Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Walking Into It . . .

Ever since we started this journey, I have always been on the outside. Far on the outside. Like 1,500 miles on the outside. Sure, I helped to develop the plan, the mission and the philosophy for the Artists Laboratory Theatre. But I did it from the comfort of my studio in Oregon. But the implementation of the mission was being carried out on a nightly basis in Fayetteville Arkansas. Despite the briefings and the videos and the reports, there was no way I could truly understand what was really happening in the lab without actually being there and seeing it for myself. I had heard dialogue and keywords like “viewpoints,” “experimentation,” “gestalt,” “discovery,” “kinesthetic response” etc. But I didn't know exactly how it all fit. In fact, there was a really short time when I didn't understand how the entire Lab really fit. “How is this going to get us to the final production of Bombs, Babes & Bingo?” Well, yesterday I finally got my first glimpse of the Lab in action . . . and all my questions were answered.
I stepped off the plane and received a delightfully warm greeting from my cohort, Erika: co-artistic director of the Artist's Laboratory Theatre. After getting settled in her home, we headed to the theatre for the Lab. Its a blissfully intimate space but certainly equipped to handle performance. Think about every real estate office you've ever walked into, remove all the furniture and paint the walls black. That's the theatre. But on those black walls are layers and layers of writing and scrawling and graphs and diagrams of the brain and chalk phrases etc. It is a record of the last month of Lab Work. Every time the company meets they leave a visual record of what they did, what “experiments” they performed and what the results were. Its absolutely fascinating to see how the company has really dissected the issues and problems addressed by the playwright of “Bombs, Babes & Bingo”. Memory, perception of memory, does the story change if we randomly change the order of the scenes? What is Dennis' acceptable amount of loss? What happens when we engage the characters in scenarios outside of this story?
As people begin walking in, I meet and greet them individually. They don't know me from Adam and yet I have the audacity to introduce myself as co-artistic director of this theatre . . . even though I haven't been here for any of it. There turns out to be 8 of us altogether and the Lab Artists have gathered around in a circle to do their “warm-up”. Its a fascinating amalgam of movement and sound. I don't truly understand any of it. As a scenic designer, this isn't my strength. In fact, it feels slightly invasive and awkward to watch. But they don't seem to mind, so I try not to as well. And within 15 minutes we have moved on to a composition exercise called “montage”. The idea is this: take a character and explore the visual composition of 5 moments within this character's life. This could be an emotional moment or experience, or imply a happening of circumstance. Just enough info to take us from point A to point B. Alter the audience's view any way you like. Put them anywhere in the room in any configuration you want that strengthens how they perceive the visual image that you will present to them. Each performer has their own particular wants and needs for their story. Sometimes we cram into corners and sometimes they surround us. But every time the experience is unique and each story more fascinating than the first. One story was as simple as the discovery of an umbrella. Another dealt with the eccentricities of someone's fascination with a ring. Another a balloon and another a chicken. Its difficult (and somewhat ridiculous) to describe but powerful to watch.
And then we take this experiment to the next level and apply it to the story at hand. How could the performers break down each character in “Bombs, Babes & Bingo” into 3 concise and exact moments? This is the challenge put forward to the Lab Team. Break up into groups of 3 and with less than a half hour, meet this challenge. I sat back thinking it would be impossible and chaotic. But I was wrong. What resulted for me was the radical shift in my traditional approach to the text of the play. We know the text, we know the story. But how are those characters truly defined by the story? What happens when you strip the excess? Each team addressed the characters in a unique way and in so doing brought a new perspective to the story that had previously not been realized. Some humorous, some serious. But the exercise added new dimensions to work and renewed my excitement for the piece.
At the conclusion of the evening, we played a bingo game with the scenes. The Lab Team sat around together and randomly chose the order of the scenes. After reading the scene out loud, we all rated the variables. What was the level of the perceived dramatic tension of this past scene? What is the dramatic tension for each character? And on the wall, as they had done so many times before, they graphed the results next to the previous experiment. And for the first time I could see the difference, the necessity in what was going on here. There was a difference in how we perceived the order of the scenes. The story did change. Perhaps not as dramatically as one might have guessed, but it changed for me. It was at that moment that I realized we were doing something different. Something unfounded. Something wonderful. I am very much looking forward to the next evening's lab!
A. Schwanke

Randomized Structure of "Bombs, Babes and Bingo:" Story and Character Arc Fluctuation


What is the effect of a randomized structure on the Story Arc and the Character arc in BB&B?


· The last scene before the end will be very important to the message of the play.

· G46 and G57’s locations will be very important to the story arc.

· If there are multiple climactic scenes in the first few scenes of the play, the play won’t work.

· The story will tend to arc naturally, with our expectations.

· All scenes will change tension depending on their order.

· The characters will be more important than order in creating climax


In order to test the play’s Story and Character Arcs the lab director and playwright created a scene-by-scene synopsis of events and a scene-by scene character perspective. The group will use these to graphically chart the dramatic tension (on scale of 0-10) for each scene, ten being the highest tension. To avoid swaying of the group by an individual, a card system will be used to limit discussion. The average score will be recoded as that scenes “Tension”.

In the case of story arc we will be constantly be using the major dramatic question, “What is Dennis’ acceptable loss?” as the guide post for judging tension. The more obstacles and conflict in a scene the more tension is created. In the case of the character arcs we will use the character’s personal stakes to guide their dramatic tension. Each scene will be rated for story and character tension before moving on to the next scene.

The lab artists first will create a control story arc by using the linear order of the events in Dennis’ life. All other trials will be picked in a random order from a bag. After each we will look at the results of that trail and then compare it to all previous results and the control.


The story arc in general looked compelling as it had a range of dramatic tension that fell similarly to the “well made play”. However the group thought the linear revealed details of character and action that made this not as compelling as trying to put the pieces together. B3 was very effective as the final random scene, creating a since of tension going into the conclusion.

Dennis’s character arc bounced between extremes of tension though out the play. Ellen’s character had the most consistent dramatic tension and the highest. Few of her scenes allow her to not be in conflict or facing obstacles. Hannah’s dramatic tension steadily grows as she moves into adult hood. The dark girl tends to live in the in the highest reaches of tension or the lowest.

