projects: wolf

WOLF (2013)

“WOLF was a singular and haunting experience.”
Richard Powers – National Book Award–winning author of The Echo Maker and The Overstory

“WOLF was among the most ambitious works of art I have ever experienced.”
Matti Bunzl – Director, Vienna Museum; Artistic Director, 2010-14 Chicago Humanities Festival

“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

“Each installment of Deke Weaver’s Unreliable Bestiary has been more incredible than the last. Perhaps it’s the brilliant story telling, or maybe it’s Weaver’s performance presence. WOLF is one of the most moving and profound and completely immersive theater experiences I’ve ever had. It somehow taps deep into your own childhood psyche to give you an empathic – and fantastic – connection to the animal kingdom that just doesn’t go away.”
Jonathan Fineberg – scholar, curator, author

WOLF Politics: Performance art behind the barn by Elizabeth Tavares / Bite Thumbnails

A Bestial Journey to the Center of Illinois by Alicia Aler / Hyperallergic

Into the Woods with WOLF by Thom Schnarre / Smilepolitely

Art in WOLF’s Clothing by Mathew Green / Smilepolitely

Going Wolfy on the Weekend by Bob Ferris / Cascadia Wildlands

In September 2013, we put up WOLF, the third performance in The Unreliable Bestiary. After leaving Urbana-Champaign on a park-ranger-guided bus trip to Allerton (a forested park near the farm town Monticello, Illinois), the audience was led over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house: a barn filled with video, dance, music, and stories that pulled some of the threads together. WOLF sank its teeth into the history, science and myth of this remarkable creature, while putting a domestic finger on the pulse of our uneasy relationship with the wild. The show – bus trip included – lasted about 4 hours and included walking outside in the woods.  For a fuller description of WOLF, check this out.

WOLF was performed by Deke Weaver, Jennifer Allen, Nico Brown, Laura Chiaramonte, Jessica Cornish, Joe Coyle, Jenelle Davis, Ellen Hartman, David Hays, Niall Jones, Aaron Landsman, Mary McCormack, Angie Pittman, Elizabeth Simpson.

Writing, video, and codirection by Deke Weaver.  Choreography and codirection by Jennifer Allen.  Music and sound design by Chris Peck.   Costume design by Susan Becker.  Lighting design by Valerie Oliveiro.  Environmental design by Grant Bowen.  Dramaturgy by Jayne Wenger. Stage managed and installation art by Niki Werner.   Installation art by Maria Lux.  Video system design by Damon Loren Baker.  Audio systems design and sound/video operator Bradford Chapin.  Lighting board operator Hali Linn Whalen.


O.k., so I’m guessing you already know that we’re making a performance for each letter of the alphabet, each letter represented by an endangered animal or habitat.  From each of these big site-specific events, I’m aiming to produce translations that are more easily distributed: a solo version of the performance (that can be easily and cheaply presented), a carefully shot/edited video, and a full-color book filled with the text of the piece, photographs, drawings, design sketches, and journal scans.  But before all these translations are born, the big momma performance is invented.  We’re building fully realized works in sites that are related to the animal’s story.  MONKEY was designed for a black box theater, but ELEPHANT was presented in a cavernous stock pavilion, reflecting the scale of the animal with hints of circus, Roman amphitheater battles, and the Thai designation of the elephant as a domestic animal – the same classification of cattle, goats, and sheep.

We presented the big three-stage version of the WOLF performance in September 2013.  With the talent, energy, and enthusiasm of 30 artists, designers, performers, and technicians, and the generous contributions of Kickstarter individuals, the University of Illinois (Center for Advanced Study, Campus Research Board, Creative Research Fund for the College of Fine and Applied Art, the School of Music, and the School of Art and Design), the state of Illinois (Individual Artist Grant), and the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, we presented five performances of the four-hour WOLF to capacity crowds. We filled two tour buses each night.  We left the Krannert Center at about 6:15pm, timed so we would arrive at our destination just before the sun set.  On each bus, a ranger gave a talk about Allerton Park (a forested retreat center and natural area outside Monticello, Illinois) and wolves.  I gave the talk on one bus, along with my Assistant Ranger David Hays.  Ranger Aaron Landsman gave the talk on the second bus with his Assistant Ranger Beth Simpson.  The 40 minute ranger talks featured short video clips played on the bus video monitors, sing-alongs, howling lessons, and a wolf lullaby (for soothing both the biologist and the wolf during stressful capture-and-release operations).

