Summer in the city has been romanticized, painted, poetized. Personally, I feel that the best way to experience a hot (heat-wave hot!) summer in New York is to find refuge in a cool (in every sense of the word) theater. From July 10th to July 25th, the theater in question became that of the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City, which hosted The Builders Association’s Summer Residency Workshop for HOUSE / DIVIDED (formerly ROAD TRIP – as you may know, the title has been adjusted to better reflect the content of the piece).
During the two weeks spent with The Builders, fellow Ohio State student Phil Garrett and I were invited to glance at the inner workings of The Builders artistic family. As days passed, I was once again amazed by the dedication, malleability, and artistic creativity that flowed in the room while the group was constructing piece by piece a new piece of theater. Creating new works is no task for the faint of heart: there are continuous revisions, grand unknowns, long discussions, and, in the case of HOUSE / DIVIDED, the great task of interweaving three major narrative threads while integrating video, live music, documentary footage, actors…and let’s not forget about the real, plaster-and-lath house that is waiting for The Builders in Columbus and that will make an integral part of the set and the story itself! Bottom line: there was a lot to do and think about.
With a preliminary script in hand, the company implemented months and months of research: composing music that would be played live during the performance, physically manipulating the set into different configurations, re-arranging and enhancing the structure of the piece, editing and superimposing video projections and documentary footage, integrating live-feed cameras on stage and working on character development were only a few of the tasks. Steadily, The Builders laid the foundation of what will become HOUSE / DIVIDED. In the meanwhile, Phil and I got to share in the experience. I had the chance to do a little research work for Marianne, the director; work with Pauline, one of the video artists, on some of the documentary footage The Builders shot in Columbus; be an extra onstage during rehearsals; and briefly work with Latoya, the actor playing Tammy, on character development. In addition to being an all-round go-to man, Phil managed to find some fantastic 1920s archival footage that was used in the workshop performance, and played the roles of CEO Bill Madigan and Senator on stage during the open performance of the workshop on July 25th.
Having the opportunity to take part in this incredible experience was a fantastic opportunity to take a look at the ins and outs of devising in a professional multimedia company. Even if brief, during the residency I have learned a great deal to be treasured and applied in my own artistic/scholarly quest. I am excited to continue to work with The Builders in September, and I look forward to more incredible experiences as the company moves to the Thurber Theatre at Ohio State for the last portion of their devising before the October premiere, presented by the Wexner Center, of HOUSE / DIVIDED.
Hello Road Trippers. We have been busy working on many aspects of the show from the home base here in New York. The script is percolating along and the set is starting it’s long march across the drawing board of John Cleater and Neal Wilkinson.
John showed us some initial sketches of things he’s been pondering. Above is a perspective from the audience, The House’s general structure, which is quite open, allowing for actors to move throughout. There are architectural elements that are being considered, elements that we would remove from the actual houses in Columbus and transport to the theatre to help define The House. In the sketch, you can see the pediment above the second floor, which would be the pediment from the house we looked at on North 4th street, for example.
John and Neal have been talking about where/how else we are going to possibly take cuts from the house to use as architectural elements onstage. Above is a doorjamb, plus a small section of the adjoining wall, including a small section above where the plaster has been stripped and the wall is down to the wooden lathes. We saw a lot of that in all the houses we looked at.
This cut comes out of the bathroom and will work to indicate the same in the set. Porcelain, tile and chrome say a lot about the relative level of comfort of homeowners.
Monday, January 10, 2011
A team of Builders arrived in snow-covered Columbus and headed to campus. In tow were Neal Wilkinson (scenic design/tech director), Austin Switser (video design), John Cleater (scenic design), James Gibbs (dramaturg/writer) and Moe Angelos (actor/writer), embarking on a Columbus adventure.
After settling in we headed to the black box theater of the Wexner Center to look at for use as and interview shoot location. Austin and Neal and James determined that the space would be good and scheduled time to set up for the next day.
We all went to the Drake for a meeting with out trusty theatre cohort. We talked about what we wanted to get accomplished over the week and we suggested assignments for the whole cohort: looking for “found dialog” on the web relating to the foreclosure crisis. These assignments will be evolving over the course of the week, with more ideas to come.
Entire cohort was given the option to tag along for any parts of this week with any of us, as we outlined our schedule.
Katherine Bennett (Professor of Landscape Architecture, Knowlton School) arrived from another class and launched unflinchingly into a description of the ongoing Knowlton relationship with Wagenbrenner Development, a local Columbus developer that her landscape architecture students are working with in the nearby neighborhood of Weinland Park. There is great overlap between Katherine’s work in the study of the urban/exurban continuum and the territory of Road Trip.
Tuesday was jam-packed with action.