G46, G57, B3, and N42 all had the highest story and character tension.

N33, 066, and I21 had the lowest story tension.

N33 and B6 had a disparity of high Character tension to low story tension. This might imply these are character driven scenes.

Trail #1:

The story arc here starts with several high peaks, falls at the half waypoint, and has a sharp climax.

Dennis’ character arc again had lots of peaks and valleys, mirroring the story arc. Dark Girl’s character tension peaks at the beginning, but becomes low for the rest of the play. In this trail it appears she acts as a catalyst for the action and then recedes into the background watching. Hannah’s character arc has more strong fluxuations that spread the length of the play. Ellen enters later in the story, but continues to curve into a smooth high-tension arc.

I21, G46, B3, and G57 all had high story tension.

066 and N33 had low story tension.

066, I19, and B6 had higher character tension than story tension. They may be character driven, focused not on Dennis, but on Hannah and Ellen.

Trail #2:

The story arc again followed the model of the “well-made play”. It had steady rise in action until the climax, followed by a second climax near the end. Dennis’ character arc matched the story arc. The group thought this a very effective version of the play. N42 as the last random scene gave greater dramatic tension and a compelling transition to the conclusion.

Dennis again existed in extreme peaks and valleys, but it appeared in this version that the dark girl’s character arc mirrored Dennis’. Hannah and Ellen also seemed to share a character arc in this trail, with Ellen having slightly higher or lower peaks and valleys. This arc is not as extreme as Dennis and Dark Girl’s.

G46, G57, B3 were again all high tension.

B6, 075, and 066 all were low-tension scenes.

I21 and B-6 had a disparity of high Character tension to low story tension.

I19 had high plot tension, though only Ellen had high character tension in the scene.

Trail #3:

This story arc looks very different from the ones the proceeded it, The play slowly builds scene to scene until the very middle, where we have G46,G57, and B3, the three dramatic tension high points, and finally slowly lowers in tension to the end. The steady pace of this arc made it less compelling or exciting than previous trails.

Dennis never reaches a 10 for the first time in any of the trails. This may be due to the steady build of tension. His character arc matches that of the story. Dark girl lives in extremes again, but seems to drive the high-tension parts of the play. Hannah and Ellen again don’t have strong rises and falls in tension. Hannah’s tension lives between that of her parents.

G46, G57, and B3 all have high character and story tension.

O75, 066, and N33 all of the low story tension.

B6 showed signs of being character driven.

G46: War Movie

G46 has constant high story tension. Also, it contains constant high character tension for Dennis and Dark Girl.

N33: Bar

This scene fluxuates between low story tension and high story tension. The trend is: if N33 follows a high tension scene the drop off in tension for the scene is sharper and leads to a lower tension level for N33. Dennis and Ellen’s character tension, however, does not seem to be affected by this drop off. They remain consistently at a medium tension.

O66: Wedding

The Wedding scene ranges from low to medium tension. The character tension for all three characters in the scene is consistently the same.

In trial #1 it’s interesting to note that 066 was preceded by two scenes that were negative for Ellen and this resulted in the lowest rating for story tension.

N42: Fire Works

N42’s was consistently medium to slightly above medium tension. Hannah’s character tension is consistently high.

In trial #3 Dennis’ character tension was unusually low for him. This may be because the scene occurred in the second position, and his relationship with Hannah was being established for the first time.

I19: Dear NFL

I19 sits at consistent medium story tension. The character tensions are consistently low for Dennis and Dark Girl, but consistently high tension for Ellen.

G57: The Fight

This scene had consistently high tension in the story for Dennis and Ellen, and consistently medium tension for Hannah.

075: High Heels

Tends to be medium tension for the story, Ellen, and Hannah. However, it’s subject to fluxuations from an unknown source.

I21: Downing

This scene was medium-high tension for story/Dennis, and high tension for Dark Girl.

B6: Pep Talk:

This scene was a constant medium tension for Dennis’ character and Story, while being consistently high tension for Ellen and Hannah.

G60: Counting Dead

Has nearly consistent medium tension. Trial two, however, had high tension, this may be because this is the only time this scene followed a scene not directly involving Hannah. Being away from Hannah’s story arc might heighten the tension that Hannah is experiencing in this scene.

Dennis’ dramatic tension fluxuates greatly this might be because his role in the scene is not strongly defined.

Hannah’s and Dark Girls character tension are consistently high.

B3: 911

The Story’s tension is consistently high. Ellen and Hannah’s tension are consistently high. Dark Girl and Dennis’ tension are consistently medium.


· It’s impossible to have high dramatic tension with out high character tension in this play.

· Scenes that consistently have low plot tension and high character tension depend on character development for their importance. Extra time should be put into developing relationships and character in these scenes: B-6, N-33, I-19, and I-21

· Hannah’s character arc, similar to her character in the play straddles the line between Dennis and Ellen’s arcs.

· G-46, G-57, and B-3 are consistently peak scenes in all 4 trails. Though they loose some tension if they appear early on in the play.

· I-21 had consistent medium-high tension.

· I-19 and B-6 had consistent medium tension.

· O-66 and N-33 consistently are at low tension.

· N-42 and 0-75 had the most fluctuation.

· Dennis’ character tension relates directly to what kind of role he has in the scene. Scenes where he is reliving events and scenes with heavy involvement of the dark girl have the highest tension. Scenes where he is watching a memory or experiencing an event he was not at are the lowest tension.

· In 3 of the 4 trails the first scene had it’s lowest dramatic tension rating (-2 to 3). This is likely an effect of not having established relationships and character. This has major effect on the tension in scenes that average a range from 5-7. It will be important to identify what makes each scene important and not have them depend on the dramatic tension in communicating that. High scenes loose some tension, but should still be at a high enough level for tension to be key.

· Early scenes can effect characters tensions if character relationships are being established for the first time.

· The last scene pushes a scene to its tension extremes. It has either the lowest or the highest rating of dramatic tension. This may be because we want this last scene to be the catalyst from breaking from the bingo game. When it is a strong scene in regards to story plot it’s tension is raised. When it is not, it seems like a gentle fall out of this convention and lowers it’s effects.

