“Wild Women: Soul-O”
with Nina Wise, Pamela Z, Amy X Neuburg
8 p.m. April 15
Showcase Theater, Marin Center, San Rafael
$33.50 to $42.50
Tickets and Information: tickets.marincenter.org
KPFA radio interview
with Nina Wise, Pamela Z, Amy X Neuburg
Interview begins at 23:38
Marin IJ Article
Improv Artist Nina Wise Gets Personal in Latest Performance
By Paul Liberatore, Marin Independent Journal
Let me go out on a limb and venture a guess that you’ve never seen anyone on stage who’s quite like Nina Wise. An improvisational performance artist, she’ll reveal the intimate details of her life, her innermost thoughts and feelings, and she just might be squirming across the floor on her belly while she’s doing it.
Wise, who lives in a leafy San Rafael neighborhood with her two dogs, Lily and Grover, has been likened to one of those leotard-clad Jules Feiffer dancer cartoons come to life. A Buddhist meditation teacher as well as a performer, she’s been described as a cross between Lily Tomlin and the Dalai Lama.
In the movement-based show, “What Just Happened?” that she’ll be performing in Marin Center’s Showcase Theater on April 15, she’ll fill the audience in on the last 24 hours of her life, emphasizing each interaction, each moment, each memory and insight with a kind of body language informed by her earlier career with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. She calls what she does “autobiographical improvisation.”
“While it probably wouldn’t be that interesting to follow her around all day, it’s easy to get seduced by the recap,” reviewer Rachel Swan wrote in the East Bay Express. “Wise is one of those performers who has no trouble occupying a bare-naked stage and making it an extension of her interior world.”
For the Marin show, which she’s titled “Wild Women Soul-O,” she’ll be sharing the bill with a couple of pioneering Bay Area experimental musicians and composers — Pamela Z, who uses electronic processing, sampling, gesture-activated MIDI controllers and video in her work; and Amy X Neuburg, a lyricist, sound artist and electronic instrument performer.
She could have booked better-known mainstream performers, as she has in a couple of earlier Marin Center shows. But she’s willing to take a chance with these stars of the new music movement in hopes of broadening the entertainment experience and musical taste of her Marin audience.
“These women are known all over the world in their field,” she says, acknowledging that Neuburg and Pamela Z might not exactly be household names in Marin County. “Avant garde is a put-off to people, but these women are serious composers doing contemporary music.”
With a degree in religious studies and the aesthetics of movement, Wise teaches dharma at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and is the author of “A Big New Free Happy Unusual Life: Self-Expression and Spiritual Practice for Those Who Have Time for Neither.”
The founder of Motion Theater, she teaches improvisation as art form and transformative spiritual practice and leads workshops and retreats in storytelling, improvisation and Buddhist meditation.
“Nina teaches us to expand our senses and connect body and soul while having fun,” says author Isabel Allende.
Earlier in her career, she performed wild physical improvisations with her troupe, Motion, at the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Art Institute and other major galleries presenting new work.
But she grew weary of doing improvised work, feeling she was too constrained by the unreliability of the form. So she began writing and performing pieces about the death of her “impossible, eccentric” mother. She did a piece in the parking garage of the Oakland Museum, “Collision,” about America’s love affair with cars. She toured with a solo piece called “Walking Home.”
She wrapped up this period in the ’90s with an ambitious opera called “Departure” that she presented at the Playhouse in San Anselmo. It was about a group preparing to go into outer space in a private spacecraft.
“It was very futuristic then, but now it’s happening,” she says.
‘STATE OF TERROR’
Her first foray into the kind of solo improv pieces she does now came when she was called in to substitute for a speaker at a San Francisco conference on Faustian myths.
“I tried out this new form,” she remembers. “I went on stage and I did this improv on our complete addiction to consumerism called ‘The Myth of the Mall.’ It was so unlike what unlike what anyone before me did that I was in a state of terror.”
But her fears melted when the audience gave her a standing ovation. It may have looked like she just walked out there and winged it. But she writes an outline before she goes on stage to use as a kind of guide as she moves through her solo shows, which can last from 20 to 40 minutes.
Now in her mid-60s, she was influenced early on by Barbara Dilley, a performance artist and educator who taught what she called “embodied awareness,” a method that combined dance, movement studies, meditation, “mind training” and improvisational composition.
Wise has taken parts of that approach and made it her own, honing and developing it and presenting it in venues like a recent TEDx performance. TEDx is intended to present “something new and surprising.” And Wise is certainly that.
“She’s light on her feet and very funny with a kind of inside-out humor,” says Lloyd Barde, an event producer and friend. “She gets into people’s emotions, things they’re feeling but are too timid to talk about, or what they’re afraid of and want to keep hidden. She just lays it right out there.”