TIGER, the latest addition to Deke Weaver's Unreliable Bestiary, began its three-part local run back in September at Meadowbrook Park. In October, I included its performance at Allerton Park in my list of must-see arts events for the month, where you can learn more about TIGER's origin story or the larger scope of the Unreliable Bestiary. Now here we are in early November, approaching the final staging of TIGER at Krannert Art Museum, this Thursday evening. 

The fact that the local leg of the TIGER tour will be held at KAM is significant. Like it's creator, TIGER is a collaboration between art, design, theater, fashion, and ecological engagement. Weaver is faculty at the University of Illinois the School of Art+Design and affiliated with Illinois Theatre. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that this final performance appears within the larger context of the Illinois Art+Design Faculty Exhibition, where it showcases contributions from faculty members Melissa Pokorny (set design) and Susan Becker (costume design).  

To mark the occasion, and to dive deep into this long and rich collaboration, I reached out to Becker, who graciously took some time from her pre-performance schedule to chat about her role in the Unreliable Bestiary. 

Smile Politely: How did you get involved in TIGER?

Susan Becker: I have worked with Deke on three previous shows from the Bestiary (Elephant, Wolf and Bear). I was thrilled when he asked me to be the costume designer for this one as well.

SP: What excited you most about the project?

Becker: Working with Deke and digging into the research.

SP: What has your process been like? Have all the artists worked in collaboration?

Becker: The process has been very collaborative with Deke inviting us all in early in his process. Even though some of the artists live on the west coast we were able to have an intensive two day residency at Ragdale that proved invaluable to all of us.

SP: What is the most challenging aspect of a production like TIGER that moves through different locations over a series of months?

Becker: For me it was establishing a unique aesthetic language for the work while also having it relate to past productions. The past productions from the Bestiary have been very rooted in a specific place. At the beginning it was a challenge not having a specific location for Tiger to work off of.

SP: Many of our readers will know you from the annual RE-FASHION SHOW. Was there an aspect of repurposing in this production?

Becker: Yes! At one point in the production Deke takes on the role of a man who tends and guards the livestock for his village in India. The role is based on a man who constructed a make shift armor from oil cans and other metal debris taken from his village in a questionable attempt to protect him from a tiger attack. In constructing the "armor" for Deke’s portrayal of the man, I used existing cans I salvaged form the recycling center, Goodwill and the IDEA Store. I wanted to use household brands that people would recognize, Coke, MaxwellHouse, Round-Up, etc. I was hoping audience members would make the connection and see that the choices they make as consumers have consequences. Our local choices here in Champaign Urbana add up to an impact on the environment globally. I wanted the audience to make the connection between their choices and the rising levels of  the ocean. The higher ocean level contributes to a loss of natural habitat for the tigers, driving them into populated areas, necessitating the cobbling together of make shift armor for the man guarding the cattle.

SP: What surprised you most about the project?

Becker: Learning that a tiger’s very low rumble can sonically paralyze you!

SP: Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

Becker: We are so lucky to be able to have access to experiencing Deke’s work live and so many other incredible performers and artists right here in Champaign-Urbana!

Learn more about TIGER and the Unreliable Bestiary project here.

TIGER, an Unreliable Bestiary Performance
Krannert Art Museum
500 E Peabody Dr
Champaign
November 7th, 7 p.m., free

Photos courtesy of Deke Weaver