Bricolage Presents Its Latest Immersive Experience: DODO

DODOfbeventA story of un-natural selection. A story of extinction. A production shrouded in mystery.

Little has been revealed about Bricolage Production Company’s latest immersive, sensory-based theater experience, DODO. Created in collaboration with the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh as part of its Carnegie Nexus initiative, no two experiences are alike.

DODO will take audience members on a personal journey throughout areas of the museum not typically open to the general public, allowing interactions with their surroundings to guide their experience.

“It’s not putting the participant on the spot,” said Jeffrey Carpenter, creative director and co-creator of DODO. “It’s offering a place for their response, and that response can affect their journey.”

The immersive production will examine humanity’s impact on the world and will draw connections between art, science, and society. The adventure will also explore the relationship between humans and the museum, to the physical building and its history and to the artifacts and artworks inside it.

All information and stories related to any of the museums’ collections incorporated in the adventure are authentic.

The line between reality and fiction will be blurred and audience members may be unsure whether they are interacting with each other or actors and actresses.

DODO will play to the senses, using ambisonic audio technology, a technology being developed for virtual reality, and light effects. Sensorial lighting techniques will be used in such a predominant way, light will almost act as a character.

Carpenter and the rest of the creative team behind DODO — Gab Cody, Tami Dixon and Sam Turich — spent two years on what they refer to as a listening tour at the Carnegie Museums. During that time, the team explored the physical nature of the museums and interviewed countless individuals connected to the museum experience, from security guards and cafeteria workers to curators, conservators, and directors.

“I think what we discovered right away, is that there’s a natural tension between the role that the museum plays as keeper and collector and protector of these very important specimens and artifacts and giving access to the general public,” Carpenter said.

The collaborative process allowed them to gather insight into the magic behind the museum and develop a production that aims to prompt conversations about man’s impact on the Earth.

“It sort of feels like you can’t talk about anything else,” Dixon said. “With this project, and choosing the work with the museums, we don’t think there was anything else we could be talking about, relevantly or responsibly, if we didn’t talk about this age that we’re in right now.”

It has led them to their most ambitious immersive experience to date — DODO.

“I think it’s [DODO] been crafted in a very masterly way so that a whole group of experiences that people have as they travel through our two museums will build to a very moving climax,” Maureen Rolla, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh said. “I think people are going to have fun. I think they’re going to be really surprised. They’re going to see a lot of beautiful things in really crazy spaces.”

DODO takes place at the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History in Oakland and runs October 13 through November 19, Wednesday through Sunday evenings with a few exceptions. In order to create a more personalized experience, each performance time slot accommodates only 6 patrons at a time. Tickets are $60 and can be purchased at www.BricolagePGH.org.

SHOW DESCRIPTION

Since 1760, they’ve operated in secret, preparing the way. Once considered legend, they’ve been steadily growing in number and influence. Their existence, in direct response to a pressing need expressed by the natural world, is one of the most significant and far-reaching stories in America: a story of un-natural selection. A story of extinction. The actions of humanity have set into motion events that will outlive our species. It must now be determined what will endure. Do you know how you got here? Do you know where you’re going? Our past is a memory, our future is certain. DODO: the time has come.

Stage 62 Goes to Camelot, Neverland, and More!

stage62_logoCommunity. This is the word that best characterizes a local nonprofit theater company that traces its inception back to 1962, when it began as an adult education theater project that morphed into much more. Taking residence at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Stage 62 is an all volunteer-run company that strives to provide the community with quality theater for all ages that is affordable.    This year’s season will feature the plays, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” and “Anne.” The children’s musical, “Pinkalicious” was also part of the company’s season but closed in mid-February.

This year’s season will feature the plays, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” and “Anne.” The children’s musical, “Pinkalicious” was also part of the company’s season but closed in mid-February.

A typical season for Stage 62 usually includes a musical in November; a show for children’s audiences in February; a drama/comedy in May and a musical peterstarcatcher300x300in July, according to the company’s website. However, Stage 62’s members play a huge role in the selection of production titles.

