Hi everyone! Old Paper Houses is in full swing, and we've seen a lot of beautiful, friendly faces in the house so far. We love you! Tonight's a night off, so in addition to falling asleep on the floor for two hours, I thought I'd stop by to say a few words about our friends at Tender Buttons Press. If you've been to one of our post-show/post-utopian hangs you might have noticed a few lovely little stacks of books for sale. There are two titles - Sonnets (a reissue of Bernadette Mayer's important 1989 text) and Please Add to This List, a companion teaching guide to Mayer's work. If you're interested in the poetry that has sustained our brains over these past couple of years, you should definitely check these out! From Tender Buttons' website:
"Sonnets, first published in 1989 as Tender Buttons #1 is widely considered to be one of the most generative and innovative works of contemporary American poetry, radically rethinking the traditional sonnet form. This expanded 25th Anniversary edition includes a new preface by Bernadette Mayer, an editor's note by Tender Buttons Press publisher Lee Ann Brown, and a selection of previously unpublished archival material including the Skinny Sonnets, described as "Hypnogogic Word Playing in Reporters' Notebooks" which further expand our map of Bernadette Mayer's ground-breaking works of writing consciousness."
But look, that's not the whole story. Sure, it makes sense to have a couple of Mayer's works for sale (support poetry! support small presses!) but we're all about community and connections, right? So here's the deal. When we were just starting to get really deep into Old Paper Houses, over a year ago, Tara was assisting on Jay Scheib's Platonov. During that process she got to talking with one of the cast members, the brilliant Tony Torn, and when she mentioned that she was working on a show that drew from some Bernadette Mayer pieces he said "oh we know Bernadette, we love Bernadette." Turns out his wife LeeAnn Brown has published some of her work (with Tender Buttons press), and they're old friends. As Tara puts it: "Then as I was binge reading some more Mayer I noticed a reference to LeeAnn and Tony's wedding and thought, what is happening!" What is happening - such a wonderful, generative thought! Small worlds, coincidences - these things just feel so good! When we performed the previous version of Old Paper Houses Tony and LeeAnn came with Bernadette. This was a moment of abject terror and true exhilaration, of course - we could hear her wonderful laugh in the audience and had to do everything in our power to keep from exploding with excitement. If anything, that was the moment that galvanized us most to keep going with the piece - and so it brings us great pleasure that Tender Buttons is peddling their wares in our temporary world - and that this reissue is so beautifully timed! Suffice it to say - buy one or both of these books! There's definitely enough serendipity behind them to bring you good luck.
Look that's us with Bernadette after the show last Spring! AAAAHHHH!!!!
An interstitial re-grouping zone. A post-utopian “what next” hangout space. A multi-dimensional low-key reunion. The most comfortable room in your mom’s house. Where to go between one phase and the next? In those liminal moments where something has failed, or finished (or when you don’t know the difference) and you need to talk about it, or not, and maybe get a pizza and watch a movie - where will you hang out and who else should be there? After each performance of Old Paper Houses, we’re inviting you to join us in the bones of the Irondale Center for some music, snacks, conversation (no pressure), art, and poetry - we’re inviting you to say “what next” with us. This zone began to form in our minds (and in reality) during the last version of Old Paper Houses at The Connelly - we found ourselves lingering with audiences in the show’s final setting - feeling good, feeling crazy, not sure where to go. It felt right, but we knew it could feel better.
This time, a generous crew of artists, musicians, poets, and performers has agreed to participate and create an immersive environment for all of you - for all of us! Different evenings will feature different work - some details are still percolating, but for the first four performances you’ll find poetry (thanks to Natalie Eilbert of the Atlas Review and her incredible community) jams (thanks to DJ Matt Tong on 2/28, 3/2, and 3/3), live music (Laura Gragtmans, 3/3), fortune tellers (representing both the feminine and masculine divine aspects of your past, present, and future), snacks from local vendors, and more! If you come to any performance, your program will get you into the post-show events for any subsequent performance, so if you’re feeling indecisive come early and put your mind at ease. This is a big experiment for us, but so is everything, so let’s hang! And don’t worry, there’s a bar.
(This is a picture of Allison's dad with the Empty Space Company c. 1973. They appear to be diving for snacks.)
With temperatures in New York City swinging wildly up and down the thermostat from "you know it's really not that bad" to "surely my face is about to fall off," we've been watching the devastating weather reports from farther up the coast with care and concern. The images coming out of Boston remind us of just how awful it can feel to be lost in the snowy purgatory, and how hard the fight is to keep marching into the wind. As we move into tech at the Irondale Center for Old Paper Houses, we got this email from Piehole Associate Kathryn Wallem — a thoughtful reminder of how history and the weather rolls onward while we keep looking backward to make sense of it:
The first time I ever heard of the Blizzard of ’78, I was in high school, 20 years later and a continent away. My friend’s parents had both gone to Brown, and they described to me climbing out of second story windows because the snow had piled up so high they couldn’t get out the front door of their dorm. When I got to Brown myself, I’d hear it mentioned by any Rhode Islander over 40 nearly every time it snowed more than three inches — stories about traffic slowing then stopping in situ, cars abandoned on the 95 overpass as flakes fell at two inches an hour, and the peculiar freedom and frustration of an endless snow day.
