chapter  19
14 Pages

Kate Valk: David Pellegrini

WithDAVID PELLEGRINI

Kate Valk is widely recognized as one of the premier actresses in American alternative theatre. She began her decades-long association with The Wooster Group shortly after graduating from New York University’s performance program, where she studied under venerated Stanislavski-interpreter Stella Adler, and in the Experimental Theater Wing with Wooster founding members Elizabeth LeCompte, Spalding Gray, and Ron Vawter. As an intern to LeCompte, Valk was seamstress and stage manager for Point Judith (1979), and made her performance debut in Route 1 & 9 (1981). She has been a member of the company ever since, co-creating and performing theatre, video, and radio pieces that have compelled the reexamination of the form and function of texts and their presentation. She received an OBIE (OffBroadway Theatre) Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance (1998), and a BESSIE (New York Dance and Performance) Award for Best Performer (2002). Her interpretation of Brutus Jones in the 2006 revival of the company’s 1993 production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones (1920) was compared to Sarah Bernhardt in La Dame aux Camélias, Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie, and Maria Callas in Tosca (New York Times, March 14, 2006), thus bringing her recognition by the mainstream theatre establishment and galvanizing hers as one of the most celebrated performances in the history of “downtown” theatre. She has co-directed the company’s Summer Institute for New York City public high school students since 1998, and has participated in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative program. As both Gertrude and Ophelia in The Wooster Group’s Hamlet (2007), Valk’s

performance was lauded as one in a long line in which she displayed her versatility. As evidenced by extensive scholarly interest, the production has entered the pantheon of radical, performance-centered interrogations of the play’s poetics, which includes Heiner Müller’s Hamlet-Machine (1979), Robert Wilson’s one-man show (1995), and Robert Lepage’s Elsinore (1996). Developed over a two-year process that included workshops, rehearsals at The Performing Garage (the company’s base and performance venue in Soho), and previews in Europe and Brooklyn, Hamlet premiered at the Public Theatre/New York Shakespeare Festival in October 2007. Although it marked the first time The Wooster Group engaged a Shakespearean text, the production coalesced the company’s ongoing explorations of the dramatic canon and of the performer as mediator between individual and social consciousness. To appreciate the significance of Valk’s performance in Hamlet, therefore, is to consider

her work in context of the company’s collectivist ethos, eclectic development process, and pioneering use of technology. It also means situating the production within a distinctively American tradition of Shakespearean performance. Valk has developed what many consider to be a peerless ability to simultaneously

embody and critique a range of performance styles alongside the company’s “appropriation and deconstruction” of works by American playwrights such as Gertrude Stein, Thornton Wilder, and Arthur Miller, and the ongoing experimentation with “spatial relationships both onstage and between the audience and the stage” (Aronson 2000: 153). In building a repertory of controversial and much-examined works, The Wooster Group aesthetic has become synonymous with

emphasis on process over product; resistance to a univocal narrative through the creation of a nonlinear structure; employment of diverse styles of performing; the overlapping of intricate aural and visual elements, often mediated by sophisticated technology; and the recycling of scenery, props, and costumes from earlier pieces.