Curating a season is more art than science.
Close followers of ArtsEmerson know that we value long arcs of relationships with artists who seem to strike a particular chord with our mission and our communities. You see such artists return to both create and to present work here.
Thaddeus Phillips is one of those artists. As you may have already discovered, he’s something of a mad genius. He’s been a favorite at ArtsEmerson for years. He first arrived on campus for a workshop of Red-Eye to Havre de Grace, his piece about the final three days of Edgar Allan Poe’s life. Thaddeus and his company jumped right in with the student community, conducting workshops and class visits and opening the doors to their rehearsal process for students to observe.
We then presented Red-Eye in our 2013/14 season. It was a happy hit with Boston audiences and we focused our conversations on a return visit with with one of his earlier works, 17 Border Crossings. Ultimately we didn’t have room in our 15/16 season. Instead we hosted him for a week to develop a different piece, and this time he invited students right into the creative process. 17 Border Crossings moved to this current season, and that is how it comes to be here now.
Meanwhile, the world has undergone a sea change since we first discussed presenting it. It’s astonishing what’s happened in those three years. As a result, the piece has taken on the aura of urgency. The super-charged air around questions of borders, travel and migration was not something we could have predicted as we moved through the dry logistics of planning when and how best to support Thaddeus. The same process has been at work on the piece itself. Thaddeus created 17 Border Crossings over a period of years and well before the collapse of Aleppo and our current president’s descent on that golden escalator, marking the launch of his campaign by smearing Mexicans and promising a border wall.
So, no: We did not program 17 Border Crossings as a way to respond to the current crises on the world’s borders and the resurgence of nationalism in the US and Europe. But we sure are grateful that our favorite trickster is here to give us fresh eyes to look on it with.