"What I’ve come to enjoy the most about making a performance is all the little things I get to learn about making lots of other little things and getting to meet really cool people in the process."
I love this interview I have for you. It's with Bethany Lacktorin who is amazing in so many ways. I met Bethany through our participation in the Hinge Artists Residency. I have been admiring her work since. Not only is Bethany funny but she is also a super talented, caring, and engaging individual. Bethany's list of projects and artistic approach is inspiring and important.
Bethany is a performance artist, organizer and media producer. She creates site-specific, immersive, interactive, multi-disciplinary installation experiences that foster new perspectives, heightened awareness, and deeper connections to the spaces, places, and communities in which we live. Expressed as music, movement, sound, story and object Bethany’s work has been presented on stages and institutions across the US and Europe.
A professional sound engineer since 2001 she has earned credit as sound designer for feature films, documentaries, short films, television and radio. Bethany studied music performance for violin at Lawrence University, received her AAS in Music Production at McNally Smith College of Music and her BAFA in Experimental Media at Prague College School of Art & Design.
Currently based in rural Minnesota, she is Board Chair/Director of New London Little Theatre, serves as Treasurer on the board of directors for the New London Food Co-op, is a board member of the Department of Public Transformation and is graphic designer at her local newspaper, Lakes Area Review.
Jes: Hi Bethany! I am excited to ask you some questions. I have loved your work since I saw My Ocean. Where did that project start? Can you describe it to folks who have never heard of it?
Bethany: My Ocean was a performance installation that happened in August 2016 at Ordway Prairie Nature Preserve in Pope County. I grew up across the highway from Ordway Prairie at the home and business my family ran for 3 generations, the Lake Johanna Store. I returned in spring 2014 to care for my mom. She had cancer and would pass away later that year. In hindsight, I can see that My Ocean was a homage to her and the legacy she was trying to pass on to me. I am now the 4th generation of Norwegian immigrants who lived on this particular plot of Dakota land. Albeit, I am the Korean adoptee of said 3rd generation Norwegian woman. Throughout the making of the piece I was at odds with how much being adopted mattered. In the end I decided that everyone who ever lived here had been displaced. And that it was the land that brought us together. That through the land I would know them.
The performance was outdoors. It was about a mile long, 90 minutes. An audience of 12 would follow me on a trail starting at the general store to a hilltop finale in Ordway Prairie. There were stops along the way. I’d tell a story, we were visited by the wind god, a prayer led by Dakota Elder, Thomas LeBlanc at the fort, a harp in the woods played by Gretchen Vork. The walk was accompanied by live music composed and performed by James Everest and a choir of shape-note singers. The prairie was rigged with tiny bluetooth speakers that emitted carefully crafted sounds to support and further immerse the audience into My Ocean. Choir and audience met at a peak where we ended by singing “Gathering.”
This all makes me think about how landscape is such a prevalent visual element to your work as well as a theme. I remember in an article you wrote with Nik Nerburn on MnArtists where you discuss your place and personal history with land. I really enjoyed that article. What is your particular approach when exploring landscape and how personal do you get with this work?
Thanks for asking, so cool that you saw that by the way. That was a fun interview process! I think landscape may have been more of an abstract for me in previous works to My Ocean. My Ocean was the first time I actually brought the literal landscape into the story. In other performances the ‘landscape’ could be referred to as what was already present in the room, on stage, or just simply within reach. My first creative endeavors were as a songwriter. I would rearrange things I found or was given. There was a guitar in the house so I made songs with it. In the early 2000s a producer friend, Dave Olson gave me a hard drive full of samples and beats that I assembled into my first self-titled EP. Collecting and engaging what’s already in the room is part of my practice in musical improvisation and theatrical performance. A similar process happened quite naturally in the making of Reminiscencia (2014). The narrative was guided by an assemblage of room tones binaurally recorded of the theater, environmental and incidental sounds of the surrounding neighborhood and our own voices recorded in the theater. The effect was that the listener would cease to hear the difference between what was happening in real-time and what was pre-recorded. It had a dizzying effect.
With regard to your question about how personal I get with this work, I have a couple reactions. Reminiscencia was performed for one person at a time on headphones and completely interactive. In that sense, the relationship between performer and audience became extremely personal. In the same way, My Ocean was allowed only 12 people per performance. In Steady Wind (2017), I cut off locks of my hair and handed them to individuals (in a jar) and demanded that they plant it. Having a small audience was, in each case, an opportunity to create much more intimate, one on one experiences. From the standpoint of content and narrative, My Ocean was deeply personal as it was a reflection of a place and myself in that place more so than any performance work I’ve made previous or since. I’m not sure I could do it again.
Currently, you are the board chair for your community theater. I would love to know more about what you are doing in this leadership role since place, community, and performance are such strong components to your work.
