Road show kicks off Thursday
Deke Weaver's highly anticipated multimedia production, "Wolf," won't get underway in a typical venue.
Instead, it starts on a bus. People attending the free show — there will be five performances from Thursday through Monday — will board two buses in front of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, starting at 6:15 p.m.
On each bus, actors including Weaver will act as park rangers, telling stories about wolves as well as showing video clips.
Once the buses arrive at Allerton Park in Monticello, people will take a 20-minute walk through the woods, seeing actors and dancers along the way. The multimedia show will end in the Allerton Music Barn.
Weaver expects the buses to return to Krannert by 9:30 p.m.
"Wolf" is the third installment in his "Unreliable Bestiary" series, in which the associate professor at the University of Illinois School of Art + Design explores animals that are or have been on the endangered species list.
"Monkey," the first performance, was presented at the Station Theatre's black-box house. His second, "Elephant," took place in the cavernous UI Stock Pavilion.
"If 'Elephant' felt like a circus, 'Wolf' might feel like a campfire," Weaver said in a news release.
He also called the "Unreliable Bestiary" project personal.
"My father is a biologist," he said. "The interconnections between the environment, wildlife and the human spirit have seeped into me since I was a little kid.
"More and more, the project seems to be about how these animals function within particular ecosystems. But I'm not just talking about our traditional understanding of the word ecosystem — I'd like to include our cultural understandings, assumptions, myths and fairy tales that make up our ideas of these animals —which go on to form our ideas of the broader world."
During the three years he researched "Wolf," Weaver attended a wolf management workshop in Yellowstone National Park and was the artist-in-residence at Isle Royale National Park on an island in Lake Superior. He also visited wolf sanctuaries in Oregon, Idaho and Minnesota.
Through his research, he looks for stories that people can connect to directly, personally and emotionally, he said.
One of the most controversial wild animals on the planet, the wolf has been taken off endangered species lists in some states. As a result, some states immediately allowed the hunting of wolves.
"Once you start digging into it, you realize how weird and political the endangered species list is," Weaver told The News-Gazette. "It's pretty intense."
He said after the earlier "war on wolves," a term author Barry Lopez uses in his book "Arctic Dreams," many wildlife managers realized how important the wolf is as a predator.
"When you lose them, you start screwing up with ecosystems, all way down to microbes in the rivers," Weaver said.
He emphasized that "Wolf" is a collaboration among several artists. Weaver's wife, Jennifer Allen, a dancer, choreographed the show and directs it.
She also dances in "Wolf"; other dancers are Niall Jones, Angie Pittman, Nico Brown, Jessica Cornish and Laura Chiaramonte. Other performers in "Wolf" are Aaron Landsman, Elizabeth Simpson and David Hays. Susan Becker is in charge of costumes.
Weaver will be a "ranger" on one bus, and Eric Landsman will be the ranger on the second bus.
The show will feature both taped and live music by Chris Peck, who composed the music for Weaver's "Elephant."
People who want to see "Wolf" must ride a bus to Allerton Park and not drive there themselves.
"By doing that, they've missed half the show," Weaver said. "We can only have the people on the bus, for each show."
People who want to attend may pick up their free tickets starting at 5:30 p.m. the night of each performance from "rangers" Weaver or Landsman in front of Krannert. Tickets will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
People are advised to wear shoes appropriate for walking in the woods. For more information, visit http://unreliablebestiary.org/.