· Story arc’s that have lots of peaks and valleys and a sharp climax toward the end of the play seem to be the most compelling structure for the show.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Science is Art is Science is Art is Science is Art is Science is Art is Science is Art is Science is Art is Science

by Erika Wilhite
I needed to be convinced. As an artist with a long history of resentment for math and a potudent of anything that wasn't art, literature or theatre, I needed to be convinced that art wasn't a separate point of view. Perhaps it was my education. We divide art class from the others. I am called "artsy" and sometimes with a patronizing connotation. I defend and protect my work because it is not always valued as the work of a doctor, research scientist or engineer. I admit, there might be a chip on my shoulder. Somewhere, at some point in my life, I learned there was a division, a boundary between art and science and I was on one side. I belonged on a team, per se.

But here I am working with the Scientific Method. WTF. The first day of lab, Fletch hands out a defintion of the Scientific Method and explains that we are using the lens of SM to understand the play Bombs, Babes and Bingo in the lab. Now, I knew he was bringing science into the lab. But I thought it would be more... metaphorical. I want to experiment, and I trust Fletch as an artist, so I gave over to his science schemes and stepped out of my comfort zone.

And besides, the word Science comes from the Latin, Scio- to know as thoroughly as possible. And I want THAT. That is why I do theatre. It helps me understand things on a deeper level. And once I started framing my story questions with scientific vocabulary, I began to recognize the similarities.
The Scientific Method:
another set of vocabulary for asking the same questions

1. Identify the problem or question? What's the major dramatic question of the play?
2. Review Literature or Gather Information? Dramaturgy!
3. Formulate a hypothesis. We enter into a story with an idea of where we are going.
4. Experiment. Try stuff out in rehearsal.
5. Collect data. Data from our rehearsal notes, opinions from our collaborative team.
6. Organize and Analyze data. What worked, what didn't?
7. Interpret Data. Through production meetings and rehearsals, we make sense of it together.
8. Communicate Results. Perform for live audiences!

And science sets itself up to fail, or rather, evolve. An answer is still an informed guess, and true scientists get excited about being wrong! The more you know about a thing, the less you know. If you don't know a thing for sure, then you can still ask the question. There is movement in asking, so as to avoid entropy.

And I am at peace with that now.

Check out a Viewpoint Exploration of what what we learned of consciousness and subconsciousness. Science and Art looks pretty cool together.

A Preliminary Scenic Dialogue

This past week, Aradhana and I connected via long distance to begin a dialogue about the production elements for "Bombs, Babes & Bingo". It was a delightfully poignant conversation and by the conclusion I really felt like we had some firm ground on which to build our production. In an effort to keep the lines of communication open, I typed up the main points of our conversation and sent them to Erika and Fletch so that they could add in their 2 cents as well. What resulted was a concise record of the preliminary design process. The notes I submitted sparked an entirely new set of questions and answers from the team and each member responded adding their own point of view to the fire. Its everything that we wanted when we first convieved of this new theatre venture. So, below I have posted the preliminary discussion in dialogue form. As you read, please keep in mind that Fletch is acting as production manager, Aradhana is the director and Alan (thats me) is the scenic designer for this show.

Notes from the Preliminary Scenic Meeting:

Alan: The play revolves around Dennis. Therefore it seems logical that we should explore a central playing area that can encapsulate the action and movement of the piece.

Fletch: I think a large/long playing space will become important for isolation and extremes in spacial relationship.

Aradhana: I am intrigued with what Fletch is saying about distance options...but I can't help but visualize a more "crowded" playing area. This makes for the feeling that everything is RIGHT there, ALL the time, inescapably LOOMING, and HAUNTING. There is no where VERY far for them to escape...which is why sometimes someone has to crawl under a table.

Alan: I have to agree with Aradhana that the idea of spreading the characters out doesn't feel quite right in this story. And even less when considering the size and layout of the space itself. It just feels like the space needs to be a collision of happenings and memories. If he's trying to clear his head of the excess information, that signals to me that there is too much in there to work out, not that there is an abyss of space waiting to be filled.

Alan: The furniture and scenic elements are not only an indication of time and place, but also a symbol of each memory.

Fletch: Love this idea, I'd be interested to see how the same object could be used in a different context. This plays in the idea of associative memory and the process of how memories are broken down into different pieces all over the brain and then are reassembled when recalled.

Aradhana: Agreed on all counts here.

Alan: What we have to be careful of is not committing the sin of assigning specific subtextual meaning to an object or a configuration. Despite our best efforts, not everyone will respond similarly to the same objects. I believe it has to remain a visual symbol.

Alan: A visual cue will be employed for each individual scene. This cue will help the actors determine which scenic element moves where and whether or not it is present within the light or shadow of the scene.

Fletch: As we are discovering in the lab, auditory input is just as important, the two together actually make for stronger memories, or maybe one could follow the other as in association. Like the image triggered the memory of the sound, that then triggered the memory of the experience.

Aradhana: Fletch, I agree---and we discussed this. I think Alan is just speaking to things involving the set specifically. We spoke about having a specific "set" arrangement for each bingo-called scene. I'd also add that after reading your pole on the blog, I'm wondering if sense of SMELL can play into this piece. Remind me to tell you of Barrow Street's "Our Town" (did you see that?).

Alan: Brilliant idea to add sound as a cue as well. Love where it could lead.

Alan: Shadow will be just as important as light in this production. Therefore, the difference should be somewhat distinct and deliberate.

Fletch: Just to clarify, what is lit represents what Dennis is aware of in his conscious mind, and the darkness represents both his subconscious, and any "gaps" in his memory? Its important to remember that our long term memories have many details filtered out of them as they are created, and that every time we remember them they memory changes a little bit.

Aradhana: Yes, and YES. Shadow becomes a SET PIECE at times.

Alan: The movement of the scenic pieces will have meaning behind them. Although the scenes are out of order, we should be working towards some kind of revelation at the conclusion of the play. We want to try and manifest that conclusion within the physical elements of the design.

