Naked Stages artists delve into the personal

Categories: Art
Photo by Craig VanDerSchaegen
Photo Courtesy of Pillsbury House
Artists from Naked Stages, the seven to nine month development program that provides support for performance artists, will show their work this weekend and next at the Pillsbury House Theatre. The program provides time, money, and mentoring for artists who are interested in pushing the boundaries of their work. City Pages took a moment to chat with Andrea Jenkins and Janaki Ranpura, two artists who will be presenting their efforts this weekend.

Part 1: Andrea Jenkins

City Pages: How is your piece for Naked Stages similar to or different from other work you've done?

Andrea Jenkins: When you talk about work, that's a big thing for me. Everything is work. I'm a senior policy aide for the city of Minneapolis -- I work with Elizabeth Glidden --  I do a lot in the community to help shape pubic policy. My work onstage is somewhat an extension of that, but I don't always do it at that level. I'm an artist too, and a poet and a writer. I do try to express my views through art--to promote social justice. I don't always get onstage and perform, so this is new to me. It's not really something I have ever done.

CP:  What made you decide to apply?  

AJ: For years I've been writing and reading and doing spoken word events. I've been onstage with Mama Mosaic, and have performed in Queertopia with Outward Spiral (I was an artistic associate for the company). But this is the first time that I'm putting my own life onstage. It feels pretty big. I've been wanting to do Naked Stages since my friend Andre Guest introduced me to it in the late '90s. I was like, "Wow, that would be really cool to do." I love how great and how free performances seem to be.

CP: Can you tell me about your show?  

AJ: I would describe it as a multimedia exploration of gender through the stories of Andrea Jenkins -- as told by this time travelling griot (a.k.a. storyteller) -- a genderless being who is sort of a guide through the evening. In the backdrop of the story is this little girl who is trapped inside of this membrane, this mythical closet-- subconsciousness really. She's dancing on stage throughout. Andrea and this girl submerge, and the girl comes out of membrane.   

It really started from one line in a poem. That was the germination of the whole idea for the piece. The line is: "A. Happened to glance back at the erection in the mirror-- seeing the reflection, a reformation of her former self identity in a rectangle of futility." 

Part 2: Janaki Ranpura

CP: So how did you get interested in puppetry?  What compels you to work
in this art form?

Janaki Ranpura: I'm interested in movement, and puppets give you a chance to build movement from a blank slate. You take the non-existent and make it into an object, then animate that object. The final part of the process is the most enlivening: showing a puppet to an audience whose gaze then brings it to life. 

CP:  Can you tell me a little bit about the show? Would you call it a play, or what?

JR: It's a canvas for ideas, and it's in a theater, and it has an audience, so it's like a play. It's more like just 'play.' The program that funded this work, Naked Stages, asks artists to explore autobiography and present it in a way that they haven't tried before. So the resulting work is a tender, shaky, wet new thing. 
Photo by Craig VanDerSchaegen
Photo Courtesy of Pillsbury House
CP:  The billing says its about a father/daughter relationship. Is it somewhat based on your own life?

JR: My father died last January, so this piece is a kind of telegraph line about the fresh and strange world that I'm in in the aftermath of that. 

CP:  Who were your collaborators on the piece?  What is the style or genre, or does it have one?

JR: I worked with Michael Sommers and Masanari Kawahara in the final stages of creation. They are both artists that work with puppets in really interesting, dramatic ways. My piece is a puppet show, and it's performance art, which is, I guess, unclassifiable, or another way to say "adult puppetry" without it sounding dirty.

CP:  What was your experience working with Naked Stages? How has the piece grown?  How have you grown as an artist?

JR: Naked Stages has been a great help this year in dealing with my feelings and my family after my dad's death. It gives me an excuse to stop and think and process, because I can tell myself that it's for work. The sage advice of Molly Van Avery, Sharon Bridgforth, and Laurie Carlos helped me realize that this is a process without an endpoint, without a summary or a conclusion. It is, in fact, life. It just goes on. So I've realized partially with the help of the program that the job of the artist is mainly to keep going because there are no answers, just the feeling that, through the mist, you are heading home.

CP:  What's next for you?

JR: I'm doing a whizbang puppet show through Heart of the Beast Theatre that will show in February. I'm working with Clement Shimizu, who's a really fun visual graphics programmer; Amy Waksmonski, a video specialist; and one of the core writers at the Playwrights' Center, Cory Hinkle, to make a new piece that juggles high- and low-tech in a noir crime story. 

Pillsbury House Theatre brings Naked Stages back December 1 through 4 with Andrea Jenkins and Janaki Ranpura, and December 8 through 11 with Esther Ouray and M. Cochise Anderson. Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for students and seniors. For more info and to purchase tickets, call 612.825.0459 or visit

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