Travis Preston of CalArts works as the artistic director and Dean of the School of Theater. In the following article, Travis Preston discusses his new work, Augustine Machine and how it blends American and French rhythm and culture.
Over the past month, CalArts’ most creative minds have joined forces with the Parisian Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique to bring Travis Preston’s seminal work, Augustine Machine ou Encore Une Nuit d’Insomnie to the forefront of French theater. The performance has debuted to widespread acclaim thanks to a balance of both American and French approaches to rhythm and performative execution.
Though the content of the performance is strictly interpretive, it has captured the attention of its audiences and proven to be a successful cross-disciplinary work bringing faculty and students together. Below, Travis Preston explains the deeper meanings of Augustine Machine, discusses its origins, and shares more about how the two schools brought the work to life.
A Little Background into Travis Preston’s Work
Throughout much of Travis Preston’s career, he’s worked to bring landmark works of theater into the future by performing them within modernist industrial spaces. This endeavor started with Preston’s reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, performed across six sections of the LA Brewery Arts Complex. He has since gone on to produce:
- Bell Solaris
- Prometheus Bound
- Fantomas: Revenge of the Image
- Ah! Opera
- Brewsie and Willie
As well, Preston has been appointed a Dean of the California Institute of the Arts and now oversees the CalArts Center for New Performance. With this position, he has since set out to produce joint works with international ensembles, which we can now see the fruits of in Augustine Machine ou Encore Une Nuit d’Insomnie.
The Meaning and Performance of Preston’s Augustine Machine
The history and creation of Preston’s newest work would be nothing without support and contributions from Amanda Shank of the CalArts Center for New Performance, as well as Marie Darrieussecq, Tom Gunning, and Grégory Gabriel, director of Studies at the Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique in Paris.
Together, Travis Preston of CalArts and his team has constructed a milieu of dance, collage, and cinematic projection that captures and embodies the full range of human collective experiences. Starting with hysteria and moving through ecstasy and revolution, the performance seeks to understand both the history and source of our most intense reactions.
Yet, Travis Preston says what has made the performance so provocative is less the content or meaning behind it but rather the ability of the performers to work past simple linguistic boundaries and see the strengths in each other’s approach to rhythm, movement, and the theatrical process. By working through these differences and incorporating new approaches, the performers were able to bring life to Preston’s work.
Building Bridges Across Continents
While few could have predicted the success of Augustine Machine ou Encore Une Nuit d’Insomnie, it never would have seen the light of day if it weren’t for a concerted effort between the CNP and the Conservatoire in Paris. What originally started as a proposed partnership between the two schools quickly grew into a joint project built across continents.
Without hesitation, the CNP gladly accepted and began assembling a team of faculty and students from both schools in preparation for the production. They held workshops in both Paris and Valencia, inviting members of both student bodies, as well as the faculty, in an attempt to make a truly cross-disciplinary creation.
With a team assembled, CalArts then shipped its half of the ensemble to Paris to begin the final preparations. From there, the hard work of bringing each piece together took center stage but, with dedication, Travis Preston managed to blend the CNP’s contributions with those of the Conservatoire.
Of course, the success of Augustine Machine ou Encore Une Nuit d’Insomnie is in no small part due to the ability of both American and French theater to learn from and adapt to one another. By bringing together some of the most creative minds across two continents, the performance was able to explore a much broader range of human experience.
In the future, Travis Preston explains that he can only hope to see more performances that bring together such a wide range of perspectives and knowledge in order to create a more comprehensive view of the world. Though there’s no denying the unique challenges of bringing two worlds together, the results speak for themselves.
Travis Preston’s Augustine Machine ou Encore Une Nuit d’Insomnie has succeeded in bringing together the best of both American and French theater. With a team of faculty and students from the CNP and the Conservatoire, the production has been able to explore a much broader range of human experience. For those with the opportunity to do so, Travis Preston of CalArts highly recommends attending a viewing of the show.