Jonathan Chambers wrote an introduction for my book of plays published by the remarkable Caridad Szich at NoPassport. 
I wept when I read it, because it was such a deep, intelligent, and soulful look at my work.  I felt soundly understood, a rarity for a writer, I think.   I will always be grateful to Jonathan for this gift.  -Rinde


Rinde Eckert’s Exquisite Convolutions and the Search for Soul

by Jonathan Chambers

Bowling Green State University


I have been trying to build a theatrical logic that is fiercely interdisciplinary - a theatre that accepts various modalities of meaning and feeling without subordinating one to the other. My work occurs on stage with lights and sound, and usually music, and is deeply concerned with language. Using various theatrical forms to say what I have to say, I am interested more in poetic gestalt than in narrative, though there is usually a central narrative that I treat as a kind of fugue subject or governing metaphor. I need to feel I’m learning with each new project, and that each work is a piece of a much larger puzzle. I think I do my best work in an atmosphere of joy and critical thought, in that order. There is such a thing as soul and good theatre elevates it. (Eckert, “Artist Statement”)


            Since the early 1980s, Rinde Eckert has been writing, composing, and performing evocative and haunting performance pieces that have pushed at the edges of recognized theatrical form.

[1] His work falls in the company of many artists and companies who are committed to creating new performance work in the United States, including now established notables such as the Wooster Group, the SITI company, Chuck Mee, and Suzan-Lori Parks, as well as an up-and-comers such as Clubbed Thumb, Will Eno, and Young Jean Lee. As have the works of these artists, Eckert’s art is formally inventive, asks difficult questions, and is emphatically theatrical. Drawing on and, in turn, combining to extraordinary ends a vast array of theatrical, literary, historical, philosophical, and musical influences, Eckert’s complex works consistently defy easy explanation and categorization.

            Take, for example, the modes of expression employed; the “fiercely interdisciplinary” pieces Eckert creates or helps create as playwright, composer and / or librettist are variously called new music-theatre, performance art, new dance, new opera, and postmodern theatre (to name just a few characterizations), all of which are, in some respects at least, apt when applied to certain pieces. Nevertheless, more frequently than not these labels seem woefully inadequate, lacking sufficient definitional power and precision for work that unapologetically places itself at the nexus of theatre, music, and dance. Similarly difficult to pin down are the structure and composition of his art. Eckert’s idiosyncratic works consistently eschew the linear and causal dictates of chronological narrative, and instead follow an elliptical tact that results in pieces that are more meditative than declarative. That said, to regard his work as primarily thematic is also imprecise, as there is no discounting the importance of story in many of Eckert’s performances. In like manner, and in terms of subject explored, in typical postmodern fashion (if there is such a thing), Eckert unfailingly asks difficult, existential questions (ones that are, perhaps, impossible to answer), often engaging in the simultaneous centering and decentering of grand narratives, and the celebration and contesting of prevailing ontologies and dominant epistemologies. Yet, the pieces are also marked by a stark minimalism, clarion bell lucidity, inviting humility, and unwavering humanity that too often is missing from contemporary theatre and performance. Hence, while Eckert explores subjects, and poses thorny questions, similar to many of his postmodern peers, and does his fair share of reveling in ambiguity, unlike many of those same peers whose attitude toward a world without center is cool, detached, and ironic, the tone of Eckert’s work is conversely one of warmth, suffused with a deep longing for connection to something and belief in the power of sincerity. Lastly, the music, which always holds a central position in Eckert’s aesthetic, is wide-ranging and diverse; operatic aria, folk music, rock, blues, world music, and even electronica, often not only exist within the same piece, but in a fusion akin to his approach to mode, also overlap and combine creating fascinating musical montages and hybrids. Yet, it is important to note that these fusions are not the careless or uniformed samplings of a dilettante. To be sure, the sonic landscapes Eckert creates bear the mark of a serious and well-trained artist who is not only deeply schooled in music theory, history, and technique, but is also capable of re / creating compositions that recall particular moments in music history with all their period-specific intricacies and nuance.