Fletch: What is this revelation? Is the realization that his family is dead? Is it the realization of his choice his work or his family? Or is it the moment of decision it self, where Dennis chooses his acceptable loss?

Aradhana: I think the clarity of circumstances and outcomes is revelation. Have you guys seen "Shutter Island"?...I love the way it felt when they had the sequence of revelation, and Scorsese brilliantly flashed us back through all the imagery we had previously experienced, but never quite "in place" so that until that exact moment, things never really quite made sense. I'd love to capture that feeling somehow...Alan made a comment that really resonated in me about everything sort of "finding their place" at the end. This is clarity. Perhaps it is a fleeting moment of clarity, but it IS a moment in time for Dennis' brain.

Alan: We both agree that in this production it will be important that all the characters/actors remain on stage for the entire duration of the performance. They are just as important in shadow as they are in light.

Fletch: Love this. Those not in the scene could be actively performing processes in the subconscious, instead of watching the scene. We are developing movement vocabulary for this.

Aradhana: Agreed all around. Thank you gentlemen.

Alan: Phrases used in the conversation: stability versus instability

Fletch: (control vs. loosing control)

Aradhana: Fletch, I love the additional perspective of control vs. loosing control, but I'd just like to re-highlight "STABILITY versus INSTABILITY" in terms of the SET. I'm talking LITERALLY. Alan had mentioned an idea that we're not sure about how to execute yet, but are intrigued with pondering, and that is about things not really being as "solid" as they appear. Maybe a top "layer" gives the illusion of stability, but then there are moments of discovery that show the under-layers have been scrubbed out or are missing in action. Alan, you had a much better visual cue---if you want to share...This is just a thought we were entertaining for contemplation.

Alan: fragments of memories

Alan: scrubbing out the memories

Fletch: not sure what this means? Long term memories are forever, connections can change or be broken, the "volume dial" can be turned up an down on cells, and memory can be rewritten, saved like the latest version of a word document.

Aradhana: Perhaps my heart wants to live more in the magical realism of the brain, then the actual BIOLOGY of the brain. Is this wrong? I think that's what's soo FUN about story vs. reality. I love the idea that certain things are WIPED out PURPOSEFULLY (now, they are STILL there---somewhere in the subconscious), but the attempt of loosing them was either made by Dennis, or some exterior influence. This all goes back to my fascination with "Eternal Sunshine Of A Spotless Mind", which I can't help but draw from when I look at this piece.

Alan: There's something fascinating about removing an outer layer of debris to reveal something beneath. Like washing the dried blood off a fresh scrape you got after wrecking your bike. Seeing the actual tendons and nerves and flesh behind this curtain of matter. Something to explore.

Alan: highlight physical elements of an actor (IE red shoes on the daughter)

Alan: find the proper vehicle for each moment

Friday, July 9, 2010

Lab Artist's Personal Blog Entry

By Darcy Ames Harris

On joining the Artist Laboratory Theatre...So I've been with the lab for nearly a week now. Each night we have started with viewpoints. I really enjoy moving around and getting in tune with the group and my body. After a good work out we usually discuss the play, or examine our brains,(or examine the play, and discuss our brains whichever). The first night we did a storytelling exercise, this was difficult for me because I have a hard time speaking in front of people,(even telling a joke). I get so nervous I completely forget what I am going to say. But that is why I am challenging myself to do this. (Can I learn how to be courageous, even if I was not born brave?) It's a bit scary but I am excited about learning something new about myself, and about the world.

Lab Artist's Personal Blog Entry

by Kimberly Campbell

I curl my hip in a circle then pop it up. Limp wrist. I soft focus and the group is reaching upward with jazz hands. We've been moving for thirty minutes, thinking too hard, not living in our bodies and allowing kinesthetic response. The tension is building and we may be stuck in a brain loop. I'm resenting the movement, but I can't find a way to make myself stop popping my hip. The jazz hands continue and the brain loop is stuck on repeat. Hip pop. Limp wrist. Jazz hands. Hip pop. Limp wrist. Jazz hands. Hip pop. Limp wrist. Then a scream. It's Erika. She's vocalized. "Guidepost." The loop has been cut and a new shape is being drawn. I move in sharp angles. I slice the air with my elbow. I'm drawn toward the group. The group is no longer doing jazz hands. I slice the air with my knee. "Guidepost." We are finding new movements now, new loops, but we haven't forgotten the first loop. The jazz hands come back intermittently, but this time they tickle us. "Guidepost." Jazz hand. "God." Sharp angle. "Guy." I soft focus on Toby. He's trouble. His jazz hands are the ticklers and we move away as people shout, "God." People shout, "Guy." People shout, "Guidepost." God. Guy. Guidepost. God. Guy. Guidepost. God. Guy. God. Guy. God. Guy. Toby's jazz hands are about to tickle me and it's too much to handle so I jump up in the air and scream in my shrill, high-pitched voice, "Lady Gaga!" God. Guy. Gaga. God. Guy. Gaga. A new loop begins.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Dreams are Smelling Weirder and Weirder by Erika Wilhite

"It is in our memory that we stop time. We can make our past a masterpiece. We become immortal in our minds." Proust was A Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

We are still focusing on memory and consciousness in the lab. After many sessions of repetition, my brain and body feel different. The work is really physical but my brain is also working out- physically. After some research of the brain and memory, I now get a visual idea of the activity in my head. I imagine my neurotransmitters zipping, creating new pathways and reinforcing old ones, the synaptic activity of a thought and a recollection. Memory begins as a changed connection between two neurons. Something changes physically in the brain- the act of consciousness and subconsciousness is an activity!

