Conversation with Lyra Hill with Bonus Workshop!

This past week, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Lyra Hill and to participate in a workshop by her and her MCA students at the Zine Fest. Lyra Hill wears many hats; she’s a cartoonist, filmmaker, and performer. She was the founder and curator of Brain Frame, a performance comic series that ran for three years. While I did not have the pleasure of attending Brain Frame, it was a wonderful artistic experiment. Lyra Hill served as curator, performer, promoter, bookkeeper and so much more for the show.

As a performer, her work evolved as the show went on. For the first Brain Frame, she started to think about adding props, lights, and more to enhance the comics. One of the first stories she performed was about a breakup that she wanted to impart the discomfort of it to the audience. She had an audience member read her ex-boyfriends part, incriminating the entire  audience in her story. That was only the start.  In Brain Frame 2, she debuted her Llama Man character where she dressed up as this “evil child stealing force” from her nightmares in a terrifying costume. She was 10 feet tall on stilts. She spoke in a menacing, sometimes undecipherable voice that went along with her projected comics. This performance really helped up the ante of Brain Frame. Overall, she worked to encourage people to push themselves and try new things by example. She’d push herself even harder and faster as a way to support others’ exploration of their work. Some of her performances were “ramshackle” (her words) but have become more polished over time.

As the curator, the best part was working with the artists. For her, it was important that at least half of the performers be women, which was hard at first. She found that many women were reticent or nervous at first; however, towards the end, more and more women submitted pieces and eventually outnumbered men in performances. Overall, Lyra Hill wanted Brain Frame to “constantly expand… the idea of what could be comics or could be related to comics.” People really responded to it. Collectives, groups and collaboratives, were formed from Brain Frame performances such as Pup House, a shadow puppet group, and more. She had a saying for her performers: “It's better try something crazy and fail, then succeed at something boring." I can certainly tip my hat at that.

In addition to her work at Brain Frame, Lyra Hill is also an experimental filmmaker. She had always loved movies but she hadn’t taken courses in film or comics until college. She just fell in love with experimental film. She learned to work with 16 mm film, which she called “a highly technically, unwieldy, otherworldly spectral experience.” One of her films, Uzi’s Party, shot on 16mm film, is debuting this week. The film is about teenager party where a Ouija game has a supernatural surprise. It’s part teen comedy and horror with an experimental twist. Check it out at 7pm on Friday May 15th.  More details here: I’m bummed that I won’t make it but you should go.

In addition to our conversation, I was able to attend a workshop that she ran at Zine Fest at Plumber’s Hall on Washington Avenue, in the same week. She and her students at the MCA ran the workshop called “Horrormones: Performing Coming-of-Age Comics with the Teen Creative Agency.” The idea was to create a comic to perform in an hour as a group. It was tremendous fun. Lyra Hill’s students from the MCA teen program drove the session. We had four possible groups to join, each with their own theme. There groups were: Romance, Changes, Cliques, and Hormones. We chose the group that we wanted to work in so there were about 6-8 people in each, I’m fairly certain I was the oldest in my group by a decade but that was fine. It was neat to work with teenagers. In groups, we each talked about our life and how it related to the theme. We then drew our story on one or more clear plastic slides with a frame, like a comic frame. Then we had to combine the stories into one long story and develop a performance. It was tremendous fun.

The end result was wonderfully messy and inspired. The four groups did their piece very differently. One combined the stories as images in three acts. Another group presented theirs as a series of short stories one right after another. We combined our stories based on age (kindergarten to high school) and ended on a high note about transcending cliques. It was really thrilling! Kudos to Lyra Hill and her amazing teens for running the session.

I look forward to seeing the new films, comics and other performances of Lyra Hill in the future!