Guest in House as God in House: Hospitality as Principle and Practice for Albuquerque’s Tricklock Company

by Brian Herrera and Juli Hendren and Elsa Menéndez

in Audience & Community Engagement

(This post is part of the Audience (R)Evolution online salon curated by Caridad Svich for the TCG Audience (R)Evolution Convening in Kansas City, MO in 2015.)

Tricklock [http://www.tricklock.com/] is a professional theatre company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Tricklock devises work that tours nationally and internationally. While touring, Tricklock scouts other companies and artists that might not otherwise be seen in New Mexico to present as part of the company’s annual Revolutions Festival [http://revolutions2015.com/] This conversation is part of the 2015 TCG Circle Audience Revolution blog salon curated by Caridad Svich for the TCG Audience Revolution Convening in Kansas City.

Brian Herrera:

Why do you think hospitality has become so central to how Tricklock crafts its relationship to its audience?

Elsa Menéndez:

When I first came into contact with Tricklock about fifteen years ago, I encountered a group of very committed, very passionate people who were simultaneously prioritizing the creation of new work and a particular dynamic of collaboration among artists. Several Tricklock company members had recently come back from an experience with a company in Poland called Gardzienice [http://gardzienice.org/en/home.html] and they brought something they picked up there — a principle which they translated as “Guest in house is God in house.” That totally resonated with me and I immediately saw that it was exactly how they were creating work.

Juli Hendren:

I really feel like “Guest in the house is God in the house” is the kernel of everything we do. And I see the guest in our house being the audience. You wouldn’t have someone just come into your house and just ignore them. You wouldn’t keep your distance from them. You wouldn’t be like, “I’m going to be over here making my dinner, you just do whatever you want and watch me.”

EM

It’s an idea of building connection and building bond, Part of interacting with your audience is about engaging them as collaborators as well. As a result, I feel like the audiences in Albuquerque have been willing to come for different rides with us. And that includes seeing work that they didn’t like, or were shocked by, or didn’t understand, or whatever, as well as work that they liked and supported and spread the word about. This wide range of experiences has cemented our deep, loyal connection with our audience.

BH

Can you talk about touchstone moments in company’s history where you really felt the formation of this reciprocal relationship with your audience?

JH

Excavations is probably the best example.

BH

What is Excavations?

JH

Excavations is when we are working on a new devised piece and we do an open work demonstration. Wherever we are in the process, we invite the audience to come in. We typically stay out and mingle with them as they sit. At some point we get up and say “here you go” and show what we’ve got so far. Then we do an open feedback session, guided by a couple of pointed questions. And we always have wine and cheese and whatever to continue the conversation after the formal feedback session. We take all that into the notes that we use to get into the next stage.

BH

And an audience can join in the Excavation process multiple times — usually no fewer than three — before a full production is mounted?

JH

Yes. Excavations has become an institution within our company — this idea of a come and watch where we’re at right now, what we’ve got, because we want your feedback on it. And I feel like we have created a really open space where people can be really honest and tell us what they think is working. We really do take notes and then we really genuinely do pull out that notebook when we go back into rehearsal and we really do incorporate that feedback into the work. And I’ve definitely heard it reflected that our audience feel like they’re in every show, that they’re excited and proud to be a part of the shows being made. I wouldn’t say that our Excavations process is unique but it’s definitely something that’s critical for us.

EM

We believe that it’s imperative to use theatre to evolve our notion of connection. We build opportunities for those connections around our theatrical offerings — through the pre-show moments of having wine and conversation with company members, and then post-show receptions where we spend not just an efficient half an hour with our audience but a couple of hours after the show really breaking bread together. We also incorporate it into our festivals by always looking for multiple opportunities for the community to connect with artists outside of the actual theatrical exchange. We hold “welcome dinners.” Artists are hosted and toured around by local community members. We feel all this expands the experience of what art is. To use Juli’s image about inviting a guest to your house, you don’t just stay in the kitchen. You go into the dining room and the living room and out back and you look at pictures. Same idea. There are lots of different aspects of the experience of creating a relationship with the audience.

