Flying ‘SoLow’ for Performance Festival

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Mira Treatman has had her hands full in preparation for the upcoming SoLow Festival in Philadelphia, a weeklong festival of low-budget yet still highly respectable experimental performances from dance to theater.

In addition to preparing for her own duet performance with friend Irina Varina, she has worked with her other friend, Talia Mason, for her solo performance at the festival.

Treatman and Varina will perform Rejected Thoughts, a duet performance that explores their identities and what they deemed “rejected thoughts.”

“It’s a show about thinking,” said Treatman, a Philadelphia native who recently moved back to the area. “It’s a collage of all of the things that we really care about that we might be a little bit shy or reserved about sharing in a public way. A large part of what we’re doing in the show is talking about our identity and how there are parts of ourselves that we’re very reserved about, but that by kind of claiming these parts of our identities that we can kind of be empowered through them — for both of us.”

They have been working on the performance since January, and it will be performed June 22, 24 and 25.

The two met during classes at Headlong Performance Institute and Rejected Thoughts is the first full-length piece they’ve made together.

Working together and exploring these vulnerable parts of their identities without having known each other long was “refreshing” — and challenging — for both of them, Treatman said.

“It makes it easier to work with another person who’s doing the same thing and going through it together,” she said. “We have the same goals for the piece, I would say, but it doesn’t make it any easier to embrace these hidden things about yourself.”

For Treatman, exploring her family history and her Jewish background was one part of her that she was keen on exploring. Though she and Varina have known each other for less than a year, working together was an enjoyable process because there were always “unexpected things” that came up.

“It’s kind of the equivalent of puppy love but in a professional artistic relationship,” she laughed. “When they share a little quirk you didn’t know it’s exciting, whereas if you’ve known someone for years it’s like, this person has a quirk that I’ve known about and have to deal with it.”

Her Jewish identity in particular is what interested Treatman the most.

For the performance, she took a DNA test to learn more about her family’s background, and she hoped it would answer some questions she had — though it didn’t give her the results she was anticipating.

“I kind of have this lingering question what does it mean to be a Jewish person,” she explained. “I was curious if I could find out through my DNA. I was also curious between culture and religion — where do I stand on that line between culture and religion, and I started to gravitate toward culture than religion.”

Another topic she explores in the performance is looking back at her past progression of romantic relationships, and she will do this by reading a play — within the play.

The play is from the perspective of a sexually frustrated 15-year-old. It talks about that in a more candid way than one might do today. She hadn’t looked at it since she wrote it as a teenager.

“That’s why it’s funny,” she said, “because the point of view of that play is saying all these things adults can’t really say in polite company.”

She hadn’t looked at the play in many years, and it’s part of the reason they titled the performance as they did as she looked back at art and writing she did growing up.

“I wrote a lot of poetry and quite a few plays and only produced one, and when we were thinking about Rejected Thoughts, we were thinking about rejected art and rejecting your own artistic ideas,” she said.

She hopes the audience, of course, enjoys the performance but more importantly that they laugh with her and Varina.

“My No. 1 one thing is being a good comedian,” she said. “I hope people are really laughing with me as I get up there because I would say there’s a lot of comedy in the show.”

Meanwhile, as she was working with Varina on their project, she was serving as dramaturg for Talia Mason, who created her first solo piece Onion Dances, which she will perform June 17, 18 and 26.

Mason finished a semester at Headlong as well, which was where she first met Treatman in their class of seven artists. Her piece was originally going to be a duet between the two, but they soon discovered it’s meant to be a solo piece.

It began when they were working on constellations in her dance class, which was a project including objects that one finds interesting. Mason used an unpeeled onion and thinking about what onions represent, such as the “cliché” meanings like layers.

She and Treatman started the process by chopping bags of onions and trying to cry — but they couldn’t. Whether it was because of the studio space they were in or another factor, they couldn’t cry.

“The piece started because I was really interested in vulnerability and what it means to be able to cry in front of certain people and be your truest self and what it means to be able to not,” said Mason, who was born in London and lived in Paris during her middle-school years.

The piece, which will include chopping onions, is a combination of dance and theater. In it she discusses her own family background and how it has shaped her identity, similar to Treatman.

“A lot of the stories I tell in the piece are about being Jewish,” she said, noting her mother and that side of the family are Jewish while her father’s is not. “My birthday always falls in between or on Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, so there’s a story about going to services and not getting to eat on my birthday.”

She and her twin brother were the first in their family to become Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and her mother, who was also on the team that helped found the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., lived in Israel for a while and speaks Hebrew fluently.

These factors have shaped Mason’s identity, she said, and while she won’t speak directly in the piece about being Jewish, those elements are certainly there.

“None of it is directly about being Jewish but examining my Jewish identity was a way to better understand who I am,” she said, though she did try and make it so the piece will still resonate if you are not Jewish. “It’s a dance theater piece for sure. It hints at Judaism and some overt things that people who aren’t Jewish might not understand.”

She is excited to share this piece with an audience for the first time and hopes to be able to tour it at some point.

“I’ve never written a solo show or put together a solo by myself, so that’s exciting to be able to create a 35-minute solo, which is kind of insane, and just kind of go for it,” Mason said with a laugh. “I’m hoping audiences will find some honesty and truth in what I’m sharing and find moments they can relate to on a human level, and that they’ll challenge what I’ve made, not ‘I’m totally onboard with what you’ve put forward,’ but I’m interested in creating a dialogue.”

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