Beginner's Guide to Sarah Michelson and Richard Maxwell Mar 3, 2011

by Jessica

Next week's Seattle premiere of Devotion features two heavy hitters from NYC: choreographer Sarah Michelson and playwright Richard Maxwell. Read on below for more insight into both of these artists!

Sarah Michelson
When Michelson first visited OtB in 2005, she spent an extra week in the city prepping the building for the premiere of Daylight (Seattle). This involved incredible amounts of paint, new seating bleachers and tons of detailing around our space. Check out this short photo essay to see what she did last time she was here.

Michelson is famously sensitive to theatrical spaces and uses carefully crafted set and lighting design to redesign the theaters she performs in. As seen in Daylight (Seattle) and some of her earliest works at PS122 in NYC, she is constantly investigating how else she can maximize the setting for the movement that she creates.

Some Michelson’s early dance training took place at the Merce Cunningham Studio in NYC. In Devotion Michelson occasionally calls upon Merce’s technique, using the “asymmetry and the animal exactitude of his starts and stops” according to this Financial Times review.

In addition to being a choreographer and director, Michelson has also held the title of Associate Curator at The Kitchen. In this role she helped bring new contemporary artists to the NYC venue, including Claude Wampler, an artist that would go on to tour internationally.

Many of Michelson’s works include some kind of portraits, often including self-portraits. In Daylight (Seattle) there were both 4-5ft high portraits of the artists and dozens of portraits, varying from 3-15ft, of OtB’s artistic director, Lane Czaplinski. Watch for these in Devotion and note how she uses them almost as a signature.

Richard Maxwell
New York City Players (the company in the billing for Devotion) is the group that Maxwell founded to create his work. It features a set of frequent collaborators, including Devotion’s Jim Fletcher and James Tyson. Since they first began in 1996, the company has created more than 20 original works.

Maxwell got his start with Steppenwolf Theater Company out of Chicago. The company is known for working with internationally important playwrights and supporting early career theater makers as they begin to hone their voice. Most recently this included the world premiere of August: Osage County, a play devised by the ensemble which went on to garner 5 Tony’s.

Maxwell has been known to mentor early career playwrights, most notably OtB alum Young Jean Lee. The two playwrights share a deadpan style of writing and directing that OtB audiences got a taste of in THE SHIPMENT.

In addition to the deadpan style, Maxwell has gained a reputation for playing with the medium of theater. In 2010 he premiered a work, Ads, that featured no live performers, but rather 3D projections. Check out this New York Times review to see the questions it raised for the critic Charles Isherwood.

Maxwell’s works are most frequently seen abroad and his work has been translated into at least 6 different languages so far. He’s seen less in the US since his work doesn’t fit into the usual paradigms of the regional theater system.