BH

That way of welcoming and holding space for artists to come together is such a big part of why Tricklock holds such a distinctive place in the Albuquerque arts ecosystem. Folks definitely seem as invested in that experience of coming together as artists in community as much as they are in seeing the work.

JH

Sometimes people will look at the festival program and go, “This looks interesting to me, this one does not.” Sometime’s it’s people’s work schedules that get in the way. And it’s lovely that they do feel like they feel they can just come to a gathering and meet the artists.

EM

We’ve also had local community members who have developed real bonds and relationships with artists outside of our company. One family, who have been very involved with Tricklock for many years and have hosted many international artists, recently developed such a bond with a Spanish company that they went to Spain and they spent most of their time with this Spanish company. Tricklock didn’t necessarily develop the same connection with this company yet these community members are in regular contact with them, which is extraordinary.

JH

Tricklock is also deeply committed to the next generation of artists and has always been involved in various forms of education. And what I love seeing is when we have high school and college students also experiencing this exchange. We’ve had students of ours that we brought on to do tech for a particular company and then that company brought that person out to continue working on their show in New York and things like that. I hear often throughout the year about people all over Albuquerque who have kept connection and correspondence with different Revolutions artists. And that is pretty awesome.

BH

But Tricklock doesn’t just stay in New Mexico. How does the company takes this ethic and practice of hospitality on the road?

JH

It’s usually kind of the same idea. We’re not the kind of group that pops in, does the show and then pops right out. Even if we’re somewhere for just a short amount of time, we try to see the place where we’re staying, culturally. And we make sure that, wherever we are, that the message is out there that we really love to meet the audience and talk to them about what they saw. And we usually end up with a pretty good gathering. Recently, we toured Poland, and, for every single show that we did, someone got up and said, in Polish, to the audience “if you’d like to meet the actors after, please stick around.” We would just make sure that to have some wine and some beers and, one time, there wasn’t really a space for it so we just set up in the parking lot. And about 25 audience members stuck around and we stayed out there for hours, just talking and hanging out. And through that we met a potential artist I’m looking at to bring next year for Revolutions. It’s a space we make sure to create.

EM

I feel like one of the practices of being a gracious host is also being a gracious receiver. It’s also being a gracious, um –

JH

Guest!

EM

Exactly! And that’s the other side for me. When we travel, we are very conscientious of our host and have a heightened awareness of being gracious guests in whatever country or situation we’re in. I think it’s important for us to keep that alertness to that ability to receive, to be grateful and to allow the host to give and to feel the power of that.

JH

And we always bring gifts from New Mexico. Even if we’re not necessarily being properly produced, even if all we’re getting is a cut of the door, or something like that. We always bring bottles of really good tequila, we bring dreamcatchers, we bring piñon coffee. And we make sure to give out these gifts as thankyous. We put great effort into being good ambassadors not only of the U.S. but of New Mexico and as artists.

BH

Do you sense whether the social media turn has had an impact on the value hospitality has for you and for your audiences?

JH

Watching everybody friend everybody friend everybody on Facebook throughout the festival is pretty cool. A nineteen year old UNM student who took a free workshop with an artist, saw their show and became incredibly inspired — and then they’re friends on Facebook and I see them post: “Thank you so much. You changed my life.” I mean, the fact that we’re able to see that while it’s happening is pretty amazing. I also feel social media has certainly helped our international tours, because we tend to do smaller places, funkier stuff, not necessarily giant festivals, so simply being able to do press that way. There’s just more ways of connecting.

BH

I should say that being able to watch the company go to Poland or Uganda via social media is almost like participating in the Excavations process. I know I end up tracking your trips because it’s fun to vicariously see what you’re off doing and to know that you’ll be bringing work back in some way.

