WITCH HAZEL is a performance project curated by Chicago artists Imp Kid, Casey Deven, and Ariel Zetina. WITCH HAZEL presents non-narrative or semi-narrative performances that are ways to reclaim or reexamine growing up queer in the ’90s and 2000s, and transforms these issues from adolescence into celebration for trans*queer people today. Come see WITCH HAZEL tonight at INFILTRATION, quickly followed by Too Much Light. Doors open 10:30pm. Neo-Futurist LILY MOONEY interviews.
I want to know if you have an origin story as a group. Or, if you all have different origin stories. Or, your opinion of origin stories, in general. So: WITCH HAZEL, origin stories. Go.
We wish we could remember exactly why we initially called the project WITCH HAZEL, besides the fact that it has the word ‘witch’ in it but is something that is decidedly mundane. Initially, we were going to adopt the term WITCH HAZEL to use for a name of a workshop where we would show each other work every week in an effort to keep us motivated. But then that never happened for a year. It wasn’t until Joe Varisco met Ariel and booked her a slot at Salonathon that WITCH HAZEL premiered its first work. But speaking of origins, the very first performance was lisafraanqus, the ORIGIN story of Lisa Frank through the lens of the play Equus (Lisa Frank is a sad gothic girl until her eyes get stabbed out with Crayola crayons. She can only see bright colors, rainbows, and ponies after that and it inspires her to create the most beautiful folders and stickers ever).
WITCH HAZEL makes some of the most striking performances I’ve seen in Chicago. They give the feeling of witnessing or participating in a private ritual. Do you think about ritual in the conception of a piece?
It is really important for WITCH HAZEL’s work to transport the audience to another world, and rituals do this really effectively, especially in settings like bars where it’s hard to completely transform the space with design. Rituals exist in both a magic world and a realistic world, so by enacting a ritual, it’s possible to transport an audience from the realistic to the magical, but without ever leaving the reality (like a dream). We are all interested in orchestrated performance in real life (ceremonies, funerals, etc.) and repetition of mundane ritual (a coffee every morning, smoking every night) and how people, not just priestesses or magicians, create these vibrating spaces. In our pieces, we always try to adapt a pre-existing ritual or aesthetic form to be the container for the content, so there’s organization and gravitas to our silly mess.
How does WITCH HAZEL begin making a performance?
Pieces start from the silliest image possible, but one that’s a metaphor for a much bigger idea. For example, our first long work FISH (which we did at Dfbrl8r gallery in August), came from a memory that we all shared of using a sweatshirt turned inside out, the neckline around your head so that you have long hair. Ariel used to do this with a red sweatshirt so she could be the Disney mermaid of the same name, which brings up questions of gender identity, gender performance, Disney princess narratives, parent & queer child relationships, etc. etc. After this first image is made, we stage a lot more pieces, usually trying to go with our initial ideas (because they’re usually the best), even if we can’t yet see the connecting tissue clearly. In this creating process, Ariel produces electronic tracks and writes text, Deven raps and choreographs, and Darren stages and designs the visual. From there, we either ask other performers to perform the work, or we perform it ourselves, depending on the needs of the project.
I google-image-searched “witch hazel” and this was the second result. …Thoughts?
Lists are our favorite way to organize images (it’s so clean!) and this is such a good list because all the titles are really boring words but all become really interesting together! Horizontal spreading is our favorite (obviously).
Another name for witch-hazel, the plant, is, apparently, “winterbloom.” How did you handle last winter? How are you feeling about this one?
We all hate winter and do not hesitate to complain about it from the very first cold day to the very fucking last. We performed our piece S.A.D., an Ingmar Bergman-inspired piece where we waxed poetic about the winter but then danced with a Mermaid (the wonderful Caroline Kingsley aka Winnifred Coombe) wearing cute swimsuits. So yes, the project WITCH HAZEL blooms in the winter, but as individuals, we do not.
Please tease me about what you’re planning to do at the Neo-Futurarium tonight.
WITCH HAZEL presents INAUGURATION, the imagined inauguration of the first white, male, gay, cis president. It’s MC’d by MC DEV_N_ (a Macklemore wannabe), there’s a go-go dance to a straight-from-Boystown Katy Perry remix, lots and lots of air horns, policemen eating donuts, and a really sexy ice cream sundae. We’re trying to make it as annoying and gross as possible.
I can’t wait.
Purchase advance tickets to TML + INFILTRATION here, and arrive at 10:30 for WITCH HAZEL.