Meet Lava Fossil‘s Beth Nixon!
In order to properly prepare for the 13th Annual First Person Arts Festival, we want to continue to introduce you to our many incredible performers! Up this week, we have FPA RAW artist Beth Nixon of Ramshackle Enterprises who will be presenting her “suitcase theater” performance, Lava Fossil, (Nov. 12-13). Tickets on sale here.
Beth Nixon creates almost anything you can imagine with almost everything you can imagine. She makes puppets and puppet shows, designs mini theaters made inside of suitcases, illustrates, builds masks, and is capable of making any location her performance space. Throughout multiple projects, Beth has both collaborated with friends and artists from Philadelphia, and has created her own solo shows, like the one she’ll present at the FPA Festival.
AG: What excites you most about performing at the FPA Festival this November?
BN: I lived in Philly from 2000-2012, then moved to Rhode Island, so what excites me most is being back in the city and showing folks what I’ve been working on, and seeing familiar faces. I’m excited to come back home!
AG: This is our 13th Annual FPA Fest. In honor of that, could you share with us 13 random objects you’ve used on stage in the past?
• underarm deodorant
• a (genuine, taxidermied) sheep eyeball
• a spandex unitard
• fruit leather
• high heels
• an ATM
• an audience member’s beard
• space blankets
• a clear glass dog
• athlete’s foot cream
AG: Can you give us any insights about some of the characters we’re going to meet in Lava Fossil at this year’s FPA Festival?
BN: You’ll meet several different angles of me and I hope that you’ll get a flavor for my dad. There are several more scaly extinct visitors and an ash-encrusted Pompeii survivor, or not survivor, and some others. There’s a whole range, there’s a menagerie of other structures, humans, and creatures experiencing grief, loss, humor, and the ridiculousness of being alive.
AG: You use what you call “suitcase theaters” in your show. I’m very intrigued by them. Can you explain to the world what they are and how you came up with the concept?
BN: I didn’t invent the form; it’s an old one that people have been using in magic shows and puppetry for a long time, but it hasn’t, for some reason, caught on as a big trend. I find hard-shell suitcases at thrift shops and reimagine the space inside the suitcase as an environment, or landscape, or character itself. I rig, and build, and finagle strings, wires, or cardboard to transform them into stages on which action can occur. Suitcases are rich with metaphoric potential: the journey and what we carry, an intimate old-fashioned way of unpacking what we take with us when we go out into the world.
AG: How do you decide what mediums to work with when making objects and environments for your shows?
BN: A lot of it is sort of what’s on hand and what calls to me as I move about. I’ll be waking in the park and see a pinecone that makes me want to pick it up. Or at a yard sale, you see some old-fashioned kitchen appliance – kind of like how at a party, you talk to people you are drawn to. I welcome those objects into my art. And often I rely on cardboard, which is an old faithful material for me. I always return to it because it’s free and everywhere and I have the miraculous power to turn it into anything I imagine. In terms of Lava Fossil, I took inspiration from things that I found in my father’s house while cleaning after he died, bringing back to live a lot of those objects, now in ways he likely wouldn’t have used them.
AG: Lava Fossil, the piece you’re going to present at the FPA Fest, was inspired by the passing of your father. Was it emotionally challenging to create and work on this piece while grieving his loss?
BN: Yeah. It was challenging, but life was also emotionally challenging and this was an outlet for a lot of those feelings and a way to process and find humor and possibility in the situation. That helped my grieving process – to have this forum to connect with him through, and with audiences. It’s cathartic and warming to feel the audiences resonate with my story, and hear what it brings up for them. This show has been a place to put a lot of the energy and sadness, and celebrate who my dad was and share my wonderings.
AG: How do you decide on the music you use in your shows?
BN: Like most things, it’s a balance between a thoughtful process and impulse. So, I think it’s the kind of thing where I hear a piece of music and know I want to work with it. Or if I need a piece of music, I’ll open my ears to the world, listening for something until I find it. Mostly, it’s the gut. I’m also often drawn to instrumentals; I’m a big horn appreciator. I’ve also had the honor of working with some amazing musicians to whom I can say “I need termite music” and they can compose just that!
AG: What’s one tip you would give to any of our storytellers who are thinking of building a solo show?
BN: Well, everybody works differently, so it is hard to give blanket advice, but I guess one tip would be to be patient. I’ve been working on this show for two-and-a-half years so far, and taking breaks and making little pieces, bit by bit, letting it grow at its own pace, taking time. And working with a director you trust.
What do you think about all that? Beth’s an inspiration to reuse, reduce, and reimagine.
You have not just one, but TWO, opportunities to see Lava Fossil live during the 13th Annual FPA Festival: Wednesday, November 12 & Thursday, November 13 at 7PM at Christ Church Neighborhood House. Tickets and more information are available here!
– Alyssa Guckin, Marketing Intern