One-weekend ‘Wax Wings’

Exploring the creativity of constraint

By Dagney C. Ernest | Sep 27, 2017
Photo by: Kathryn Oliver Shana Bloomstein, Hanna De Hoff and Kristi Williamson perform in “Wax Wings” at the Camden Opera House.

Camden — Daedalus famously created, and flew with, wings of feathers and wax. We all know they melted when his son flew too close to the sun, but many forget what their wearers were flying away from. Local multi-disciplinary artists Kathryn Oliver and Kristi Williamson explore all sides of this myth and others in “Wax Wings” at the Camden Opera House.

The multimedia show featuring dance, music, poetry, theater and projection, moving and still, will be presented three times only: Friday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m.; and Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, at 3 p.m. All performances will be followed by an art show and brief artists’ remarks in the Tucker Room; and there will be a wine and refreshments reception opening night, as well.

The co-artistic directors are known for their Terra Diddle Theatre productions between 2009 and 2012, children’s workshop-created outdoor events that included large-scale puppets and more.

“Kristi and I met in 2008, discovered we have these different qualities and that we wanted to collaborate,” said Oliver in her Camden home a week before production. “I would bring forth the stories and ideas, and she would bring forth the choreography; I would hold the visuals and she would bring forward some of the direction, choreography and music.”

Their work was embraced by the community, and they were approached by the Farnsworth Art Museum to present Terra Diddle’s “Earth Maiden” to the Rockland museum’s annual Lincoln Center Institute’s International Educator Workshops. The summer timing nixed that idea — “We said there’s no way we can get kids together in the summer, it’s impossible!” — so they created a new piece, “LEAP!,” that was presented at the Strand Theatre.

“That was inspired by a lot of the poetry that we both loved and had projected images. Shana [Bloomstein] was also in that, and Annie Laurita and musicians,” said Oliver.

“LEAP!” was five years ago. Then Camden native Williamson went to California to study with Anna Halprin at the Tamalpa Institute. She also became involved with Tamalpa’s arts therapy initiative with Blossomy, which sends her to India every year to work with those vulnerable to/rescued from human trafficking. Oliver, meanwhile, set aside her paintbrush to explore photography and film. She presented her photos at last year’s final Midcoast PechaKucha Night, “after 2016’s boiling up and all the cultural tensions … it was that Friday night after the election.” The following Tuesday was a full moon.

“That morning, I woke up and I started painting and I couldn’t stop, it was like this well[spring] just started coming up,” Oliver said. “I was painting 10 hours a day and it went on for months; I have 64 paintings from that period!”

Williamson was out of the country, studying dance in Brazil. In February, she called Oliver and asked if she’d be interested in collaborating on another creative project. Oliver said she had no idea what it might be … and said “yes.” In thinking about what was speaking to her and might be worth exploring in a theater work, she kept circling back to Daedalus, the master artisan of ancient Crete.

“This idea of building wings out of wax and feathers that have constraints: if you fly too high, they’re going to melt; and if you fly too low, they’re going to be full of water. What can I put in a play to make a story that has to do with constraints and possibilities,” she wondered.

She likened these contrasting poles to what was happening around her — “Everything seemed to be radicalizing on the top level of things; culture, politics, opinions, everything was just, like, going to either side, to naïve optimism or radical, bitter despair” — and, as she often does in winter, she read, a lot. She started collecting lines and passages that spoke to the project that has emerged as “Wax Wings.”

“This play, I can’t say I wrote it, because what I’m doing is taking literary references and poetry and stringing them together to tell a story,” she said.

Two myths anchor the show, which likely will run a bit over an hour. One, “Fox Woman Dreaming,” is by author Martin Shaw, “a contemporary storyteller who’s really amazing, bringing forth some really, really rich stuff right now,” said Oliver. The other is a story called “Serpent Brother,” based on the traditional Norwegian tale of The Lindworm.

“Fox Woman Dreaming” incorporates photography projections; some of the images are by Oliver’s partner, Ralph Hassenpflug, who narrates both featured myths.

“Kristi and I have done a lot of work that tends to be very female-tipped and I really didn’t want this to be that way,” said Oliver. “I wanted it to have a more well-rounded aspect.”

“Serpent Brother” features animation created from paintings, “and then it goes into a dance and then it goes into a song, so you get a little bit of everything in that,” said Oliver.

“And then we have all these wonderful people! August Strindberg, Rumi, James Joyce; we have a Huichol prayer, Clarice Lispector, Stanley Kunitz, a poet, Jim Morrison, the poet Gary Snyder, the poet Lorca, Ovid, Anne Carson, Robert Bly, Mary Oliver and Hafiz,” she said.