            This eclectic gathering of approaches, interests, and sources are boldly manifest in the four texts collected in this anthology, from the rock-star-obsessed-with-dead-obscure-poet reimagining of the Orpheus / Eurydice myth in Orpheus X, to the subtle parody of Dante’s The Divine Comedy at work in The Gardening of Thomas D; and from the humorous and poignant rumination on memory (or the failure thereof), creation (both the tortures and the pleasures), and the gravitational pull of a canonical work like Moby-Dick in And God Created Great Whales, to the unforgettable evocation of grace, Christian faith, and the ineffable divine in Horizon. Significantly, Eckert views this forthright eclecticism, resting at the core of these works, as the natural outgrowth of his “normal American upbringing.” Regarding his “normal” background and its impact on his work, in a 2000 interview, Eckert remarked:

I came of age in the sixties, aware of politics, suspicious of received opinion, and listening to the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix. I had a standard liberal-arts education. I sang in madrigal groups, barbershop quartets, musical comedies, operas, and new music ensembles. I wrote and performed folk songs, took t’ai chi and aikido, formed an improvisational dance group, acted in straight plays, read Thucydides, the Bhagavad Gita, Pogo, Donne, William Carlos Williams, Pablo Neruda, saw King Lear, The Caretaker, The Visit, Rules of the Game, and Ben Hur. I played one Benny Goodman record so much I wore it out, and did the same with sides two and five of Turandot and Braham’s violin concerto. I struggled to master vocal technique, loved and lost, loved and won, and asked myself searching questions all the time. [. . .] I see eclecticism as a point of departure, as a fact of modern existence. We can’t avoid it without taking extraordinary steps to shelter ourselves. We’re confronted on a daily basis with a kind of surreal abundance of cultural influences. (Sellar, “Idiot’s Paradise,” 83) 


Thus, the pastiche of modes, structures, subjects, tones, and sounds at play in the pieces included herein is concomitant to the divergent influences and experiences of the artist like Eckert who views eclecticism not as empty nostalgia or disarray, but as a logical (indeed, necessary) outgrowth of living at a moment in time when established rules, uncontested boundaries, and prevailing notions of order no longer hold sway. Given this, Eckert views the contemporary moment, like the pieces he creates, as “fiercely interdisciplinary”; thus, just as the world is now a place where Puccini’s Turandot resonates in the air with Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and Goodman’s “In the Mood”, King Lear is mentioned in the same breath as The Caretaker and the Gita, and Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes occupies space with Paxton’s contact improvisation and t’ai chi, so too must art engage in exquisite convolution. 

            The vast range of experiences Eckert took on his artistic journey is as eclectic as the works that bear his name.

[2] Born in New Jersey to parents who were trained, classical singers, Eckert spent his early childhood in metropolitan New York while his father pursued an opera career. Eckert saw his first opera at the age of 5, and performed in one at age 8. In the early 1960s, the family relocated to Iowa City, Iowa, and his father joined the faculty in the School of Music at the University of Iowa. Eckert graduated from Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in music in 1973, and two years later completed a master’s degree in music from Yale.

            Beginning in the early 1980s, Eckert started “building” performance pieces, first in Seattle as a founding member of the New Performance Group (a group of classically trained musicians, loosely connected with Cornish College of the Arts, dedicated to exploring the contours of new music, with a particular focus on work generated by American artists), and then in San Francisco as part of the experimental theatre troupe, Performance Works, led by George Coates. While working with Performance Works on the multimedia performance The Way of How (1983), Eckert met composer Paul Dresher, whose keen interest in experimental opera and new music theatre complimented Eckert’s interests in reimagining the connections between music, theatre, and dance. Their collaboration led first to we are / will be (1985), with music by Dresher and text by Eckert (who also performed). Subsequently, with Dresher as writing partner and the Paul Dresher Ensemble as producer, over the course of the next decade and one half, Eckert would write text for and perform in a number of works. Arguably the most notable creation born from the Eckert / Dresher collaboration was “The American Trilogy,” which includes Slow Fire (first as a one act, circa 1985, and then as a two act, circa 1986), Power Failure (1989), and Pioneer (1990). “The American Trilogy” was followed by other work produced by the Paul Dresher Ensemble, including Awed Behavior (1993) and Sound Stage (2003), both with music by Dresher, and Ravenshead (1998), with music by Steve Mackey.

