2008 Spotlight Award: Lucia Neare

Lucia Neare’s theatrical wonders invite audiences into a beautiful, whimsical world.

If you were one of the estimated 10,000 people who happened to be near the Harbor Steps last May Day, you have already experienced one of artist Lucia Neare’s self-described “theatrical wonders.” The two-hour spectacle, Ooo-La-La, was inspired by the question, “What if we put love in the air in downtown Seattle, just for a few hours?” The answer included a multitude of Marie Antoinettes (the Sophia Coppola version) blowing kisses from nearby hotel windows, 150 French toque-wearing and Lindy-hopping bakers giving golden eggs and three-tiered cakes to the audience, maids with pink feather dusters, waiters in pink bowties and lady-poodle dancers in tutus. It was “a party for the whole city,” says Neare, who worked with a local team: theatrical director Cathy Madden, music director Matt Goodrich, technical director David Verkade and choreographer Jessica Jobaris. Spectators told her they will take memories of the performance to their graves. (One mother said her son had taken his golden egg to show-and-tell, and then slept with it at night.) A party is one word for it, but this sort of party—on this sort of scale—had never before been seen in Seattle.

A classical singer, sculptor, theatrical designer and performance artist, the soulful, dark-eyed Neare, 42, grew up in Carmel, California, and moved to Seattle in 1995. She had big ideas from a young age, such as the 100-character Busby Berkeley-style production—using Wizard of Oz characters to tell a story of Neare’s own devising—she created for fellow high school students. It was a few years later, at Mount Holyoke College, that Neare found she liked doing the unexpected, such as environmental art and installations. She also discovered a talent for the south Indian Carnatic tradition of classical music, which she found spiritually satisfying and which led her to develop a meditative vocal practice. “Something about the way I was working with sound caused me to have big, big ideas,” she says. And while she is relatively new to this work, her “wonders” so far have been wildly successful.

The fairy-tale feeling of Neare’s works is undeniable (and, like all good fairy tales, irresistible). It’s a sensibility she says involves “deep myth, religion, history, archaeology and ideas about tribe and family.” Nowhere is this more apparent than in Lullaby Carriage, a performance piece based in classic ideas about bedtime, scheduled to appear at various surprise locations downtown in the coming months (it was performed in 2006 in Duvall and on Vashon Island). Lullaby Carriage boasts a cast of 82, including fantastical horse-mothers pushing white, internally lit prams, a clock family and the lullaby carriages themselves: three horse-drawn beds that visitors will be able to ride in while they listen to bedtime stories (and a choir of snorers).

A significant influence on Neare’s groundbreaking art—in addition to her operatic training and spiritual life—was her chaotic childhood, but she says that through the pain of feeling like an outsider she developed an empathy that drives her to create an inclusive world, a magical place where love and beauty reign supreme. “Some of the world’s problems are a crisis of the imagination and an inability to think creatively,” she says. Neare is out to change all that, one wonder at a time.

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