, this was 2 years before I joined SITI Company. The following year I came back to do Tina Landau’s 1969: or Howie Takes a Trip, an amazing experience and a show I’m so proud of. All of this was pre-SITI for me and both shows were in the VJ. And then the ensuing years would see many SITI Company productions both for Humana and in the regular season.

In short, Louisville has been one of our most important artisic homes. ATL has supported, encouraged, and helped us stay together, flourish, and be alive in the American Theater. We have worked with 3 amazing artistic leaders: Jon Jory, Marc Masterson and now Les Waters. Pretty heady companionship, and those three men have been and continue to be so supportive and real champions of our work.

And we made Steel Hammer, based on the folk myth of John Henry. I didn’t know how we’d do it and frankly thought it was impossible based on the time frame, but we did. We had two spectacular guest artists with us: Eric Berryman and Patrice Johnson. Phenomenal artists and gorgeous collaborators. What we made was very hard, but very palpable. It was deeply movement driven but was also about duration. Julia’s songs in Steel Hammer are quite long, so we would have to do a physical task for 10 minutes or more again and again. We did it, but it was tough because our schedule in the VJ was 8 shows a week. Those 5 show weekends were killer. This show shouldn’t be done twice in a day. I put it on par, but for differents reasons, with A Rite, our collaboration with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Where A Rite was perhaps a short track sprint, Steel Hammer was long track and an endurance run.

But now we are back and hit the ground running with our Conservatory and the making of their final project. I’d love to be able to put my feet up for a while, but there’s work to do!

Barn