Recent & Select
There's no denying that what the experimental playwright and University of Texas at Dallas professor brings to the table is unique, necessary, and refreshingly off-the-wall.
D Magazine, Dallas
At the first station, I was asked to choose a question that would direct my focus for the evening. I’m not going to reveal my chosen question, or much about the particulars of the evening, except to report that the performance left an indelible impression on me. At moments during the performance, I felt confused, manipulated, irritated, defiant, contemplative, peaceful, and by the end—completely exhausted both physically and mentally. My one regret is that I didn’t go twice...
Going to a Dead White Zombies show is always an adventure, none more so than its latest production, Holy Bone. Arriving at a West Dallas taco joint in staggered intervals, audience members are sent to a nearby storefront for their first encounter.
Over the next couple of hours, they will navigate Singleton Boulevard on foot, cajoled and confronted by Thomas Riccio's performance troupe inside a series of abandoned warehouse spaces.
"The work is hard to explain because it's more of a felt thing, an idea that's in the body, not the head," he says a few days later at Tacos Mariachi as showtime approaches. "It's like a walking meditation. When you're on the street and don't know where to go, that's part of it, too."
The front of Tacos Mariachi looks no different than it otherwise would on a Saturday night. There are no signs for Holy Bone, Dead White Zombies’ latest “immersive performance initiation.” Tickets purchased from the website only indicate that groups of up to six will leave from here every 10 minutes. But without any sign, you’re tempted to wonder if you’re lost. Maybe you are. That’s the sort of the mind game that plays throughout the evening’s experience conceived as always by theatre daredevil Thomas Riccio, developed with his zombies...
Trying to explain Dead White Zombies is no easy task: the local avant-garde theater troupe isn’t just avant-garde: they’re wild. They aren’t just a “theater” troupe — they exist in site-specific installations. And, well, they aren’t strictly about acting, either: they perform, they create, they move, they make music, and they challenge everything you think you know about the arts. That said, expect anything and everything to happen in a performance of Holy Bone.
The Zombies have staged critically acclaimed performance-happenings that often call into question the boundary between audience and performer. In each of these productions, confrontation is one of Dead White Zombies’ key ingredients, part of a plan that continually thinks of ways to dissolve the fourth wall or turn audience members into unwitting participants in the drama. But this latest production, called Holy Bone, may be Riccio and Dead White Zombies’ most ambitious project to date.
For their next production, Riccio wanted to do a show about whites appropriating black culture, and toy with role-playing. He'd been tinkering with a script and sent it to local actor David Jeremiah for feedback. As they sent notes back and forth, the script changed into a story that was more about being a black man in America.
Riccio also wanted a change of scenery, so he scoped out a house not far from the warehouse. It was perfect — too perfect, really. There were feces spread on the walls, and like all good monuments of urban decay it had been gutted of its pipes and wiring. But getting running water and electricity in the house would have set the Zombies way back, so they found a nice fallback house on Poe Street, a notorious drug house that had abandoned but not yet ripped of all of its vital organs. McGregor told Riccio he would be happy to rent the house to the Zombies for a dollar a month.
The Zombies don’t truck with quietness and nothingness. Their focus is an energetic maximizing of eternal “somethingness.” The language compliments the dynamic sensuousness of the stage design and makes moving through it seem like a vital ritual. The words spoken at the end by players and audience members alike put a crown on a beautiful, well-crafted ceremony that closes the performance.
I find myself increasingly applauding artists whose work succeeds in creating a vibrant experience that isn’t easy to categorize, those responsible for creating art which happens in between a specific medium or practice. I also gravitate towards an artist who is capable of creating a self-contained world, a feat not to be undervalued.
That being said, I have a great admiration for the work of Thomas Riccio, a cross-disciplinary artist who, recently, has become more well-known for his work in the world of performance and theater, although he is equally at home in the gallery. His avant-garde acting troupe the Dead White Zombies have been expanding Dallas’ experience with theater since he launched the project several years ago, and KaRaoKe MoTeL, his latest creation, is no different.
This is voluptuous, loopy, scintillating theatre that challenges the soul and rattles our teeth. It's black humor laced with the lyric authority of dream logic. It's metaphysical redemption masquerading as grotesque psychological quackery. It's audacious, original and implacable.
At a Dead White Zombies show, those rules do not apply. The rogue Dallas troupe—formed in 2011 by Thomas Riccio, Lori McCarty, and Brad Hennigan—is known for its site-specific performance installations, staged everywhere from warehouses to a real (former) stash house. The original scripts are fluid and not confined to any one playing space; audiences are often left to wander in and out of the action, which can span rooms and even into the outdoors. And taking out your phone to post on Facebook or make a Vine is completely encouraged.
