“The experience of being … in Deke Weaver’s immersive, magical performance BEAR … is unforgettable — and being there is the point. The feeling of trudging through the park in the dark of night, with the tall grasses brushing your face, the sounds of rustling in the woods, and the sensation of stepping along uneven, muddy, invisible paths all made the fantasy world of BEAR palpably real. We were in it.”
Jonathan Fineberg / Hyperallergic
“Deke Weaver’s Unreliable Bestiary series has a legendary – almost apocryphal – air about it … My experience of the BEAR world (Weaver and Allen) built together was an extraordinary success. The walk around the park, through both wooded areas and the prairie plants, is interspersed with several stops at educational stations, almost like a guided tour through a national park, made even moreso by the costumed “rangers” leading the group. Because part of the mythology of this world is that North America’s electrical grid has collapsed, participants are asked to spin the generator on a digital recorder that projects Weaver’s voice, reciting mostly true facts about various types of bears … If … you have had a chance to hear Deke Weaver tell a story … you know that this is a special kind of magic that befits his name … know that people aren’t exaggerating when they describe how incredible it is to listen to him.”
Rebecca Knaur / SmilePolitely
In collaboration with the Urbana Parks District, the Krannert Center for Performing Arts, and the Station Theatre, we presented BEAR (a six month, three part hibernation cycle), the fourth performance in The Unreliable Bestiary, a life-long project. During BEAR’s Fall Chapter Unreliable Bestiary Park Rangers lead small groups on silent walking tours of six stations (one for each month the bear is awake, each station built with recycled material) through Urbana, Illinois’ Meadowbrook Park. Audience members crawled into a close, dark den for a final story at the end of each tour. We led 70 tours of 8-16 people over the two weeks of BEAR’s Fall Chapter ((Sept. 21 – Oct. 2, 2016)
For BEAR’s Winter Chapter six videos, one for each month the bear is underground, were released online. Each video contained information which guided people to sites in local park land. With their Bear Field Guide in hand, the physical sites allowed participants to piece together a map, which led them to the University of Illinois Rare Book and Manuscript Library where the librarians revealed Dark Bear Secrets, linking the Fall and Spring Chapters.
The Spring Chapter (February 2017) sat audiences at a huge table covered with cake, wine, and candles. Accompanied by live music and shadowplay, two intertwining tales were told: a human becoming a bear, and a bear becoming a human.
While these one-of-a-kind events are being staged in the United States’ East Central Illinois, translations of the work make their way to all kinds of venues. Solo versions – part live performance, part cinematic documentation – tour theaters, auditoriums, living rooms, and film festivals. Shatterglass Studios have shot gorgeous video footage at each of these performances. With this footage I edit a film documenting each performance. DVD’s and digital files are available from these events, giving them longer life and providing classes access to some of the ideas and aspects of the work. Finally, for each Unreliable Bestiary performance I’m making a book. When I finish the last performance of this life-long project, there will be an encyclopedic collection of 26 delicious, gorgeous little books.
Supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship, my three years of research for BEAR has taken me to Yellowstone, northern Minnesota, and residencies at MacDowell (New Hampshire), the Ucross Foundation (Wyoming), and the Taft-Nicholson Environmental Humanities Center (Montana).
I wrote, co-directed, performed and produced BEAR. Collaborators included choreographer/performer/co-director Jennifer Allen, costume designer Susan Becker, composer Chris Peck, lighting designer Valerie Oliveiro, puppet designer Chris Green, and environmental designer Andy Warfel. The BEAR installation artists were Mike Collins, Karin Hodgin-Jones, Maria Lux, Phil Orr, Jason Patterson, and Nicki Werner with thanks to Kylie Reed-Black and Will Arnold.
BEAR performers were Toby Beauchamp, Thomas Brown, Laura Chiaramonte, Jessica Cornish, Joe Coyle, Cynthia Degnan, Charlie Harris, Ellen Hartman, David Hays, Cody Jensen, Jorge Lucero, Mindy Manalokes, Guen Montgomery, Mimi Nguyen, Cynthia Oliver, Tony Reimer, Beth Simpson, and Hana Yaginuma, Our institutional partners included the Urbana Park District, the Krannert Center for Performing Arts, the Station Theatre, and the University of Illinois Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Transformation is usually at the center of all the stories, myths, and rituals we human beings have dreamed up around bears. So, I transformed. On January 1st, 2016 I shaved my head and face. I took a picture of myself every day, and every day I posted the picture, along with a fact about bears, on Instagram. On the Spring Equinox, the Summer Solstice, the Fall Equinox, and the Winter Solstice I posted video animations showing the transformation of my face and head. Here’s the final animation, all of 2016 in 25 seconds:
BEAR documentation photos by Nathan Keay. BEAR sign photo by Valerie Oliveiro. Ranger-hats/prairie photo by Xuxa Rodriguez. Other photos and beard animation by Deke.