“We are completely member-driven, so our membership actually gets to vote on the productions that we do,” Christopher Martin, president of Stage 62 said. “We look for submissions from our group and outside our group. …We take those specific shows to our playwriting committee, and they decide what they think will be best for the organization. [They choose] two shows per slot and vote from there.”

Because volunteers are the backbone of Stage 62, cost and the interest it will attract from the community also heavily influences the selection of production titles.spamalot300x300

“We have to balance what we think will make money and what will be exciting and engaging for our audiences and volunteers,” Martin said.
The members of Stage 62 also try to choose show titles that the company’s volunteers and directors have an interest in producing.

“We sometimes would have something picked but not have someone who had a passion to do the show,” Martin said. “We always try to have a core staff or director in mind for the show.”

Once a season has been narrowed down and show titles have been selected, the artistic direction and vision for the production and how it will be interpreted, is left up to the director.

annie300x300Stage 62’s upcoming production, “Peter and the Starcatcher” is based on a novel by Dave Berry and Ridley Pearson and provides the back story of the well-known children’s movie character, Peter Pan.

“One of the reasons we like the show is it is simple,” Martin said. “A lot of it is done with simple props and imagination.”

For its summer show, Stage 62 likes to put on a “fun-rousing” musical, and that’s where “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” comes in, a musical comedy  adapted from the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Goofy comedies tend to equal success for Stage 62, according to Martin, and the Monty Python title the company selected for this season fits the bill.

For the fall, Stage 62 typically selects a classic film, and “Annie” is about as classic as it gets. With the permission of The Tribune Media Services, Inc., the musical “Annie” is based on the comic strip Little Orphan Annie and will be presented through a special arrangement with Music Theatre International.
Stage 62 has a reputation of providing audiences with stage productions that are well-executed, interesting and fun and accessible to the broader public, and that’s exactly what you will get with the company’s 2017 season lineup.
“Peter and the Starcatcher” opens May 11 and runs through the 21st, followed by “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT,” which premieres July 20, and “Annie,” set for November 9.

For tickets and more information about Stage 62, visit their website, http://www.stage62.com/season/.

Jumping Jack Theater Provides Interactive Opportunity for Special Needs Audiences

14670697_1756952637855218_8497753626687409878_nLess than a year ago, the powers of social media reunited local Pittsburghers Rebecca Covert and Stephen Santa, allowing them to combine two of their greatest passions, theater arts and children with special needs, to provide Pittsburgh audiences a unique and inclusive theatrical opportunity specifically focused on sensory and autism-friendly strategies.
The catalyst for Jumping Jack Theater Company occurred when Covert published a post on Facebook about a New York-based theater company that focuses on providing similar theater arts opportunities for audiences with special needs. Santa, a former colleague who worked with Covert in 2012, commented on her post and the pair’s creative minds got to work.
“I just felt like, kind of like a light bulb thing when I saw her post. That this [theater company focusing on providing works for audiences that would benefit from sensory and autism-friendly strategies] is something that we don’t have in Pittsburgh,” Santa said. “It’s something that our powers together can create and create successfully.”

Both Covert and Santa have backgrounds in theater arts as well as experience working with kids with special needs. Covert’s son, Jack, the inspiration for the company’s name, has autism. In addition, she is an autism and arts consultant and professional development facilitator at Arts for Autism Foundation of Pittsburgh and a teaching artist for both Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Education. Santa works at Pittsburgh CLO, a Broadway-quality musical production company and has been a music director at Camp Aim, a camp designed for kids with special needs, for 15 years.

JJT 5
Jack, Covert’s son and inspiration for Jumping Jack Theater

Initially, Covert and Santa didn’t plan on fully embarking on the idea for the theater company until 2017, however, after Covert discovered there was a potential opportunity to receive $8,000 in extra funding available through the Pennsylvania Council in the Arts that had to be used by August 2016, plans changed.