The first theater experience I had growing up was attending school plays at Little Theater. I truly believe it set the stage (hah!) for my lifelong dedication to the arts. When I returned home 5 years ago I wasn’t sure what the possibilities would be as an artist in rural Minnesota. I’d been away for over 15 years, most of them in Europe so really away away! But a lot of my doubts melted when I discovered how much support for artists exists here. I became oriented in the world of nonprofit MN arts organizations: Springboard, the RACs, MSAB, Jerome, McKnight, Bush -- that when I heard about the opportunity to get involved with LittleTheatre I felt a little click. The voice in my head said this fits. This is how I can contribute and engage on all levels of my ability.
Growing up in rural Minnesota as an adopted Korean, I was often the only person of color in the room let alone the entire town. As I got older, without my parents as a buffer, my hometown sometimes seemed just as much a foreign country to me as Europe. There were a lot of barriers to overcome. As a place-based artist, I saw that performance as a way to communicate and exchange ideas needed more safe places in our community.
Right now, Little Theatre’s is going through a major transition. We’re going from being the drama center for the public school for 40 years to being the arts center for the community as a whole. I hope to help evolve Little Theatre into a role of community collaborator and facilitator. With this comes the challenge of re-introducing Little T, and the arts as a whole, as an integral part of our community, of our economic development and of our civic decision-making processes.
Our first step has been to expand our programming & outreach. Our 2020 Spring Season lineup will introduce performances of Dakota elder, Tatanka, Algerian storytelling performance, Midnight at Sunrise, a bike riding bard’s documentary, Music for Free on the Great Divide MTB Route featuring Ben Weaver, Local Somali refugee's homecoming, Rural Refugee, by photojournalist Erica Dischino and a screening of My Ocean.
We are also partnering with local workers co-op Village Spirit Cocktail Cooperative to bring custom beverages to select events. We have weekly Sunday Matinee showings of public domain films and documentaries. And we’re developing an artist residency program with a close participatory eye on the CAIR program happening in Granite Falls.
I know in the past you were a Book Arts Fellow at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. What was that experience like for you? What was the result of that opportunity?
That was a wonderful experience! I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the mechanics of paper arts. This was a yearlong commitment so at one point I was also in the middle of a Hinge Residency. I was using my time as a Hinge resident to develop a performance piece called “A Steady & Irresistible Wind.” The timing was perfect as I was able to put what I was learning at MCBA to immediate use. MCBA’s resources allowed me to design and produce “singing” kite-shaped songbooks that accompanied the choir during “Steady Wind.” MCBA instructors and fellow book arts colleagues were incredibly generous with their time and support.
Do you have any challenges you face as an artist? What are your current needs?
In general, I’ve struggled with clocks. Reading them. The round ones. It took me years to understand the difference between left and right let alone clockwise and counter-clockwise. Someone explained to me that the ‘clockwise’ concept was based on the sundial, the shadow’s direction. Mystery solved! That’s what I needed! That’s the kind of information I continue to crave.
As a mentee of Minnesota Center for Book Arts Mentorship Series IV, Bethany learned how to use the printing press, sew books and integrate electronics into paper arts. The production process for Steady Wind singing choirbooks was made easy with help from friends, instructors and book artists at MCBA.
What do you love most about being an artist?
What I’ve come to enjoy the most about making a performance is all the little things I get to learn about making lots of other little things and getting to meet really cool people in the process. Like for My Ocean I learned how to make birdhouses. For Steady Wind I learned how to make kites and books! For Reminiscencia I learned how to program midi and Arduino to playback sounds using door locks, and last year I learned how to make instruments out of clay for a recording project. Right now, I’m learning how to program lights at Little Theatre.
What artists do you admire?
Buke and Gase
Where can we find you online?
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Thanks so much for including me on your page, Jes!
Thank you, Bethany. I appreciate your time answering my questions! I love all of the work you are doing.
All images courtesy of the artist.
Hey artist readers! Hinge Arts is currently taking applications. The deadline is March 2nd! There's a wonderful new track that's been added to the residency that supports female-indentified artists in honor of women's suffrage centennial. I participated in 2017 and I can't say enough good things about the experience and opportunities the came out of being part of the program.
Artists can apply for one of three residency tracks:
Career Development: For artists who want to work on their own self driven projects.
Homecoming: A funded, project-based residency for artists who grew up in West Central Minnesota who are interested in reconnecting with their home region.
Hannah Kempfer Residency: A funded, project-based residency for female-identifying artists that honors the women's suffrage centennial. The Hannah Kempfer Residency is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts through the Art Works – Artist Communities program.
Learn more by downloading the application guidelines here. The Hinge Arts Residency is a program of Springboard for the Arts.
Artists I Admire is a series of interviews with artists I think highly of.