Scenes spark around us like a long tail of igniting firecrackers. Another room is illuminated. Next, a vignette. Soon all are available for exploration. The twisting paths feel like the unfathomable tunneling of memory storage, but the lives we're moving through are not our own. Even the sound, while anchored scene by scene, bleeds gently into the next. We're fumbling into another's databank, threading together the experiences as we travel.
The Dallas-based group of malcontent theatre, performance, visual, sound, and installation artists, collectively known as The Dead White Zombies, are taking experimental theatre to an all-new level. Thomas Riccio, an award-winning playwright, director, and scholar of indigenous and ritual created the group’s newest play(w)hole, a karmic love story, traversing lifetimes simultaneously — offering to the audience choices in how they want to experience or participate.
I’d never been to a DWZ production before I saw KaRaoKe MoTel, which ran last fall in Dallas as the last installment of a trilogy exploring death, the afterlife and rebirth. The play was so unlike anything I’d ever seen that I ended up going twice. But, I still had plenty of questions about how the work he has done around the world have evolved his perspective, and the philosophy behind the performances he does today.
Radio Interview Transcript
At the heart of the Alaska Native performance model is ritual and the culture of the Shaman. It is a model shaped by living on and with place and had been codified by ritual. My work with Alaska Native people was formative and established a template and model to which my subsequent work refers. And over the years this model has been tested in a variety of setting and cultures. It is a flexible and adaptive model that is essentially based on an indigenous way of being in the world.
At the helm of the self-described Pirates of Dallas theater is Thomas Riccio. A theater professor and scholar, whose studies have taken him all over the world, Riccio's primary interest is in the ideas of ritual and the immersive narrative that is everyday life. We once called him "The Weirdest Theater Mind in Dallas" - a reputation he continues to uphold
Performance is a technology for understanding who we are. Wherever I am, I try to do work that's local. College is a wonderful place to explore from. You're like MacGyver. MacGyver you'll recall, was the TV hero who solved every problem by using his very special skill. It's easy to see why a college professor who face down a grizzly during a three-day solo wilderness hike, just by turning his body at a certain angle and adopting the right facial expression, would take him as a role model.
This is the fifth show by the emerging troupe, which is fond of non-linear, obtuse narratives and likes to perform in unlikely found spaces. "In America we are always trying to determine who's better," Thomas Riccio, co-founder of DWZ and the director and lead writer for the shows. " We do it on television with reality shows, and you see it every year during football season. IN Bull Game, we'll have elements of both of those American rituals."
Riccio’s major focus was on teaching the actors how to use their bodies to understand and feel their characters. “Gestures and body language are part of the vocabulary of performers. You have to feel everything with the mind and the body. It is an important foundation for every actor,” he was telling participants when I caught up with them on the second day of their workshop. The actors themselves seemed to be having a lot of fun as they engaged in Riccio’s games and took in the valuable suggestions he gave them.
ADDIS ABABA Ethiopia
Riccio has toured marry countries including the USA, South Africa, lGnya, Zambia and Ethiopia and used his experiences from these cultures to portray them, Through his journeys, he was not only able to share his experience but also learn how others live and their cultures. On his travels to Ethiopia, I caught up with him where he told me his experience about Ethiopia and his experience directing Ethiopian artists in a theater play entitled 'the first (Andegna) with a theater group called Lul globe theater.
I see my work like that of a diviner, When I meet a group that I am going to work with, it is there need that I must discover and respond to. the confluence of the inner and outer work is what directs the work.It guide the work and tells what needs to be evaluated, affirmed, and balanced. this is the practical function of theatre.
American Theatre Magazine
Each year (I’m now entering my fourth) has given me insight into my work as a playwright, educator and artist. There are so few opportunities for theatre artists to meet, relax, mingle, talk shop, talk life, share a meal, a drink, a dance, a laugh. It’s a little like a family reunion, summer camp, summer school and vacation rolled into one week.
Most of his work has to do with the bringing up of the memory and knowledge of what has been forgotten. One of the goals of his work is to bridge the gap between the modern and the traditional which would give indigenous people a way of relating to the modern world on their terms.
The man who is insisting that Koreans embrace their own ways is ironically an American a person we might usually consider an imperialist. Regrettably Thomas Riccio, a director and playwright, is not Korean.
REPUBLIC OF SAKHA Siberia
The much anticipated and written about season finale has come with a sensational play: "Sardaana." After tow months of intensive preparation by the director Thomas Riccio and the actors of the Sakha National Theatre, the play opened to an appreciative audience. It raised laughter, caused surprise, and in the end left something in the soul of the viewer. this is not because it was avant-garde, or groteeque, or any other form of "ism." The most surprising was the plethora of connection and ties.