Covert and Santa submitted an application for the funds and were awarded the grant, which was used to fund two, five-day pilot residencies, one at Borland-Manor Elementary School in Cannonsburg, Pennsylvania and one at Camp AIM. The aim of the pilot residences was to use ideas that Covert, Santa and their creative team had come up with for inclusion in future theater performances and try them out in special needs classrooms.

For example, during one of the pilot residencies, Covert and Santa focused on the rainforest. They used large umbrellas to represent different levels of the rainforest by placing vines and different stuffed animals and other creatures in the umbrella, providing the kids the opportunity to learn about the concepts of the rainforest in an immersive way. This also allowed Covert and Santa the opportunity to watch the kids interact and see which fabrics and other items elicited reactions.

“Going in the classroom, it was the first time everything felt right. … The kids are communicating at completely different levels, nonverbally or just showing items, and we’re just watching how they interact with their item,” Covert said. “So we’re getting a lot of different information that, you know, I think it’s not only allowing them to share about themselves but we’re kind of taking that and learning about them and seeing what we can feed into the shows that way.”

As a result of the pilot residencies, Covert and Santa are currently working on a 20-day residency, also at Borland-Manor Elementary, and have additionally been asked to come back during the 2017-2018 school year for a 60-day residency.

The residencies have also given Covert, Santa and their creative team the ability to begin creating their first “box show” using the feedback received from the very kids that will make up their audiences.

Show development brainstorm session with creative team (L to R: Stephen Santa, Sara Barbisch, Julianne Avolio, and Joann Kielar)
Show development brainstorm session with creative team (L to R: Stephen Santa, Sara Barbisch, Julianne Avolio, and Joann Kielar)

Jumping Jack Theater Company’s box show is a small, two-actor performance, slated to premiere in February, that will be shown at various schools in the area, in autism support learning classrooms and potentially some local gallery crawls.

The idea behind the show is that it is supposed to be shown in tight class spaces where the audience members can experience quality theater without having to leave their normal routine or feel like they are not in a familiar or comfortable space, according to Covert.

“A kid on the spectrum, when they’re enjoying something, it looks very different than the typical theater etiquette audience. There’s a lot of movement and vocalizing,” Covert said.

“This isn’t like an assembly show where the whole school comes,” Santa added. “This is where 20 kids come and they sit close, and they are part of it, and they experience; they feel, they touch, they listen.”

In the next year, Jumping Jack Theater Company also plans to premier a larger, four-actor show that will work more like a traditional, ticketed theater performance. Although this performance will be a full-scale production, it will still incorporate sensory and autism-friendly strategies, but will be open to the broader public.

“I think it’s important for everyone to see our show, not just the kids who it’s designed for,” Santa said. “I think everyone can learn something from it. I’m about empathy and all those kinds of things, patience and understanding, and accepting someone that’s different from you.”

Jumping Jack creative team playing and storytelling at their first rehearsal (from L to R: Sara Barbisch, Joann Kielar, Julianne Avolio, Stephen Santa, and Kyle Fischer)
Jumping Jack creative team playing and storytelling at their first rehearsal (from L to R: Sara Barbisch, Joann Kielar, Julianne Avolio, Stephen Santa, and Kyle Fischer)

Going forward, Jumping Jack Theater Company wants to expand its reach to community events as well as to other areas across the country.
We want to “do a show where families can come that it’s a safe place for everyone, and parents don’t feel like they’re being judged, or their kids are being judged; it’s a welcoming environment for everyone,” Santa said. “If this child over here is enjoying it [the performance] by flapping and standing and, you know, talking all the time, and pointing that out, that’s great.”

Jumping Jack Theater Company’s creative team is made up of Julianne Avolio, an actress and teaching artist; Sara Barbisch, an actress and teaching artist; Joann Kielar, a storyteller and teaching artist; and Kyle Fischer, a visual artist and film industry prop artist.

The theater company is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization and is fiscally sponsored by Fractured Atlas, a New-York based organization that supports arts and cultural groups.

