Recital continues our partnership with the New Hazlett Theater by publishing a preview and an editorially-independent review for the five performances in the 2019–20 CSA Performance Series season.
Throughout the season, Recital is meeting with each of the artists to bring you a brief profile of them and their work in the days before their opening performance. We will publish a considered review or a post-show discussion with the artists for each performance, developed from post-show discussions with a consistent panel of local experts in related disciplines.
Making Legible the Illegible: Philip Wesley Gates’s TERMINER
Looking back to the Salem witch trials
By David Bernabo
“How do we make a legible experience about the illegibility of our experience?” That’s the question interdisciplinary artist Philip Wesley Gates asks of their new work TERMINER, premiering as part of New Hazlett Theater’s CSA series on February 6 and 7.
We are sitting inside a fake living room in the Detective Building in East Liberty. Technically, this room is part of Schoolhouse, the lighting and homewares company that recently planted its East Coast location in Pittsburgh. Twenty or so aesthetically-pleasing lights hang above our lived-in seats. It’s a suitably absurd setting to discuss Gates’s new theatrical work, which takes a familiar but superficially-known historical event — the Salem witch trials — and fractures it, revealing complex agendas and warped parallels to current-day politics and power dynamics.
TERMINER takes its name from “Oyer and Terminer,” the name of the court set up for the Salem witch trials. “Oyer and Terminer” translates to “to hear and determine.” TERMINER will be presented as a ritual performed in real time. The work uses collaged fragments of language ripped from historical legal documents and trial transcripts. There will be elements of movement as two of the performers are studied in Butoh. And spoiler: there is use of artificial intelligence.
Much of how the piece will look and feel will be decided in the rehearsals happening this month. “I work by creating scores or parameters and letting the performers bring themselves into those structures,” says Gates. “I’ll have clear ideas about how it unfolds, what the signposts are, and what kinds of texts go in what order. Then within that, there is wiggle room for the performers. So, I’m making a container and it’s my job to make sure that the container is as solid as possible and not leaky and full of cracks or cobbled together. Then, the performers and designers can fill the container.”