            On the strength of Slow Fire, Eckert’s writing drew the attention of a number of West Coast dance companies and dancers, and led to his involvement with the thriving contact improvisation / postmodern dance scene in San Francisco, first as writer / librettist, but soon thereafter as a composer, director, and / or performer. High points from his involvement with San Francisco based dancers and dance companies include Sara Shelton Mann (Isthmus, 1986), Mann’s company, Contraband (EVOL, 1986; the Invisible War, 1987), and Deborah Slater, (Grace Floats, 1987). However, it was with The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company that Eckert forged a long-term relationship, creating with Jenkins a number of works over the course of a decade (Shelf Life and Shorebirds Atlantic, both 1987; and so they and Steps Midway, both 1988; Woman Window Square, 1990; The Gates (Far away near), 1993; and Breathe Normally, 1999). During this same period, Eckert not only performed in a number of works written by others, but also developed a handful of solo pieces, including Shoot the Moving Things (a radio musical, performed live on KPFK in Los Angeles in 1987), Dry Land Divine (1988), No Say (1989), The Gardening of Thomas D (1992), The Idiot Variations (1995), and Romeo Sierra Tango (1998). Along the way, he also recorded and released three music albums – Finding My Way Home (1991), Do The Day Over (1992), and Story In Story Out (1997) – and composed music pieces for the New Performance Group, a.k.a. the Sonora Ensemble – The Finsterwald Diaries (1994) and Five or Six Dances (1996). After nearly two decades on the West Coast, Eckert moved to New York City in the mid-1990s, and since 2000 has turned his attention more fully to the writing, composing, and performing of new music theatre works, most notably And God Created Great Whales (2000), Highway Ulysses (2002), Horizon (2005), and Orpheus X (2006), as well as holding both short-term and long-term residencies at universities. 

            As this admittedly incomplete summary of his work to date conveys, since the early 1980s Eckert has been exceedingly prolific. In part, the quality and impact of his art may be measured by the praise his pieces consistently draw from critics, as well as the fawning remarks from audiences who have been fortunate to experience first-hand the power of his theatre. Beyond these critical and popular accolades, Eckert’s work has justly been cited for a number of highly regarded honors and awards. From the last decade alone, awards include a 2008 Drama Desk Nomination for Horizon, a 2007 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Orpheus X, the 2005 Marc Blitzstein Award presented by American Academy of Arts and Letters for Highway Ulysses, and a 2000 OBIE Best Performance Award and 2000 Drama Desk Nomination for And God Created Great Whales. Additionally, his work has been widely produced, across North America—including Off Broadway, Berkley Repertory Theatre, Theatre for a New Audience, and American Repertory Theatre— as well as in Europe and Asia. Given the enduring quality (not to mention sheer quantity) of work produced, it seems curious that it is only now that an anthology of his work is being published. Regardless, while a collection such as this is, without question, long overdue, in making available for the first time to a wide audience four key pieces from Eckert’s oeuvre, those familiar with his work will be reminded of his innovative genius, and those new to it will be introduced to an artist who, through his bold eclecticism, has and continues to boldly challenge the shape and scope of theatrical expression.

