Deke Weaver, TIGER/The Unreliable Bestiary, 2019. Digital design. Courtesy of the artist.
Deke Weaver (as park ranger) interacts with performance participants during The Unreliable Bestiary: Bear, 2017. Photo by Valerie Oliveiro.
Deke Weaver, Tiger In Bag, 2019. Color photograph. Courtesy of the artist.
Deke Weaver, The Unreliable Bestiary, 2009–2019. Digital design. Courtesy of the artist.
Dec 31, 1969 - 6
Lower Level, Auditorium

TIGER is the 5th performance from Deke Weaver’s life-long Unreliable Bestiary project: a performance for each letter of the alphabet, each letter represented by an endangered animal or habitat. 

Co-sponsored by the School of Art + Design and Krannert Art Museum

Built for small theaters, living rooms, and barns, TIGER is more intimate than it’s sprawling older brothers MONKEY, ELEPHANT, WOLF, and BEAR.  Part Spalding Gray, part Laurie Anderson, TIGER might feel like a travelogue, a séance, a Parisian salon: dark thoughtful humor for the anthropocene. 

Written, performed, and codirected by Deke Weaver, TIGER’s award-winning collaborators include codirector/dramaturg Jayne Wenger, costume designer Susan Becker, sound designer Jacob Ross, and visual artist Melissa Pokorny (

Based in years of research, TIGER has grown at the edges of environmental conservation, advertising/public-relations, and climate collapse, juxtaposing ecotourism with the villagers who are forced to compete with endangered predators for diminishing resources.  I spent time in central India’s Pench National Park, one of India’s last sanctuaries for wild tigers. To the south and east of Pench lies a different kind of tiger habitat.  Perched on the edge of the Bay of Bengal, straddling the border of India and Bangladesh at the mouth of the Ganges River Delta, the Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world. The Ganges starts in the glaciers of the Himalayas flowing south and east for 1600 miles. These glaciers are on track to be completely melted away by 2050. At 2.5 meters above sea level the Sundarbans (and most of Bangladesh) is highly vulnerable to rising seas. So, at one end of the river, the ocean is rising. At the other end, the ice is melting. In between, throughout the Ganges River Basin, lives nearly ten percent of the world’s human population.  (Did I say the show is funny?  Yes, funny!)

The Sundarbans is home to a population of tigers that have adapted to the swampy tide lands, taking on remarkable aquatic attributes. For centuries, these tigers have included human beings in their diet. During the mid-90’s India’s Forestry Department hoped to reduce the number of tiger-induced human fatalities in the Sundarbans. The department laid down the law. Any group of workers going into the forests of the Sundarbans would be accompanied by a gunin – a shaman.  What’s it like living in a place where 25 to 300 people a year get eaten by tigers? What’s it like living in a world where including a shaman in a work party is simply practical?

This fall, I’m touring TIGER along the Mississippi and some of its tributaries, starting at the headwaters in Bemidji, Minnesota and moving down to the Gulf - mirroring antipodal progress down the Ganges - a river on the other side of the world and home to most of the last wild tigers on the planet. 

Krannert Art Museum is the last show of the Fall 2019 tour.


Deke Weaver’s Bio | | @dekeweaver | @UnreliableBestiary

Deke Weaver's work has been presented by the Sundance Film Festival, PBS, Channel 4/U.K., the New York Video Festival (Lincoln Center), the Chicago Humanities Festival, 21c Museum Hotels, the Berlin Video Festival, the Moth, and many others including livestock pavilions, backyard sheds, night clubs and living rooms.

A Guggenheim Fellow and Creative Capital grantee, he is currently an associate professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign with appointments in the School of Art & Design, the Department of Theater, and faculty affiliation with the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies.


Quotes From Past Work

“WOLF was a singular and haunting experience.”

Richard Powers / author of Pulitzer Prize-winning The Overstory


Other Animals is a beautiful, quirky, deep show full of Deke’s combination of lyrical storytelling and precisely drawn characters. It’s disturbing and perverse, in the best way.”

Holly Hughes / playwright/performance artist


“The experience of being … in Deke Weaver’s immersive, magical performance BEAR … is unforgettable — and being there is the point. The feeling of trudging through the park in the dark of night, with the tall grasses brushing your face, the sounds of rustling in the woods, and the sensation of stepping along uneven, muddy, invisible paths all made the fantasy world of BEAR palpably real. We were in it.”

Jonathan Fineberg / Hyperallergic


“Deke Weaver’s Unreliable Bestiary series has a legendary – almost apocryphal – air about it. If you haven’t experienced one, but you’re talking to anyone involved in local art, you’ll hear about it. Usually, there will be some superlatives along with the word ‘indescribable.’ If … you have had a chance to hear Weaver tell a story … you know that this is a special kind of magic that befits his name … know that people aren’t exaggerating when they describe how incredible it is to listen to him.”

Rebecca Knaur / Smile Politely


“Strict categories fail where Weaver is concerned … a delightful, engaging, frequently funny performance, Weaver’s story is especially brilliant.”

Lightsey Darst /


“MONKEY shines in unpredictable ways. … a journey as holy and outrageous as the mythology of Hindu monkey gods or of 1950s Hollywood science fiction, redemption and sacrifice all rolled up like King Kong at the top of the Empire State Building. MONKEY offers a compact, nuggety mindblower…”

P. Gregory Springer / Smile Politely


“What a gift you all made that night! I felt like we shared a wild, vivid dream – strange and resonant.”

Audrey Petty / McSweeney’s editor of High Rise Stories: Voices From Chicago Public Housing


“Weaver’s primary muse is clearly Mark Twain.”

Lawrance Bernabo / Duluth News Tribune


“Garrison Keillor meets Carlos Castaneda in writer-performer Deke Weaver’s cunningly interwoven tales…the magic of the narrative soars…it casts an undeniable spell.”

Brad Rosenstein / San Francisco Bay Guardian


“In a way that only an artist can, Weaver repeatedly undermines the audience’s desire that what they are seeing represents, in the style of old natural-history television, ‘authenticated facts.’  Instead, the artist presents us with what he calls an ‘unreliable bestiary’ — a work which will reclaim a spiritual connection for animals while unmooring the human observer from a world of easily collated zoological facts and taxonomies.  In this topsy-turvy slippery world, what we think we know about elephants is jumbled unevenly with science, whimsy, and farce to create an unsettling contemplation of the elephant as an animal we both might know better and will never know at all.”

Nigel Rothfels / “A Hero’s Death” (commentary on ELEPHANT, Animal Acts, co-edited by Una Chaudhuri and Holly Hughes)