And I think my brain is changing. Something is changing, shifting, and I think it is on a subconscious level. The shift became very clear yesterday morning. I was driving on the highway while half-listening to talk radio. And a word, some word I can't remember now, jolted me into the memory of a dream I had the night before about a memory of my brother. I had forgotten I even dreamed anything at all until a single word, hours after waking- not an idea or a story, but one word- brought me back inside the sensation of the dream. I use the word sensation literally. And I say back, because I am certain this has happened before. Thirty years ago I was sitting close to my two- year old brother close enough to touch him, close enough to feel his body heat. He was a toddler. The sticky face and fingers, the dirt ring around his mouth, his blonde bowl- cut. It was him! I watched him breathe and heard the rasp of his baby breath. He had a cold. I was crouched next to him. I was also small. I could feel how small I was. His size was relative to my size. And I could smell him. I can't describe the smell. But it smelled like him- the way he used to thirty years ago. His scent was a part of his identity that informed me who he was and where he was, and who I was even. That sensation of his smell affirmed for me that I was having a true experience. And in that moment in the car, remembering the remembering of my brother, I knew that something in my brain was different. I have recently learned that the act of remembering a thing changes it. Our Now changes our Then. As I write this, I am now trying to remember my brother in that age and I can only summon up snap shots in the order they are curated in the family photo album. Those pictures have replaced or substituted the real thing. Except in that dream. I was re-experiencing a moment. The more I learn, the less I know, so I can't completely grasp the meaning. Fletch thinks it might be my subconscious piecing together the elements from other memories, which I stored separately from each other- little boy smell, sound of breath, visual of his hair, sense of body heat, all filed in different places of my brain and taken from different moments of my life. I resist that idea- NO WAY. That dream was a full and whole record of a precise and authentic moment in my life. I was time traveling. Beyond feeling strange and novel, re-experiencing the sensation of my baby brother from so long as a baby was an exquisite feeling.

In my naive and hopeful heart, I believe that the art of what we are doing is enhancing and expanding my consciousness. I want to believe I am expanding, and perhaps we all can time travel, and if we time travel, maybe we can see into the future as well. And then my brain aches when I try to even conceive the idea of time. And I start sounding like a lunatic.

But the dream was lovely and I look forward to every evening of work. It certainly has reintroduced my brain to my body, at the very least.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010



The Arkansas Artist's Laboratory Theatre Announces Its Premiere Production

Fayetteville, AR - July 6th, 2010 – The Arkansas Artist’s Laboratory Theatre presents its premiere production: “Bombs, Babes and Bingo,” an original play by Merri Biechler. Performances will be held August 5th thru August 8th at 2183 #1 N. College (just behind Foghorn's). Tickets will be $10 at the door.

8/5/2010 Thursday: Doors open at 7:30pm, Performance begins at 8:00pm.

8/6/2010 Friday: Doors open at 7:30pm, Performance begins at 8:00pm.

8/7/2010 Saturday: Doors open at 7:30pm, Performance begins at 8:00pm.

8/8/2010 Sunday: Doors open at 7:30pm, Performance begins at 8:00pm.

A brand new addition to the NWA arts community! The Arkansas Artist's Laboratory Theatre is a collaborative ensemble company dedicated to the storytelling process through the use of experimentation. The alt proposes that the scientific and artistic principles of exploration ask the same fundamental questions. The alt tests the premise and ideas of each project in a “Performance Lab” environment. Members of the alt company and Lab Artists from the surrounding community collaborate and experiment together to answer the questions asked by the playwright and their text.

For its first project alt is employing this scientific method in its approach to the script of “Bombs, Babes & Bingo,” a new play that explores the inner workings of the human memory. The questions of this play lay in its structure. For each performance, the scenes of the play are presented in a random order that is determined by the drawing of Bingo Balls. As a result, each performance is sure to be completely unique. But the big question is: will the story stay the same? Does the order of the events in our lives affect who we are and the decisions we make?

In addition to the production of “Bombs, Babes & Bingo” in August, the alt will also be showcasing its very first Science Fair: an evening of performances, by the Lab Artists, that are exclusively developed from the work done and the conclusions derived in the Performance Lab. A chance for the Lab Artists to “present their findings” to the community. The Science Fair begins at 8:00 PM on 7/23 at 2183 N. College #1. Doors will open at 7:00 PM for the gallery viewing. The show will be a chance to meet the artists and peek into their unique process. Suggested donation is $5 at the door.

Follow the “lab work” and rehearsal journals at: www.artslabtheatre.com and theartistslaboratorytheatre.blogspot.com.


Erika Wilhite

Artistic Director


(405) 535-6652


Monday, July 5, 2010

Creating a Creative Culture by Joseph Fletcher

Part of what I want to create for The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre, beyond what Erika so delightfully expressed recently in her last post, is to not only create an “example” for future labs, but a creative culture. How we do something often is as important as why we do something or what we are doing. Why is the motivation, what is the end result, but how is the action. While, what happens in the lab will change from project to project and the reason why will evolve over time, I feel the biggest thing I can do to leave a mark for the future is to establish the how.

Words are so important and mysterious. One person can communicate an idea ten different ways and mean the same thing, but communicate a different thing each time. Two people can use the exact same word, but mean two completely different things by it. That’s what makes collaboration so difficult and exciting. Sixty percent of our energy is spent just trying to be understood. But in the process of trying to be understood we communicate new viewpoints and expose each other to different worlds. Part of what we are doing for the lab is to build a common vocabulary to use on Bombs, Babes, and Bingo. In the process of building this universal language, we get to choose our words carefully and specifically to encompass our different perspectives into one powerful word of shared meaning. In the same vain I hope to build a vocabulary for the future of our lab work that can be used project to project. Here are a few examples of that:

Good and Bad are bad.

Words like these symbolize subjective judgment and limit us. We all want to be “good” so we will do exactly enough to be “good”. But that limits us; it doesn’t leave room for growth or the chance at being “great”. When you hear good and bad, you don’t want to take risks. And risks are where the great stuff comes from.

Instead the better vocabulary to use is works and doesn’t work. There is no qualitative judgment there. If something doesn’t work, there is another opportunity to try again. When something is bad, well shit, might as well quit. A small change of vocabulary can end up being a strong positive force.


