There is no introduction to the colloquially titled I Won’t be in on Monday. There is no perfunctory schpiel prefacing the performance concerning donors or future shows or money that is needed. That is not to say that these prefaces do not have their place, as calls to endorse the arts and small theatres are absolutely tantamount to the continuation of performances as fine as these. But Anne Stockton’s dislodging and immersive one woman show needs to be framed in precisely those conditions—dislodging and immersive. As the audience ambles into the packed theatre, there is a stark solidarity to the stage that, somewhat incongruously, fills the space with its haunting, bareboned quality. The singular chair facing the crowd, austere and perplexing, manages to command more space than the audience can thoroughly reconcile with or acknowledge. To have interrupted the experience of walking into and settling oneself in such an environment would have been a disservice to the show. And so I Won’t be in… commenced with no interruption nor introduction, simply the play’s writer, sole star, and creative laborer, Anne Stockton, emerging onto the stage with strident force, seating herself in the eerily commanding lone chair on stage. The play, which unfolds as a dialogue that we as the audience are privy to only one side of (Stockton’s Nikki’s responses, diatribes, soliloquies and asides), is an interrogation of a vivacious woman in regards to expensive rings that have been stolen from the company with which she is employed. This is perhaps the most rudimentary exposition of the one woman show. What I Won’t be in… is at its most visceral level is an active disassembling of a woman’s tangled, multidimensional psyche as the façade she has constructed for herself and others is eroded throughout the play’s unconventional action. As Nikki converses with the unseen police officers, the audience begins to comprehend the meticulously sutured fragments of self that Nikki has very purposefully patched and woven together—she is a new employee and in love with her job and her very understanding employer; she met a new, extraordinarily wealthy, spontaneous and passionate man at a casino who she is in love with and has been living with; her life is a little unceremonious but ultimately fulfilling and coherent; she is absolutely befuddled as to how the rings could have been taken and where they could possibly be; etc., etc. But as Nikki’s conversation with the detectives progresses, we are exposed to the fractured membranes of her inner self—she is heavily medicated; her relationship with her new lover (revealed through phone conversations) is crumbling without her even fully recognizing it; she is codependent on her mother; she is apt to switch her affections and her outlandish plan to fly out of the country (her reason, presumably, why she “won’t be in on Monday”) to the detective conducting her interrogation; she perhaps has more involvement with the disappearance of the jewelry than even she allows herself to be aware of. From a script standpoint, the play is nearly flawless, and Stockton’s progression from a self-possessed yet visibly unbalanced woman is extraordinarily subtle. By the time the play’s somewhat double entendre, titular meaning is actualized, the audience has connected to Nikki in a way that makes the conclusion even more complicatedly heart-wrenching. Stockton’s performance is resilient and unwavering, even though at times some of the technical aspects break down a bit. What is most transcendent about the show is Stockton’s ability to radically transform the experience of speaking to an audience into one in which she simply exists as her own microcosm on stage. That is to say, the audience never once feels as though they are an audience during I Won’t be in… Rather, Stockton simultaneously consumes and is completely absorbed into the theatrical space she inhabits, allowing the play to become something not just to be observed, but to be lived. I Won’t be in… is a fantastic chapter in off the WALL’s stalwart legacy in presenting feminist-minded pieces. While at times the play veers on harmful or ghettoizing tropes for women—particularly women suffering from particular mental health issues—the play ultimately portrays a robust, flawed, and complexly damaged woman who is not defined by her gender or her psychosis. Both Stockton and off the WALL challenged the conventions of female representation in the show. I Won't be in on Monday has unfortunately closed already but you can follow off the WALL up to New York City in February. More details here.