            While these four divergent texts are fine examples of Eckert’s exquisite eclectic approach to creating theatre, they also demonstrate how his work consistently asks age-old questions regarding humanity’s dreams, desires, and destiny, all the while pushing against the trite and tired answers so often offered, and proposing instead new ways of thinking about existence. These simultaneous acts of questioning, of resisting, and of reconstructing are readily apparent in the newest of the pieces included here: Orpheus X. [3] In Eckert’s hands, the mythic Orpheus is reconfigured as a rock star who has for years penned frivolous and cliché-ridden love songs, while Eurydice is a poet whose work, though largely unknown, is rich and laden with complexities; and whereas in the received myth they are husband and wife, in Eckert’s revisioning they are strangers who share a tragic occurrence. Thus, at the level of conceptualizing the central characters in his piece, Eckert upsets the tenets of the received myth by envisioning Eurydice not as a cipher, but as a gifted artist, whose work exceeds that of Orpheus.

            The event around which the action of the piece constellates involves Eurydice, in a heavy rainstorm, stepping into the street while fumbling with a red eyeglass case. She is struck by a cab that is carrying Orpheus; he, upon exiting the cab, holds her bloodied head in his hands as she dies. Throughout the course of the scenes that follow, this event is variously configured as has happened (both immediately and weeks and months after), is happening, and will happen. The multiple reconfigurings of the moment of death are conveyed not only through the words, but also through the near constant playing of a video clip montage that shows Eurydice dropping the glasses case, and then bending to pick it up. In this sense, then, the piece has a cubist quality, with the moment that leads to Eurydice laying in the wet street and “drowning in her blood,” being told and retold from numerous perspectives. 

            Many of these perspectives are imagined by Orpheus, who sequesters himself in a recording studio, obsessively ruminates over the contents of Eurydice’s purse (given to him by the hospital orderly who thought he was a relative), reads her poetry (much of which he does not understand), and composes songs where he imagines a life with Eurydice that never was and never will be. In this regard, Eckert’s visioning of gender politics is somewhat conventional, with the dead women serving as muse to the tortured, though still living, male artist. However, this conventional vision is offset by the equal number scenes given over to Eurydice who, in the underworld, first resists her fate (to write only in impermanent chalk and eventually bathe in the river of Lithe and forget everything), but slowly comes to see memory and permanence as burdens and adopts the view that it will be “wonderful to forget” (McGinley 58-59).

            The third figure in the piece is protean; variously Jon, Orpheus’ manager bent on bringing the musician out of his depression (and getting him back to work), and Persephone, the queen of the dead who prepares Eurydice for an eternity in the underworld. Eckert’s reimagining of Persephone adds a fascinating dynamic to the received text. While his drawing of Orpheus approximates the traditional narrative, situating his attempt to retrieve Eurydice from the underworld as valiant and, perhaps more importantly, self-interested, through the course of her scenes with Persephone, the figures of Eurydice and Persephone are given considerably more latitude, and, as the play pushes forward, both increasingly take issue with the actions and fates ascribed. Persephone, for example, is configured as one who is herself trapped, disempowered by both her mother (Demeter) and her husband (Hades). In many respects, she is envious of the future that awaits Eurydice – a future without memory. In short, then, though neither woman can alter the preordained ending (i.e., in the end, they both must remain in the underworld), Eckert has them explore the internal dynamics born from knowing that such a future is forthcoming (McGinley 59 and Lowe 682).

            The exploration of these personal dynamics is perhaps most powerfully demonstrated near the end of the piece, when Orpheus and Eurydice near the end of their ascent out of underworld. There, on the cusp of returning to life, Eurydice rips a blindfold placed on Orpheus’ eyes – knowing what consequences will follow – and forces him to look at her. It is during this moment that the story shifts and becomes fully Eurydice’s, as she vehemently attacks the musician’s self-centered mission. She sings: “Did you think I would welcome a rescue?  Did you think you were saving me from something.” Following this, she sits center stage, weeping. There is a sense, however, that she is weeping not for the future of forgetting that awaits her, but for the centuries that her story has been silenced (McGinley 59). Thus, with Orpheus X, Eckert calls into question many of the assumptions within the received myth, resists those assumptions, and reconceives its very terms by pulling the figure of Eurydice to the center of the narrative. In so doing, his counter reading is both an act of cultural recovery and an act of resistance, investing, as he does, a well-known narrative with an alternate meaning.[4]

            A similar act of cultural recovery and resistance is at work in the two earlier pieces included here: The Gardening of Thomas D and And God Created Great Whales.

