15 Anniversary Artist Interviews: Area Woman

How can movement unlock community?

This was a key question explored at the 2018 Capital Fringe Festival in Holon!  The three artists in Area Woman – Claire Alrich, Sarah Greenbaum, and Sadie Leigh –  articulated the concept behind the piece in an email jointly crafted by the members of the collective.

“‘Holon’” is a word,” they write, “that describes something that is its own entity, but also an essential part of a larger whole.’

Holon! was Area Woman’s first production. The collective writes that “we developed the work with the intention that we would produce it through the Capital Fringe Festival. Each of us had previously been involved with the festival (as a venue manager, or working in the box office or performing with other companies). And each of us had enjoyed previous festivals as audience members.”

They were also attracted by the traditional benefits that Fringe offers new artists. “We were interested in the cohesive framework provided by producing through Fringe,” they write, “including securing space, managing box office and the front of house, and promotion. The visibility we gained through Fringe was huge. We got written up by The Washington Post, and there’s no way we would have been on their radar outside of Fringe.”

Holon! was rooted in a movement vocabulary devised by Alrich, Greenbaum, and Lee. It also featured original music composed by Meg Lowey for harmonium and looping pedal. “Holon! was a way for the three of us to become a cohesive unit,” they write. “But perhaps more importantly, the production brought us together with a room full of people to share in the experience we created – all of us individuals, but also an essential part of something bigger.”

Artistic collaborators were part of that sharing – but one of the keys to Holon!’s success was pulling the audience directly into the show. “A goal we had from the beginning,” they write, “was to ‘cast the audience,’ (to borrow a phrase from the British theatre company Punchdrunk.) We knew, more or less, what role the audience would play in the work, and we knew who we were, and we made a show around that.”

Area Woman underscores how important it was that “in performance, we relied on the hands and voices of our audiences to complete the work. Creating Holon! allowed us the space to say ‘yes’ to each other a lot. And, luckily, that energy carried into performances, as we asked audiences to say ‘yes’ to us, too.

Saying ‘yes” as an audience required taking some risks. “Going in,” they observe, “there was certainly some feeling of ‘Can we pull this off?’ The setup [of Holon!] was ambitious and the show depended on the audience’s willingness to play along.”

The challenges seeped down even into the process of building Holon! “There were aspects of the show that were not possible to rehearse without an audience,” the collective writes, “so the first show had that wonderful element of leaping into the unknown. But it was amazing to feel ourselves grow as an ensemble over the run and to feel the audience responding in realtime. In the dance world you often only get to perform a piece two or three times, so being able to let the show grow and come into its own over time felt like a real gift.”

Area Woman say the foundational ethos of Capital Fringe also played a role in their success. “We knew [Fringe] as a place that embraced experimentation, a place where we could present something that didn’t adhere to strict artistic categories. It is a place where the audience is looking for unique experiences and would be willing to get in it with us. Holon! was a “dance” show, but we sang, spoke, fell into the arms of the audience, gave them things to hold. Fringe gave us room to do all that in the work, and connected us to audiences that were not just willing – but excited – to be a part of it.”

The trajectory of the collective has also received a boost from the experience. “Since producing Holon! through the festival,” they write, “we’ve continued to feel connected to and supported by Fringe. Our experience producing through Fringe taught us so much, and gave us important knowledge, confidence, and name recognition to self-produce our second work, Ephemeral Fatale, in 2019.”

Area Woman says that they have “spent the last several months going back to play-as-research in the studio. We don’t know what our next work will look like (or when or where we’ll be able to perform again), but we will certainly hold the experimental ethos of Fringe close as our practice evolves.”

–  Richard Byrne