The performing cast features some wonderful people too, well known for their work in Midcoast performances. In addition to singer and dancer Williamson, “Wax Wings” features dancers/choreographers Shana Bloomstein of Freedom and Hanna DeHoff of Rockland; actor David Troup of Rockland; and Waldo County musicians Molly Gawler and Elsie Gawler.

“We’re using recorded music and live music: we’ve got the Gawler sisters, and Kristi is a phenomenal singer,” said Oliver. “There’s one piece where everybody sings, so we have our Greek chorus homage there. It’s going to be bouncing back and forth.”

Costumes and masks are integral to the production; Oliver constructs the former, while Robin Anne Beattie Horty and Kristen Eckmann are doing costume design and construction.

“I started working with Robin the same year Kristi and I started working together, and Kristen was in one of the first shows,” said Oliver.

Indeed, Oliver, Horty and Eckmann’s collaboration goes back farther, to when Oliver’s son was at the Ashwood Waldorf School and she answered the call for someone “to spruce up” the May Faire.

“I was, OK, I can do that. And it was so fun! Felting dragons and making big cut things and then Robin joined me and Kristen also; her daughter was in one of our first shows, she was maybe 3 and had a line and was amazing, and now she’s at the high school,” said Oliver.

While there is nothing overtly inappropriate, “Wax Wings” is not theater for children. It’s geared to adult concerns and explores some of the dark or shadow sides of myth. That being said, there is humor, too. Oliver said she particularly likes the role DeHoff plays, which rises out of the spirit of Molly Bloom in Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

“She’s the female ‘yes’ to the world; David [DeHoff’s husband] plays a farmer and also this kind of mystical poet guy who opens the show,” Oliver said.

Mystery is at the heart of the shadow archetype, Jung’s “idea that for everything we see, there’s things we can’t see.” Daedalus is famous for more than creating the famous wings that offered both freedom and destruction. He also created the Labyrinth, “the impossible maze there’s no way out of,” said Oliver, to imprison the Minotaur, “the devouring monster that can never be satiated.” Eventually, Daedalus and his son, Icarus, are imprisoned there themselves.

“There’s no way out but to fly, but the wings have constraints, which is what this keeps circling back to,” said Oliver.

The Minotaur is something “we all have the potential of,” she said, the shadow side of ourselves, “the thing that just drives and eats and eats and eats and is never satisfied.”

“And the Labrynth is the maze we create, our oceans full of plastic, our unclean water,” she said. “We could have managed it better, but we didn’t, so what do you do with that? I don’t have an answer, but I think to understand that that’s an eternal problem is somehow helpful.”

Joyce’s “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” — which, like “Ulysses,” features an alter ego named Stephen Dedalus — also helps inspire the production. Oliver quoted the book’s last line: “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

“The idea is that this is the eternal problem — everything corrupts — and something new has to come and renew it,” she said.

The “Wax Wings” mix of literary references, movement, sight and sound aims not to tell a linear tale, but to evoke the sense of a dream state, where the unconscious draws from all sources to weave an experience where “Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable,” to quote, as does the show’s intro, from Strindberg’s “A Dream Play.” Oliver said that ultimately, she, Williamson and the company are presenting, “not trying to impose it,” the audience with a question.

“What is your relationship with your imagined possibilities and the constraints they inevitably bring? The world is imperfect, is unjust, we’re going to get hit with stuff all the time,” she said. “So what do we do with it?”

A newly launched Kickstarter campaign aims to raise $10,000 to cover the “Wax Wings” expenses; enable it to tour Maine in the spring; and help rework the show into a portable version that can be produced in California, with dancers Williamson knows there. The campaign, which will be introduced during the artists’ talk, also is linked to the production’s dedicated website,

“This is such a labor of love, we don’t want it to end here,” said Oliver, who believes the usefulness of myth is unrecognized, and therefore absent, from much of contemporary culture.

“I can’t help but feel that if we could have some stories to work with, maybe we could maybe handle some of the challenges better, with more grace and reflection,” she said.

Tickets for the one-weekend-only “Wax Wings” performances are $20, available in advance at Zoot Coffee in Camden, Bella Books in Belfast and the Grasshopper Shop in Rockland. They also will be available at the door before shows. Note that because “Wax Wings” uses the opera house’s upstage projection screen, some of the side aisle seating will be roped off.

“People should come early so they get optimum seats, it’s such a visual show,” said Oliver.

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Staff Profile

Dagney C. Ernest
A&E editor for Courier Publications, LLC
(207) 594-4401/4407, ext. 115
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Dagney has been providing Courier coverage of the local arts scene since 1985 and has helmed the multi-paper A&E section since it debuted in 2003. She has been a local performing artist, community and professional for more than 30 years; and spent a decade writing, producing and announcing on-air for several Midcoast radio stations. When not in the NewsNest, Dagney likes to be in motion.

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