Getting on the bus became it’s own event.  The show was free.  We didn’t want to set up a reservation system – we worried that if we did take reservations, nobody would have anything at stake to actually show up for their reserved seat if it was free (we had some seats reserved for people who had traveled a long way – parents, long-time supporters, relatives, critics, presenters – and for people who had helped shepherd institutional financial contributions to WOLF).  So we made it first come, first served. 


People started showing up very early.  The first night we got everybody on the buses.  But then The Line took on a life of its own.  People were showing up at 2 and 3pm to stand in line.  Some brought picnics to eat while they waited.  Grad students brought their TA sections, sat in a circle on the sidewalk, waited in line and discussed.  The people who got on the bus received WOLF medallions (fabricated by Andy Quitmeyer). For those who were turned away, there was … well for some there was frustration.  We got some hate mail.  We were compared to the Soviet Union.  Thanks to David Hays a system was implemented by the third day which seemed to reduce the Time Lost to the Line.  

In any event, we were tickled to have such an enthusiastic response to the work.  Me, Jen, Chris, Val, Grant  … we’ve all been involved with shows where the LAST thing you have to worry about is crowd management.  I can never really tell if human beings will actually show up.  This time, they showed up.  

All right.  We’re on the bus.  As we entered Allerton, the rangers talked about The Zone and the wolf reintroduction program.  Each ranger split his bus into two herds.  Bus One:  Deer.  Elk.  Bus Two:  Moose.  Bison.  The buses were met by four junior assistant (lil’) rangers (Ellen Hartman, Joe Coyle, Jenelle Davis, and Mary McCormack).  The herds were cautioned to stay together, keep quiet, and peel their eyes for wolves.  Each herd was led down it’s own particular path, separate from the other three herds, into the woods. 

In the distance?  Uncanny sounds.

The sky?  Changing by the second.

The trees?  The color shifting from green to gray as the sun dropped below the horizon.

The walks included information about The Zone, silent encounters with wolves and Red Riding Hood.  The herds converged at the edge of a small tract of prairie – each herd sounding it’s own low-rent musical animal-call (plastic stadium horns, wood blocks, penny-whistle, pipe-clanger).  The herds, now one, were led through the last bit of dark forest to an open meadow, a glowing tree, a pack of wolves, the source of all the strange sounds, and a barn – the beating heart of the Zone.

Everyone was led into the barn.  With installations spear-headed by Nicki Werner and Maria Lux, the first floor was filled with wolf paintings, drawings, sculptures, and dioramas.  We were aiming for a feeling of poorly funded national park visitor’s center with spiritual underbelly.   The other wondrous element of the barn’s first floor were two bathrooms.  It would have been great to have everyone spend 5 or 10 minutes rolling around in the visitor’s center … but I guess everyone needed to pee.  So there was literally 30 minutes of everyone peeing and waiting to pee.  We didn’t see this coming.

We brought people up to the second floor.  The wolf dancers danced (Jennifer Allen, Nico Brown, Laura Chiaramonte, Jessica Cornish, Niall Jones, Angie Pittman).  The video did it’s thing along with Chris Peck’s uncanny sounds.  Stories were told – Fenris, the Twilight of the Gods, the Energy, the Big Bad Wolf and the Woodsman, migratory moose, and Buck the yellow lab from the suburbs of Chicago who brought parvovirus to Isle Royale.  We put everyone back on the buses.  And that’s all she wrote.

All photos by Valerie Oliveiro (except for Holy Wolf Medallion photo by Andy Quitmeyer).  Video trailer edited by Deke with sound by Chris Peck.  Earth/space simulation by Illinois eDream Institute.

projects:   tiger   bear   wolf   elephant   monkey   more