Loft Chats with Artist in Residence, Riley McCallum

Issue #1 is an adaptation of comic book themes and designs to a live performance with the use of technological elements. The projects mixes dance, theatre, and live action stunts to create the thrill and fantasy that arises when reading comics. The performance will challenge how the audience interprets life concepts that appear in comic books, informing the idea that only through extremes can we see how the mundane is fantasy made real.

Issue #1 opens this Wednesday, April 11, so we sat down with Riley for a bit of Q + A about his project and his experience as an artist in residence at AcA.

Q: How did you get started in the dance and theater world? Tell us a little about you and your background.

Riley: For me, my love of dance started when I was in high school when I joined colorguard. From there I went into musical theater, getting involved in the community theatre in Denton, Texas. I also participated in non-musical theater productions, but I did not start formal dancing until I was 21.

Q: What was your inspiration for this residency project, how did it start?

Riley: I originally was going to re-stage and expand a previous set of work of mine based off of the comic book characters Rogue and Gambit from the X-Men series, but once I discovered all the possibilities available to me in the residency I wanted to do something more experimental. I kept in the vein of comic books but as the project became more experimental I shifted to the more experimental aspects of comics. 

Q: What can the audience expect to experience? 

Riley: The perspective of the audience is constantly being played with throughout the entire project. Much like comic books started to do in the 80s, the traditional layout is warped and sometimes abandoned completely. 

The audience will be lead throughout the building to different vantage points. They will be placed in uncanny positions (such as having a barrier between or an expanse of space between them) which will challenge the conventional ways audience members view a performance.

Q: Tell us about your cast.

Riley: The cast has a mix of backgrounds and training. I have cast members that are classically ballet trained, african dance trained, classically acting trained, tumblers and then some with no formal training at all. This was done intentionally to help the variety of characters in comics be represented as much as possible. There is so much rich depth to the medium that I tried my best to represent this in my cast as well as possible. I have students from UL, LPSS, Basin Dance Collective and freelance performers. There is a large variety of talents presented for the project since each scene takes a different extreme.


Q: What ideas or social conversations were you tackling with this piece?

Riley: The main repeating theme that has presented itself in the work is how gender and the sexes are presented, and how genders play into the roles in comic books. This was not intentional but as each scene developed this connecting thread emerged on it’s own. Each scene takes a look at this idea in a different way. 

Q: For someone who is not a comic book enthusiast, do you feel like there will still be something for them to connect to?

Riley: I think so. I am not delving into the history or background of the medium but rather its thematic and conceptual nature, which I find to be universal. Everyone can relate to characters, whether it means being betrayed by a friend, being judged unfairly, or having a role forced on them that they didn’t want. By keeping to the things that strike on more primal and emotional levels I believe everyone will find something to take away. Plus who doesn’t enjoy a good fight scene.

Q: What specific goals are you hoping to accomplish through the residency program? 

Riley: My main goals have been to see how much technology I can incorporate into my work, and to start building a repertoire as well. Making it a site specific work for the majority of the piece was also intentional so that I could play with this type of setting which I have not been able to explore before. Pulling all of these elements together into one production has been a challenge, but by using the residency program to push myself I believe it has made me a better artist.

Q: What was your artistic process like? 

Riley: A lot of trial and error. I started with very vague guidelines for each scene and then let the material fill in the blanks. Once I had bodies to test it on, the scenes went through another stage of discovery. Having these individuals in particular to work with really affected the final product of each scene.


Q: What were some of your biggest discoveries and/or challenges during the creative process?

Riley: My biggest challenge has been rolling with the punches. This is my first full production that I am at the helm of, and at every step of the process there are challenges. I have either had to make it work with what I had at the moment or I had to rework ideas due to constraints outside of my control. Through all of it though, I think it has produced a more focused and concise viewpoint in the work.

Q: What will take with you from this experience when you move on?

Riley: I learned a lot about staging a production of this caliber. The logistical aspects were the most challenging for me, but I think having gone through them now has better prepared me for future career endeavors. Not letting the logistics of a production limit me as an artist was a great trial to undergo and I will definitely take all of those lessons with me.

Issue #1 opens Wednesday, April 11th-13th at 7:30pm at AcA.

Tickets are just $12.

*To learn more about AcA’s Artist in Residence program, visit residency.acadianacenterforthearts.org.

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