James Gibbs and I met in the dramaturgy observation habitat at the Drake. We enjoyed a soothing view of the frozen and snow-covered Olentangy River, complete with squawking Canadian geese flocks, surely off-course. Shouldn’t they be in Florida now?
We hashed through the arc of the story, mostly focusing on where we land with it at the end. We want to know our destination before we dive into the writing. Four ambitious students showed up at 10:30 (Francesca, Elizabeth, Phil and Alison) to chat with us about our process. We gave a couple of them assignments to work on. #1: finding ALL the various versions of GOW that are out there. #2: fishing around for found dialog relating to the foreclosure situation, in any part of the vast chain.
Meanwhile, the design fellas showed up and did a walk-though of the Thurber Theatre.
We then all headed over to Franklin Park Conservatory and talked to Bill Dawson, the community gardens guru that we have heard so much about. He is very impassioned about teaching people to garden and to sustain their plots over a long haul. Bill is smart and loves his gardens and hooked us to a few people to speak with about the experiences turning empty urban land into productive, arable earth.
Then we went to Wagenbrenner Developers and found Katherine and two of her grad students, Abby and Nick. We all sat with Elan Daniel from WD and John and Neal talked through what we’d like to do with a house that WD cannot salvage for rehab. We were hoping that WD would be willing to let us make use of the structure somehow for the set of Road Trip. Elan took us into his office and showed us his most sobering “ladder of distress”: all the photos of properties in Weinland
Park that WD is hoping to use in their ambitious rehab project.
We than all piled into vehicles and went to look at the properties. The first one, we’d seen in a photo on Elan’s “ladder” but in real life it has changed significantly from when the photo was taken. Over the summer, the local arsonist who was running rampant in WP, set fire to the place and it was pretty much burned-out throughout. Very, very sad. Then we went to another house around the corner which was totally boarded up but we could climb up on the front porch.
Went back to campus with Katherine and her students for a productive informational meeting to talk about her spring studio and seminar and the project in general.
Then we all went to the Syrian Orthodox church in WP (St. Sophia) to hear a talk from the main priest (Bishop Cassian) about the neighborhood, along with a bunch of students from the architecture school. The Bishop has great ideas for building a multi-level greenhouse on abandoned property in the neighborhood and to teach people how to grow their own food.
On Wikipedia, “hump day redirects” to Wednesday. Just thought you’d want to know that.
James and I spent time working on the script and then we were joined by our “shadows”, Alison, Francesca and Elizabeth. We inched forward with story concepts but in short, the development of potentially getting a real house (fingers crossed) from WD has changed things. Paradigmatic shift in process and we seem to be returning to one of the original concepts from a year and a half ago: The House is the backbone of the show. To be determined and under construction, needless to say. But, exciting nonetheless.
The design gents went in search of seamless backdrop paper and then set up the interview set at the Wexner’s black box. They then took off for The House (boarded-up one from yesterday), armed with a permission letter from Elan, screw guns and video cameras. They got in and John says that it’s “much better” than the first house (maybe meaning more of it is intact and usable) and they are very enthusiastic about it.
James and I then headed over to the Humanities Institute to meet with Rick Livingston and his class, which is an elective around Road Trip. The students are smart and engaged and they seemed quite well-versed in what both Road Trip and the Grapes of Wrath are about, and they had lots to say about the foreclosure situation. We will be checking in with them over the course of the semester as they create projects of their own that stem from the territory of Road Trip.
We returned to the Wex for interview #1, Eve from Fisher School of Business. Eve was a great interviewee and she gave us much food for thought from her own experiences with foreclosure.
James and I were in the playwright box for the morning and were visited by our kindly “shadows”. We gave them more assignments (history of the Weinland Park neighborhood, histories of the two houses we looked at with WD) and asked if they knew anyone who could come with us to the interviews in the evening to make a transcript of what is spoken. They said they’d work on it. Yay for hard working graduate students.
We returned to the Wex for a general meeting with Chuck Helm to update him and his staff (Sarah and Mike) on the changes and things we had discovered in the first three days we’d been there. I left to head back to Lesley Ferris’ devising class at the Drake. Which was fabulous and you should all go see the Camouflage Project when it opens at the Thurber, May 12 I think it is. Exciting work.
Then back to the Wexner for more interviews. Alison Vasquez from the drama department talked about her sense of place, then Elan explained his “ladder of distress” and how he tried to find the owners of the houses we looked at. He also talked about one of the houses, the double-family that the guys actually went inside. Then Sueanna and Titus Jones, a Columbus couple who are in the trashout business, talked about their experiences emptying out houses that people have been foreclosed out of. We initially met Sueanna at Rick’s class.
Long day, very productive. Who wants to go bowling at the strip mall with us?