WHAT: CETACEAN (The Whale), the 6th performance from The Unreliable Bestiary

WHEN: 7:30pm Thursday September 28 – Monday October 2, 2023. 5 shows only. Doors open at 7:10pm

WHERE: The Stock Pavilion (on the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign campus), 1402 W. Pennsylvania Avenue, Urbana, Illinois.

HOW MUCH: For you? Totally free.

WHAT, LIKE, NO TICKETS?: Yes, you are absolutely right. Show up, on time, and you will be seated in glory. I mean, there are so many seats in this enormous place and you will get one.

WHY: Because, well, gosh, live performance is really nifty. And because this kinda thing doesn’t happen much in these parts. And because of the oceans and the whales and the sea and the earth and the love and the hate and the yes-we-are-in-East-Central-Illinois-and-yet-THE-OCEANS-AND-THE-WHALES-good-lord-so-much-no-way-you-can-get-in-your-tiny-brain-how-much-they-matter-and-we-are-like-totally-connected-whether-you-like-it-or-not.

PRO TIP: This show is 2 hours and 25 minutes long with a 20 minute intermission. Read it and weep. And the seats in this big amazing strange Stock Pavilion … well, let’s call them what they are: they are not seats. Nay. They are BLEACHERS made of shiny polished concrete. Can you imagine subjecting your delicate bottom to over two hours of sitting on shiny polished concrete bleachers? I can. You should bring a pillow. Or a rolled up yoga mat. Or … uh … one of those adjustable seats that you can bring to the ball game … only here: it won’t be a ball game. Ah! And you might bring a mask if you’ve got tricky lungs – the place can get a little dusty.

WHO: Us. The Unreliable Bestiary. Here we go …

writer/performer/producer: Deke Weaver
director/choreographer/performer/producer: Jennifer Allen

production design/producer: Andy Warfel
technical director: Blane Friest

costume design: Susan Becker
song: Renée Benson
video design: John Boesche & Deke Weaver
sound design: James Lo
set design: Phil Orr & Melissa Pokorny
puppets: Charles Pascale
lighting design: Rob Perry
dramaturg: Jayne Wenger

performers: Gary Ambler, Latrelle Bright, Laura Chiaramonte, Adanya Gilmore, Gabriel Gonzales, Arthur Hall, David Hays, Jacob Henss, Emmy Lingscheit, Jorge Lucero, Guen Montgomery, Philip Phillips

stage manager: Sidney Sprunger
production manager: Joshua Stenger

CETACEAN (The Whale) was supported by the Student Sustainability Committee, the Arts Community and Research Partnership Program, the Center for Advanced Study, the Humanities Research Institute, the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Science, the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, the School of Art & Design, Smile Politely, PYGMALION, CU Adventures in Time and Space, Weaver’s 2021 Illinois Artist Fellowship, with residencies at Centrum and MacDowell.

Inspired by the literary concept of the unreliable narrator and the medieval bestiary, The Unreliable Bestiary is an ark of stories about animals, humans, and planet Earth. With a team of award-winning collaborators, Deke Weaver’s life-long project is presenting a performance for every letter of the alphabet—each letter representing an endangered animal or habitat. Funny, dark, and haunting, CETACEAN (The Whale) – The Unreliable Bestiary’s sixth performance – featured dance, live sound design, and huge-scale video projection while interweaving tales of the sea and its failing ecosystems.

Part social practice, part installation, part live event, the project’s three years of research culminated in a big fat live public performance. For two years, hundreds of local students listed their hopes and fears in CETACEAN workshops. Students burned the lists of fear, made origami stars from the lists of hope, and filled discarded plastic bottles with the ash of fear and the stars of hope. We suspended thousands of these messages-in-a-bottle in the cavernous University of Illinois Stock Pavilion, and told stories under a sea of hope and fear.

CETACEAN started with this idea: a beached whale can be the equivalent of a Superfund site. Removing 35-75 tons of rotting whale is a problem. The task becomes harder, and even dangerous, when it’s understood that man-made toxins that pollute the ocean are concentrated in whale blubber. Author Rebecca Giggs writes, “Greenland’s Inuit women, who seasonally consume whale … had been warned off eating beluga during pregnancy and advised to stop nursing their babies altogether … According to BBC’s ‘Planet Earth: The Future’: ‘If her milk was in containers other than her breasts, she would not be allowed to take it over state lines.’” We’ve come to a time in human history where mother’s milk – what used to be the definition of innocence and purity – just might kill you.


