This Sunday (3/2), Gloria Deluxe, headed by performer Cynthia Hopkins, will be playing a concert at St. Ann’s Warehouse to celebrate the release of their album for Must Don’t Whip Um, part two of their Accinosco Trilogy. The first part, Accidental Nostalgia, premiered in 2004, and the Success of Failure (or, the Failure of Success) is currently a work in progress. Cynthia agreed to speak with yours truly, despite my borderline-psychotic posts on her, and we spoke at length about the concert, the Accinosco Trilogy, the creative process, and the purity of our love for each other. … Fine. No purity of love talk. But it was implied. Really. … Enjoy.
TWEED: What exactly is Sunday’s performance going to be? It’s billed as a concert, but I refuse to believe that’s it.
CYNTHIA: Part of it is to try out some new material and to celebrate the album release [of Must Don’t Whip Um] and I hope it will be really uplifting and invigorating and celebratory, but it’s also got a retrospective and a preview aspect to it because we’re going to do songs from Accidental Nostalgia and Must Don’t Whip Um and songs from the new show, and some from the new collection of love songs that we’ve wanted to do for a long time, but never had the chance to do. So there’ll be costume changes—we’re looking at least four—and some new material and dancing and video—so it’ll be a kind of extravaganza.
T: Where did you get the idea for the Accinosco Trilogy?
C: It emerged in an organic fashion from an investigation into neurology and psychology of amnesia, and that was a search driven by personal experience. It’s all kind of this large tapestry spun from all different threads, but the seeds came from interest in amnesia.
T: Was it like a George Lucas idea, where you had the whole saga in mind from the beginning, or has it been made piece by piece?
C: The pieces have emerged one from the other like Russian dolls, as soon one is opened up there is more in there; the making of the first lead to the making of the second, but ultimately it’s a saga about personal evolution and self transformation, so I guess that kind of naturally lends itself to a continuation. But a trilogy is such a naturally and deeply entrenched concept for us. We’re the trilogy: we’re born, we live and we die. It’s our own sense of mortality. I think that’s why it’s so apparent in religion and philosophy and mythology. The first piece is about birth, of exploration of one’s past, the second being a living out, of a transformation, and the third is about the end of things.
T: How did all this begin? Were you a musician first? A theatre-maker?
C: I was a theater performer and maker and writer and songwriter for many years, so the band was taking shape at the same time I was creating theatre in collaborative groups, so both of those were evolving separately but at a good time together.
T: What do you want to accomplish or convey with the trilogy?
C: I feel that my motivation for making these pieces is driven by an exorcising of demons, so they’re really explorations into the question of how I want to live my life and what kind of transformations are possible, so they’re stories to enact my evolution. What I’m hoping is that the uplifting potential of self-transformation will be communicated on a visceral and emotional and sensory and intellectual level. My hope is that it provokes a fundamental questioning of what the possibilities of life are. In other words, I want to blow people’s minds, you know, turn them inside out or upside down, or some other shape other than what they already are.
C: The whole aspect is from collaborative effort with Jim [Findlay] and Jeff [Suggs], and I’ve been saying that I’m a storyteller, but the stories I’m telling are multifaceted in content. They’re convoluted and weird stories. They require a multifaceted structure, with layering of narrative, a layering of media. Each of the languages employed has its own power in its own form. There’s a whole universe evoked by the element, the language of the documentary, for example, in Must Don’t Whip Um, so it helps to expand the idea.
T: Like the storyteller inside the piano at the end of Must Don’t Whip Um?
C: Yes! That’s the ghost haunting the empty theatre, so that’s the only way it can be told.
T: And this points to the many permutations of you in these: Cynthia as Cynthia, Cynthia as Cameron, Cynthia as ghost, disembodied voice. Where do you situate yourself in all of this?
C: Ultimately, that’s the secret part that I have deep down, but I will say that these pieces are about self-transformation so I’m trying to act out roles that are going to be empowering for me as a person in my life. So for part three I’m going to be a preacher in the really far distant future. And I’ve never seen a woman preacher. I mean, I know they exist, but I’ve never seen one, and it’s a male-dominated world, so it’s not only about gender role, but about stepping into that particular role that’s going to be exciting for me. So it’s literally about me trying to change my mind, to reprogram my mind. I think the roles we play dig trenches in the mind, so I’m trying to enact roles that dig those trenches in my mind, that will make me feel alive. Life is short!
T: Do you have a future fetish? I’m thinking of the space suit in the piece you did for Sourcing Stravinsky [“Tsimtsum”].
C: So much of my work as a creator is accidental, chance operations or whatever. Just whatever affects me gets woven in there. The Stravinsky thing happened because I got hired to make something about this collaboration between Dylan Thomas and Stravinsky, and it was supposed to be a post-apocalyptic opera before Thomas really fell. But then my father, he’s the one who said, “Is the next show about the future?” so to me the answer is yes. I believe in opening oneself to opportunities that fall into one’s hands, and I’m a believer in the supernatural, so I think there are things that happen that we can’t understand. So now I have all kinds of explanations, but I think we’re at a point where mankind’s mortality is extremely palpable, and I’m concerned about the continuation of our existence. The fact that we exist at all is quite amazing, that earth is habitable.