Welcome to Chris Strouth's giant dollhouse

Categories: Q&A
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Self-portrait by Chris Strouth
Safe as Houses | New Century Theatre, Minneapolis | September 4-6

You might already know that Chris Strouth often Makes No Sense at All with his contributions to Gimme Noise. But he also makes interdisciplinary art and music under the handle Paris1919. His latest performance piece, titled Safe as Houses, is an ambitious gathering of creatives for the purpose of exploring what security truly means and where to find it, and continuing from where his Antarctica piece left off.

The Kickstarter-funded multimedia performance turns the New Century Theatre into an enormous dollhouse, and masked dancers are dolls directed by choreographer Deborah Jinza Thayer. With vocals by Blue Sky Blackout's Christian Erickson, Wits' Janey Winterbauer, Mayda and Alan Subola (the Vibro Champs, the Bad Companions), Paris1919's ensemble will score the 40-person, interdisciplinary mélange. Gimme Noise pointed a few questions at Strouth and he shot a few entertaining answers back.


Gimme Noise: The title Safe as Houses makes me think about that line from "Never Let Me Down Again." How much of a Depeche Mode inclination does this piece have either musically or stylistically?

Chris Strouth: It's safe to say almost none. They were electronic, and some of the instrumentation we use is electronic, and the production is an eensy bit over the top. The title comes from a Victorian era English banking ad. It was meant to entice everyday citizens to put their money into the relatively new concept of banking for the average man. The idea was that putting money in the bank was as safe as keeping it in your house, or it was a slang term from the railway investment bubble burst of the 1850s. There is actually quite a bit of debate about where it's from. It's a strange bit of Victorian slang that's still very much in play, and later referenced by Mr. Gahan and company.

How many houses have been your home?

When I was a kid, my family lived in 17 places in five different states including six months in a Holiday Inn on the West Virginia/Kentucky border all before I was in the second grade. Hence I always had a sort of odd relationship to the concept of "home." Thanks to rather odd circumstances, in the past year and a half we have lived in three different places. The irony is that I first put these ideas on paper well before this most recent go 'round.

Life-sized dollhouse?! Is that a typo?

No, though actually now that you read it that way it could just be a room with a regular doll house in it. That would be life-sized. It's a really big dollhouse -- more of a doll city, really. We worked with a brilliant artist named Duane Tougas, who worked for In the Heart of the Beast for 15 years. Part of my shows are about surprise, but I will say this: If it's a dollhouse, there must be dolls.

What got you onto this topic in the first place?

A lot of things in my own life. My wife and I had a business for four years. In the course of which was the period that I got super ill. It was a huge struggle and sacrifice to keep it open as long as we did. In the end we closed it about a year ago. But the whole process made me question everything in my life. It was a process that actually saw me get rid of most of the stuff I had collected, a paring down to find out what really mattered to us. That sort of led to the thought "What is home, other than a concept?" And that concept is mostly being about safety, "When was the last time you truly felt safe? The kind of safety that you felt when you were a kid."

In part, this goes back to the house where I grew up in Fridley -- or as I like to think of it God's Country. My parents bought it when they didn't have much money. Then they made a lot if it, and in the end they lost it all. What goes up tends come down, and the wheels on the bus go 'round. I wound up getting to go back and see the inside of the place by pure happenstance. Inside, I found out that the current owner was one of my former students who was living in my old room. He had no idea that was where I grew up, but still it was too odd a coincidence not to leave a mark. It probably didn't help that they had sort of trashed the place. There is the phase "You can't go home again" for me it should have been "Maybe you shouldn't try and go home again"

Its all part of a triptych that started with Antarctica, which we did this February at Public Functionary, and will end with the third part sometime next year.

What elements of danger, if any, will the Safe as Houses attendee have to face?

Well, parking can be kind of a hassle, but that's really about it. Oh and of course the danger of it selling out, which is why I strongly suggest buying tickets ahead of time!

Learn more and donate to the Safe as Houses Kickstarter.

Chris Strouth's Safe as Houses. $20, 7 p.m.Thursday, September 4 - Saturday, September 6 at Hennepin Theatre Trust's New Century Theatre. Tickets and info.

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