[5] As with Orpheus X, with these pieces Eckert draws on canonical narratives for inspiration. In the former, an accountant, Thomas D., suffers a mental breakdown while shopping in a supermarket, has visions that recall the Divine Comedy, and flees for his life.[6] Retreating to an abandoned baseball diamond located on the grounds of a New Jersey monastery, Thomas works to plant a garden in the sandy soil. Sounds recalling Gregorian chant rest alongside bits of physical action that would fit well into an episode of the Three Stooges (Sellar, “Idiot’s Paradise,” 90). Significantly, while this summary suggests a chronological unfolding, the piece is far more elliptical. At the start, the gardening has already begun, and the details of Thomas D.’s life before are conveyed piecemeal through voice over. As the piece spins forward and backward and forward again, with the guidance of an Angel, Thomas works in the Garden and on himself (at certain moments, the garden and Thomas merge). Echoing his source text, Eckert reveals in Thomas a slow movement from suicidal despair to a kind of paradise. This paradise, however, has little to do with Dante’s heavenly vision; it is instead revealed that the piece of earth on which the garden is planted had long ago belonged to Thomas’s grandfather. For Eckert, then, to reach paradise is to return to one’s roots and dig in the dirt. Thus, the punitive, doctrinaire, orderly, and sparkling view undergirding the Divine Comedy’s conception of paradise is supplanted by one more tolerant, generous, messy and, potentially, inviting (Sellar, “Idiot’s Paradise,” 91). In sum, then, in Eckert’s radical reworking, Dante’s canonical narrative is scrutinized and reimainged, and humanity’s salvation is reconstructed as coming not from above, but from within.

            And God Created Great Whales is likewise shot through with a sense of recovery and resistance.

[7] In this piece, Eckert takes as his point of departure Melville’s Moby-Dick. As with The Gardening of Thomas D. and its circumlocutory connection to the Divine Comedy, And God Created Great Whales’ relation to its source text is more metaphorical than literal. Nathan, a piano-tuner and composer, works to finish his opera based on Melville’s masterpiece before his failing memory vanishes forever. To compensate for his disintegrating memory, Nathan uses a collection of color-coded tape recorders marked for specific purposes (green is for “incidental notes,” while red is the “working tape”), which serve as a kind of substitute mind (Insko). Also present is Nathan’s Muse, who both is and is not Olivia, a former opera diva who would like Nathan to write a part for her in the opera. The very presence of the Muse / Olivia introduces into Melville’s hyper-masculine world the heretofore-repressed feminine. In this sense, then, Eckert offers a subtle critique of the gender imbalance in high art (Insko). Also problematized are Melville’s notions of transcendence. As Nathan labors to complete his work, characters from Moby-Dick are channeled into brief and fleeting existence, including Pip, Queequeg, Starbuck, Ishmael and, of course, Ahab. In turn, Melville’s tale of “dreaming, grasping, and yielding” merges with Nathan’s struggle to create. Whereas at the end of Moby-Dick, Ahab quixotically sacrifices himself to the great cause of his life, the “storm” that overtakes Nathan’s mind ends in a void (Sellar, “Amazing Grace,” 116-118). Thus, the transcendence of Melville’s masterpiece is juxtaposed against the futility of Nathan’s never-to-be-completed opus. Significantly, however, even this shift from transcendence to futility is offset by the allegory of Eckert’s text, which itself is endowed with literary beauty. In sum, then, with And God Created Great Whales, the structure and theme of Melville’s work, as well as the premise of high art, are simultaneously installed, subverted, and reconstructed.  

            Horizon is also invested with the desire to question, to resist, and to reconstruct. However, unlike the other pieces which draw on literary / high art / mythological sources, in this piece Eckert interrogates and celebrates a larger cultural text.

