Four months before September 11th, we premiered a show with this opening line:"What would you do if there was an explosion in your office compound?"We weren't predicting the future. It was a quote from the evening news on the first Trade Tower bombing, February 1993: 6 dead, over 1000 injured. On top of the horror was the absurd delivery."What would you do if there was an explosion in your office compound?"What kind of culture can't digest straight truth?
Soon after, Michigan non-profit arts groups were invited to a luncheon announcing a business initiative to show us how to run our companies. While we waited for our salads, a spokesman unwrapped a small handsome box we each had at our place settings. He held up an innocuous plastic sculpture and said"This is life as we know it. (Pause). Or something."The afterthought said it all. We all had the identical sculpture. His line became the name of a new piece we spent 7 years developing.
We were interested in America's fractured culture, its dependency on jobs that afford security, isolation, and cultural paranoia without personal meaning. We excavated these themes with a story of unrequited love where passion was so deeply depressed that the lovers didn't even realize they were in love.
We told the story in a 3rd person narrative. A character only dropped into an actor subtly and at the end. We worked with two dance styles. A tribute to Busby Berkeley's choral pageantry, and a gesture-based dance where the gestures might contradict the actual story being told. We invited audiences into our studio and asked them to share family stories of migration upheaval or great generosity. While they watched, we synthesized their stories into dramatic steps. Ensemble members created a gesture for each step and the audience let us know which gestures moved them. Finally, the actors re-created each story in chorus with the chosen gestures along with the text for the storyteller's approval. Many of the gestures were used in the play. Some of the stories became the family histories of the play's characters. They (we) all came from cultures and stories that might have been difficult, but they were whole and impassioned. Once here, many chose to put their cultures aside and become, simply, American. The rhythm of the unfolding theatrical collage is a tribute to our shrinking attention span including a foray into mock television advertising.