Russell Taylor, aka Satori Circus, has been redefining local theater since the late '80s with his Brechtian multimedia performances. Friday and Saturday Satori Circus will present a new performance art piece titled "Dbwe' inini" at the Hastings Street Ballroom, and it's unlike anything he has attempted before.
"I was like, 'I'm tired of performing for people. I want them to perform for me,' " he says of his new piece's impetus. "I wanted to figure out how to do that in a different way than normally is done, like calling people on stage and making them do stuff."
"Dbwe' inini" takes the audience on a guided tour through the individual and united journeys of a family, with original words, music and visuals. Taylor acts as the ringleader, a sort of deranged Jiminy Cricket guiding the audience and his fellow performers while commenting on the action.
"We took these songs that we had written and started laying them out in a way that kind of mimics, in our heads, this flow of a family," he says. "In other words, two people meet, they start courting, they have children, and the children are growing. Even though they're still madly in love with each other, they start drifting, because sometimes that happens. But it's not a bad thing, it's just a thing that occurs."
Co-performers Tim Suliman, Lushes LaMoan and Sean Redenz will explore the many potential outcomes of that core relationship, and Taylor says the audience will also become part of the family's story.
"What we're doing is setting the audience up in this almost like classroom setting with groups of chairs where we can navigate through the crowd easily enough and also be able to grab people randomly for certain things," he says. "And they become either the neighbors or the kids' best friend, or the children themselves, and have them do stuff. I'll be sitting back and narrating, and there will be a lot of improv involved."
The heavily collaborative nature of the piece is unique for Satori Circus. Taylor has worked alongside other artists for nearly a decade, but opening up his ideas to others' input has been a gradual process that has only recently become a major facet of his performances.
"About 10 years ago I pretty much did almost everything myself, and then I started working with someone else to record music and then brought him into the fold of writing some of it," he recalls. "I started working with other people and letting my guard down. I think that has created a different Satori Circus than the old days, even though the old days are still very much present."
The piece's title comes from an Ojibwe phrase meaning "man looking for truth." Taylor decided on the title after his friend and collaborator Sofia Syntaxx, who is of Ojibwe descent, created an Ojibwe name for Russell based on "satori," which is a Zen Buddhist term for "seeking pure truth."
"Dbwe' inini" is as appropriate a name for Satori Circus' new project as it is for Taylor himself. Having spent nearly 30 years honing his craft, Taylor says he's still nowhere near the end of his creative growth.
"I like challenging myself and I like to do a lot of improv, and it drives some people crazy because they want something concrete," he says. "The big thing for me with this is being able to sit back and watch people, and I'll just filter it and suck it all up and it could come out totally different. I don't think I'm really soul searching, so much as I'm trying to challenge myself as an artist to see what I can come up with next."
Steven Sonoras is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
Satori Circus presents 'Dbwe' inini'
10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
The Tangent Gallery / Hastings Street
715 E Milwaukee, Detroit