Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where We Are Going...

The Artist's Laboratory Theatre is going places.
Because we want to know more about Place. Capital P.

Our last project, "Bombs, Babes, and Bingo," opened up to us the world of memory, neurology, statistics, family, and war. We spent the summer in a performance lab researching and experimenting- just as the mad scientist/artists we became! Our work in the lab inspired and informed us, ultimately influencing our choices in the staging of Merri Biechler's fascinating and terrifically fun play. We brought in a few guest artists to collaborate, (including our Merri,) and held many Skype and phone conferences with each other from across the country. And we produced "Bombs, Babes, and Bingo" in three cities, including 3 performances in The New Orleans Fringe Festival.

What a blast! It was worth the work! But now it is time to do something different.

Not without the fruits of our labor, which I consider to be the wealth of experience. I fully expect our investigation and experimentation on the themes of Place will call upon what we now know of memory, neurology, family, etc. I expect that with every new project, we embark with the valuable memory of what just happened—the moment before always informs the moment now. Maybe we will continue to follow the thread from theme to theme, searching for a through line. As if it were possible. But I am eager to follow it just the same.

Personally, I am interested in physical place and the structures that live (and sometimes die) there. And not necessarily how they were made. I am not so much into architectural design as I am into the why and when of a building-and of course, its occupants. People are usually the most important things. But like some buildings die, some get new lives.

Take the palimpsest, for example. A building whose structure is made up in stacks and layers of years, of lives, of generations. I like to walk through the alleyways of Fayetteville and be reminded that the town has had its share of changes, development and growth. The mortars don't always match the bricks of buildings- I like that. To witness the history. To be reminded of the moment before now.

A palimpsest is building out. Building up. That is what we call progress. A promise to last forever if we just keep building on.

But we start the Place Project by going backwards. We begin with the idea that nothing is permanent (so sayeth the Buddhist), and look to the evidence of this idea in places which have disappeared—such as ghost towns, abandoned homes. We begin with the dissolution of a place, specifically home. We start with the questions: Can places go away? Why does one leave their home? Can home leave us? What is place? When does Space become Place?

We started on the Place project at the end of summer, after we closed the first run of "Bombs, Babes, and Bingo." We visited Picher, Ok, the most toxic place in America. The first field trip in a series of several Superfund sites we will visit in the course of our project. We were lucky to sit on a porch with one of seven families that remain in Picher. We were pleased to learn that people will talk, but don't always give over personal information to strangers easily. We did record an interview with a current Picher resident woman. She shared her porch with us and patiently and pleasantly obliged us the list of ten or so questions I had prepared. We also got in touch with a man who hadn't lived in Picher since 1973 and he obliged us a recorded hour- long phone interview. He was lovely and full of stories. We talked of home and leaving home. And he talked of denial—what it's like when a community is infected with it.

And I met with a Tibetan monk who also obliged me an interview. He invited me into his home. I asked him about Impermanence and accountability. But before we could really get on with my questions, he had to impress upon me the reality that there is no good or bad. When I finally mostly understood this idea (without fully accepting its truth,) we were able to move on to big stuff, like how nothing lasts forever, nor is it supposed to. And I learned that the only reason I get sad when something changes or goes away is because I have developed an unnecessary attachment to the thing, the person or the idea. The monk doesn't believe in home as a Place. But then again, he has been on exile since he was a child. So of course, I am very interested in what he has to say about Place.

So that is where we are now. Where we go from here:

The Artist's Laboratory Theatre will go to different places where the idea of Impermanence is rumored to be represented. But we will remember this:
no blaming, no taking sides, nothing is precious, and everything is meaningful.
And follow the changes of the course. Let things change.

We will continue gathering information and documenting our findings. We will catalogue our data, so we may access it later for our performance lab. We will conduct performance labs which will afford us the time and space to work things out creatively. Like the artist at the sketch pad, we will doodle until stuff starts looking and feeling right. Now the Place Project Lab will be similar in nature to the "Bombs" lab. We will bring a group of artists together to work on developing our research from ideas to story. The difference this time is that we plan to go a few steps further and produce a script from our labs. We will write the piece together. Because, ultimately, we are storytellers. I can't say how long this will take, but you can expect to see our process along the way, and eventually, our play. Which will probably have a catchier title by then.

Happy New Year!

Erika Wilhite
Artistic Director
The Artist's Laboratory Theatre