Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spoon River Project

Spoon River Project by Rani Crowe (Opens 10/24!)

As an artist/performer, I have been recently exploring several themes.

First, I have been thinking about infrastructure. How does one produce art and theater without the resources, funding, gallery space, studio space, performance space, audience base, and context? How does one authenticate and contextualize one’s art without these widely accepted backing principles? We widely praise artists who manage to breakthrough to new frameworks for their art, but we only accept them after they have persisted diligently in creating that framework until it redefines the space for us. As an artist, how do you create new ways of viewing and experiencing art without having that infrastructure that defines what you are doing as art?

Secondly, as new media forms have made self-marketing and documentation more possible, more art seems to be about marketing and documentation. More art seems to be more historical documentation than the actual moment of the experience of the art. As artists attempt to reach larger audiences, the connection of the individual to the piece as an intimate moment is disappearing. With new media, new ways of communicating are becoming the norm and older methods of communicating are becoming lost art forms. My own instinctual response to new media is to create pieces not for the masses but for the individual, and for the small audience. I have been exploring more personalized low tech means of communication such as gift giving, the postal service, the telephone, T-shirts, and even the canvas of my car as delivery systems for art and connection.

Thirdly, my background is primarily in theater. I have been writing, acting, directing, and designing shows for the stage. I have had a strong interest in performance and conceptual art for some time, and the more I do theater, the more I realize that my attitude and approach toward theater is as an artist wanting to create something new and meaningful, whereas many theater practitioners approach theater more as performers and entertainers. I have been looking for projects to integrate theater and art in new ways for myself.

As soon as Migiwa said she had a telephone booth, my mind started churning out ideas. It was the perfect device for exploring the questions I had been working with. I wanted to use the function of the booth as a performance venue. A theater for one. There is already a sense memory experience attached to listening to something on the phone. It connects us to loved ones far away, to services when we are in need, and to bad news. For those of us who still remember phones plugged into walls with cords, we remember the extra preciousness of our phone time when we had to stand next to the wall at full attention and count every minute that we would pay for. Especially in a booth where you had to insert coins as you talked.

I originally planned to write a series of monologues of individuals that you could call through the phone and hear their stories. I also thought about interviews of people within the town. As I contemplated what to write, I started thinking of the Spoon River Anthology. I ordered it from the library, thinking I would use it for inspiration and possibly a template. As I began reading, I realized that the monologues, written in 1910, still resonated. They described so many of the characters and their relationships of small town life. They were specific without being specific. I didn’t think I could top them or create anything more meaningful than this book. Sometimes simplifying a piece is the strongest decision you can make. The Spoon River Anthology is a classic, often used by acting teachers as monologues for beginning actors, but how often do you see it produced? And how many plays have you seen produced in a telephone booth? It provides the opportunity to involve many actors from across the Dayton area, and yet the performance space is designed for one person at a time. This provides the opportunity to use new recording technology in an intimate and low tech delivery system. These are the reasons I am drawn to this project.