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How Heather Christian’s ‘Animal Wisdom’ Transformed From a Theater Tour to a Boundary-Blurring Movie

Variety logo Variety 5/11/2021 Gordon Cox
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The composer-performer Heather Christian describes her new movie “Animal Wisdom” as a “theater-concert-hybrid-séance-performance.” And maybe after months of lockdown, that’s what we all need right about now.

Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:

“After this year, I feel like everybody has had this reflective space foisted upon them,” Christian said on the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. “We’re all looking at ourselves and how we’ve prioritized and how we move through the world and what we’re carrying, and trying to figure out a way to carry it more gracefully or let some of it the f— go… What I hope is this piece is like a rung on that ladder, or at least an acknowledgment that that’s where we are all at currently.”

As a project that began life as a music-theater event, then as a planned national tour but evolved over the last year into a new film (produced by the cross-country consortium of Bushwick Starr in Brooklyn, Woolly Mammoth in D.C. and A.C.T. in San Francisco), “Animal Wisdom” is a snapshot of what theater looked like during the pandemic — and also what it might look like in the future. Speaking on the new episode of Stagecraft, the producers of the film, all artistic directors at their respective theater companies, said they believed that the digital growth and technical knowledge gained during the shutdown will endure even after theater resumes.

“It just seems crazy to me that we would have all of this learning and these experiments and then just put them away in a drawer and not build upon them,” said Maria Goyanes of Woolly Mammoth, appearing on Stagecraft with Pam MacKinnon of A.C.T. and Noel Allain of Bushwick Starr, the theater where “Animal Wisdom” originated as a live event in 2017.

“I’m excited to see what sticks,” echoed McKinnon. “What is the digital when we come back? If, on occasion, a theater consortium like this makes a movie — Let’s do it! We can!”

“Animal Wisdom” is also an example of the kind of theater piece that can find audiences around the country, either as a national tour or as a film, but isn’t the kind of splashy, Broadway-style musical that most audiences associate with national tours. “There are musicals like ‘Animal Wisdom’ that are decidedly not commercial,” Goyanes said. “They’re really meant to do something else.”

To hear to the full conversation, listen at the link above, or download and subscribe to Stagecraft on podcast platforms including Apple PodcastsSpotify, and the Broadway Podcast NetworkNew episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.

 
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