photos by Sabine Schmidt and ALT
“The House” – Transformed a residential home into a performance space, in which adapted “found” material was developed into performances in order to reveal truths about Home as a Place. From our dramaturgy (ranging from interviews, newspaper articles, radio transcripts), we created and performed vignettes throughout the rooms and grounds of the house for small audiences.
houses inside and out
by Sabine Schmidt
Recently, the Fayetteville-based Artist’s Laboratory Theatre launched The Place Project, a research/performance concept for investigating what “place” means to humans–how we create and change place, how we define it, and how it relates to the idea of “home.” The group’s artistic director is the multi-talented actor, producer, and teaching artist Erika Wilhite. Since Fayetteville has a compact but active arts community, Erika and I knew about each other. It was only a matter of time before we would meet. And meet we did–one humid Saturday morning a few weeks ago on the patio at Little Bread Co. We spent a good hour comparing ideas and creating the kind of inspired connection that brings with it a sense of wonder. She and I are thinking a lot about the significance of “house” and its relationship to memory, to the familiar, to love, communication, personal and public history. The Artist’s Lab is exploring those questions in their performances; I do it through photography and writing.
During the month of June, Erika and her troupe developed a site-specific performance in a private home whose residents were
traveling for the summer. She asked me if the actors could use some of my miniature houses and invited me to one of the rehearsals. I took photos there and at the full performance a few nights later. The event was invitation-only and included a small audience that was led from scene to scene in two separate groups, crisscrossing the house and the yard until we all met in the living room to break bread (Erika bakes, too!) and discuss our experience.
Seeing my houses handled by other people was odd. I am not very attached to the miniatures. Most are made of paper; when I place them in various environments, they get wet, stained, and bent. One has been stepped on by an overly affectionate dog. Others have been blown off roofs of buildings or into rivers and puddles. I want the houses to bear traces of their use. Until The Place Project, however, that use had never included other people; people who showed me different understandings of what the houses can be.
You can view Sabine Schmidt’s photo blog HERE.
By Sonia Davis Gutierrez
Special to Ozarks Unbound
The Place Project asks a fundamental question: What defines a sense of place and how does space echo experience.
The dramatic effort was led by Artist Laboratory Theatre founder and director Erika Wilhite. The one-night only performance Saturday was, by far, one of the most creative experiences I have ever participated in this city.
I could have easily been off-Broadway in New York City, but in fact, 10 of us were in a home of a Fayetteville resident who generously donated their space for art. It was a June summer evening and the cacophony of evening insects was just warming up. The audience members were carpooled to the mystery destination on Hillcrest Avenue. The residential setting became a theater when we arrived and gathered on the front lawn. I had been to the house next door and another audience member later said he’d been in the home when it was occupied by musician friends — typical Fayetteville.
Already we all had different ideas of what this place was and what it would become.
Two actors emerged from the home and transformed the front porch of this ordinary abode into the first stage. The group’s attention went from excitement and nervousness to full captivation. We were told to break into two groups, grab the hand of
our nearest neighbor and enter the world constructed by Wilhite and the laboratory actors.
It was not until I was being pulled in the house like a cut-out paper doll that I realized my husband was not in my group—gulp and good—we would compare notes and analyze the details over coffee the next morning.
Each room was transformed into a stage including the bathroom where the mirror became a place for actors to leave crumbs of their monologue that would then be erased by the following group’s guide. What story are they getting, is it mine or was it theirs or was my story always my own story?
Vignettes were inspired from Radiolab shows including one about a woman marathon runner who had part of her brain removed and lost her sense of direction but found comfort in constant motion. Another story came from video and voices of the recent Joplin tornado destruction. A third was extracted from a man’s story of living in Pitcher, Okla. All unfolded while the smell of baking bread filled the air.
In one scene that took place in the backyard, lit by the single porch light, the audience was invited to sit on folding chairs that were arranged in a circle and use the iPod and headphones in the cup holder. We were instructed to press “play” all at once.
Where I sat, the actress was back-lit and ran around a seedling tree as we became voyeurs of her thoughts. She ran — round and around. Place became movement and my mind feasted on that while I watched the amused and intense expressions of the other audience members.
I only came “out of the moment” once when our guides tried choreography by poking their heads and hands out of opposite sides of the shower in some syncopated fashion. I did not like it, and then again I am not a fan of Blue Man Group—give me something on deeper level than the height of bath water.
Well, they did, I only had to wait till the lights in the bathroom went out and we were taken into the bedroom. That is when I saw my husband pass outside the house through the window with his group and wondered if he saw me inside. It did not matter. I was quickly drawn back into the scene where our fully-clothed guide’s movements communicated intimacy, play and desertion on the bed and under the covers.
I won’t try to describe each story, scene, or room; instead, I would say that I learned humans are always constructing stories.
We take the pieces no matter how abstract, false, true, tainted, painful, or unfamiliar and we connect. Our minds naturally seek some order and some thread that connects. This helps you understand how personal experience shapes your translation of events.
The sequence is less important than our mind’s freedom to form thoughts and extract meaning as a reflection of the place. Place is experience and I am so grateful to live in such a place where these experiences happen.