Failure is success! We live in a world with so much pressure and when you step on the stage with people looking on it only mounts more. From a young age we are trained to fear the all might F on the report card, and now that we are adults we are afraid of getting an F in the biggest class of all, life. Obviously we were too busy worrying to notice our lessons from history class. The greatest successes have been built on failure. Science is littered with this lesson. Plastic? Penicillin? Came from failure. Heck, in the scientific method failure is the expected outcome, you simply go back to your hypothesis and retest, learning from each failed attempt. Van Gogh was a failure, but succeeds in enticing people with is expression even today. Why would it be different for us? We must learn to embrace failure and see it not as the end point of effort, but the starting point of another attempt. The most wonderful discoveries come from the hardest struggles. Success becomes less rewarding the less you fail.


When making art, especially in collaborative art, we must take ownership, but own nothing. It is a bit of a paradox, own everything and nothing. It all depends on definition. In our European western tradition we think ownership implies the absolute right of control over an object, to posses it. But that is an illusion. The sun is still going to rise on that “land” of yours, and the ants are still going to live in your back yard. Yes, even if you get pest control and you put up an awning, they both will come back given enough time. You can no more posses an idea as a piece of land. Native Americans struggled with this concept of “ownership” when the Europeans came to this North America, because they understood a different definition. This other definition is the idea that ownership is an investment, a responsibility, and a commitment. When we “own up” to something we don’t force our will on it, we associate our selves with it. It’s a reflection of what we value and in turn gives us our identity. We can’t control the inevitable changes in the world, but we can control how we invest our ownership.

Conflicts occur in collaboration when you start owning ideas, concepts, and thoughts. They may of come from you and are your baby, but once uttered they are no longer yours alone. So why waist the energy trying to posses the uncontrollable? Instead focus that same energy into an investment of ownership. Own what you do and your actions. Don’t own things that were never yours to begin with. Own everything and nothing.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Function of the Lab by Erika Wilhite

A man with a clear head looks at life directly, realizes that everything is problematic, and feels himself lost. And this is the simple truth, that to be alive is to feel oneself lost. And he who accepts this has already begun to find himself, to be on solid ground. Ortega y Gasset

The lab provides a space and time to be lost. In the world of art and theatre, there can be an anxiety of pleasing, of doing things right- ticket sales, subscriptions, scrutiny from peers and critics, all loom ahead of us while we are working and creep into our minds acting as editors and censors.

I created the performance lab, because I want to let go of the pressure of product and take my time seeing the things I am looking at before I turn out to the world and share directly in that precious relationship of art and spectator. I want to gaze longer in the solitude and safety of the creative environment. There is value in taking my time and taking risks within the boundaries of my time.

There are two components of our summer show, Bombs, Babes, and Bingo. There is the lab portion of the show and then there is there is the show. The lab is designed to work as a physical dramaturgy. Here is a quick definition of dramaturgy swiped from Wikipedia:

Dramaturgy is the art of dramatic composition and the representation of the main elements of drama on the stage. Some dramatists combine writing and dramaturgy when creating a drama.

Dramaturgy may also be defined, more broadly, as shaping a story into a form that may be acted. Dramaturgy gives the work or the performance a structure.

In the lab, we explore through research exercises and experiments. We are making time and space for seeing the main elements of the play, to dig deeper. But our research goes further than collecting information. In the world of Bombs, Babes and Bingo, memory is a key element of drama on the stage. Before we start rehearsing the script of BBB, the lab explores, intellectually and creatively, the idea of memory. What is the cognitive function of memory? What would memory look like if it was a series of movements in space? What is the expressive definition of memory, what is the literal? What is the physical architecture of memory? We are asking these questions and using exercises to ask them in more specific ways. We ask the science questions and explore them through art. Same with themes and structure.

The play is problematic. Merri Biechler, the playwright, has been told over and over that it can't be successful as a piece of theatre due to the randomized structure. The lab is a place for problems. But the next stage of the project is to produce the play. We are sharing our lab findings as we go along with our collaborators- our designer, director and playwright. The lab's main function is to serve the story and aid all artists involved. Our discoveries may inform and inspire directorial choices and design choice. Merri may rewrite scenes based on our findings. However our findings are used, we are doing the legwork (literally) in prepping for the production- for the big event, for the most important part, which is the Story. The play is the thing...

It is my wish that we create a model of working for our future projects. Each story we approach will have its own needs and questions, so how we experiment will be determined on a per project basis. Part of the success of this process will lie in our ability to let go of the anxiety of how and why? So far, we have been thrilled (and relieved) to see the value and relevance of the current experiments. But sometimes we may not. And perhaps it in those moments of feeling lost, that we may truly discover ourselves and our work.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Viewpoints, My Memory, and Someone Else's Memory by Erika Wilhite

We extract key elements from our experiences and store them. We then recreate or reconstruct our experiences rather than retrieve copies of them. Sometimes, in the process of reconstructing we add on feelings, beliefs, or even knowledge we obtained after the experience. In other words, we bias our memories of the past by attributing to them emotions or knowledge we acquired after the event. Seven Sins Of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers By Daniel L. Schacter

The structure of Bombs, Babes and Bingo is designed like a Bingo game. The sequence of events are completely random. We won't know which scene comes next until the Bingo Ball is pulled. Dennis, a bomb scientist, is experiencing a type of dementia (trauma- emotional or physical, or natural) and the bingo game mirrors the scrambling of the events of his life- as he remembers it. The ensemble is preparing for this challenge in many ways. We are training in Viewpoints, an improvisational movement technique that liberates the creativity and induces spontaneity of the performer (like for the big marathon, we train,) but we are also learning about the cognitive function of memory. Tonight we did an exercise that combined Viewpoints and an experiment on memory.

In the confines of a lane (like a pool,) the artists established, piece by piece, a movement pattern. And repeated. And added more. And repeated. So on and so forth. What we discovered was, for most of us, sound was key in remembering when when you moved next. For example, I knew that my first move was when Kim (two lanes down) took off. The rhythm of her run (quick burst, a count of 1,2,3...1,2) cued me to move ( a squat.) The pattern was so consistent, like clockwork. I couldn't see her, but I could hear her.

