Empathy School was conceived a year ago, while Landsman lived in central Illinois, as his wife completed graduate school at the University of Illinois. Landsman’s work often took him out of town; to get home he flew back into Chicago, and rode a night bus for three hours home. The route he took was part of a trip the bus made from Chicago to Memphis, and Landsman overheard riders’ stories as they spoke to relatives on the phone. The stories were of financial desperation, families separated, a kind of resignation to difficult circumstances that made it clear the economy was not recovering in this part of America.

At the same time, the central Illinois landscape was reminiscent of where Landsman grew up, in Minnesota, in the 1980s, during another long economic downturn. Over the course of a year, Landsman imagined what it might be like to drive that night bus. He wrote a monologue overlapping the driver’s recollections of an abusive childhood mentor, with ruminations on the landscape, and the stories of the riders he hears every night. As the story unfolds, we realize that this route is a pilgrimage for the driver, and consequently for us. He is returning us to his, and our, lost innocences.

As Landsman worked, he and Green began sharing ideas for a collaboration. Both artists are originally from outside New York. Both were wary of surface-level hipster nostalgia for what seemed like more authentic times in America; times that, as both artists knew, kept a lot of people out of the conversation and the economy. What used to be called “white trash” was now a boutique trucker cap; what used to be work was now outsourced, replaced by $200 jeans with an industrial sounding name. Not news, just newly glaring in the wake of the economy’s fall. The driver’s return to his memories have become a way to look at a larger cultural longing for a nonexistent past.

EMPAC agreed to commission the premiere in the fall of 2014. Landsman wrote a new draft, integrating Green’s ideas for sound and video throughout the summer. In October of this year they are recording media between Chicago and Urbana-Champaign. Following that, Green will work on ways to process ambient sounds like wheel and road noise, and turn it into a low music for the piece. This will serve to bring the outside in, so that riders on the bus feel both the landscape and the lens through which we see it. Green is also looking for ways that video and sound can embellish moments in the writing, can augment the silence of the empty road, and provide one or two arresting images, likely through projection outside the bus onto the road or an empty billboard. The goal is to bring the landscape of Illinois to upstate New York – to be in two places at once.

This impulse toward ‘displacement’ follows Landsman’s previous projects, including 2008’s Open House, and 2013-14’s MAP-funded City Council Meeting; in both, a dislocation allows viewers the possibility to see into the past or future, to walk in another’s shoes. Green’s overlay of live action and animation in his own projects often serves a similar formal purpose, which makes their collaboration organic – borne of form and substance alike. Green’s experience with performing live alongside his films, as both narrator and musician, his sensitivity to the ways sound and image can both drive a story on their own and support an existing text, make him an ideal partner for Landsman.

Aaron Landsman creates participatory performances and stage plays that combine formal experimentation and long-term community engagement. Fascinated by the way we perform power, by urban intimacy and absence, and by the changing faces of cities, his works are often staged where people go every day – homes, offices, meeting rooms, and sidewalks. His current work, City Council Meeting is being presented in four US cities in 2012-14, including New York, Houston, Tempe and San Francisco, and has so far involved collaborations with church choirs, engineers, homeless young people, a tourism board, high school students and local government officials. Landsman’s upcoming works include Empathy School co-created with filmmaker and artist Brent Green, presented by EMPAC in Troy, NY; Running Away From The One With The Knife, a play presented at The Chocolate Factory in New York, and Perfect City, a multi-platform research and art project with support from the Jerome Foundation, Stanford University and ASU Gammage, where he is the current Gammage resident artist. His ongoing project Appointment, for single viewers in small offices, has been presented in New York (2009, 2010) and Oslo (2010), and is upcoming in Phoenix in 2014. Previous works include Open House (2008), commissioned by The Foundry Theatre, presented in 24 NYC homes, and upcoming in Novi Sad, Serbia; Love Story (2007) an audio walk and gallery performance at Austin’s FuseBox Festival; What You’ve Done (2005), co-produced by Houston’s DiverseWorks and Project Row Houses; Desk in an abandoned office (2001); and Wreckage at PS 122 (1998). His work is funded by NEFA’s National Theater Project, Jerome, MAP and NPN. From 2004-12 Aaron performed with Elevator Repair Service Theater, in Gatz and The Sound And The Fury. He has taught at Juilliard, the University of Illinois and NYU, and guest lectured widely. Aaron is an advocate for artists abroad, whose freedoms of expression are under threat, including the dissident ensemble Free Theater Belarus. He is based in New York City and Urbana, IL.

Working in the Appalachian hills of rural Pennsylvania, Brent Green is a visual artist, filmmaker and storyteller. Green’s films have screened, often with live musical accompaniment, in film and art settings alike at venues such as MoMA, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Walker Art Center, Hammer Museum, Boston MFA, Wexner Center for the Arts, The Kitchen, Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Rotterdam Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival and even extending to rooftops, warehouses and galleries throughout the globe. Often, his sculptural work and large-scale installation are displayed alongside his animated films most recently with solo exhibitions at the ASU Art Museum, Site Santa Fe, Art Without Walls, Diverseworks and the Berkeley Art Museum. Green has crafted his rickety folk punk style into everything from a feature film (Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, 2010) to a hacked lcd and steel animation machine (To Many Men Strange Fates Are Given, 2012) to his newest feature film endeavors in live action, photography collage (A Gigantic Ordering of Wild Atoms, in progress).  He is a 2005 Creative Capital grantee.  Green’s work is in some fine public collections including the Progressive Collection, Hammer Museum and MoMA.


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