Member Spotlight: Mugwumpin

 L to R: Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, Christopher W. White, Joe Estlack, Madeline H.D. Brown. Photo by Diana Blackwell

Ensemble Name: Mugwumpin
Year formed: 2004
Number of ensemble members: 6
Location: San Francisco
Person responding:
Christoper W. White, Artistic Director

What 3 words would you use to describe your ensemble's artistic work or aesthetic?

Discomfiting, hilarious, precise

What can an audience member expect at one of your shows?

An audience member can expect to be very aware of being present in the room, a part of the live event. They’re unlikely to lose themselves in a fiction. They may be implicated in what’s happening. They might be invited into a conversation. They might get sweated on. They won’t be asked to perform—it’s not that kind of “participatory” —but they will be present.

Often, audiences can expect some sort of low-tech theater magic (though occasionally they’ll see some high-tech magic as well). Equal parts hilarity and creepiness. Music, frequently. Physical precision. And very often, at least one moment that is perfectly out of left field: you might not be able to explain logically why it’s there, but it fits just right.

What you working on right now?

We’re celebrating our tenth anniversary! We have a month-long residency at the ACT Costume Shop Theater, where we’re remounting two of our past shows in rep, teaching workshops, showing new work, and instigating a series of conversations around where Bay Area performance has come from in the past decade and where it might go in the future.

Immediately after that, we’re creating a performance and photography installation for a joint Asian Art Museum/SFMOMA exhibit. The piece is called Luster, and it’s a collaboration with the brilliant photographer Pak Han. And as soon as that’s running, we go into our final rehearsals for Blockbuster Season, our newest piece. In it, we dig into the tropes of disaster movies and how they undermine our faith in communities and mutual aid.

How or where does your ensemble find inspiration or new ideas?

We find inspiration in so many different places. Some things that are inspiring me today: YouTube remixes of disaster-movie scenes; solo private moments that people have with their music on public transportation; the animation of Miwa Matreyek; the contradictions and radical irreverence of Jack Smith; games and competitions with arbitrary rules.

What is your rehearsal process like?

Every piece has demanded a different rehearsal process. In the past few years, we’ve fallen into a rhythm of beginning with a research phase, followed by 3-4 development workshops stretched out over several months. Finally, we’ll head into a final rehearsal process of about 6 weeks.

We often will take several stabs at our chosen theme, from lots of different angles. We generally allow ourselves to go very tangential, particularly at first. For example, for Blockbuster Season, the piece we are currently creating, our explorations of mutual aid in times of disaster versus a spurious idea of mass panic has led us (in ways that I can’t even remember) to a series of deadly-serious, though utterly ridiculous, physical competitions, such as balancing atop a stack of yoga blocks.


The Great Big Also 2013 from Mugwumpin on Vimeo.

To learn more about Mugwupin and their 10 year anniversary festivities please visit

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

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