My Name is a Blackbird

My Name is a Blackbirdis Molly Shanahan’s evening-length solo performance developed in a two-year collaborative project exploring gender, sexuality, transformation and language. Blackbird received its formal premiere in Chicago April 12–29, 2007 at The Building Stage and will be performed in New York in association with Joyce SoHo April 9–11, 2009.

Blackbird was anchored by new collaborations with Andrew Bird, Mark Booth and Dave Pavkovic who each composed original scores; Leslie Danzig (dramaturg); Heidi Dakter (costume design); Nadia Oussenko (video); and Josh Weckesser (lighting design).

The work is inspired, in part, by the concept of transmogrification—an internally initiated change of form or shape. This concept served as a creative entry point for Shanahan to explore, through movement, text, video and new collaborations her own shifting relationship to the social construction of gender as it defines identity and shapes awareness and perception of physicality.

For the composers, Shanahan created three identical wooden boxes with individual compartments housing associative objects, images, video clips and text that each composer responded to separately, ultimately creating up to 20 minutes of music and/or text. Viewing the box as both a three-dimensional score and a surrogate for lengthy descriptions/directions, Shanahan investigated the non-verbal communication of collaboration and how multiple artists respond differently to the same creative catalyst. See images of the boxes.

Molly Shanahan / Mad Shak invited theater artist Leslie Buxbaum Danzig to serve as Blackbird’s dramaturg. This relationship, including the process of collaboratively defining the role of dramaturg as it applies to Shanahan’s work, specifically, was a significant step in Molly Shanahan / Mad Shak’s artistic journey.

Videographer Nadia Oussenko created a documentary of the year-long creation process. Portions of the documentary, in process, were shown in 2006 and 2007 in events associated with Blackbird, and the final work premiered in the Fall of 2007. Click here to view a preview of the documentary.

For her collaboration with costume artist Heidi Dakter, Shanahan envisioned the creation of several garments that were inspired by the work and developed in collaboration through meetings and rehearsal viewings. These garments were shown to the public in a “trunk show” in February 2007.

For more information on My Name is a Blackbird, please visit our press page to view critical reviews or our gallery to view still images from the project.




Blackbird was mysterious and gothic, like an antique spy comic printed in black ink on heavy newsprint, written by Poe or Hawthorne in the abstract cadence of Joyce.

>>   NEW WNYC interview with Stanzi Vaubel
>>   NEW Eight Millions Stories interview
>>  Blackbird Press Release
>>  Video: Documentary Preview
>>  Video: Molly
>>  Video: Trunk Happening
>>  Video: The Blackbird Party Performance
>>  Andrew Bird's Audio Sketch (MP3)
>>  Mark Booth's Audio Sketch (MP3)
>>  Dave Pavkovic 's Audio Sketch (MP3)