For those that have been curious about what Theatre Is Dead and So Are You might actually be, our description now has a little more depth than the previous talking points ("Um...it's got death...and...uh...vaudeville?). As is so often the case, it was our desperate attempt to meet a grant deadline that forced us to fall in line. Below is the project description we pitched which, because this was a production design grant, is actually 1 part Stancato to 3 parts Bengali (stir, garnish with pineapple wedge). I think, however, that it paints a clear picture of the world we're trying to create. After you read the text, you should definitely click over to some incredible vaudeville photography that Aviva dug up. Rehearsals start this weekend and I am very very excited.
The Theatre is Dead and So Are You is a funeral for the stage in 12 acts. A ragtag bunch of variety veterans are laying to rest their MC and impresario and doing so for the world to see. They'll be performing his funeral live on stage, travelling from city to city, until such time as his body is too decomposed to make the proceedings pleasant. Their "eulogies" are performed à la classic variety, each taking its own deadly turn in style or content as they celebrate the life and death of their dearly departed dead dead dead friend. Even in their joyous performance, a spectre looms as each knows they've all been exposed to the fatal disease that killed their MC: Life (or is it Theater?). As part of Stolen Chair’s ongoing mission to address theatre’s continuing vitality in a world dominated by film, this piece will also ask the nearly century-old question: is theatre a dead art and if so, what makes us continue to make and attend it?The world of this piece is one of joy in (de)composition. We will explore how, as things fall apart, they can be recombined into new forms and creations. Inspired by the Dia de los Muertos, we will celebrate death as a source of renewal, an escape from one dream into another even more fantastical. We imagine a classic Vaudevillian variety stage that is full of the detritus of production - visual evidence of what happens when closed plays go away to die. Our proscenium space will be draped with old, once glittering fabrics. A rich red curtain, when pulled aside, will reveal masks and puppets large and small that grin ghoulishly out of the shadows. Our players will explore the catacombs of an old prop storage where the caskets and shrouds contain the forgotten bits of productions now past their relevance to any audience. A testament to the transience of live performance, these objects have been lost to the memory of anyone who once knew what they were for. Inspired by the creepy magic of the inert but once alive, the players will clear out the space, leaving us with a totally empty unadorned theatre. By achieving a truly “dead” space, we will make room for new creative life.Throughout the following non-linear, vaudeville, variety event, the audience is in for a raucous immersive experience using not only the stage, but the floor, the balcony surrounding them from above, and hidden areas that can be heard but not seen, just as Artaud might have wanted. The objects from the opening of the piece will reappear, ingeniously used by the actors in ways wewill develop in rehearsal, combined in designs that reveal new and unexpected harmony and imagery. Various objects will be strung up to utilize the full volume of the space. Some will be thrown over the balcony to dangle above the audience or the stage before we haul them back up. What kinds of objects will they be? Our collaborative design and rehearsal process will answer that question over the coming weeks and months, but it is certain that symbols of death will abound: skulls, dead flowers, rotting fruit, black fabrics, candles, religious idols, masks.We will reveal the variety acts (and the accompanying magical reconfigurations of space) by closing and opening a big red tab curtain. If possible, additional layers of curtains will allow for multiple depths of reveals, and layers of visual texture. With multiple layers, clever lighting, and choreographed prop and set manipulation, we hope to achieve some Dali-style trompe l'oeil and assemble objects on stage to suddenly synthesize into a form. Perhaps a curtain will frame a piano, an urn of flowers, and some dangling masks to create the image of a giant grinning skull. Supplementary funding from the ____ Foundation would allow us to construct a more visually striking and creatively versatile curtain. It will allow us to commission high-quality fabrics and an appropriate rigging apparatus (from a supplier such as Rose Brand) to implement tab lift effects to selectively reveal parts of the playing area. A well-made and well-rigged heavy curtain acquired with the _______ Foundation would complement the Connelly Theater’s grand proscenium arch (and the stamped tin carved Greek masks that adorn it) to create a look of a classic turn-of-century music hall or vaudeville house. While a homemade single tab curtain of inexpensive material will serve the most basic functional needs of this piece and our space, additional funding from the _________ Foundation will give us the resources to procure a set of multiple well-rigged, attractive, and heavier curtains, allowing us to take the visuals of this beyond the functional and to create a striking physical world for the players and for the audience.The other essential design component of this piece will be a collection of coffins. A grand coffin will sit center stage holding the corpse of the Vaudevillians’ deceased leader, opened and closed as his lifeless body is exhumed and used in the variety acts. Moreover, the actors will make the entrances and exits rolled on in coffins and coffins will serve as central accessories for many of the acts. A coffin designed for this project would need to do several things. It must roll both horizontally and vertically. It must support human weight. There must be multiple ways to get into and out of it. With our existing resources, we can create a simple pine box that meets these needs. With support from the _____ Foundation we can actually construct ornate coffins which carry the significance and gravity of the coffins audience members have seen at funerals. Additionally, this funding would enable us to build “trick” coffins designed to enhance the vaudevillian acts themselves. Perhaps a saw-the-assistant-in-half trick, or a never-ending clown-car entrance of corpses. Maybe a coffin that opens unexpectedly on its own at inappropriate times. With our current budget, we plan to develop vaudeville acts that do not rely on such a “trick” coffin. If granted support from the ______ Foundation, however, we would use our remaining development and rehearsal time (during the month of December) to generate new and more exciting choreography that can interact with the more elaborate and customized coffins.Stolen Chair develops each new piece collaboratively: text, performance style, and design emerge organically together over the course of the rehearsal and developmental process. The Theater is Dead and So Are You is in its earliest phases of creation, and as such we don't yet know in what direction the piece will go. Our visual concepts for the piece, however, are beginning to take shape, and we welcome all opportunities to bring them to a more fully realized level of development.