Living and Dead: The Gettysburg Project

Notes on Living and Dead: The Gettysburg Project by Margaret Eginton and Stephen Miles

The Gettysburg Project began as a way for us to explore collaboration between ourselves and a group of students, using socially constructed games and compositional elements drawn from traditional dance, theater, and music. In the course of sixty hours of investigation and rehearsal during the month of January, the piece that became “Living and Dead” gradually emerged.

Video of The Gettysburg Project

We chose the Gettysburg Address as source material for text, voice, and movement in part because 2009 is the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, and also because the speech is so well known that it would be recognizable to our audience as we deconstructed its elements. We did not begin this project with preconceived notions about the Gettysburg Address. However, our instinctive choice of the text became fruitful for our project because its subject—Lincoln's recognition of the importance of individual responsibility, dissension and consensus—inspired our improvisational structures.

“Living and Dead” consists of a prelude plus six sections, which can be performed in any order. Some use the Gettysburg Address, some do not, and some sections include additional texts. Only one section of the piece is 'set' musically and choreographically. In each of the other sections the performers make choices in response to each other's activities, while following rules involving space, pitch, gesture, and volume.

About the Composers

Margaret Eginton became interested in structured improvisation through performing with Viewpoints creator Mary Overlie and Robert Wilson's Byrd Hoffman Foundation in site-specific works. She danced in the companies of Stephen Petronio and Merce Cunningham, for whom she originated ten roles in repertory and three in film. Choreography for Meg Eginton and Dance Company, was produced by major NYC venues and in Europe. She received the New York dance and theater Bessie award in 1987. Professor Eginton acted off-Broadway, in movies, and on Broadway starred in Bill Irwin's Largely, New York. In 2007 she performed My Mocking Happiness at the International Volkov Theatre Festival with Andrei Malaev-Babel, where it garnered the Crystal Bell. She has directed at American Repertory Theatre, Harvard University, Moscow Art Theatre Studio, New York University, Foire St. Germain, Theatre de Vevey, and Seattle Opera. She has received best direction awards from the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Weekly Planet, and in 1996 and 1997 the Iowa Playwrights Workshop best direction of new plays Iram. Her movement theater pieces include commedia one acts: Who, or Andreyev Slapped; and Rat Race: The Secret Lives of ThemeParks, (co-writer Eric Jakobsen) soon to play Studio620 in St. Petersburg, and Stockwell Theater in London. She has published articles in Performing Arts Journal, Dance Ink, Conversations on Performance, and The Poor Dancer's Almanac. From 1997-2002 she was Head of Movement for the Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University and resident movement coach for American Repertory Theatre, and has been a guest artist at NYU/Tisch School for the Arts, Yale College, the International Institute for the Performing Arts/Paris, Moscow Art Theatre School, and Vakhtangov School. Currently, she is an Associate Professor at FSU/Asolo Conservatory, adjunct faculty at New College of Florida, and a Master Teacher for the Atlantic Theater in New York. Professor Eginton gratefully acknowledges support from family, American Dance Festival, Iowa Arts Fellowships, New York State Council on the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, JCT Foundation, Amicus Foundation, Backlot Arts, Sharon Winer, Maureen Donovan, SASBC,Trust for Mutual Understanding, the Kennan Institute at the Smithsonian, New Music New College, and the NCF Division of Humanities. B.A. Sarah Lawrence College, Dance/Philosophy; M.F.A. University of Iowa, Directing/Collaboration.

Stephen Miles is an active composer, performer, and theorist, focusing on the social dimension of music. Since 1990 Professor Miles has composed vocal music almost exclusively, producing works such as LTG (Lips, Tongue, and Glottis) and The Anatomy of Gesture, for solo performer, Escape for Men, a song cycle for baritone and piano that uses texts taken from men’s fashion advertisements, and Social Studies, a collection of musical games for performers and audience. In 2005, Professor Miles’s De profundis clamavi, for twelve voices, was awarded Third Prize in The New York Virtuoso Singers’ First Annual Choral Composition Competition, and was premiered by the NYVS in Manhattan. In 1998 Professor Miles established New Music New College (NMNC), which has performed vocal works by such composers as Luciano Berio, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Pauline Oliveros, as well as student composers, and has featured leading performers of contemporary music, such as Kathleen Supové, Pamela Z, and The JACK Quartet. NMNC also serves as a laboratory for research in experimental music and social theory. Recent projects include Hocket Science, an experiment in collaborative composition based on Jürgen Habermas’s theory of communicative action. In addition to reporting on his research with NMNC at national and international conferences, Professor Miles frequently publishes essays, including most recently “Agency and Domination in Communicative Performance” (Music and Arts in Action, Vo1. 1, No. 2, 2009), “Objectivity and Intersubjectivity in Pauline Oliveros’s Sonic Meditations” (Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 46, No. 1, 2008), “Composing Reflexivity: The Social Studies Project” (Audiences and the Arts: Communication Perspectives, Brenda Dervin and Lois Foreman-Wernet, editors, Hampton Press, 2009), and “Seeing Cage, Hearing Beuys” (TDR: The Drama Review, Vol. 54, No. 2, 2010). Professor Miles earned his Bachelor of Music degree in 1983 from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Illinois in 1990. He is currently Professor of Music at New College of Florida, where is also Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

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