[8] More precisely, in Horizon Eckert offers a compelling and nuanced consideration Reinhold Niebuhr – arguably the most influential American, protestant theologian of the 20th century – who was the primary architect of the intricate and conservative (i.e., Augustinian and Reformation-infused) set of principles that were eventually gathered under the term “Christian realism.” Also at play in the construction of the central character, Reinhart Poole, is Eckert’s grandfather, Thomas D. Rinde, who was a Lutheran minister and taught religious history at a seminary in Nebraska (Eckert, “Of the Horizon”). Given this inconclusive approach to character, it is not at all surprising to find that Horizon is not as much an homage to, or biographical dramatization of, Niebuhr (or, for that matter, Eckert’s grandfather), as it is a poetic call for the coexistence of faith and reason, and a metaphoric meditation on thoughts regarding a vision of human existence and its relation to the divine as professed by Christian realism (Bentley).

            This focus on thought, as opposed to historical figure and event, allows Eckert to escape the burden of biography and instead re-imagine Niebuhr’s life in figurative rather than in literal terms. The event driving the piece — Poole’s dismissal from the seminary where he has taught for many years for asking challenging question in the class, paired with his ensuing desire, obligation, and fears about returning to the ministerial pulpit after years in the academy — has no historical analogue (Niebuhr, who taught for over forty years at Union Theological Seminary, was never dismissed, and by all accounts did not long to return to preaching). While the firing and suggestion of a return to the ministry serves a dramaturgical purpose by inciting the action, the purpose of that event is also – and perhaps even largely – thematic. Regarding the former, Poole’s firing gives cause for Poole’s crisis of faith (not in terms of belief, but in terms of the quality of his service), which, in turn, frames the action of play: Poole, preparing his final lecture, will spend the night in contemplative thought, alternating between reviewing his lecture notes, and working on a script entitled, “Foundation—an unfinished play in several unofficial acts.” Through the course of the 34 densely layered scenes that comprise Horizon, Eckert locates the action in Poole’s mind (although he is occasionally recalled to the present by the voice of his wife). In the nighttime hours before dawn, he reflects on faith, grace, and the purpose of earthly service and its relation to the divine. Regarding the imprint on theme: Poole’s dismissal evokes ideas regarding the irrevocable relationship of practical and theoretical theology, which Niebuhr concerned himself with in the final years of his life. More specifically, Poole’s dismissal from the academy, and his ongoing struggle with how best to serve, highlights Niebuhr’s perceived self as a preacher most interested with ecclesiastical duties, not as a theologian concerned with academic pursuits. Eckert seizes on this point by having his protagonist repeatedly state, “My name is Reinhart Poole. I’m a minister, as my father was before me.” 

Horizon reflects a Christian realist, theological point of view, connoting humanity’s inability to imagine the divine in anything but figurative terms, as well as the notion that while humanity’s conception of God is always vacillating, the divine itself is unchanging. (In Niebuhr’s words, “Man is, and yet is not, involved in the flux of nature and time.”) As a way of manifesting this idea – and as well in an effort to evoke the darting, temporal, and ever-evolving quality of Poole’s mind – Eckert has composed a text that folds in upon itself, and in so doing supplants a causal and dialectical structure with one that is non-linear, elliptical, and concurrent.

When Horizon begins, Poole is sitting at his desk preparing his final lecture. Behind the desk are seven small chalkboards on which the letters H, O, R, I, Z, O, and N are written. At various times, the chalkboards are erased while new words and symbols are added and removed. In one late scene, for example, the words describing the Seven Deadly Sins — Envy, Pride, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Lust, and Wrath — are first written on the chalkboard and then replaced with the mnemonic sentence, “Every Perfect Garden Grows Some Lovely Weeds.” In an earlier scene, Poole first inscribes the words “ethics” and “judgment” on the chalkboards, asks his students to provide definitions, revels in the numerous and varied responses he receives, and finally qualifies and controls the elasticity of the terms by adding the words “Christian” to “ethics” and “God’s” to  “judgment.” On other occasions, the blackboards are flipped over to show images painted on the reverse sides. Thus, the words and images inscribed on the chalkboards are presented as fleeting, temporal, and always changing, but the chalkboards themselves are always present. In this way, then, the chalkboards serve to exemplify a central premise of Christian realism: that God is fixed, but what is projected onto God is always shifting.

