How did a flamboyant heterosexual avant-garde Parisian novelist successfully impersonate a lesbian Greek poet in the most elaborate erotic literary hoax the world has ever known? Rogue Artists Ensemble premieres Songs of Bilitis, with 4 performances at South Coast Repertory, part of its Studio SCR, February 15-17, followed by a 4-week run at L.A.'s Bootleg Theater beginning March 8.
Combining multi-media projections with puppetry, movement, sophisticated live audio-sampling and larger-than-life Greek masks, Rogue Artists Ensemble transports the audience through a world of sexual power struggles and changing identities in this erotic psychological thriller based on a true story.
Originally commissioned by and workshopped at the Getty Villa in 2012, Songs of Bilitis is adapted by Katie Polebaum and Rogue Artists Ensemble from the French erotic novel by Pierre Louÿs. At the turn of the 20th-century, Louÿs captured the imaginations and libidos of the literary world when he penned an extensive collection of exquisite and sensuous poetry by a fabricated Greek courtesan named "Bilitis." Holding a false place in the canon of classical Greek erotic literature for nearly ten years, Songs of Bilitis became the world's greatest work of counterfeit Greek erotica.
"Songs of Bilitis is a unique project in the Rogue cannon of work," says artistic director Sean T. Cawelti. "This is our first truly erotic and sensual creation, and the process has been full of incredible discoveries as well as challenges. The piece has a striking visual vocabulary that steams with desire and overflows with imagination."
Songs of Bilitis stars Christina Aimerito, Angela Brockunier, Stephen Elrod, Estela Garcia, Aryiel Hartman, Heidi Hilliker, Zach Kanner, Steve Madar and Christopher Rivas. Scenic design is by Sarah Krainin; lighting design is by Haylee Freeman; sound design is by John Nobori; video design is by Matthew Hill; costume design is by Kerry Hennessy; puppet design is by Cristina Bercovitz; masks are by Keith Mitchell; choreography is by Nate Hodges; and technical direction is by Tyler Stamets and Adam Hunter.
Designer and director Sean Cawelti graduated from the University of California Irvine, where he received his BA in Drama with honors in Stage Direction, and studied puppetry at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. He was awarded a 2006 Technical Achievement Honor for Puppet Oriented Theater Design by the OC Weekly and a Los Angeles Drama Critic's Circle award for his adaptation of Mr. Punch, a graphic novel written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated Dave McKean, which he also directed. He serves as artistic director for the performance group Rogue Artists Ensemble, which creates Hyper-theatrical productions, incorporating puppetry, masked acting, original music scores and theatrical effects. Mr. Cawelti has designed puppets and masks for Cornerstone Theatre Company, International City Theater, Rude Guerrilla Theater, Opera Pacific, NYU and many others. One of the Rogues' latest works, Gogol Project, which Mr. Cawelti directed, was nominated for twelve Drama Critics Circle Awards and LA Weekly Awards including best direction and was honored with a UNIMA Citation of Excellence.
Rogue Artists Ensemble differs from other theater companies in that it's run by a collective of multi-disciplinary artists and designers rather than by actors, writers or directors. By combining ancient storytelling techniques (music, dance, masks, puppetry) with modern technology (digital media, special effects and theatrical illusions), the Rogues cultivate a unique style of live performance unlike any other. They define the combined use of these and other underrepresented art forms as Hyper-theater.
Rogue Artists Ensemble's D is for Dog was named one of the top-rated shows of 2011 by Bitter Lemons, a website that aggregates reviews for Los Angeles theater, receiving an Ovation Honor for Puppet Design and an LA Weekly Award nomination for Best Comedy Ensemble. The company's HYPERBOLE: origins was nominated for four LA Weekly awards including Best Production, Video Design, Production Design and Sound Design. In 2009 the Rogues worked with playwright Kitty Felde to Hyper-theatrically adapt three short stories by Nikolai Gogol; Gogol Project was a Critic's Choice in the Los Angeles Times, winning four Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards for Adaptation and Design and an LA Weekly award for Design. Prior to that, The Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch delivered on its promise to "make audience members feel as though they had opened up the graphic novel and wound up trapped deep inside," earning rave reviews and garnering three Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards; that production was also given an entire chapter in the book "Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman." Other Rogue Artist Ensemble productions include The Victorian Hotel by Angus Oblong, The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone, adapted from the book by Timothy Basil, and four prior HYPERBOLE productions including HYPERBOLE: epiphany and HYPERBOLE: changes.