Talking “HotBox” with Brian Rogers and Madeline Best
Conceived, Directed and Performed by Chocolate Factory Artistic Director Brian Rogers’ Hot Box, created in collaboration with Madeline Best, will be a companion piece to his 2010 Bessie-nominated Selective Memory. While Selective Memory was a spare, bright, meditative solo performance by Best (with Rogers working on his laptop to the side of the stage), Hot Box will be a sweaty, dark, and chaotic duet for the two artists. Inspired by films like Apocalypse Now and Fitzcarraldo, Hot Box will create a mediated live performance situation that attempts to “compose a sequence of video images that are quiet, sustained, focused, and organized – but somehow coated with an intense emotional residue.” The show opens on Thursday, runs 9/13-15 & 17-22 and is a co-presentation of The Chocolate Factory and FIAF’s Crossing the Line Festival. I spoke with them last Thursday.
So, I was able to see Selective Memory in-progress a couple times before seeing the completed production – once during the Prelude Festival at the CUNY Grad Center and once at a showing at The Chocolate Factory. During the showings, I was more interested in trying to figure out some of the technical components, but the full production was so beautifully seductive. I was captivated by Madeline and felt a little like I had fallen in love with her after sitting there staring at her for almost an hour. I feel like I don’t know anything about this one except what’s written in your description. When you say it’s a companion piece, do you mean in that it is clearly oppositional to Selective Memory or because it draws on the same cinematic vocabulary (pans, zooms, cuts, etc)?
Brian: Because we use the same tools and vocabulary, really. The way video is used is an extension of what we did in the last piece. There are cameras that move and a certain kind of similar compositional palette. The tone is completely different. I am in it which I’ve never done before. And, also, yeah, because it is kind of oppositional with the last piece being so controlled and chaotic and this one being, frankly, a much less controlled situation.
Madeline: It’s not so minutely micromanaged as the last piece. We’re really having to scramble. I mean technically and physically.
Brian: I hadn’t envisioned premiering it at this point in time. When FIAF asked, I thought it’d be great if the work wasn’t finished. It should feel like we’re barely crossing the finish line.
I was thinking about that when reading how you are working for a chaotic environment. I felt as if I should make a stronger effort to see it in it early in order to get the true panic. I’m scheduled to see it later in the run and by then you’ll have learned so much.
Brian: Yeah, but we’ll also be so exhausted! It’s one long endurance race, that started about a week ago. It’s very physical.
Madeline: It’s the combination of something that is very physical and a highly complicated system. Combining the physical with the technical mind is quite a challenge – to be in both the creating and doing at the same time. The way the cameras move is a pre-set track. So, the machine is moving and we’re having to keep up with it and, at this point, we’re still actually making the machine while also having to keep up with it.
Brian: We have to keep track of where the cameras are, how fast they’re moving, and also where the bodies are in relation to those cameras. It’s like a pre-made movie, but faster.
Do you mean the pacing of the entire work is faster or are you physically working faster inside the system?
Brian: I mean it in the way we’re reorienting time. The rhythm is built fast. This piece still unfolds through repetition that hopefully slows time down; but, instead of doing it in a quite controlled minimal way there are a lot more cuts and it gets bright and loud. The length of each shot is generally much shorter, but the effect isn’t fast. It’s a template of fast that feels slow.
Madeline: It’s a rush for us. It feels exhilarating. We exercise for 20 seconds and then run to a camera position, so we’re really active, but from the outside it can still feel slow. It’s thrilling. Where the last one felt like I was floating, this one feels more OFF/ON! and OFF/ON!
I love Apocalypse Now. It was a favorite late-nite “go-to” me, but I don’t know Fitzcarraldo. What was it about these films that inspired you?
B: Oh! You’ve got to see Fitzcarraldo. They’re really different movies. They’re not really related in tone. Both of them are full of beautiful composition. They both have great creation backstories with breakdowns and crazy things happening on the set. Visually, they offer different palettes and I think we’ve entered into a more Apocalypse Now space with this one.
M: Yeah, we’re in a visually dark place.
B: I just love those films. It’s 2 things. One is the cinematic vocabulary that those films use. I am drawn to that visually. And, then, I’m interested in all of these thoughts about ‘authenticity.’ There was this notion in film that if you wanted to make a film about going crazy in the jungle you had to go to the jungle and go crazy. It’s not about artifice. So, I’m really responding to the joke of that by having to do it. It’s about wanting to do something where the performance of that created a fake authenticity. I am not a performer, Madeline is. But, we weren’t approaching it as performers. We’re subjects for the camera. And, I had to have subjects who could understand what was materially needed. The fact that I was performing was secondary to how I was technically creating the images. The fact that I was the subject was secondary.
M: It’s more like stage managing a really complicated show. I’m not thinking performatively.
B: Yeah, I wasn’t thinking about performing. I just made sure my back wouldn’t hurt and stepped in. Knowing that we wanted to work with those technical tools and that the material we’re looking at was very masculine, but not wanting to have to cast performers, I ended up in it. Where I work and where my head is at – I am not a performer and not have any kind of virtuosic skill set to achieve that – I had to set up circumstances in order to be present. And to focus. Hopefully, I’m not brining any other performative skills to it.
B: That’s part of the big reason for it. The exercise and the drinking takes me out of my own head and being conscious of how I look. It’s hard to see yourself in the camera and not do things.
M: It feels more like a band, than other kinds of performing. We’re physically present, but that’s just enabling the rest of the show to move forward. It happens to be physical and like a sonic presence. The drinking feeds into that – musicians drink to loosen up.
B: There’s this great story about the making of the opening scene from Apocalypse Now. The one in the hospital where Martin Sheen was truly drunk from 4 bottles of wine and smashes a mirror with his fists and has an actual breakdown. So, I did some tests like that. I drank 4 bottles of wine and I didn’t go to that place. In fact, I did it twice. I’m just a wobbly version of myself. I don’t expose my psyche. So, I have created these conditions in competing ways to effect a kind of authenticity without having to perform it
So, you’re talking about creating effort and tasks to achieve a true physical state, right. Have you found though that working your body into that physical place does bring you to an altered emotional place?
B: Well, we haven’t been running the piece yet. We’re doing all of these preparation things though. Working out every day. We’ll find out over the weekend [last weekend] when we try to run it. I think it’s going to be an accumulation. At the end of the run, I expect I’ll be completely unaware of my surroundings. The environment is fairly disorienting. We’re making it pitch black in the basement. It’s full of haze and the audience are separated into smaller groups. It’s difficult making the thing down there, I get lost.
M: It’s not a breeze. It’s very exhausting. Is it going to feel transformative? We’ve been doing an hour and half of serious cardio exercises. And, that just chemically changes your body anyway. It’s exhausting your body. I’ll look on Pinterest and pick up all of the horrible “7 exercises for your bikini body” type shit off the internet. And then, decide that I’m going to do this routine. I’ll do a combination of 3 different workouts. It’s about getting the body into a physically exhausted place.
B: Yeah, there was a period with playing with being sweaty and spraying ourselves and then, we realized that we just have to really do this in order to get that sense of authentic fatigue and sweat. Now, we own sauna suits.