The Provocateur: Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell

Neighborhood Capitol Hill 
Hometown Reno, Nev. 
Favorite movies Rocky I, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky V, Rocky Balboa 
Personal heroes Jean Genet, RZA, Herbert Blau and Lily Nguyen 
Favorite place in Seattle 831 Airport Way (R.I.P.)

Ryan Mitchell is willing to risk the discomfort of both audience and performer to create theatrical experiences that invoke low-grade hysteria.

“I tell my performers that abject failure is part of the sublime,” Mitchell says. “When you’re in the middle of performance, you’re not going to know if it’s good or bad and you’ll feel terrible because you don’t know which it is.”

Mitchell is the 31-year-old collaborative and conceptual artist known for co-founding and directing the performance groups Implied Violence and Saint Genet. The Cornish grad and his collaborators have toured all over the world, exhibiting their provocative, genre-defying works at venues including New York’s Guggenheim and Seattle’s Frye Art Museum and Lawrimore Project.

Mitchell’s dramaturgical style—with roots in Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty and Brechtian anticlimax—often leaves the viewer dumbstruck at lavish displays of fairytale sadism on an operatic scale. In preparation for Saint Genet’s first installment of Transports of Delirium at Lawrimore Project in September 2011, Mitchell gilded his body with gold leaf and covered his arms in leeches, draining himself of blood for four hours before directing 16 performers in a surreal retelling of the Manson trials and the Jonestown tragedy. Classically trained dancers were fed nitrous oxide and booze and directed to move throughout the space in altered states. The hours crept by as unrelieved tension and intoxication mounted.

“People expect to get everything at once in a performance,” Mitchell says, “but there will be no release, no completing the performance. What’s being explored is personal intimacy, trust, voyeuristic impulses and vulnerability.”

In April, Saint Genet will be touring their new work, Paradisiacal Rites, at Austria’s Donaufestival before its May debut in Seattle at On the Boards. Paradisiacal Rites moves the group into new territory: Rather than a sprawling, “dialogic” series like Transports, Paradisiacal Rites will be a single, more closely edited work. Like all of Mitchell’s artistic offspring, it won’t be for the faint of heart. 

Photo by Dylan Priest. Return to the complete Future List.