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Deke Weaver's performance work reflects diverse artistic background


Deke Weaver
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Image of University of Illinois new-media professor Deke Weaver promoting his play "The Crimes and Confessions of Kip Knutzen: A Hockey Way of Knowledge." In May, Weaver took home the Best Actor award from the 2008 Great Plains Theater Conference for his performance in the play.

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — When Deke Weaver takes the stage, audiences are well advised to strap themselves in for a wild ride.

Whether appearing as a one-man yarn-spinner or with a small ensemble of actors and musicians, Weaver – a writer, actor, video artist and professor of new media in the University of Illinois School of Art and Design – invariably serves as the narrator and tour guide to fantastic worlds populated by singing animals, twins with special powers and other oddball characters. Think of Weaver’s original repertoire as the golden age of radio meets “Twin Peaks.”

One could easily imagine a David Lynch-style television series emerging from one of Weaver’s most recently completed works – “The Crimes and Confessions of Kip Knutzen: A Hockey Way of Knowledge.” Last month, Weaver took home the Best Actor award from the 2008 Great Plains Theater Conference for his performance in the play. The storyline follows events that unfold after the wife of a small-town Minnesota hockey coach wins an “ice-out” contest.

According to Weaver, who is originally from Minnetonka, Minn., such contests are annual rituals in some Minnesota towns. In an ice-out, he said, someone drives an old car out onto a frozen lake, where it remains until spring. The contest winner is the person who most closely guesses the date and time when the lake thaws, plunging the clunker into the chilly drink.

This month, Weaver has taken a couple of his latest acts on the road – to New York City, where he lived and worked for six years before coming to Illinois. On June 5, as part of the Movement Research Spring Festival, Weaver presented a 20-minute piece titled “The Birds of Prey Assembly” at the Judson Memorial Church gym.

“It’s about a little boy at an elementary school assembly,” Weaver said, adding that a guest appears at the assembly to introduce the students to various birds, including a golden eagle, which escapes.

“The eagle lands on the little boy’s shoulders,” Weaver said, and before the drama ends, “everyone confesses to a crime.”

Also performing on the same night at Judson Memorial Church – though not together with Weaver – was U. of I. dance professor and experimental performer/choreographer Jennifer Monson. Featured on another night was Illinois dance professor and choreographer Tere O’Connor.

On June 12, Weaver will appear with Brooklyn-based composer Chris Peck at New York’s Mixology Festival 2008. The pair will present “The Land of Plenty,” a collaborative performance featuring – among other things – multiple video projections, dancing sandhill cranes, Greek hurdlers and a meditation on the Great Plains.

The performance takes place at 8:30 p.m. at Roulette, a major venue for contemporary music and intermedia art founded and directed by U. of I. alumnus Jim Staley. Roulette is located at 20 Greene St., in Soho.

Weaver described the piece he and Peck will perform there as a work-in-progress that considers the landscapes of the Midwest and Great Plains.

“Its base is ideas about myth – national and spiritual – and ideas of manifest destiny and the horizon and what it means.”

Before joining the U. of I. faculty, Weaver – who has a master of fine arts degree in photography from the University of Colorado at Boulder – lived for a decade in San Francisco and worked in a post-production video lab there. 

“Then I moved to New York – just to try it,” he said. “A lot of people said, “try it just for a year and be in the soup.”

Weaver quickly developed an appetite – and an aptitude – for the soup.

“It’s amazing what I learned there about animation and design,” he said, explaining that he somewhat seamlessly fell into a job vacated by a friend who’d worked as an animator for the Showtime cable network.

While learning new tricks at his day job with Showtime, he polished his writing skills at night and presented his original work in shows at Dixon Place, HERE, PS 122 and other venues. He also performed his work in Scotland and Wales, as well as in Dallas, Los Angeles and other locations throughout the United States.

Weaver has been in residence at Yaddo, an artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and at Ucross, an artists’ residency program located on a ranch in Wyoming. He also is a four-time fellow at the MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, in New Hampshire.

He has been the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts regional grants for film/video-making. His video work has been broadcast on public television in the U.S. and in the United Kingdom, and screened at festivals in Australia, Brazil, Europe, Russia and the United States. Venues have included New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the New York Video Festival and the Berlin Video Festival.