Living and Dead: The Gettysburg Project

Notes on Living and Dead: The Gettysburg Project by Margaret Eginton and Stephen Miles

The Gettysburg Project began as a way for us to explore collaboration between ourselves and a group of students, using socially constructed games and compositional elements drawn from traditional dance, theater, and music. In the course of sixty hours of investigation and rehearsal during the month of January, the piece that became “Living and Dead” gradually emerged.

Video of The Gettysburg Project

We chose the Gettysburg Address as source material for text, voice, and movement in part because 2009 is the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, and also because the speech is so well known that it would be recognizable to our audience as we deconstructed its elements. We did not begin this project with preconceived notions about the Gettysburg Address. However, our instinctive choice of the text became fruitful for our project because its subject—Lincoln's recognition of the importance of individual responsibility, dissension and consensus—inspired our improvisational structures.

“Living and Dead” consists of a prelude plus six sections, which can be performed in any order. Some use the Gettysburg Address, some do not, and some sections include additional texts. Only one section of the piece is 'set' musically and choreographically. In each of the other sections the performers make choices in response to each other's activities, while following rules involving space, pitch, gesture, and volume.

About the Composers

Margaret (Meg) Eginton is a performing artist, teacher, and movement therapist. She is the former head of movement for the FSU/Asolo Conservatory and previous to this, co-led the movement program at the American Repertory Theatre/Moscow Art Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University, and created the movement track for NYU Tisch Atlantic Theatre School. She taught acting and interdisciplinary performance for New College of Florida from 2003–2011. She has also taught movement for actors workshops for Roy Hart Theatre, Moscow Art Theatre, Vakhtangov Shukin School, Teatro Vevey, and the International Performing Arts Institute in Paris. She began her career as a dancer in the companies of Merce Cunningham and Stephen Petronio, and danced for Mary Overlie in her first Viewpoints compositions, and participated in site specific and authentic movement groups for Byrd Hoffman Foundation (Robert Wilson). Meg’s choreography was produced in NYC by Dance Theatre Workshop, The Kitchen, PS 122, Harkness House, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Sarasota Ballet. She was awarded the top award for modern dance performance, the Bessie, and fellowships from the American Dance Festival, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and Dance Chance. Following retirement from dancing she began acting on and off-Broadway and in film, and starred on Broadway in Largely New York. After becoming a mother she returned to graduate school to earn an MFA in directing. As a theatre director Meg has worked in Russia, France, Italy, Switzerland and the US in conservatory and professional venues for theatre and opera. Best Direction awards have come from La Foire St. Germain, the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop,and the Sarasota Herald Tribune. Concurrent to her careers in dance and theatre she studied Somatic Movement Therapy with master teachers of hands-on work and somatic psychology in New York. She is now in private practice in her hometown of Iowa City, where she works with people ages 16–90 on such issues as recovery from sexual and psychological abuse, chronic pain and chronic dysfunction, and aging and grief. She continues to teach workshops in movement for actors for Atlantic Theater, and to direct and choreograph special projects. In 2014 she wrote and directed Pollock Impromptu for the University of Iowa Museum of Art. In 2015 she was named to the Distinguished Alumni of the Theatre Arts Department at Iowa, and in 2017 she received the Iowa Women’s Foundation Ovation award for achievement. The Gettysburg Project, co-created with Stephen Miles, with its emphasis on democratic process and spontaneous connection between movement and music, remains one of her all time favorite artistic endeavors.

Stephen Miles is an active composer, performer, and theorist, focusing on the social dimension of music. Since 1990 Professor Miles has composed vocal music almost exclusively, producing works such as LTG (Lips, Tongue, and Glottis) and The Anatomy of Gesture, for solo performer, Escape for Men, a song cycle for baritone and piano that uses texts taken from men’s fashion advertisements, and Social Studies, a collection of musical games for performers and audience. In 2005, Professor Miles’s De profundis clamavi, for twelve voices, was awarded Third Prize in The New York Virtuoso Singers’ First Annual Choral Composition Competition, and was premiered by the NYVS in Manhattan. In 1998 Professor Miles established New Music New College (NMNC), which has performed vocal works by such composers as Luciano Berio, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Pauline Oliveros, as well as student composers, and has featured leading performers of contemporary music, such as Kathleen Supové, Pamela Z, and The JACK Quartet. NMNC also serves as a laboratory for research in experimental music and social theory. Recent projects include Hocket Science, an experiment in collaborative composition based on Jürgen Habermas’s theory of communicative action. In addition to reporting on his research with NMNC at national and international conferences, Professor Miles frequently publishes essays, including most recently “Agency and Domination in Communicative Performance” (Music and Arts in Action, Vo1. 1, No. 2, 2009), “Objectivity and Intersubjectivity in Pauline Oliveros’s Sonic Meditations” (Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 46, No. 1, 2008), “Composing Reflexivity: The Social Studies Project” (Audiences and the Arts: Communication Perspectives, Brenda Dervin and Lois Foreman-Wernet, editors, Hampton Press, 2009), and “Seeing Cage, Hearing Beuys” (TDR: The Drama Review, Vol. 54, No. 2, 2010). Professor Miles earned his Bachelor of Music degree in 1983 from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Illinois in 1990. He is currently Professor of Music at New College of Florida.

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