Corsets on stage: Sometimes we see them, sometimes we don’t. Corsets have certainly made a comeback since designer Coco Chanel knocked them out of daily wear for early 20th century women. However, actors and singers often find themselves wearing corsets as part of period costumes for roles set in anywhere from the 1500s to early 1900s. This week, there’s a noticeable intersection of laced up undergarments with singers in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh singer Kara Cornell sings the role of sculptress Camille Claudel, an artist in her own right who was assistant to Auguste Rodin, in Into the Fire for Resonance Works | Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday. The New York Times described the piece as one that "compresses a tragic life of operatic dimensions into a song cycle of great beauty and emotional resonance.” [caption id="attachment_5842" align="aligncenter" width="1893"] Kara Cornell[/caption] On Sunday, final contestants in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Mildred Miller International Voice Competition sing at The Frick as “Undressed - The History of Fashion in Underwear” has its weekend. The show features historical undergarments at the Point Breeze museum. Up to 10 singers selected during sessions (free to the public on Saturday at Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts) will compete for cash prizes and summer season roles. Those attending can take the exhibit before the contest and during intermission while the judges deliberate. Kara shared her perspective as a singer most frequently corseted for one of her recurring roles, Carmen in Bizet’s opera. She’s twice sung the role for Pittsburgh Festival Opera as well as many other companies. The mezzo soprano is also often cast in “trouser roles”, but Kara brings a career singer’s perspective to the corset as a costume piece. PITR: How often have you worn a corset for a role? [caption id="attachment_5843" align="alignleft" width="230"] Cornell as Carmen[/caption] Kara: I really only wear a corset when I sing in Carmen - either the title role or the secondary character of Mercedes. So I don't wear a corset for all of my performings, but I do Carmen enough that I decided to buy my own corset. I've been able to dodge the corset in a lot of Handel and Mozart operas because I usually play the boy/men in those operas! Lucky me! As a singer who does not enjoy being bound up, I am lucky to have only worn tight corsets on the outside of my costume. PITR: Some say breathing against the corset might be at first different but a sometimes helpful experience. How does a singer learn to adapt to underpinnings that might appear to hinder breathing? Kara: Some of my colleagues really enjoy singing with a corset, and wear their personal corset under their audition outfit! The reason for this is because some singers like to feel a resistance when they breathe - expansion of the ribs is important for a lot of singers, so pushing the ribs against a corset or a tight dress helps them feel engaged around their entire ribcage. Before I purchased my own corset, I would expand my ribs before I was tied into the corset. Sometimes they would be so tight that I couldn't breathe! The corset I purchased ends above my belly button, so it makes me feel like I can let my stomach expand and I'm not as smushed. PITR: The sculptress Camille Claudel would have worn an Edwardian Corset, which creates a different silhouette than prior eras. It was known not only to constrict the waist and changed the emphasis on the stomach, but it caused the hips to jut out. Some women developed back injuries. Kara: I could also imagine Camille Claudel going sans corset, as she needed to have mobility in her body, in order to sculpt. PITR: Costumers also have multiple challenges... Kara: Buying my own assures that I have a well fitting corset that makes me look great AND makes me feel like I can still breathe. Another big issue with outer corsets is removing them quickly--if there is a quick change into another costume, untying a corset can be a real pain to do in 15 seconds. Also, many quick changes happen in minimal lighting, because there isn't always time to run back to the dressing room. The lack of light behind the stage curtain also makes it hard to see where the ties are on the corset, so a lot of time can be wasted. Some costume designers therefore cut a corset vertically and add velcro. This seems like a nice idea, but doesn't always work because now the singer's breathing can literally pop open the velcro! Of course, singers in concert while singing from a role would not bring their own corset along for events such as Resonance Works program or a recital setting like the Miller Competition. No such trappings “out of costume” for these singers. But when you’re attending a full-out Elizabeth, Victorian, and Edwardian period production you may assume the actresses are in corsets. Most often, cast members work “laced up” for the whole show. Aspects of period movement that include sitting, standing, and breathing in a corset are part of training. Nothing may accentuate one’s waist like a corset, but, then again, nothing may bring on the “vapors” as quickly on a hot day. Women in the 20th century may have merrily torn off their corsets or burnt their bras, but laced undergarments give us an idea of the women who went before--how they had to get dressed (often only with assistance) and how their movement was limited while corseted. On stage, knowing yourself and your corset are requirements for a good experience on stage. Just remember to breathe! About the Events Into the Fire/A Poet’s Love is presented by Resonance Works | Pittsburgh on Friday at 8 pm, PYCO School of Music Recital Hall, Wexford, and Saturday at 8 pm, Levy Hall, Rodef Shalom Congregation, Oakland. The Mildred Miller International Voice Competition of Pittsburgh Festival Opera finals take place on Sunday from 2 to 5 pm in the intimate auditorium of the Frick Art & Historical Center, Point Breeze. A special online promo code for PITR readers (MILLER2017) now provides tickets for $10. All students are admitted free. On Saturday, admission is free for all to hear the 20 semifinalists sing from 11 am to 1 pm and 3 to 6 pm, Kresge Theatre, Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts. Undressed: A History of Fashion in Underwear opens on Saturday, October 12 at the Frick. Those attending the Miller finals on Sunday may also visit the Frick galleries.