About the lanes- the limitation of the lane has been a real revelation for us. Because of the topography of the lane (forward, backward, parallel to the group) we have deepened our soft focus (ability to see more with less effort) and our kinesthetic response (spontaneous reaction to outside stimulus.) We can't see each other directly with our eyes, so we see if each other with our ears. Or our elbows. I think this is causing us to be more responsive. With the eyes, we know exactly how and when a body is moving. When soft focus is engaged, you sense it. There are no cold hard facts, just a hunch, a sense. And you have to rely on your other senses more.

In terms of memory, the lane work proved, for me at least, that I remembered more when I was repeating a pattern of kinesthetic responses. I squat because Kim runs 1,2,3..1,2. Again and again. I was less successful remembering isolated island patterns- self generated patterns unconnected to someone else's movement.

... in the process of reconstructing we add on feelings, beliefs, or even knowledge we obtained after the experience. In other words, we bias our memories of the past by attributing to them emotions or knowledge we acquired after the event.
Another way we are exploring memory is through a series of storytelling exercises. An artist will tell a life- story off the cuff. Another artist will immediately tell the story again in first person also, owning the story as his or her own. The exercise is not a test of how well you can remember another person's story, but of what you don't hear but still manage to include. This idea of how, as an audience, we fill in the gaps is really coming to the surface. It seems, we read between the lines no matter what. This is fascinating. And sometimes it feels like a psychic experience! In some instances, the re-teller adds details the teller left out without knowing the story beforehand. This exercise has shed a lot of light on Story and how we receive it as an audience. Do we have a collective understanding of the details left out? Do we fill in the gaps? I was surprised and touched when my story was being played back for me and the re-teller added that I hadn't eaten dinner, I just couldn't eat a thing- and I called my mom. I didn't say that at all, but that's what happened. And those were pretty big moments in my story, I had just left them out on accident. I "forgot." She also told the story through her own tears and I sat and watched feeling so relieved that I didn't have to cry, she was doing it for me. And I felt sorry for her, saw that it wasn't her fault. And it felt GOOD. It felt like I could move on. Is that catharsis? So this exercise opens up so many more questions: what is theatre for? What is the audience's role in our storytelling- are they co-writing? The exercise since has evolved to help us expand our findings and follow the hunches we have about memory and storytelling and perspective. We changed the exercise so that the re-teller embellishes one big thing- changes a character, event, an undeniable invention in the teller's story. And tonight we changed it up again, so that the embellishment may come into the story, but the re-teller is to let it happen organically, through free-association. So, a teller's memory reminds me of a certain image or a memory of my own, and this image makes it's way into the playback of someone else's story through my association. We want to explore it further, dig deeper into the whys and hows, but it seems so far, we are sensing each other's themes, our "big pictures" even though the teller doesn't at all play it up.

This has been a good week. We are still working in the dark, but we are adjusting our night vision, so to speak.

Experiment #1 by Joseph Fletcher

Experiment #1

“Randomized Structure on a Simple Story”

Erika, Fletch, Jo Ann, Toby, Christy, and Kim.

Experiment 1: Randomized Structure on Story

Question: What is the effect of a randomized structure, similar to the one used in Bombs, Babes, and Bingo, on a simple first- person narrative story?



The Lab artists split into three groups of two and created an original simple first- person narrative story. Each story was split into six components; a set beginning, a set ending, and four plot points. All components could only be 1-4 sentences long.

Once completed, each story was tested against itself. The original “linear” version of the story served as a control and was read first. Two trials followed that used pieces of paper, labeled one through four, to determine the randomized order of the four plot points. The stories were then read in that order. The group qualitatively made observations on the similarities and differences between the control and the two trails. The sample sized used was only 3 of the 24, or 12.5% of all possible story permutations. This experiment was then repeated for each story.

Following this analysis we compared the findings on each story to see if we could use inductive reasoning to find any overlying patterns.


Story #1:


Start. I woke up ten minutes late from a great dream.

1. I take a shower with cold water.

2. I call the gas company and wait on hold forever.

3. A guy named Steve shows up and gives me a package.

4. I go to a birthday party in my new dress.

End. I pass out drunk and alone.

Trial #1:

Start. I woke up ten minutes late from a great dream.

4. I go to a birthday party in my new dress.

2. I call the gas company and wait on hold forever.

3. A guy named Steve shows up and gives me a package.

1. I take a shower with cold water.

End. I pass out drunk and alone.


Start. I woke up ten minutes late from a great dream.

3. A guy named Steve shows up and gives me a package.

1. I take a shower with cold water.

4. I go to a birthday party in my new dress.

2. I call the gas company and wait on hold forever.

End. I pass out drunk and alone.

Story #2:


Start. I was on the Ferris wheel at the fair.

1. My friend almost got sick, so I yelled at the Carnie to stop the ride.

2. At that very moment, my cotton candy flew out of my hand and hit the
woman riding below us.

3. The woman shouted for the carnie to stop the ride, too. She wanted us
thrown off the ride. Too late, my friend puked all over the bars, and
some of it even hit my leg.

4. The woman below heard the sounds of retching and started to scream,
maybe fearing the inevitable.

End. The carnie never stopped the ride.


Start. I was on the Ferris wheel at the fair.

1. My friend almost got sick, so I yelled at the Carnie to stop the ride.

3. The woman shouted for the carnie to stop the ride, too. She wanted us
thrown off the ride. Too late, my friend puked all over the bars, and
some of it even hit my leg.

2. At that very moment, my cotton candy flew out of my hand and hit the
woman riding below us.

4. The woman below heard the sounds of retching and started to scream,
maybe fearing the inevitable.

End. The carnie never stopped the ride.


Start. I was on the Ferris wheel at the fair.

2. At that very moment, my cotton candy flew out of my hand and hit the
woman riding below us.

3. The woman shouted for the carnie to stop the ride, too. She wanted us
thrown off the ride. Too late, my friend puked all over the bars, and
some of it even hit my leg.

1. My friend almost got sick, so I yelled at the Carnie to stop the ride.

4. The woman below heard the sounds of retching and started to scream,
maybe fearing the inevitable.

Ending. The carnie never stopped the ride.

Story #3:


Beginning. I over slept this morning. When I looked at the clock it was two hours later than I thought.

