Bricolage’s BUS is an amazing compilation of talent. They do a great job of mixing together spontaneity and creative ability. It’s a challenge. Playwrights are asked to put themselves on a 90-minute bus ride and to submit to the experience in such a way that they are inspired to write a play. That’s it. Just a little fun, a bit of the unexpected and weird, and a surge of forced inspiration.
It’s impressive how this experiment works. And it does. It works very, very well. You have 36 performers (24 actors, 6 playwrights, 6 directors) and they all bring something diverse, impressive and original. They make tangible, real, accessible theatre in the span of 24 hours. I was FLOORED by how great the actors were in these shows. They not only memorized their entire part within the span of a workday, but they delivered on so many emotional and driven levels.
What the process of BUS relies upon is that things will happen when provocation occurs. Creative Talent + Inspiration = Creation. The actors’ parts are created for them, for something exhibited from their personality. And thus plays are created truly spontaneously, with a driving force of talent and a whirl of inevitable luck.
Bricolage, I believe, is attempting to create a flare within theatre that is alchemical. It’s like theatre, but it’s an admixture of something more unexpected: spontaneous participation. It seems like the kind of thing that improv works off of, but I believe it’s a little more experimental. For one thing, it invokes the audience. You have only to look at how the handling of BUS 12 began. A technical difficulty involving the keyboard’s connection to the house speakers inhibited the host’s opening performance. So, Programming and Artistic Directors Jeffrey Carpenter and Tami Dixon (respectively) were secluded to their spots offstage. An awkward moment started with an awkward silence. But their mics still worked. They asked for patience. Then Tami’s voice saying, “You’d think after 12 years…”
The audience laughed. Then a random heckler chimes in: “Get a Casio!”
Another voice over the mic, “Oh great. Just what we need: hecklers.”
A guy in the balcony yells, “Well, at least it’s better than Senator Toomey’s Town Hall!”
Jeffery Carpenter asks back, “Does anybody know how to juggle?” And Dixon seconds, “Does anybody know how to hum?”
The whole audience begins humming.
The audience is roaring from a malfunction that should have been devastating. But the feeling of the evening, this rich celebration of Pittsburgh’s talents is exactly what BUS, and therefore Bricolage, is all about. The creation of the spectacle at hand is key in fomenting a new vision of what could be the theatrical moment. The mistake is probably the most authentic form of seeing something real happen on stage. It’s up to the maturity and skill of the actors to handle the mistake responsibly. The entire spirit of Bricolage’s “making artful use of what is at hand” happens in these moments. It’s like Arthur Miller once said, “The theater is so endlessly fascinating because it’s so accidental. It’s so much like life.”
BUS shows a cavalcade of different kinds of emotions. The heartfelt broaching of loneliness and memory in Gayle Pazerski’s “This Call May Be Recorded.” Or the almost philosophical nostalgia of four people talking to themselves of how they remember buses being friendly before smartphones in Mark Clayton Southers’ “People Don’t Talk on the Bus” Or perhaps the madness of four cartoonish version of DSM-IV style mental disorders banding together to save themselves from a bus that crashed because of a suicidal bus driver in Sloan MacRae’s “Normal”.
The gamut of talent is shown by experimenting with how people think on a bus. Pazerski’s content contains nothing about buses, but it allows for an emotional depth which surely comes out of the script and perhaps a lonely bus drive just outside of town. In her play, we see a very visceral relationship being unveiled by the act of Brett Goodnack’s Tom calling Quinn Patrick Shannon’s Mark at his job at a stressful call center. Shannon’s ability to show the facial breaking of a frustrated man on the brink of both redemption and insanity was palpable. I was also a fan of Elena Alexandratos and Julianne Avolio’s comic chops on the side.
Pair that with Kim El’s “Get Off (The Bus)” a Twilight Zone-like tale about a professional white woman who boards a bus and is suddenly confronted with mystical black deities who force her to confront her privilege by subjecting her to live a day as an African-American woman. Shakara Wright’s Faith and TaeAjah Cannon’s Joy were appropriately creepy and stunning in their roles, veritable goddesses, and demons in the same body. Director Teisha Duncan did a great job at taking us onto the bus and taking us out of this ethereal plane with minimal special effects.
It’s a variety of performance, very festive, unpredictable and a great sampling of what kind of active subject matter is happening amongst playwrights in this town. What makes Bricolage such a fountain of strange possibility is that they covet the experiment. They try things, and they create an environment where trying things is protocol. It’s minimal, but it’s audacious.
You wind up with stand-out performances like Wali Jamal’s Clown in Dave Harris’ “Mythical Creatures”. Always a pleasure to watch his bottled volatility shake itself up, pure baking soda and vinegar; this man spews rawness up in a rage. Or Gab Cody’s “Misoneism”, a tricky play about AI that’s really all a prop for stand-out performances. Missy Moreno’s Betty pops onto the stage with firecracker power and delivers a potpourri of Robin Williams and Animal from the Muppets.
Bricolage does something. They don’t do the rote, mechanical straightforward delivery. They make you work, they make their players work and it’s an appreciated work. There’s power in trying. I think that’s the aspect of theatre that’s washed with such an abundance of entertainment in the digital age. To make artful use of what is at hand, you must be willing to go out into the world and grab whatever’s near. Pittsburgh is a slew of odysseys, and thank god a company is ravenous for what it has to offer. This was a hell of a cabaret.
For more about Bricolage Production Company and what they have for us coming up, click here.
Photos courtesy of Louis Stein.