5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: Thaddeus Phillips


Talking about mourning in America: I don’t think the creation of a sane, smart, America-first energy policy is going to happen. Certainly it won’t happen in this political and economic climate. Peak oil or no peak oil, offshore drilling or no offshore drilling, it pains me as an American to think that we really have lost our edge, that we accept as inevitable the loss of our innovative spirit, not to mention our senses.

But the entrenched interests powering our fossil-fuel-driven culture are too powerful. And the voters will probably be hoodwinked into voting the way those entrenched interests want them to. Like so many things, the perennial American ostrich will come to regret plunging their heads in the sand — at precisely the moment when it’s utterly too late to do very much about it.

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Photo credit: Maria Moller

This sad state of affairs doesn’t mean that Americans — well, artists, anyway — shouldn’t advocate for what’s just. Which is why Capsule 33, co-created by Thaddeus Phillips and Tatiana Mallarino, performed by Phillips, and featuring music by Evening Magazine, is noteworthy.

The piece follows Milo, living in the famous (and famously small-spaced) Nakagin Capsule Tower in Tokyo, often considered the first example of recyclable housing. In the piece, the tower is about to be destroyed (along with Milo’s poor rubber ducky, Fumio).

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This sets the stage for a meditation on how and where we live, and what is really meant by “urban renewal.”

The set is composed only of recycled materials; the piece itself is powered only by sustainable energy. What does this mean? Well, audience members are encouraged to pump a foot-powered “WEZA” generator — the means by which LED lights are lit. In other words, this isn’t merely green theater, this is theater literally is off the grid. Originally entitled Microworld(s) Part #1, the earlier version of the piece was premiered at the Off the Grid Festival in Philadelphia — also a Phillips-Mallarino creation. New Yorkers may be more familiar with another Phillips piece — ¬°El Conquistador!, which ran at New York Theater Workshop. A great feature on Phillips, by a Denver Post scribe, is worth reading here.

Capsule 33 runs through Oct. 16 at the Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow St.). For more information, click here or call 212-868-4444.

And now, 5 questions Thaddeus Phillips has never been asked — and a bonus question:

1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Can’t think of a specific question, but many times I have been given major revelations about a performance of mine from audience members.

2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“How do you learn all those lines?” (which is ironic also because I have a very hard time learning them or even writing them down)

3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Are you really from Denver?”

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4) In the hierarchy of utopian housing ideas (e.g., geodesic domes), where does the Nakagin Capsule Tower fit? What was your inspiration for setting Capsule 33 within it?
The Nakagin actually, for me, is a much better theoretical idea than practical one. Having people live in such small capsules seems actually cruel. However, the idea that they could be replaced and combined is fantastic, and so as a proposal and idea to think of new ways to live and build, it is a major influence.

We were working on the show and had designed the set before we know about the Nakagin. But I came across a story in the New York Times about the building and we really were blown away — the circular windows were what we had already made in our set! And so it was meant to be set there, we just discovered it late into the process.

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5) The year is 2020. Do you see more theater productions using sustainable energy? Will theater artists find increasingly organic ways to integrate generators into the action? How do see yourself ensuring that this aspect of Capsule 33 isn’t considered gimmicky?
In the U.K., many theaters are very serious about the environment as well as the culture as a whole. We are much less so here — in reality, this is the topic and the crisis of our times, and I find is quite disconcerting that U.S. theater artists are in general quite removed from what is happening. So, I see many productions in the U.K., in Europe, using sustainable energy but much less here in the U.S. by the year 2020.

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I had created two works about very dark topics — Flamingo/Winnebago, about peak oil, and The Melting Bridge about civilization collapse — and we wanted at least try to create something that looked at the possibilities of the future in terms of powering a show without burning carbon. So it was not a gimmick but a challenge to see if we could do it. Of course, powering Capsule 33 from human energy won’t change the world, but it does show what can be done with lights and sound when going “off-the-grid.”

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Bonus question:

6) What will it take for Americans to really get off their asses and deal with its addiction to oil? What role can the theater play in making that happen?
We love our cars and our heat, etc. Maybe Manhattan submerged will help or the cancellation of the Super Bowl — that would do it. Our show Flamingo/Winnebago specifically addressed this topic and, well, the ending is dark…