Natasha Tsakos redefines the meaning of performance art, through the innovative use of technology and new medium. GreekTV is happy to feature an exclusive interview from Natasha, where she guides us through her passion and the specifics of her art.
The process felt like composing a conceptual dance of ideas and metaphors.
Please describe how your work evolved from playwriting to an innovative interplay of mediums.
While training as an actor, I realized I didn’t want to memorize and repeat somebody else’s lines for the rest of my life. I loved performing, but wanted to create my own experiences. For years I was the perfect cliché of a playwright. Locked in my small apartment, over-caffeinated, madly typing on the key board composing concertos of human dynamics. But staging these plays felt rigid and linear. What I envisioned was shape-shifting and magical, like a hallucination without drugs. So what if we removed words? What happens if we let the environment, sound, images and characters interact instead? I storyboarded my next work which freed my imagination from the literal, allowed me to play at a conceptual level and iterate the show as much as I wanted before going into production. The process felt like composing a conceptual dance of ideas and metaphors. It felt right. That’s when the interplay began.
You have worked on a wide range of artistic projects. Are there any specific themes or ideas that happen to recur or exist as a unifying thread between all of them?
I like to plant clues in people’s minds and musically time their explosion into a firework of colors and concepts while engaging them on a roller coaster of impressions. The themes are sparked by the ism of existential. Up Wake is a commentary on work in the 21st century. Climax is a visceral reaction to climate change. Zo is an absurd satire on talent competition shows. Face Forward is an homage to Imagination, in times of technological venture. It begins with a social observation that provokes me, then metaphors happen everywhere I go. It’s like the brain is suddenly wired to take in all the bits of information it receives and computes theatrical combinations in the background.
Throughout your speeches and conferences, you often celebrate the moments of human connection during artistic performances- ranging from your work as a clown in a children’s hospital, to your interactive theater performances. Could you share one moment of human connection that was especially memorable?
Going to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake with my performance partner Lucky Bruno as clowns. The adults we met and the children we interacted with were profoundly honest, vulnerable, and beautiful. They had gone through a devastating disaster, yet had so much pride and joy, all the while carrying the weight of the world (or maybe it was me projecting that on them)… A stark contrast to performing in first world countries. People often take street performers for granted, but when you have nothing or very little, the moments of laughter, wonder and absurdities are priceless.
What was the most profound learning experience studying accelerating technologies at NASA Ames Research Park? How have you related what you learned with your current work?
Anything is really possible with technology today. So how do we dream bigger? How do we imagine the impossible again? How do we integrate exponential technologies within a theatrical context beyond the thrill of entertainment while being evermore so engaging? Can a theatrical experience positively affect 1 billion people? I believe it can.
Theatre as a format should adapt and be experimented with.
How do you respond to critics of technodrama (or technoformance) who assert that video and 3D elements overpower the relationship of the performer to the audience- and that using video images caters to the shorter attention spans of today’s audiences?
One: we do have shorter attention spans, so why not curate and create accordingly? Two: I don’t blame the critics, but maybe the artists who are responsible for this criticism (and I could be one of them). That’s the thing: we’ve got all these new technologies, and little vocabulary. We are creating new platforms but don’t really know how to work them yet. We are still in an experimental phase, often times applying old mindsets to new technologies. Which explains why things don’t always change or innovate as quickly as the technology itself. The developing and producing of these new theatrical experiences is now more complex, because the processes are more layered and intertwined. New collaborations should be nurtured: video game designers working with playwrights, playwrights working with artificial intelligence engineers, dancers working with roboticists… Video, 3D projection mapping, sensors, machine learning, are tools. Like a lighting plot, a sound system or costumes. It’s how one combines these tools to tell an interesting story from an original point of view that’s key. I am not advocating for technology at all cost, though Theater today could use a system update. Technology has advanced more in the last thirty years than in the previous two thousand. This acceleration in innovation will continue. Theatre as a format should adapt and be experimented with. Theater’s content should be relevant and reflect the complexity of the world we live in; and its mission (which for me is to inspire, provoke, question and awe) should continue to play a fundamental role in society. One that connects us to our humanity and to one another. We now have more opportunities to engage the audience, provoke the imagination, leverage interactions and create positive change than ever before.
Has Greek culture or history influenced any element of your artistic process?
I like to say I have the passion of a Greek, the precision of a Swiss, the heart of a clown and the dreams of an astronaut.
The show will be different every single time you see it because information changes all the time.
The trajectory of your work indicates a commitment to keep learning and keep experimenting with form. What new techniques and concepts are you currently exploring?
I am currently developing a new show called Billion Billions Billion Billions is a rollercoaster through time in real-time. The show will be different every single time you see it because information changes all the time. The world’s data becomes the environment that performers interact with. We are using mobile technology and real-time data to create a production that responds to world events, and where the audience can respond back. That is what I am excited about: bridging the best of theatre, technology and social impact in the most entertaining ways.
During your TED talk you said “Being human is an art form.” Please elaborate.
I meant just that. There is an art in being Human. How we correspond, speak, act, move, walk, do the dishes, interact with one another, surprise each each other… There is an art in everything we do. Rather: there can be.There should be more rehearsing and fine tuning the artistry of us.
You can learn more about Natasha in www.natashatsakos.com