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Interview with multi-media artist Lauren Targ

Lauren Targ's extensive artistic resume includes acting with Steppenwolf Theater, improv at Chicago's Second City, film work, and multi-media projects including collaborations with Jaume Plensa on the Crown Fountain in Chicago, and The Crush Project with Mary Rachel Fanning. She currently teaches in the Television Department of Columbia College Chicago. After I spoke to Lauren at the One State conference last month, she agreed to an interview for this blog.

Philip: Take us right back to the beginning, and tell us how your artistic life began.

Lauren: I can’t begin to talk about my artistic development without talking about my childhood and the influence of my parents. As a child I was always creating adventures.  I liked imaginary games where one played a part in the story. If I were playing with others I would tell them what part they would be playing and what their motivation was. It sounds like I was bossy but I just had good ideas for play. When I would play outside in the yard by myself it may have looked like I was making mud pies but in my mind I was a chef, and each muddy hole was a different ingredient. Games of cowboys, cowgirls and Indians were very realistic.  Greek Mythology, fairy tales and politics influenced me. (My parents were very active in the anti war movement). There were elaborate productions in the backyard for neighbors, and at every family event the cousins were coaxed into some sort of performance. My mother had been an actress before she married and I am sure that influenced me. (As a child she was in several radio soap operas, she performed in Chicago and directed a children’s theater in my hometown before I was born. She gave up acting when she got older because she was told she was “too tall” to pursue it further.) When she read a story to me and my older sisters all the characters came to life. Bath time was a portal into the land of mermaids; each member of the family had a mermaid name, including my father, whose mermaid name was King Neptune. When I was little my home seemed like a magical, safe haven. I was definitely an outsider at school. 

Philip: How did you get involved in theater and film?

Lauren: I was in my first touring company at the age of nine. It was called “Playmakers” under the tutelage of Eunice Joffey. I was the youngest one in the company. We created the stories and performed them at schools and old folks’ homes. In high school I was in Steppenwolf Theater’s young peoples’ company. It was an amazing experience to watch that company grow. When our troupe was not taking class or performing we were working in the theater, whether it was helping paint sets or handing out programs. The company members were young and they were what I believed an ensemble should be. Steppenwolf was a great lesson in everyone pitching in to make a show happen. I had teachers I loved and respected. I went to school for theater in New York and came back to study improv and writing in Chicago. I took some fiction courses at Columbia College Chicago and began studying improv at The Players Workshop of Second City, studying with Josephine Forsberg and then moving into the top level of the Second City classes, studying under many teachers including Martin DeMaat. Martin encouraged me to begin directing and I had several well-reviewed shows produced at The Players Workshop. I wrote a play that was produced at the Alan Carr Theater at Lake Forest College.  I performed in improv troupes and in plays around the city.

I eventually wound up with an internship on a movie of the week where they looked at me and said’ “Art Department.”  I was too shy to ask to do something else and remained in the “Art Department” working on commercials and film as an art director for more than a decade. I had an opportunity to work with some wonderful people, but it was always kind of a “happy accident” that I ended up in the art department on a film set. The closest I came to the theater for many years was talking with actors on the set. I was offered some casting opportunities, and that was exciting and more in line with my background. A friend who knew my love of theater called me from Gallery 37 (a Chicago student arts program) and suggested I interview for a position with them. I started out teaching in the youth prison and spent over a decade working with Gallery 37, After School Matters and other youth programming, receiving an Illinois Arts Council grant and an Annenberg grant to work with students at the Washington Irving School. Teaching helped me transition out of the film business. 

Philip: How did you find your way to Interdisciplinary Arts at college?

Lauren: Ah, the elusive masters degree. True confession time: I have been to three programs, the first for psychology, where I decided I didn’t want to sit in a room and listen to people’s problems (anyone who knows me will realize how ironic and funny that is). The second masters program was for theater directing.  The program was not challenging to me, and even though they kept throwing money at me, I quit. When I started the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Columbia College they were just beginning the MFA in media.  I knew it was important for me to get my masters if I wanted to continue to teach. I assumed that the interdisciplinary degree would allow me to incorporate my love of storytelling, acting, and film into one program. It also brought in art and dance. There was a lot of freedom and a lot of choices. There were things that were appealing and baffling in the program. I explored multi-media, character development through storytelling and internal and external politics. The influence from my art direction days was that my installations were always tactile and physically interactive. There could be a giant puzzle for people to put together while they moved through the video and sound installation. I created a 9-foot tall video comic book where my character went from frame to frame talking about politics and war, all tented in a sandbagged bunker. I like the idea of the audience being able to be in the environment of the piece. I always liked to sit close to the screen in the movie theater when I was younger so that I couldn’t see the edges of the screen. I would feel like I was in the movie.

Philip: What was your greatest discovery from that program?

Lauren: I think it was that my first loves, writing and acting, are still my first loves. Collaboration is key for me, and one of the most frustrating parts of the program was that most of the people were visual, solo artists who did not want to work with others. Strange for me. I have been able to continue teaching since getting my degree. One of the most rewarding experiences that came out of my MFA program was the opportunity to work with Jamie Plensa and John Manning on the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, Chicago. I directed the video for the fountain and I loved working with all the diverse people in the community. It was one of the best work experiences I ever had. Seeing the fountain and the community interaction now it is everything Jamie Plensa intended it to be. A few years ago a wonderful playwright, Barry Cole, wrote a play with a delicious part in it for me. It was amazing to perform again and that is what I am longing for at this point in time.

Philip: How did the Crush project come about?

Lauren: The Crush Project is my life long coming to terms with a fatalistic crush. A crush that formed my self-image. I have made so much “work” about it and this was another piece. The crush project collaboration with Mary Rachel Fanning started with a conversation about the universal experience of a crush. Every one has had at least one. Even if they decided that that one was enough, and they never wanted to feel that way again.  (Yes, someone told that story as well.) They are not gender specific: they range from the boy next door to coming out stories, from joyful stories to incredibly painful ones. 

Click here to hear some of the recordings.
What I love about the crush project is the variety of responses: from people who spoke for 30 seconds about a name and a giggle, to a two-hour long discussion with a woman in Amsterdam about a crush that turned into a horror story of molestation. People have recorded their crushes on paper, tape and in art for the project. The Crush project was a healing experience for me. My childhood crush comes in and out of my life, weddings, funerals and walks on the beach, and only the feeling of Agape remains. We still have a lot of archived tape that has not been put out to the public from Crush recordings. I don’t know if we ever will, but I love those stories and I hope to see them posted or transformed into something more. 

Philip: How would you describe your creative process?

Lauren: My process is like a volcano -- a dormant volcano these days! I spend a lot of time with ideas tickling the back of my mind before they either erupt or flow, or erupt and flow. I love collaboration. I am sure that that comes from my theater and film background. Currently, I am not working with anyone. I have some adolescent memories (mostly painful) playing with me. The music and images from high school are teasing me.  By the way, my perpetual crush is not featured at all in these particular memories. I think I have to start playing with those scenes and images.  

As part of my thesis paper I made a board game that was truly abstract. The places on the board were made up of fingerprints, and there was a lot of open, magic making space.  It’s all a game, or a musical or a gaming musical. I am feeling my way to what is next.  I hope my voice will be raised in song.

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