            While the principles of Christian realism in particular and Christianity in general are front and center in Horizon, and are given a remarkably balanced treatment, it warrants mentioning that this is not proselytizing on the part of Eckert. Indeed, in many respects, the value of Christianity in any form is not really Eckert’s point at all. More to the point is the desire to celebrate the unknown, all the while suggesting the possibility and potential of maintaining both a serious religious life and a rigorous intellectual life. This seems particularly pertinent in an era when religious belief is all too often situated as counter to the life of the mind and vice versa. Indeed, at a moment in history when certain religious communities and peoples hold the position that their faith relieves them of the responsibility of thinking, and conversely other intellectual communities and peoples disparage anything not scientifically verifiable, Eckert’s Poole models a view that counters both religious and secular dogmatism (Freeman). His is the belief that faith can be used productively with reason, and reason with faith, in humankind’s search for understanding (if not “truth”). In this richly drawn text Eckert takes seriously Niebuhr’s conservative but thoughtful and rigorous conception of the universe and humanity’s place in it – and by way of calling attention to the power of figurative thinking, the possibility of an ineffable divine, the promise of faith coupled with reason, and what those concepts might mean for humanity – Eckert once again encourages a critical and imaginative rethinking of polemical cultural practices and logics.

            The texts included in this volume are opaque, poetic, music – theatre works that trouble the representational / presentational divide, are set outside “normal” time and place, focus on essences, allegory and parable as opposed to representative narrative, biography, or linear plot, and borrow freely from a wide variety of performance modes. With each, Eckert draws into consideration a well-rehearsed text, queries the received reading of that text, and offers a nuanced reconsideration of its premises. Beyond these nameable qualities and characteristics, Orpheus X, The Gardening of Thomas D, And God Created Great Whales, and Horizon ask audiences to think deeply about the narratives that shape our understanding of the universe, and about what it means to be a human in the contemporary world. In striving to write works that address life’s great mysteries and yearnings, and to think deeply about memory, thought, and the quality of action, Eckert asks us to go beyond mind and body and enter the realm of soul. In short, he asks us to think about who we are. His passionate interest in expressing these intangibles leads to the creation of theatre that he himself seeks: “[t]here is such a thing as soul and good theatre elevates it.”




Brantley, Ben (2007) “The Eternal Vaudeville of the Spiritual Mind” (Review of Horizon), New York Theatre Workshop, 2007, directed by David Schweizer, in New York Times 6 June 2007.

Brown, Robert McAfee, ed. (2006) Introduction to The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr, New Haven: Yale U P.

Eckert, Rinde (2005) “Of the Horizon” on


Eckert, Rinde and Ryan McKittrick (2006) “A Trip to the Underworld: Ryan McKittrick speaks with Rinde Eckert, composer and writer of Orpheus X”, in ARTicles: American Repertory Theatre News 3, 4: 5.

Eckert, Rinde (2009) “Artist’s Statement” on

Eckert, Rinde (ND) “Chronology” on

Eckert, Rinde (2010) “Biography” on

Freeman, Matthew (2007) “Rinde Eckert’s Horizon” (Review of Horizon), New York Theatre Workshop, 2007, directed by David Schweizer, in Of Theatre and Politics 6 June 2007.


Insko, Jeffrey (2001) “After Ahab” (Review of And God Created Great Whales), The Culture Project at 45 Bleecker, 2000, directed by David Schweizer, in Postmodern Culture 12:1.

Lowe, Leah (2006) Review of Orpheus X, American Repertory Theatre, Boston, 2006, directed by Robert Woodruff, in Theatre Journal 58, 4: 681-683.