A mysterious adventure, Bricolage Production Company’s latest immersive experience, DODO, challenges the idea of traditional theater by taking the audience member by on an individualized, sensory-based journey that places them at the center of the experience. From the time the show was announced, details about the experience were kept largely under wraps. Created in collaboration with the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the production’s vague show description made mention of extinction, un-natural selection, and a secret society, but little else, creating a sense of mystery and allure around the immersive. The journey begins upon purchasing a ticket to the show. Shortly after reserving my ticket, I received an email confirming my application to a secret society, known as The National Self Preservation Society, had been received and was under review. Once I arrived at the Carnegie Museums, a large illuminated sign that read Portal Entry was clearly visible from the parking lot. Bricolage used simple, nondescript signage throughout the production, which allowed the museum to truly act as the host body. The art and artifacts inside the museum were used to create context during the adventure, rather than elaborate set design. Once I checked in, along with the five other participants in my time slot, our journey continued. We entered the Carnegie Museums on the side of the building, through what appeared to be an employee-only entry point and were met by a character wearing a hazmat-esque suit and a gas mask. After determining we were all fit to enter the next room, he stripped his protective clothing revealing a suit with a large patch on his blazer indicating he was a member of The National Self Preservation Society. Serious and intentional, the society member informed us that our application to The National Self Preservation Society was the context for which our group was being accepted into the experience; the donor application process was about to begin. Before continuing on, each of us were called up to his desk, asked us a series of questions and given an item. [caption id="attachment_5834" align="aligncenter" width="1480"] Emilie Sullivan (Docent)[/caption] It was apparent that our answers to the questions were meant to inform which item we received, however, that didn’t seem to be the case. The lack of discernible connection between the answers we provided and the item we received made the interaction appear engineered rather guided by our individual responses. After receiving our respective items, we made our way into one of the museum’s main exhibits halls, illuminated only by small floor lamps. We were met by a mysterious dream host dressed in all-white, loose fitting garments who spoke soft and slow. This character’s spiritual demeanor and dialogue made it apparent we had ventured into a different dimension that was operating outside the boundaries of time and reality. My experience took me through multiple other darkened museum exhibits, via staircases and dimly-lit hallways reserved for employees and into a collection archive. Providing access to the areas of the museum normally off limits, coupled with the rooms with little prominent light helped reinforce the idea secrecy and the allure of an underground organization. The dark areas also emphasized the theme of extinction; once things are gone, they are lost forever. [caption id="attachment_5835" align="aligncenter" width="1480"] Michael McBurney (Explorer)[/caption] As I traveled through the museum, I encountered an explorer and various other characters who made use of collections and exhibits to help tell their stories and draw connections between humanity and its impact on the natural world. While these characters were able to incorporate the museum’s art and artifacts into their dialogue in a way that made sense and was meaningful, it wasn’t always clearly explained who they were and why they were there. It was during these interactions in particular that it seemed less like I was a character in the immersive and more like someone just along for the ride. The adventure culminates in a multi-sensory experience that intersects audio, light and touch to manipulate the senses. While the references and dialogue often had a dream-like quality, I didn’t feel fully immersed in a dream-state until this moment. The sensorial techniques used during this portion of the journey successfully made me feel as though I had truly been transported to another state in time. I think some of these techniques could have been utilized earlier in the experience to help drive home idea that the adventure was taking place in another realm. Like with all of Bricolage Theater Company’s immersives, no two experiences are alike. There were multiple characters involved in the production that I did not encounter and just as many destinations I did not travel to. There’s still time to take a journey all your own with DODO. DODO runs through November 19 in the evenings Wednesday through Sunday, with some exceptions. The experience only allows for six patrons per time slot. Tickets are $60 and can be purchased at www.BricolagePGH.org. Photos by Handerson Gomes.