1. I stumbled out of bed to answer the phone. It was my mother. But my mother is dead, weird.

2. I decided to go see a doctor. And got an appointment later that day.

3. To kill time I grabbed a bite. I made my world famous macaroni sandwich. And while eating it the phone rang.

4. I decided to look up dreams. So I googled it. But found nothing about dead mothers calling.

Ending. Finally, I made the appointment with the doctor. Suddenly I remembered my mother’s advice and woke up. “Life is but a dream.”

Trail #1:

Beginning. I over slept this morning. When I looked at the clock it was two hours later than I thought.

4. I decided to look up dreams. So I googled it. But found nothing about dead mothers calling.

1. I stumbled out of bed to answer the phone. It was my mother. But my mother is dead, weird.

3. To kill time I grabbed a bite. I made my world famous macaroni sandwich. And while eating it the phone rang.

2. I decided to go see a doctor. And got an appointment later that day.

Ending. Finally, I made the appointment with the doctor. Suddenly I remembered my mother’s advice and woke up. “Life is but a dream.”


Beginning. I over slept this morning. When I looked at the clock it was two hours later than I thought.

2. I decided to go see a doctor. And got an appointment later that day.

4. I decided to look up dreams. So I googled it. But found nothing about dead mothers calling.

3. To kill time I grabbed a bite. I made my world famous macaroni sandwich. And while eating it the phone rang.

1. I stumbled out of bed to answer the phone. It was my mother. But my mother is dead, weird.

Ending. Finally, I made the appointment with the doctor. Suddenly, I remembered my mother’s advice and woke up. “Life is but a dream.”


Story 1:

The linear story told of the day’s events of the teller. It began with waking up and ended with falling asleep. The internal events were independent of each other and seemed to be in chronologic order. In Trail #1 events seem more connected. Steve showing up with a “package” seems to have direct relationship as to why the character took a “cold shower” and then “passed out drunk”. This order changed the tone into more of a comic story. In trail #2 Steve became the inciting incident for the tellers day, a decidedly stronger character role than just a supporting character in the first two versions. The question of “what was in the package?” seems to cause the teller to take a “cold shower”, then go to a birthday party and spend time on the phone with a gas company. The teller then “passes out drunk”. It seems like the contents of the package had a very negative depressing effect on the main character and gave the story a sad tone.

Story 2:

The linear control story was an amusing tale of a fair ride gone wrong. One plot event was connected to the previous with causation. Trail #1’s randomization took the causation of events out of its natural order in parts 3,2, and 4. This caused the story to be more chaotic, giving the impression all the events were happening at the same time. The fact that the lady was “wanting (the main character and friend) kicked off the ride” before they had done anything to her made the reader less sympathetic to puke and cotton candy to which she is subjected. Trial #2 has a mixed reaction from the testing group to the random structure. Some members of the group thought the even more confused and illogical chain of events made the story horrific and traumatizing. Others thought it simply had too many logic holes and it didn’t make since. One example being that his friend almost got sick, after he had thrown up. The facets of the characters also changed, the old women appeared to be an innocent victim, while the Carney took on a more sinister role being complicit in the horror by not stopping the ride.

Story 3:

The linear control story told of the main character waking from a dream to a phone, call from their dead mother, presumably confused the main character make an appointment with a doctor, after trying to understand their dream the main character realizes they are still dreaming. Trial #1 was not very compelling; events preceded connected events, this added to the surreal feeling of the scene, but did not create tension. Character seemed to be not effected. Trail #2 succeeded in creating tension and mystery. It became character driven; the main character woke up late, but then called the doctor. Why? The next event reveals that the character looked up dreams, could this be why they called the doctor? Then a mundane event turns strange with a call from the dead mother, concluding with realization that it was all a dream. The surrealist nature of the piece is strengthened by the mystery of the order.

All Stories:

Certain similarities appear when looking at all three stories together. When in a random order the importance or role of one character, the Carney or Steve, can change from being incidental to playing a key part of the story. Additionally the nature of the character can change. Steve was inferred to be sexually desirable in story 1 trail #1, but became the barrier of bad news, a negative force in trail #2. The lady from story #2 went from disliked to a victim between trails.

The mood and tone can change with this randomized structure too. Story #1 went from funny to sad. Story #2 went from amusing, to cacophonous, to horrific. Story #3 went from dull to compelling.

The moral or message of the story can even change. Story #1 Trail #1 was about a person who got turned on by Steve and needed to take a cold shower then fall asleep drunk as a consequence. Trail #2 became about the package Steve delivered and its negative impact on the main character.


It appears clear that the nature of characters, mood, tone, and meaning can be affected by a randomized structure. The group found that our first natural inclination as an audience was to impose our own since of linear time on each randomized story. By believing events were happening in sequence we began justifying the given circumstances. In effect “filling in the gaps” of character’s motivation and making assumptions about how events may be related. People want to make order. When the order was hard to establish, this caused changes in tone and meaning. Story #2 Trail # 1’s illogical order gave a since of the chaos to the scene and even moved into the horrific in Trail #2, when logic was confused more.

One of the benefits of not easily being able to make order is that it creates a since of tension, makes the story more compelling, or induces mystery to the piece. There also seems to be a tipping point though. When our ability to impose order is met with too with resistance. Seen in Story 2 Trail 2 and Story 3 Trail 1, if the story appears to have too may logic problems, the audience may give up on trying to put the puzzle together. This results in all interest being dropped and a rejection of the story.

It is interesting to note that Story #1 didn’t have this problem, because there was no direct textual connection between events in the story. There is a strong possibility that there is a connection between the internal structure of events and their relationship to each other and the specific types of changes that occur to character, tone, mood, and meaning. More study will be needed to find more specific correlations.


The Art of This Science

By Erika Wilhite

The most fascinating discovery for me was how, in spite of the way the randomized order of events sometime create a larger gap in logic, the audience/reader wanted to make sense of it, so we imposed our own bridges. We filled the gaps because we want order. And I think instead of saying only that sometimes the order established a comedic story or dramatic, we should add that the build of tension was different, and that caused a release of laughter- or perhaps, dare I say, catharsis in the instances of drama. This was a nice long session. Great experiment!