McGinley, Paige (2006) “Theatre is Hell” (Review of Orpheus X), American Repertory Theatre, Boston, 2006, directed by Robert Woodruff, in PAJ 84: 56-9.

Sellar, Tom (2000) “Idiot’s Paradise: Rinde Eckert, Interviewed”, in Theatre 30, 2: 83-91.

Sellar, Tom (2001) “Amazing Grace: Rinde Eckert’s And God Created Great Whales and An Idiot Divine”, in Theatre 31, 2: 116-118.

Shewey, Don (2000) “Rinde Eckert: ‘Not Moby-Dick but Whale-ish’”, in New York Times 11 June 2000.

Sykes, Bev (2005) “Production revolves around crisis of faith” (Review of Horizon), University of California Davis Mondavi Center, 2005, directed by David Schweizer, in The Davis Enterprise 10 November 2005.

Wolgamott, L. Kent (2005) “’Horizon” is as entertaining as it is intellectually stimulating” (Review of Horizon), University of Nebraska, Johnny Carson Theatre, 2005, directed by David Schweizer, in Lincoln Journal Star 28 October 2005.



[1] Though the following collection focuses on texts created and performed by Eckert, it warrants mentioning that he has also compiled an impressive resume of directing credits.

[2] In compiling this biographical sketch, I draw from Eckert, “In His Own Words”; Eckert, “Chronology”; Eckert, “Biography”; Sellar, “Idiots’ Paradise: Rinde Eckert: Interviewed”; and Shewey, “Rinde Eckert: Not Moby-Dick but Whale-ish.” Details provided in the bibliography.

[3] Orpheus X premiered at the American Repertory Theatre in 2006. Directed by Robert Woodruff, the A.R.T. production featured Eckert in the role of Orpheus, Suzan Hanson as Eurydice, and John Kelly in the dual role of Persephone / John (Orpheus’ manager). Denise Marika created the video montages integral to the production.

     I am indebted to Paige McGinley and Leah Lowe, who provided useful reviews of the A.R.T. production. Similarly enlightening is Ryan McKittrick’s interview with Eckert, “A Trip to the Underworld.” All three works are cited in the bibliography.

[4] It warrants mentioning that the Orpheus / Eurydice myth has been the subject of two other reimaginings by contemporary theatre artists of note working in America: Reza Abdoh’s The Hip–Hop Waltz of Eurydice (1990) and Sara Ruhl’s Eurydice (2004). As does Eckert, Abdoh and Ruhl sought to trouble the received narrative by reconceiving and pulling the figure of Eurydice to the center of their works.

[5] My readings of The Gardening of Thomas D. and And God Created Great Whales are informed by the erudite analyses offered by Jeffrey Insko and Tom Sellar. Their works are cited in the bibliography.

[6] The Gardening of Thomas D premiered at the University of Iowa’s Hatcher Auditorium in 1992. Eckert co-directed with Melissa Weaver, and played Thomas D. Ellie Klopp played the Angel. The production was subsequently staged at the Walker Art Center at the University of Minnesota, and at On the Boards Theatre in Seattle.

[7] And God Created Great Whales was first produced at the Foundry Theatre in New York City in 2000. Eckert played Nathan and Nora Cole played the Muse. David Schweizer directed. The Culture Project remounted the production in 2001.

[8] Horizon premiered at the Johnny Carson Theatre at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln in 2005. David Schweizer directed. In addition to Eckert who played Poole, the cast included David Barlow and Howard Swain. Subsequent performances were staged at the Mondavi Center at the University of California, Davis; the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park; and at Montclair State University, New Jersey. The first New York City production was at the New York Theatre Workshop in 2007.

     Bev Sykes and L. Kent Wolgamott wrote useful reviews of the production of Horizon staged on the campuses of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and the University of California, Davis. Also instructive are Ben Brantley’s and Matthew Freeman’s observations regarding the staging of the piece at New York Theatre Workshop. Lastly, Eckert’s own remarks in “Of the Horizon,” are informative. All sources inform my reading and are cited in the bibliography.