8:20pm July 30, 2016 - Pecha-Kucha Night Champaign-Urbana, KCPA
Sept 21-25, Sept 28-Oct 2 2016 - BEAR: Fall, Urbana, IL
Nov 4, 2016 - BEAR and The Unreliable Bestiary, Minneapolis
Nov 2016-Jan 2017 - BEAR: Winter
Feb 2017 - BEAR: Spring, Station Theatre, Urbana, IL

Film of 2013's WOLF available.

ELEPHANT book to be released Fall 2016.
Film of 2010's ELEPHANT available.

Film of 2009's MONKEY available.
MONKEY book available.

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Welcome to the web component of Deke Weaver's project, The Unreliable Bestiary - stories from our precarious moment in natural history. To learn about the project, read below or watch this three minute PBS mini-doc. Or you could check out this interview in ANTENNAE for even MORE fabulous information. It's got juicy gossip. My goodness. So many options.

Inspired by the literary concept of the unreliable narrator and the medieval bestiary, which gave every living thing a spiritual purpose, The Unreliable Bestiary is an ark of stories about animals, our relationships with them, and the worlds they inhabit. The life-long project is presenting a performance for every letter of the alphabet – each letter representing a threatened animal or habitat. Beyond the live performances the project includes a book and DVD documenting each performance, an evolving website, and solo versions of each performance.  The slow accumulation of books and digital-films/DVDs will form an encyclopedic set, transforming the work, giving longer life and physical form to this ephemeral practice.

The deliberate, audaciously ambitious gesture of creating 26 individual, full-length pieces is presenting a tiny sliver of our current catastrophic loss of habitat and biodiversity. The gears of an ecosystem’s clockwork include air, water, animals, money, and the human imagination. Our fantasies, assumptions, and cultural mythologies literally shape the land. Animals and their stories are embedded in our environmental, economic, political, and judicial systems, the systems thoroughly enmeshed with each other. It’s all part of the same cloth. You tug on one corner of the bedsheet and the whole thing moves. Through the animals, The Unreliable Bestiary is about the systems: everything is connected.  In some ways, it comes down to this:  how can you get people excited, or even to just pay attention to something incomprehensibly vast.  It’s been said that by 2050 climate change, rapacious resource extraction, and our exploding population will push half the species on the planet into extinction.  The lions and tigers and bears of our ancient stories will be long gone.  Central to our myths, embedded in our language, rooted in our imaginations - what will we do when our dreams disappear?

In 2009 we opened MONKEY on Darwin’s 200th birthday. We made MONKEY for a black-box theater, but other performances are taking place in specific sites – sites that reflect the specific animal’s story.  Places like circus tents, or national park amphitheaters. We staged 2010’s ELEPHANT in the University of Illinois’ cavernous Stock Pavilion.  ELEPHANT was huge.  The piece featured video projected on two 90-foot long screens, dance, songs, storytelling, and an enormous twelve-foot-high elephant puppet. 

In September 2013 we presented WOLF, The Bestiary’s third performance. After a park-ranger-guided bus trip to forested Allerton Park (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. The sprawling 2013 piece was distilled into a one-man presentation - part live performance, part cinematic documentation - which toured film festivals, galleries, theaters, and living rooms. 

BEAR will be our 4th performance.  With death in the fall and life in the spring, hibernation links the bear’s yearly cycle to Persephone, resurrection, the Underworld, sowing, and reaping. BEAR mediation on seasons and time will be staged in three chapters: Fall (2016), Winter (2016-17), and Spring (2017).   

The Unreliable Bestiary’s core group of artists, designers, performers, and thinkers includes Jennifer Allen, Chris Peck, Valerie Oliveiro, Susan Becker, David Hays, Nicki Werner, Maria Lux, Jason Patterson, Jessica Cornish, Laura Chiaramonte, and Andy Warfel.  The project has received enthusiastic support from the School of Art & Design at the University of Illinois, the Urbana Parks District, the Krannert Center for Performing Arts, the Center for Advanced Study, and many many generous individuals.  The Bestiary has been honored with grants from Creative Capital, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council, the University of Illinois Campus Research Board, the College of Fine and Applied Arts, and Humanities Without Walls, with residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, Taft-Nicholson Environmental Humanities Center, and Isle Royale National Park.  In addition to the fully realized site-specific performances, compact versions of the work have been presented at the Sundance Film Festival,  the Chicago Humanities Festival, the Houston Cinema Arts Festival, the Cinema Pacific Film Festival (Eugene), the Goat Farm Arts Center (Atlanta), galleries, theaters, and universities around the country.  The texts for MONKEY and ELEPHANT were included in Animal Acts: Performing Species Today, (edited by Una Chaudhuri and Holly Hughes, University of Michigan Press) accompanied by essays written by Nigel Rothfels and Cary Wolfe.

A “black elephant” is a cross between “a black swan” (an unlikely, unexpected event with enormous ramifications) and the “elephant in the room” (a problem visible to everyone that no one wants to address). Environmentalist Adam Sweidan points out that there’s a “herd of environmental black elephants” on the brink of stampede: global warming, deforestation, ocean acidification, massive fresh water pollution, and mass extinction. Sweidan says, “When they hit, we’ll claim they were black swans no one could have predicted, but, in fact, they are black elephants, very visible right now.” The Unreliable Bestiary is finding ways to talk about the elephant in the room. Through our stories of animals, climate, and people, we’re creating experiences that subtly draw out the connections between wildly disparate local and global dots, experiences that continue to illustrate how the personal is political. By making environmental, psychological, social degradation tangible and present, by linking these stories to cultural origin myths and our fantasies of the future, remixing them, rewriting them, weaving them from whole cloth and telling them in unusual contexts - we hope to remove our audiences from the daily grind and remind them to wake-up, take stock, and climb back on a new horse. Finding the right tone for our performances is crucial. As a friend has said, “Why would any one want to get brow-beaten by some self-righteous activist? Nobody wants to sit in a room where someone locks the door, throws away the key and starts screaming at everyone to drink the terrible medicine.” We work with humor. Silence. The ridiculous. Wonder. Our live performances slowly, quietly insist on re-enchantment and the dismantling of the status quo.

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