A Re-Imagined Story
Written by Bwog Staff
Last night after an anxious wait, Bwog finally got itself off the standby list and into what can only be described as a giant gothic living room in the bell tower of Riverside Church. Liz Naiden reports on how the one-night-only “Re-Imagined” completely, er… re-thought Columbia theater as we know it.
The Director’s Note on the inside cover of the program reads “It all started from a photograph of friends dressed up in children’s clothing.” Directors Ameneh Bordi and Amanda Stoffel entered the long process that produced “Re-Imagined” with a photograph and a clear notion that they wanted to play with fairy tales, childhood, and story-telling, but nothing near a script. The notion that the directors and the cast would create an original play organically was the first problem with performing in Columbia space, using Columbia money, or operating within Columbia’s organizations to produce the play – none of the established theater groups wanted to take on such a vague project without a script. But in the end, says cast-member Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti, the decision to move outside of Columbia came mostly from “Amanda and Ameneh wanting to do exactly what they wanted without having to cater to an executive board, the university, or anyone outside of themselves and the cast.”
After eight actors had been chosen, Stoffel and Bordi began by asking them what their favorite fairy tales from childhood were. At early rehearsals, actors were asked to “just play.” The “freedom of physicality” that we have in childhood became a major theme in rehearsal and in last night’s performance. In between the 8 adaptations of fairy tales from around the world the actors played games, jumped, skipped, rolled around on the floor, and climbed on chairs and each other, all to evoke the playfulness of childhood.
“The child” was the character that unified the narrative of the eight stories. In each vignette, a named character would join an actor or actress who wore a red scarf, the costume of “the Child.” Each “Child” experienced or enacts some essential theme of childhood or adolescence, from the hesitance of a child lost in travels to the naive curiosity of a young lady who discovers a dark secret about her first love.
The ensemble at times played fairies or dead bodies, and at times served to create the set with the only props they had – a set of 8 distinct antique chairs. The frequent movement suited the play well, as did infrequent moments of stillness, when in the background actors hung like dolls or slept like babies. Dressed in the old lace and romantic touches of handmade costumes by Stoffel, the actors blended with the antique chairs and the gothic arches and grand fireplace of the bell tower. The chairs as versatile prop, often lined up in a row and stood on by the cast, are in fact a resurgent element of last year’s “I Am My Own Wife,” directed by Stoffel, produced by Bordi, and starring two of the eight cast members of Re-Imagined. The red scarf of the Child also functions as a string of pearls did in “Wife” to denote the character Charlotte.
Unlike “Wife,” the story of the Child was intended to be one of development, where maturation could be seen as the eight stories progressed. Even though progression wasn’t obvious, the Child’s character was effective, and the difference between the opening scene and the closing one showed a marked enough change. The actors enter the fairy tale land of the bell tower asking with fear and curiosity how old the trees are, why everything is so dark, and whether the sky is moving, but exit the fairy tale land with positive, smiling declarations – the trees must be very, very old. Equally effective was the unifying tune, perhaps introduced too late, but hummed to great mystical effect, something like the eerie theme to Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” But most effective of all were the implications of the fact that the audience was watching the one and only performance of this play. Without spotlighting and in such an intimate room, the audience and the actors existed in the same space. And without having performed for an audience before and knowing they never would again, the actors were able to share with the audience a truly innovative happening.
Image via the Re-Imagined blog