“WOLF was a singular and haunting experience.”
Richard Powers / author of the National Book Award-winning The Echo Maker and the Pulitzer Prize winning The Overstory

“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

Other Animals is a beautiful, quirky, deep show full of Deke’s combination of lyrical storytelling and precisely drawn characters. It’s disturbing and perverse, in the best way.”
Holly Hughes / playwright/performance artist

“Deke Weaver’s Unreliable Bestiary series has a legendary – almost apocryphal – air about it. If you haven’t experienced one, but you’re talking to anyone involved in local art, you’ll hear about it. Usually, there will be some superlatives along with the word ‘indescribable.’ If … you have had a chance to hear 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 / Smile Politely

“Strict categories fail where Weaver is concerned … a delightful, engaging, frequently funny performance, Weaver’s story is especially brilliant.”
Lightsey Darst / MNArtists.org

“2010 wouldn’t be complete without the Art 21 world knowing about this mind-blowing show in a stock pavilion… I don’t know where to begin here, whether it was Deke Weaver’s humor, epic video productions or thoughtfully crafted dance and music by his collaborators, Jennifer Allen and Chris Peck. Weaver’s videos were stunning… Weaver’s style, a layering of live footage, stop-motion animation, projected text and monologue combine to create a sense that there is more to a story than what we see or hear… Allen’s ability to create subtle yet precise differentiations in the dancers’ gestures and formations was remarkable, virtuosic and gritty. The secret of ELEPHANT … is wrapped into a package of video, music, dance and narrative performance that is sensational, entertaining and humorous.”
Marissa Perel / Art 21 Blog

“MONKEY shines in unpredictable ways. … a journey as holy and outrageous as the mythology of Hindu monkey gods or of 1950s Hollywood science fiction, redemption and sacrifice all rolled up like King Kong at the top of the Empire State Building. MONKEY offers a compact, nuggety mindblower…”
P. Gregory Springer / Smile Politely

“What a gift you all made that night! I felt like we shared a wild, vivid dream – strange and resonant.”
Audrey Petty / McSweeney’s editor of High Rise Stories: Voices From Chicago Public Housing

“Weaver’s primary muse is clearly Mark Twain.”
Lawrance Bernabo / Duluth News Tribune

“Garrison Keillor meets Carlos Castaneda in writer-performer Deke Weaver’s cunningly interwoven tales…the magic of the narrative soars…it casts an undeniable spell.”
Brad Rosenstein / San Francisco Bay Guardian

“In a way that only an artist can, Weaver repeatedly undermines the audience’s desire that what they are seeing represents, in the style of old natural-history television, ‘authenticated facts.’  Instead, the artist presents us with what he calls an ‘unreliable bestiary’ — a work which will reclaim a spiritual connection for animals while unmooring the human observer from a world of easily collated zoological facts and taxonomies.  In this topsy-turvy slippery world, what we think we know about elephants is jumbled unevenly with science, whimsy, and farce to create an unsettling contemplation of the elephant as an animal we both might know better and will never know at all.”
Nigel Rothfels / “A Hero’s Death” (commentary on ELEPHANT, Animal Acts, co-edited by Una Chaudhuri and Holly Hughes)

Are you coming from out of town?  Here are a couple of places to lay your head, and some more places to fill your belly.

The Stock Pavilion is on campus (1402 W Pennsylvania Avenue).  The closest hotel is probably the I-Hotel.  It’s not a bad place but it is off on its own out in some old corn fields that are now outposts for internet companies.  There is a restaurant in the hotel.  Unremarkable but it’s fine.  But there isn’t really anything else in obvious walking distance.
The Hyatt is in downtown Champaign.  There are a bunch of restaurants within easy walking distance.  There’s parking.  I think it’s a pretty good place – if you can manage it money-wise, I’d probably say you should go here. Other possibilities are the Hilton Garden Inn and the Hampton Inn (University).  Plenty of other places that will be lovely, just a little further drive to get onto campus and might be more out by the interstate in a commercial desert.

There are some good restaurants.   C=Champaign  U=Urbana
Indian:  Himalayan Chimney (C) … down the street from the Hyatt
Laotian:  Sticky Rice (C) … down the street from the Hyatt
Barbeque:  Black Dog (C) … down the street from the Hyatt
Chicken:  Watsons (C) … next door to the Hyatt
American/Bistro: Big Grove Tavern (C) … right across the street from the Hyatt in downtown Champaign.
Middle Eastern: Dubai Grill (U – on campus) … fast food counter but very good food
Sushi:  Kofusion (C)
Lunch:  Broadway Food Hall (U)  Art Mart (C)
Coffee/Sandwich/Pastry:  Caffe Paradiso, (U)   Flying Machine Avionics (C) Cafe Kopi (C)
Breakfast:  The Courier Cafe, The Original House of Pancakes and, of course, Perkins


Photos by Deke.

projects:   cetacean   tiger   bear   wolf   elephant   monkey   more