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Release: Oct. 29, 1999

UI alumnus Rinde Eckert directs world premiere of ‘A Tale We Told the Queen’

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Internationally acclaimed theater artist Rinde Eckert, a native of Iowa City and an alumnus of the University of Iowa, will direct the world premiere of his "A Tale We Told the Queen on the Evening of the Fourth Day of our Journey to the East" on the University Theatres Mainstage season Nov. 11-21.

The production, this year’s Partnership in the Arts project in the UI department of theatre arts, will be presented at 8 p.m. Nov. 11-13 and 17-20, and at 3 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 14 and 21, in the David Thayer Theatre of the UI Theatre Building.

On the eve of the millennium, "A Tale We Told the Queen" combines an ancient Japanese Samurai tale and a fantastical vision of the future. A queen and her entourage are making their way home after a long journey. When they camp for the evening her attendants entertain her with an old story that changes her forever.

"Pretty soon the story has completely taken over the company of the court of this queen and in fact there is no audience left; they’re all performing the story," Eckert explains. "It’s a tragic story that turns into a kind of farce, which ends with an hilarious battle. When we staged it I was laughing so hard I couldn’t open my eyes. They had to stop because I couldn’t see anything anymore."

Partnership in the Arts is an annual department of theatre arts project that invites prominent theater artists to develop significant new work for the stage in collaboration with UI students, faculty and staff.

Accompanying Eckert as a visiting artist is composer and music director Virginia Leishman, a founding member of the Kamikaze Ground Crew and the Mr. Wau Wa Band. Her method of composition for this piece began with building a vocabulary of basic patterns of rhythm, pitch and melody that she brought to the actors, allowing them to share in the creation of the score.

"It’s a more organic process than coming in with a finished composition," Leishman says. "It’s not being put on them; they are part of the creation, and therefore they can truly own it on stage. We have the good fortune of building a piece from the ground up with the actors. It is tailored to the people who are performing and the available resources, not to any preconceived idea of what it should sound like or look like."

Eckert also developed "A Tale We Told the Queen" in collaboration with the student actors in the cast, combining his storyline and text with materials developed through structured improvisations.

"We took basically the first three weeks in that process," Eckert explains. "You can spend three weeks on something very simple, a simple movement and it in itself might not be a part of the piece but the quality of mind that’s brought to bear on that movement will be reflected in every movement that’s done in the entire piece.

"In the writing of it I’m taking into account the personalities of the actors, so I’m writing for them, in a way. They collaborate in a sense through the fact of their personality rather than specific contributions to the text. We have taken it to some fun and interesting places."

Few artists can match the many facets of Eckert’s Renaissance-man career. He is a singer, composer, recording artist, actor, dancer, multi-instrumentalist, director and designer, noted for uniting searching intellectual rigor and bold theatricality in poetic, larger-than-life multi-media works that defy categorization.

He has performed numerous times in the UI Hancher Auditorium, including solo works, and productions with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company ("Shorebirds Atlantic") and the Paul Dresher Ensemble ("Slow Fire," "Pioneer," "Power Failure" and "Awed Behavior").

Hancher presented the world premieres of his "The Gardening of Thomas D" and "The Idiot Variations," which toured internationally. The critic of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune called "The Idiot Variations," which is still touring, "a weirdly stunning adventure of imagination and stagecraft . . . out of the mists, the sheer power of the poet is capable of sweeping us away."

Most recently, he performed the one-man show "Romeo Sierra Tango" in Hancher as preparation for the New York Shakespeare Festival. Eckert won a rave review in the New York Times last season for his performances in the one-man opera "Ravenshead," for which he also wrote the libretto: "Eckert climbed, dangled, dodged and danced, hauntingly depicting not only the physical trials of the misbegotten journey but also the unraveling of a mind and personality."

Other artistic contributors to "A Tale We Told the Queen" include Erin Howell-Gritsch, costumes; Vicki Grube, set; and Michael O’Connell, lighting.

Tickets for "A Tale We Told the Queen" are $15 ($7 for UI students, senior citizens and youth). They may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be on sale one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Tickets may also be purchased at a substantial discount as part of University Theatres three-play season package. Remaining choices in the Mainstage season are "The Firebugs" by Max Frisch, Feb. 3-13; "Orestes 2.0" by Charles Mee, Feb. 17-27; and Shakespeare’s "The Tempest," April 6-16.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

For more information on Rinde Eckert, visit <> on the World Wide Web. For UI arts news and information, and arts calendar updates, visit the ArtsIowa website, <>.

(NOTE TO BROADCASTERS: Rinde is pronounced RINN-dee. He is reachable for interviews at the City Plaza Hotel, 319-337-4058.)