Nora Sharp will be presenting the world premiere of their new short video, The Real Dance: A Micro Reality TV Show, as part of the Virtual Video Premieres event on May 27 at 7pm. Nora chatted with Gina Wrolstad, 2021 spring season Marketing Manager, about their process and background. 

GW: As the marketing person for this year’s festival, I’ve spent a lot of time on your Instagram! Can you tell us about your handle “The Amtraklor” and the Links Hall performance that inspired it?

NS: Sure! I’ve been a fan of rail travel for a long time. It’s a combination of never having gotten a driver’s license, avoiding flying for climate reasons, and simply because I prefer it over other modes of travel. I love the slow pace, open land, and funny stories that you come away with after meeting strangers. 

After the first year of receiving a FREE “bring-a-friend” coupon when signing up for an Amtrak points credit card, I used it for a trip with someone I was dating, and we broke up shortly after. When I was crying/venting around a fire a few weeks later, my friend Jackie Bousek said, “next time, you should have a Bachelor-style competition where the winner gets to take the Amtrak trip with you. You could call it The Amtraklor!”

At first it was a joke, and then it wasn’t! About a year later, my coupon renewal came through after just having finished a residency at Links Hall, a place I was feeling a lot of love for because their community had been so transformative for my performance practice. 

Through a slew of applications, a game night hosted by comedian Tribble, and the contributions of Jackie Bousek, Lally Gartel, Jesse Malmed, Missi Davis, and Brett Swinney, we ended up with our winner! Charlotte Long and I traveled to the Canyonlands/Moab area of Utah that spring, as she was in a creative process surrounding death and the desert. I am so grateful to everyone who got on board with this extremely fun, hard-to-explain concept, that allowed me to share a resource I had with my community.

GW: You describe The Real Dance: A Micro Reality TV Show as a discovery of “when people stop being polite and start moving for real.” Can you talk a bit about the process for this piece as well as how you landed on the title?

NS: The title and description of The Real Dance are a reference to the tagline of the reality TV show, The Real World: “This is the true story of seven strangers picked to live in a house, work together and have their lives taped–to find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real.” When my dramaturg Grace McCants and I made it up, we knew that some people wouldn’t be familiar with the reference–and that’s okay! It’s worth it for the joke, and it’s fairly accurate.

This piece comes from a few different threads: 

  1. The value of documenting a dance-based making process on video–ideally, with the videographer being an integrated part of the cast
  2. The great joy I take in getting to know other people, what they are about, what matters to them, and how that all becomes visible in their movement
  3. My excitement about forms of entertainment (such as reality TV) that can frame experimental or process-based work in a way that changes the tone, lowers the stakes, and expands the ways we’re invited to get invested in the work

I intentionally cast a combination of performers I knew and had worked with, and who I did not. The cast documented themselves dancing in their homes (and nearby places) over the course of about a month, and completed periodic interviews with me along the way. I asked them to watch footage of their improvisations and describe themselves in those moments, in the confessional style of reality TV. At the end of that period, we did one collective outdoor shoot at 63rd Street Beach. I edited all the footage together, aiming to give shine to their voices, share the funny parts, and let it be both beautiful and easygoing.

GW: When you’re not creating, you’re working at a national grassroots organization called Indivisible. How, if at all, does this work lend itself to your creative endeavors? 

NS: One huge way this work lends itself to my creative endeavors is that it pays my bills–I don’t have to hustle across jobs and gigs for basic income in the way that I have in the past. I still need financial support to develop projects for out-of-pocket costs and to fairly pay collaborators, but having my own needs covered makes a huge difference in my ability to create. Having a day job does mean I don’t have as much time to give to my practice as I might otherwise, but in the big picture, the net impact is one of privilege. I do my best to account for this via paying my collaborators well, not applying for opportunities or resources I don’t need, and generally redistributing my time/money/energy/attention as I can in the direction of reparations and systems change.

In other less overtly material ways, my job is a space where I have to practice communication, planning, and listening, along with figuring out effective ways to connect with audiences. These are all extremely relevant skills when it comes to collaborating with artists, managing projects, clarifying ideas over time, and making work that makes sense to other people.

GW: Who is your dream artistic collaborator?

NS: I would like to co-write/direct a feature film with my friend Aaron Greer, a videographer I’ve collaborated with in the past. Additionally, Ashley Ray and Andrea Long Chu are two writers whose TV writing in particular I really admire and would aspire to connect with someday. Otherwise, maybe Bruno Mars.

GW: What are you listening to right now? (music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.) 

NS: I just finished listening to the intro to The Process, a podcast hosted by Chicago’s own Alyssa Gregory with co-producer Anjal Chande, and which interviews dancemakers about their process. When I’m doing the dishes I listen to Way Down in the Hole, Jemele Hill and Van Lathan’s podcast, which is about the show The Wire. 

Spotify has also told me that I am in the top 5% of DJ Khaled listeners.

A huge thanks to Nora for chatting about their work in more depth! Nora will be discussing this work TONIGHT, Thursday May 27th at 7pm, alongside Sami Ismat and Ndgo Blk. Following the special event, Nora’s work will be available on the Pivot Arts website.

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