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Dayna Hanson's 'The Clay Duke' Tackles Gun Violence

Gun violence is something you hear about in the news every day. So it was only a matter of time before it was featured in a contemporary performance. Choreographer, writer and composer Dayna Hanson tackles the subject in her new performance, "The Clay Duke," premiering at Seattle's On The Boards this weekend (Dec. 5-8).

Hanson was inspired by a real-life event. Several years ago, a man named Clay Duke walked into a Florida school board meeting and opened fire. The event was captured on video, and like so much of modern American culture, that video was posted to YouTube. Hanson's teenage son saw the video and showed it to his mother, who decided to use it as the foundation of a new live dance-theater work.

Dayna Hanson has been creating dance theater for more than 20 years. She's the co-founder of 33 Fainting Spells, a Seattle-based company that fused contemporary dance with experimental theater. Hanson still works with one of her Fainting Spells collaborators, Peggy Piacenza. For "The Clay Duke," they're joined by dancer/choreographer Wade Madsen, as well as theater artist Sarah Rudinoff, among others. Hanson and her troupe have been working on "The Clay Duke" for several years, in the rehearsal studio, and in artistic residencies in Florida and Europe.

Dayna Hanson uses the audience feedback she receives to help her shape her performances, and "The Clay Duke" is no exception. Hanson says that while this performance was inspired by a real event, it was shaped by her own attitudes toward mental illness and gun violence. But she says each of her dance theater works is equally influenced by how audiences respond to previews.

On The Boards commissioned "The Clay Duke" for its mainstage series. Hanson hopes to take it to other cities after its Seattle premier.