Let's Talk About Object Theater: An Interview with Dan Kerr-Hobert
Taylor here, Education Coordinator for the Neos. On Thursday evening, squeezed into time between work, a class and a rehearsal, Dan and I found a few minutes to chat about he and John Pierson’s new class Object Theater and the Power of the Inanimate. Dan is teaching the class with Neo Alumnus John Pierson, who couldn’t be with us for the interview as he is currently jumping for numbers with the brand new San Francisco Neos. This is a transcript from that conversation, with the many times we were interrupted edited out. You can imagine us standing across from one another at a cabaret table, rather cold because I had forgotten to turn on the heat in the State Park if you need to set the scene for yourself a little. Or you could place us in some other exciting locale in your mind. Either way, here’s what went down:
Taylor Bailey: So we’re talking about Object Theater and the Power of the Inanimate, which is exciting because I haven’t had a chance to chat one on one with you about it yet.
Dan Kerr Hobert: Yeah!
TB: So, what is the class? What are the basics of the class?
DKH: The class is a laboratory exploring endowed objects and the idea of objects on stage as sources of engaging material, not only as pieces for inspiration but a place to put inspiration into or to make a piece more dynamic by using an object.
So puppetry does this very well, mask does this very well by breathing life into the inanimate to create a new presence on the stage. And we do this in our lives too, right? Most people have objects to them that, whether they think of it this way or not, are endowed objects. Objects that they’ve inherited, objects that carry more weight than mundane objects. So in a lot of ways the class explores the difference between endowed objects and mundane objects, what it looks like to have an endowed object on stage.
It isn’t a traditional puppetry or mask class, although we will explore techniques of both. By that I mean there are techniques of engaging with these objects that give them agency, there are ways to hold things and present objects in a direct way, the same techniques you’d be using to breathe life into a puppet or mask, to tell a story. But it isn’t a class rooted in the personification of objects, like “I’m going to make this beer can a character.”
TB: So it sounds, as with other workshops here at the Neos, like there are many elements that the students in this class may be exploring.
TB: It isn’t that the entire time I’m in this class I’m going to be, you know, learning how to make this puppet look like it’s talking…
DKH: Right, it isn’t a technical puppetry or mask class.
TB: So you’ve got performance elements, writing elements, collaborative elements…
DKH: Yes. The class is certainly in the Neo-Futurist aesthetic. I think that John and I realized early on we have similar vocabularies. That we’ve both worked with puppets and we both make original autobiographical work here in this theatre. There is a tradition in this this theatre of doing task work but also object work and work where the investigation of an object brings power to the work. And I think over the years John and I have talked about the pieces that we love and they have been the same pieces and they’ve been exploring that kind of thing, yeah? So suddenly we were like “you know, we should totally build a class around our shared passion, around puppetry and also writing performance with objects.”
TB: So, you have experience outside of Neos working with puppetry. Can you talk a little about that?
DKH: Yeah! About ten or eleven years ago I founded a spectacle theatre company called Manifest Theatre. It originally was just a new work company and in the last three or four years of the company we started doing more outdoor public spectacle and I got more into puppets and mask. From there I started getting hired to do theatrical puppet design for different companies in the city like House Theatre, Blair Thomas and Company, Chicago Children’s Theatre, and of course here with The Neo-Futurists. I am also a puppeteer for Blair Thomas and Company and we do all sorts of things. We have performed at the MCA here in Chicago, we’ve performed in Mexico City at the International Puppetry Festival and at the National Puppetry Festival here in the United States in Atlanta. So I do design and puppetry performance here in the city and continue to do that as much as I can while working with our insane schedule here.
TB: And you have experience teaching these things as well.
DKH: Yes, absolutely.
TB: So, in terms of the student for this class…What does that person look like?
DKH: So John and I have talked a lot about this. I think that anyone can take this class, you just have to be interested in creating new work. You have to be open to the idea of writing, interested in objects and their potential. But by no means do you have to be an actor, by no means do you have to be a puppeteer. I think you have to be interested in making new, original work. I think this a place to find new textures and powers for the work you are creating. I think it would specifically be interesting to people who have taken other classes here. Either Introduction to Too Much Light, or Neo-Futurism 1 or Self as Metaphor because I think it does pick up on where some of these classes leave off. But I also think you don’t have to have a lot of experience with us to get a lot out of this either.
TB: So it sounds like whether you are an actor or are not an actor, whether you’ve taken classes with us before or not taken classes with us, whether you have experience with puppets and mask or whether you don’t, there’s something here for you.
DKH: You just have to be interested in creating new work.
TB: Was there anything else?
DKH: I think one more thing passed through my mind that I wanted to get in…but maybe it’s just entirely gone.
TB: It could be. Just entirely gone.
DKH: It might be.
TB: It happens. You could write a piece about it and use objects.
DKH: I could! About the things I’ve lost.
TB: That would be great. This class sounds great. Good god, I wish I could take it now that we have talked about it!
DKH: Do it!
I, unfortunately, cannot take this class. However, you absolutely should. The class also breaks from some of our other workshops because it is only six weeks long instead of eight , and is therefore priced at a lower tuition! Read more about John Pierson and Dan Kerr-Hobert’s workshop on the class page, and enroll as soon as you can! The class begins in a couple of weeks, and we are incredibly excited to add this to our education line-up.
If you have any questions about the class or would like to enquire about setting up a payment plan, please feel free to contact me at taylor[@]neofuturists.org, or you can call me directly at 773.360.2121. I’m here Monday-Thursday, and will mostly likely pick up the phone. If I don’t, no need to stress about it. Leave me a message and I’ll call you back ASAP.