There’s an exciting new theatre group in town – The Hinterlands – a physical theatre company. Their intriguing new show, ‘Manifest Destiny! (there was blood on the saddle)’ opens next week at the Jam Handy Building, 2900 East Grand Blvd., Detroit, MI 48202.
Since none of the troupe members were originally from around here, we were intrigued to learn more about them and what drew them to the rich Detroit theatre community.
What follows is the first of a two-part interview with Liza Bielby, who serves as Hinterlands Co-Artistic Director with Richard Newman.
E. What is it about Detroit and the theatre community that brought Hinterlands here? How does it compare to the other places / experiences?
H. When we initially established the company, we were looking for a mid-sized American city that was not over-saturated with physical theatre and that had affordable spaces, the possibility for interesting collaborators, and a good community of fellow ‘makers.’ Detroit was always at the top of the list, and we haven’t regretted our move here for a second. We’ve found an incredible rich history here to build off of, both in the theatre community and in music, poetry, visual art; we’ve met tenacious and exciting artists and activists, both in our daily lives and as we go about our work. There are definitely challenges to the city, but there’s a lot to learn through living here that we’ve appreciated getting to explore.
E. Any story behind the selection of your name, “Hinterlands”?
H. Our name, The Hinterlands, refers to the unknown land at the border of civilization. Our work – process and product – centers around propelling ourselves and our audiences into experiences of the unknown, the surreal, the subconscious, that which can’t be articulated through words. The name is a good reminder to ourselves of our mission.
E. What is your experience to date in Detroit?
H. Detroit’s been exciting. We’ve been here since December and keep running into unexpected events. One of the greatest nights we had was going to a robot car smash-up in the parking lot of Bozek’s Market in Hamtramck for an opening at Public Pool. There were barricades set up between the audience and the arena that the giant robot cars would ram full-force into, and one of them was shooting flames in the air. It was a great time.
E. Have you had a chance to attend other theatres/companies in this area? Impressions?
H. We have gotten to attend a couple of performances – Plowshares Theater, Abreact, Magenta Giraffe, and the performance laboratory at the CAID have been some of the work we’ve gotten to see. Impressions are that they’re pretty ingenuitive – and scrappy! We’ve also spent a lot of time going to performances and exhibits in other disciplines. The notion that Detroit is a hardworking city is definitely reflected in the art world. And folks have been really nice about welcoming us.
E. How would you describe physical theatre as it applies to the Hinterlands? Where do you rate yourselves on a scale ranging from Marcel Marceau to The Three Stooges? Or give us your own preferred scale… Commedia del Arte to Harpo Marx?
H. The background of our company is eclectic – both Richard and I spent time studying commedia del’arte and mask; Richard was an ensemble member for five years with Double Edge, a company that works in the Grotowski lineage and incorporates wild athleticism and circus into its work; and I studied and performed traditional Chinese “opera” (xiqu) for four years in China, which is pretty physical but very codified. Of course, we love the Marx Bros and American vaudeville (we’re really interested in American performance forms) and reference that in our work. We joke about creating a Groucho Marx solo show.
Maybe our type of physical theatre could be described as if the Marx Bros hosted an irrational Olympics (eccentric, surreal, athletic).
NEXT UP — PART TWO OF THE INTERVIEW, WHICH EXAMINES THEIR UPCOMING SHOW, ‘MANIFEST DESTINY.’