TIGER was the 5th performance in my life long project The Unreliable Bestiary. We are making a performance for each letter of the alphabet, each letter represented by an endangered animal or habitat. So far my collaborators and I have made MONKEY, ELEPHANT, WOLF, and BEAR. We’ve set the performances in sites that reflect the particular animal’s story – or at least the story of our human relationship with the animal. Go here for all the juicy details about The Bestiary.
TIGER was an intimate performance of video, sound, and storytelling. While the actual performance was solo, the building of the piece was anything but solo. TIGER’s award-winning collaborators were codirector/dramaturg Jayne Wenger, costume designer Susan Becker, sound designer Jacob Ross, and visual artist Melissa Pokorny. The event had elements that felt like a travelogue, a ’70’s slide show, a séance, and a Parisian salon. I toured the show down the length of the Mississippi River, from Bemidji, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, mirroring an antipodal progress down India’s Ganges, one of the last homes to wild tigers. The site of the show was the belly of the country, individual events slightly altered to accommodate each venue. The TIGER tour took me to living rooms, barns, garages, museums, auditoriums, theaters, and universities.
O.k., sounds fine. What does the Mississippi have to do with tigers? And, while we’re at it, what do tigers have to do with the United States of America?
I traveled to central India’s Pench National Park, the forest which inspired Kipling’s Jungle Book and one of India’s last sanctuaries for wild tigers. I spent six days at Pench. I didn’t see any tigers. This felt appropriate. There are more tigers kept as pets in Texas than there are tigers remaining in the wild.
To the south and east of Pench lies a different kind of tiger habitat. Perched on the edge of the Bay of Bengal, straddling the border of India and Bangladesh at the mouth of the Ganges River Delta, the Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world. The Ganges starts in the glaciers of the Himalayas flowing south and east for 1600 miles. These glaciers are on track to be completely melted away by 2050. At 2.5 meters above sea level the Sundarbans (and most of Bangladesh) is highly vulnerable to rising seas. So, at one end of the river, the ocean is rising. At the other end, the ice is melting. In between, throughout the Ganges River Basin, lives nine percent of the world’s human population.
The Sundarbans is home to a population of tigers that have adapted to the swampy tide lands, taking on remarkable aquatic attributes. For centuries, these tigers have included human beings in their diet. During the mid-90’s India’s Forestry Department hoped to reduce the number of tiger-induced human fatalities in the Sundarbans. The department laid down the law. Any group of workers going into the forests of the Sundarbans would be accompanied by a gunin – a shaman.
What’s it like living in a place where 25 to 300 people a year get eaten by tigers? What’s it like living in a world where including a shaman in a work party is simply practical?
When we’re making these shows, I’m always looking for local stories that can connect to broader issues. So, for TIGER I was considering stories about big cats here in the States or in situations that are immediately relatable: the mountain lion in L.A.’s Griffith Park; the panthers in Mumbai, feeding on pets and garbage; Java’s last tiger, padding through a Jakarta elementary school; Ohio state troopers shooting and killing 18 tigers and the rest of Vietnam vet Terry Thompson’s collection of exotic animals. Before releasing the menagerie, Thompson had covered himself in chicken parts – hoping, perhaps, to be devoured by his tigers. Thompson shot himself. The tigers ran for the hills. They didn’t run far.
As we built the performance, I set a wide net – sea level rise, economics, advertising, branding, climate devastation, myth, species extinction … but funny! did I mention funny? (yes, somehow, funny). These pieces are never entirely about the animals – it’s always about people, our relationships to the animals, and our shared habitats … all the entanglements.
If you are interested in hosting a TIGER or other Bestiary show please contact me:
deke (at) unreliablebestiary (dot) org
TIGER Fall 2019 and Winter 2020 Tour
some events were ticketed, most events were $0 and first-come, first-served
— House Shows (Urbana & Champaign IL): Sept 18 – Sept 28
— Meadowbrook Park Barn (Urbana, IL): Fri Sept 27, 7pm
— 200 Main Gallery (Eau Claire, WI): Mon Sept 30, 7pm
— Bemidji State University (Bemidji, MN): Tues Oct 1, 7pm
— St. Cloud State University (St. Cloud, MN): Wed Oct 2, 2pm
— Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater (Minneapolis, MN): Thur Oct 3, 7pm
— Allerton Park Music Barn (Monticello, IL): Sat Oct 5, 7pm
— 21c Museum Hotel (Cincinnati, OH): Tues Oct 8, 6pm
— 21c Museum Hotel (Louisville, KY): Thur Oct 10, 7:30pm
— 21c Museum Hotel (Nashville, TN): Fri Oct 11, 7pm
— Moon House (Memphis, TN): Sat Oct 12
— University of Arkansas, Pulaski Tech (North Little Rock, AR): Mon Oct 14, 12:15pm
— University of Southern Mississippi (Hattiesburg, MS): Oct 15, 6:30pm
— Catapult (New Orleans, LA): Oct 17, 7:30pm
— Krannert Art Museum (University of Illinois, Champaign, IL): Nov 7, 7pm
QUOTES FROM PAST WORK
“WOLF was a singular and haunting experience.”
Richard Powers / author of the National Book Award–winning The Echo Maker and the Man Booker Prize shortlisted 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)
SET UP / TECH / LOGISTICS
If we’re actually going to do TIGER, we’ll talk, ok? Thanks for reading.