In order to raise money to support current and future theater productions and projects, including theater-engagement workshops for families in Pittsburgh, Jumping Jack Theater Company has launched an Indiegogo fundraising effort. To donate, click here and for more information about the company, visit their website or their Facebook page.

Photos courtesy of Jumping Jack Theater.

How I Learned to Drive

Drive Small Posters (5)[2]Sexual abuse and the way women are often negatively sexualized once they experience the onset of puberty is a subject that has been at the forefront in recent news headlines; making the overarching metaphor in How I Learned to Drive, a play written by Paula Vogel and directed by Justin Sines, perfectly timed to bring about awareness and discussion about the issue.

On a simple set featuring large archway made out of wire fencing with various street signs  attached to the top and sides, the audience is introduced to one of the main characters, Li’l Bit, played by Fiona Montgomery, who is growing up in the mid-60s and early 70s. Also present in the performance space is an unmoving, upholstered seat with a back that serves as the seat of a car for the majority of the play, and two identical, backless seats located in close proximity on either side.

Learning how to drive portrayed as a metaphor for learning about sexual boundaries and sexual abuse is clear early on in the performance, making the length of the 90 minute piece perhaps a bit unnecessary.DSC_0296

The inappropriate sexual nature of the relationship among family members that has been passed down through generations is made apparent immediately, as Li’l Bit explains that everyone in her family has a nickname that relates to a part of a person’s genitalia. Her grandfather’s nickname is, “Big Pappa,” while her uncle’s name is, “Uncle Peck;” both obvious metaphors.

The audience watches as the play’s timeline jumps back and forth, guided by driving instructor, voiced by Colleen Garrison, who utilizes driving instructions for a manual car to indicate a shift forward or backward in time. The nonlinear timeline provides a glimpse into the inappropriate nature of Li’l Bit’s relationship with uncle Peck and the sexual abuse he inflicts on her from an early age, how it affects her throughout her teenage years and the lasting affect it has on her as a young adult.DSC_0402

While driving directions allow the audience to perceive the timeline has changed and provides further depth to the main metaphor, if the secondary characters had not often announced that there was a change in the year, I would not have necessarily picked up on the fact that Li’l Bit’s age shifts during the performance. Li’l Bit is often distressed, as she should be considering the circumstances, and Montgomery does a good job of making this apparent to the audience through her expressions. However,  Montgomery unfortunately makes almost no alterations in Li’l Bit’s mannerisms or tone of speech to indicate that the character’s age has changed, rendering the performance flat.

Uncle Peck, played by Michael Makar, is definitely the antagonist in the play, and the fact that his character does not come across as obviously creepy or perverse provides further comment on the relationship between victims of sexual abuse and those abusing them. Often times, the people that prey on others fly under the radar and come across as unassuming and harmless. Uncle Peck grooms Li’l Bit her entire life, skews sexual boundaries, makes her believe that what he is doing is not wrong and is able to accomplish this under the guise of a caring and loving family member.DSC_0484

While this point is well taken by the way that the character is portrayed in the performance, at the close of the play I found myself wishing that Makar had made me more uneasy and uncomfortable as the plot progressed. The way that Makar depicts the character of uncle Peck made him seem one dimensional and stiff. Uncle Peck is supposed to be leading two different lives, one in which he is a loving and devoted husband, and one in which he is a sexual predator. Had Makar made uncle Peck come across as a more sly and sneaky, I think the character would seemed more dynamic and realistic.

The play ends with Li’l Bit preparing to go for a drive by herself, however, although she does this on her own, she follows the driving instructions taught by her uncle Peck. As she adjusts the rearview mirror, Makar sits in the back seat indicating to the audience the lifelong affect sexual abuse has, and will have, on Li’l Bit’s life, and the cyclical nature of this behavior.

Special thanks to Duquesne Red Masquers for complimentary press tickets. How I Learned to Drive runs through November 13 at Duquesne Genesius Theater. For tickets and more information, visit duqredmasquers.com.

Photos courtesy of Dale Hess.