EM

It definitely expands the experience. And not just with photographs on Facebook, but also with us taking the time to reflect and post our thoughts online. In the past, we might have done that in our journals and maybe shared that with each other but now we tend to share those reflections and experiences with more people in real time. There’s quicker access to the deeper layers of what we’re going through when we’re abroad.

BH

So the practice of hospitality informs the work of making work too?

EM

Yes. The relationship with the audience is becoming part of the work that we’re producing. I’m thinking about my experience with Cloud Cover [http://alibi.com/art/39004/Conversations-With-Elsa.html] and how its foundation lay in the “guest in house is god in house” mentality. And in Billy The Kid [https://vimeo.com/33423828], there is interaction with the audience from the second the doors open to let the audience come in to sit, and that energetic dialogue is imperative throughout that show. And even in Finger Mouth [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04L7QZgsAHY] and its many moments where the audience is interacted with and observed.

BH

Speaking as an observer, as an audience participant I guess, Tricklock shows do ask you to become part of the world created by the ensemble. Sometimes, as in Cloud Cover, that relationship is made explicit but, even when it’s implicit, it’s palpable. We are all here in this room together right now.

JH

I think of the great example of Cloud Cover where Elsa chose to do it in that tiny venue. There’s an intimacy that you can’t get away from, you’re so close, and the space becomes like a living room.

BH

Speaking of intimacy, it’s a lot of work to be a good host and a good guest. How does Tricklock’s hospitality ethos sustain internal relations within the company?

JH

At the first post-mortem meeting we had after our most recent Revolutions festival, that was the very first thing I said as Artistic Director. I said, “We worked so hard to take care of everybody so much during the festival. Let’s try to make sure to carry that though the year with each other.” It was good reminder to make sure that we are taking care of ourselves as well as we take care of everybody else.

EM

Probably because we are so conscious of our hosting mentality, we actually do take care of each other way more during the festival than we do during the rest of the year. Everybody’s kind of charged up around supporting and thanking and praising each other during the festival because it’s such an intense time. That heightened level of hosting and that heightened level of producing spreads amongst ourselves and also among our guests and our audience during the festival. We’re still discovering how to take that out of the festival bottle and let it spread throughout the rest of the year.


JuliHendren-Headshot2Juli Hendren is the Artistic Director of Tricklock Company (a devised theatre ensemble based in New Mexico) and the Curator of The Revolutions International Theatre Festival. Juli is an actor, writer, director, and teacher with a focus on devised work, clown and physical theatre, and international productions. She has performed, taught, and produced theatre in the United States, Canada, Europe, China, and Uganda and is deeply invested in world connections through theatre.

ElsaMenendez-Headshot22Elsa Menéndez is a writer, director, producer and performer with Tricklock Company and the Director of Education at the National Hispanic Cultural Center [NHCC]. She has spent the last 35 years working in theatre around the world.  In 1992 she co-founding BOOM!theatre, a theatre company within a men’s medium security prison comprised of individuals serving the longest sentences.  Elsa served as associate artistic director /co-artistic director of Tricklock from 2004-2009.  She is the founder and director of the Circo Latino and Circo Radical summer youth institutes at NHCC.

 

BEHofficeself140505BRIANH22Brian Eugenio Herrera’s academic and creative work examines the history of gender, sexuality and race within and through popular performance. He is the author of Latin Numbers: Playing Latino in 20th Century US Popular Performance (2015) and The Latina/o Theatre Commons 2013 National Convening: A Narrative Report (2015), as well as articles in Theatre Journal, Modern Drama, and TDR: The Drama Review. He is presently developing a scholarly history of casting in American entertainment. An Assistant Professor of Theater at Princeton University, Herrera is a 2014-15 Harrington Faculty Fellow in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Audience (R)Evolution is a four-stage program to study, promote and support successful audience engagement and community development models across the country. The Audience (R)Evolution grant program was designed by TCG and is funded by Doris Duke.