CoHo Blog: An Interview with Remy Autumn Torres

Remy Autumn Torres presents
Build Your Own Container Reality

After 13 years of pushing the bounds of poetry and performance, Remy Autumn Torres is coming to CoHo for the next installment in our CoHo NIGHTLIFE series. Presenting their first full-length show to our virtual NIGHTLIFE audience, Remy’s performance of Build Your Own Container Reality twists and turns. Sometimes sardonic, sometimes sentimental, political, and surreal, Torres abandons the conventions of spoken word for a maximalist performance that both centers and elevates the text.

In preparation for their upcoming performance on November 26th, we sat down with Remy to learn more about their art, their process, and what excites them about bringing this premiere performance to the CoHo Stage.

Q: Remy, tell us who you are and what’s bringing you to CoHo?
A: Hi! I’m Remy Autumn Torres! I am a writer and performer. I have been working at the intersection of text and performance since I was a youngin’. I think, as much as I love things that aren’t spoken word poetry, I think poetry really comes to life on the stage and I think I would love to see more people doing that, and I thought, Oh! I could be one of those people doing that! So I’ve kind of crafted my art around the intersection of those two things. I’ve done a lot of traditional and short theater, I’ve done a lot of more graphical text-based, very unreadable poems… I don’t know, I like hearing myself talk, and this is a great way to orchestrate that happening.

In terms of CoHo, I used to organize with Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, through which I met Morgan (CoHo’s Operations Manager) who organized People Organizing for Philippines Solidarity (POPS) so we knew each other through meetings and rallies and actions and they saw me perform at a fundraiser for an elections monitoring trip we went on and were like, “Hey! You’d be great for NIGHTLIFE!” and I was like, “Yay! I would be great for NIGHTLIFE!”

Q: What is the show that you are bringing to CoHo? What is it called and what is it about?
A: Design Your Own Container Reality is a retrospective of my poetry, arranged thematically rather than chronologically. It is a lot of my hits and my newer stuff, it’s kind of a dream show for me in a way because poets don’t really get long sets like bands do. I’ve opened for punk bands and played at raves and I’ve frequently been the only poet amongst music acts, and promoters usually give me 10-15 minutes, and part of me is like yeah, that’s what the audience wants, that’s what they expect… but part of me is like, no! I think I can bring it for a whole set! I think given the whole time, I can really create arcs and waves and really make it sing.

Q: What is the tagline for this show?
A: A poetic showcase of grace, elegance, and pristine mental health.

Q: Where did your inspiration for this piece come from?
A: So the title Design Your Own Container Reality was originally going to be the title of my first book before I decided to start shredding it and publishing it into chapbooks, but I liked the name a lot because it’s based on a B-side by The Mountain Goats, which is a band that I really adore, called Design Your Own Container Garden. Design Your Own Container Reality speaks to a lot of how my work explores delusion, fantasy, anxiety, and how our brains are making unreasonable decisions based on the limited information we have. A lot of my work is very introspective or entirely imagined, despite my personal desire to have it be more political, so a lot of my more recent work has been trying to fire the signals between those two synapses between introspective and political. So this show speaks to how we’re all living in our own world, despite our best efforts and as far as we can tell, occupying the same meat space.

Q: What do you hope your performance looks like on the stage? What kind of technical elements are you incorporating?
A: One highlight is that newly this year I’ve learned a lot of digital/audio workspace stuff, I use a program called Reaper in this show, so one whole section of this show is me showing off the new pedal effects and things I’ve incorporated, so creating a lot more loops and soundscapes and leaning more into the noisy edge of poetry. This goes back to unreadable poems, because there are a couple poems I have that are written in simultaneous columns, so I’ll be using digital effects to explore simultaneity in poetry, regardless of it being intelligible, so yeah. I’m excited.

And oh gosh! I haven’t even mentioned my collaborator, Kiani Raine Fiona, my puppeteer, who will be puppeteering Smegmo. Smegmo is a character I created earlier this year, it’s an alien that visits Earth and has this cycle of poems describing its adventures and escapades. The interludes for the five acts will be four Smegmo pieces that Kiani will be helping me present. So that puppet was built by Joseph Bryan (my roommate) and myself and Kiani’s been puppeteering it all year. There’s also Smegmo merch, there are little USB stick figurines… People love Smegmo:) So we have the puppet, the digital effects, and also a lot of just me, on the stage, not tethered to a microphone or anything, just me and the camera, me and my beautiful voice.

Q: How long have you and Kiani been working together?
A: Only this year! I live in a cooky art punk house, they moved in in February, and the Smegmo release was coming up in a month and I was complaining that I didn’t have time to choreograph the puppeteering myself, and Kiani was like, “Oh! I used to puppeteer! I could run Smegmo!” and then they did, and it’s been beautiful.

Q: How is the CoHo space conducive to this creative vision, with the puppet and the loop petals… what is different about performing in a small black box vs. your other venues?
A: So, when you say small black box, this is actually a much larger stage than I actually get to use. The stage at my house is 8’x8’, so the idea of having both the table for the digital effects, and Smegmo, and a clear stage for me to do my other stuff is untenable. Like I said, I’ve done straight theater where someone else is writing and there’s a bunch of characters on stage, I’ve done proscenium and black box shows but in terms of my solo stuff, I’m usually opening for bands or I’m at renegade raves, and I’m like, stuck under a booth or canopy somewhere. The CoHo space is really allowing me to bring all of these different performance elements to the same stage so that I can perform Smegmo alongside other poems and have some but not all digital effects.

Q: What do you hope audiences take away from this show?
A: I hope folks take away a couple of new favorite lines. I hope folks feel inspired to pay attention to their inner worlds and to pay attention to how external political forces are shaping their fantasies and anxieties. I hope folks are, from the Smegmo pieces, inspired to see things in a new light and in a new way, even familiar things, and I hope folks write some poetry or whatever art they make, because that’s one thing that like – I have this whole class where I do revolutionary poetry that explores when the history of revolutionary poets, or militant revolutionaries who are also poets, but it also builds into the revolutionary potential of anyone’s poetry, to be a way that we collectivize and synthesize information, which is one way of building class consciousness. It leans heavily on Audre Lorde’s Poetry Is Not a Luxury, who says that the way poetry is taught, it’s just sterile word play, it’s just word games and fucking around, and I extrapolate from Lorde that that’s done on purpose by the bourgeois school to make folks not see and utilize poetry’s real potential and a byproduct of that is that folks don’t like, understand, or pursue poetry after they’re exposed to that in school, or very few people do, and even those that do, very few discover what it’s really for.

CoHo NIGHTLIFE is a late-night, virtual, live-streaming program. Featuring a series of local performances, NIGHTLIFE shows are performed live at the CoHo Theater and streamed to Twitch. Audience members are invited to watch the show from any internet-connected device and can engage with the performance and other audience members through the Twitch chat feature, creating a more interactive, personalized viewing experience. 

There are no tickets to CoHo NIGHTLIFE shows – these events are FREE and everyone is invited! In order to receive a notification when we go live or to tip your artists during the show, you’ll need to be subscribed to our Twitch channel. After you visit us on Twitch, log in or sign up, then click “Follow”, allowing us to send you notifications via email or using the Twitch app when CoHo goes live. When you receive a notification, simply click on it and it will redirect you to our Twitch channel where you can tune in to NIGHTLIFE from wherever you are.

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