What Rinde Eckert will be doing Saturday at the Minnaert Center for the Arts is performance, and it's art, but please don't call it performance art.
“I was never exactly comfortable with that term,” said Eckert of New York City, who will perform this weekend in Olympia. “One of the fundamental tenets of that work was that there was a kind of roughness about it. People’s idiosyncrasies would be on display. “I really wanted to do a kind of work that would allow me to grow and allow me to ask more profound and interesting questions,” he said. “I started calling my work ‘interdisciplinary art.’ ”
Eckert began his performance career as an opera singer, and the disciplines he uses to create his art include writing, directing, composing, acting, singing and playing instruments.
“An Idiot Divine,” which combines two of Eckert’s one-man theater pieces, is the first in the New Frontiers series presented by The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.
While in town, Eckert also taught a vocal workshop and is teaching a storytelling workshop tonight at the Minnaert Center.
Saturday’s show is comprised of “Dry Land Divine,” which revisits Cain and Abel with a story about a water diviner who learns to play the accordion, and “Idiot Variations,” which explores the myth of the village idiot or the holy fool.
“To appreciate Mr. Eckert’s piece, you have to adjust to his surreal sensibility,” Anthony Tommasini wrote in a 2006 review of “An Idiot Divine.”
As the Idiot, Eckert communicates mostly in sounds and singing. “One moment, he would sing a weird amalgam of opera, be-bop, click-clacks and nonsense,” Tommasini wrote. “In the next, he would hold a wordless argument with himself by speaking through the mouthpiece of a baritone horn to produce two distinctive and all-too-recognizably human voices: one high-pitched and whiny, the other huffy and officious.”
While the pieces were first combined in 2001, and “Dry Land” dates back to the 1980s, Eckert finds them both more relevant than ever.
“When you deal in timeless mythology, you find that it cycles back,” he said.
“The idiot figure is someone that stands outside and looks in at a society that has no place for him,” he said. “Now we’re in a climate that’s making all sorts of insane categorical statements of the world. It seems like it’s time to talk about not knowing. The admission of your own ignorance puts you in a position to actually see things that are of great importance to you and everyone around you.”
Eckert began his transition from classical music to creating his own work in Seattle in the 1980s and worked on a piece at The Evergreen State College in the mid ’90s.
“The college invited me to come out and build something,” he said. “It was in the dead of winter when classes were not in session, and they offered me their theater because I needed a place to work, and at the end of that period, I did a performance in their theater, but it was just in-house, not a formal performance.”
The piece he created at Evergreen was “Romeo Sierra Tango,” which revisits “Romeo and Juliet” and was inspired by the radio alphabet. “I still use some of the photos that were taken during that performance when I talk about my work,” he said. “I recall it fondly.”