From the deep archives: Kate Valk and BRACE UP!

June 18, 2017

I have no idea what to expect from A PINK CHAIR (IN PLACE OF A FAKE ANTIQUE),  the new piece that the Wooster Group is developing in honor of Polish theatermaker Tadeusz Kantor, but I’m eagerly anticipating getting a peek at it when it has its world premiere at Bard College’s SummerScape festival next month. Meanwhile, I find myself rooting around in my various writings about the Wooster Group over the years, much of which I’ve already posted in my online archive. But then there’s this brief interview with Kate Valk that I did in 1991 when I was writing a column for the Village Voice called Playing Around. The Wooster Group was in the midst of developing Brace Up!, its layered adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Brace Up! was a star turn for Kate Valk, who served as master of ceremonies, androgynously attired in a chopped-off black “Japanese” wig and a man’s suit (Dafoe’s costume from Route 1&9, actually).

Her role corresponds to that of the maid in Chekhov’s play, she said when I interviewed her at the Garage one afternoon during wartime, which in turn refers to her own history with the Wooster Group. “I started off doing costumes, then props, then stage managing. Now that’s my role onstage.” But her performance is also based on two Japanese forms of presentational acting: the clowns in kyogen (the comic interludes in Noh theater) and the benshi (performers who narrated silent films and sometimes became more popular than the films’ stars). Japan became a fixation after Valk and director Elizabeth LeCompte stopped in Tokyo on their way back from a Wooster Group tour of Australia; the group spent a year studying Japanese movies (anything starring Toshiro Mifune) and tapes of Noh and kyogen. They used that research to create a mask through which to perform Three Sisters.

Going back and re-reading the column now, I’m struck by two things: I refer to the interview taking place “during wartime.” This was during the presidency of Bush Senior and the short-lived skirmish we now refer to as the Gulf War, a big deal at the time that now feels like a faint footnote compared to everything that has happened since then. Later in the column, talking about theater auteur Richard Foreman, I report that he is planning to collaborate with William Finn (of Falsettos fame) on a musical called Eating Yourself Alive. The musical never happened, perhaps needless to say, and I had forgotten all about its fleeting existence until this very minute.

You can read the whole column online here.

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