Control Group Associate Director Nicholas Caputo in CAVALCADE! Photo by Finnocitta.
The name 'control group' is fraught with ironies:
A nod to our goals of research and experimentation, to our desire to connect scientific and artistic processes, to a proposal that perhaps we are the uninflected ones, the lab rats receiving sugar pills instead of untested experimental compounds.
A joke about the tension between my dance-technical roots in release techniques and my anal-retentive management style.
Most poignantly, a claim to the overarching research focus within our body of work: the limits of control.
Our research over the last 12 years has explored the boundaries of human agency – where we find and push on these boundaries, how we accept them, how we can struggle and succeed, what happens when we lose control. This focus plays out in our concepts, topics, content, structures, and process. In part, it's a personal journey of acceptance of how little control I have, and in a humble, piecemeal way an effort to dismantle the destructive American / Western myth that we are the sole measure of our own destinies.
Viewed in this light, I suppose this moment promises much fruitful experience to create from...
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Around March 11, as we started feeling the lurching velocity shifts of a world exiting STABLE MODE, my first responses were:
1. Immense gratitude for the recent growth we've achieved. Control Group is in a far better position than at any time in our past to weather what's coming at us.
2. Deep fear for our professional community and field. Looking down the throat of a year(s)long fight with a global pandemic, and the economic devastation that would hit the live art world a successive waves of funding scarcity, my sad expectation is that one quarter to one half of our industry will be gone by the time the economy comes out of the downturn.
3. An urgent need to support our people as best we could, so that just maybe they would be able to come through this in a position to continue creating art together.
4. Optimism that our unconventional approaches and outdoor site-specific producing experience put us in a position to lead our community back into communion with audiences.
* * * * *
Within a week, we had canceled THE END due to "defictionalization of contents" and begun an ad hoc process to create an event that could greet people as we came out of quarantine – a "pandemic-proof production" that turned into CAVALCADE!
The process was arduous, filled with change-orders and compromise upon compromise as we tried to navigate changing health advisories and timelines, digital rehearsals, furloughs and work restrictions at city offices, and individual crises growing out from the global ones. One of our early gatherings in our research process for THE END: the apocalypse is personal. The factors may be global, societal, but even when we are all facing the same crisis, the experience is mostly individualized.
We arrived to the end of May battered, resilient, and still working to secure usage permissions for several of CAVALCADE!'s public sites. We cheered the protests erupting out of the murder of George Floyd, and took the break in work to double down on our permitting efforts.
It didn't work. Denver Parks & Rec drew a hard line: no organized activities of any kind. Even if audiences didn't enter park property. Even if it was only two or three performers, socially distanced, for 20 minutes or less, engaging in activities that were completely legal (if they weren't "organized"). Even though two weeks later the city shut down multiple downtown streets to allow restaurants to offer al fresco dining.
(There's a lot to raise your voice about currently. If you want advocate for opening public spaces to cultural events during the pandemic and beyond, here are some thoughts based on our experiences.)
The protests were still holding their momentum and public focus. That made the choice to cancel the entire CAVALCADE! production much easier – an act of solidarity as well as our first irremediable permissions failure in more than a decade of activities in public sites.
* * * * *
The CAVALCADE! process succeeded in keeping our artists working from March through early June. Despite that, we've witnessed three of our core collaborators be un-housed over that time, including Control Group's Associate Directors Bailey Harper and Nicholas Caputo.
At the end of June, Bailey and Nicholas decided to leave Control Group as they navigate larger life changes. This is a deeply sad moment, and a major shift in what Control Group is and how we move forward. We're excited to follow these amazing artists in their future endeavors, and... we'll miss you, friends.
Over the last month, as annual and emergency funding awards are announced, we've begun building a picture of what the next year can look like. The simple version is: we're going to be OK, and we continue to feel that we're artistically well-suited to create and share our work in the midst of this tumultuous moment, and we're going to struggle financially to do so.
Simultaneously, we've been engaged in internal examination of how we can meet and serve our community more responsibly and effectively. In the face of the George Floyd protests, and a concurrent conversation within our professional community about artistic ownership and attribution, we're pursuing policies and cultural shifts within our organization that will help us operate in stronger harmony with our values.
* * * * *
We're going to be pretty quiet for a little while, as we focus on planning and internal processes. In case you're wondering about us, know that we'll be:
–Spending some time off-grid, communing with wilderness and family.
–Conducting an anti-oppression training and consulting process, and working toward consultations we've had to postpone around Accessibility and Emergency Preparedness.
–Exploring new artistic and administrative constellations that will help us meet the challenges and opportunities of the coming year(s).
–Recalibrating our programming for greater resiliency and responsiveness.
–Working to find our footing and our agency in this time, and accept how little control we have.
Feel free to reach out if you have thoughts about the crazy world, cool ideas you'd like our help executing, interest in creating art with us, or a desire to help us find our way forward.
Otherwise, know that we'll be back soon, and stronger, and that we love you.
Artistic Director, Control Group Productions