It took me several readings of Bernadette Mayer's The Golden Book of Words to connect its publication date with the blizzard. The collection is smothered in snow, cold, and claustrophobic New England living; it feels typical, but the data indicates that the weather was actually quite extraordinary that year. Exceptional weather begets exceptional poetry. Record setting snowfalls of over 7’ feet for the season, including two blizzards in short succession totaling over 4’ combined snow, and crippling New England for weeks. Sounds familiar. Who’s writing poetry in Boston this winter? Who’s making plays about it 35 years down the line?
Last Fall, we (Allison and Emilie) went for a walk in the woods. It was the last good camping weekend of the year - chilly and rainy enough to make you feel hardy and accomplished, but not enough to make you sick. The campsite was chosen more or less at random, based on some unscientific Yelp sampling and its distance from New York City. At some point in the middle of the walk, which was misty and grey in an elven sort of way, a sign appeared along the path. “Welcome to Massachussetts.” Crossing state borders on foot through the forest like some kind of olde-timey adventurer?! We were so ready. But then the rain gathered strength and we were no longer olde-timey adventurers at all - just damp little people scampering towards the car. Once safely ensconced, we did some decidedly modern research - and the gps informed us that, by chance, we were a few miles from Lenox, Mass. - where Bernadette Mayer wrote Midwinter Day and Nathaniel Hawthorne was troubled by the coldly charming hills. We set off, fully expecting to see our imaginary diorama-town made real. For those of you familiar with/from Lenox, this might seem like a comical level of excitement - but that, I suppose, is part of the point. We arrived, and were greeted by a sign to match our expectations. Austere, yet somehow friendly. We parked the car on a dangerous part of the road and scampered out:
We found, to our delight, that we recognized the names of roads and even some businesses from the poetry; Shear Design, the hairstylist, has clearly been going strong for many years now:
"Who are these unwashed young women screaming outside of the Shear Design?", passersby might have asked, had there been any on this gloomy day. They might have been elegantly dressed in the nice wealthy hippie mom linens which graced many window displays, or they might have been like us, visiting from New York City and sitting in the "The Bookshop" discussing the difference between living in the Berkshires and renting in NYC. In fact, there were people sitting in "The Bookshop" discussing this topic in the world-weary, comfortable way that people of a certain age (with a certain type of leisure time) do when they're really ready to sit back and relax with a classic convo. We watched these fashionable, silver-haired types from behind this bookshelf:
Which both delighted and gave us pause. Here we were in a place so aware of its identity and how to market that to outsiders - a perfect jewel of a place presenting its shiniest facets for city slickers like us. Was that nice, good, a useful balm? A diorama meant to capture someone's idea of a perfect town in a way that could be instructive or interesting or important? Or were we supposed to feel cynical, doubtful of these fancy boutiques, these black-turtlenecked intellectuals sipping wine in a bookstore in the afternoon? I (Allison) grew up in a town somewhat like this (though in upstate New York, not New England) where we wrote the names of antique stores on faux rustic signs to help weekenders navigate through the charming stone cottages. I always felt a resentment (who could afford those antiques anyway?) combined with a desire to show my out-of-town friends all of the most charming spots; the small-town pageant. Feeling a rush of complicated feelings about my childhood and upbringing, I bought a souvenir t-shirt at The Bookstore and we ventured out. Knowing we would have to spend our entire evening trying to light a fire from damp wood back at the campsite, we decided it was time to end our accidental pilgrimage. We drove slowly around the town once more, looking for details, things we might have already built into Old Paper Houses through intuition or luck. There were historical placards, lovely little houses, and hidden evidence of regular people trying to live as comfortably as possible where there were cracks in the perfection. Finally, the Town Hall met our expectations - solid, elegant, a sign of a real place where generations upon generations before us had fretted over how to be people living together in the old cold hills.
We sat down with Piehole's hottest new cast members and asked them to take a quiz and also to answer other questions, and then we asked them to email those answers to us so that we can post it on the blog, so that you guys can read the answers and see which person you relate to more. SO TAKE UP YOUR PENS LADIES! It's time to see if you're a NORA or a BEN!
Take this quiz that Elliot made called "Which Utopian Dreamer are You?" and tell us what you get!
NORA: Marianne Dwight, but I ain't no gossip! Definitely identify more with Hawthorne and Emerson.
BEN: Marianne Dwight
Where did you grow up?
NORA: Stonington, CT mostly, and lived in NYC for a brief stint.
What's your favorite season?
NORA: Impossible. If I were forced to walk the plank--man, summer. Fall. The moment between. Summer is freedom and swimming. Fall is so romantic. To hell with this question.
BEN: Fall. No question.
What's the main thing you think of doing when a snow storm is about to hit? Or during a snow storm?
NORA: Playing outside and eating bowls of snow with real maple syrup.
BEN: Sledding. Or getting a sled.
Snowstorm beverage of choice?
NORA: Hot chocolate with whipped cream
BEN: Swiss Miss
Have you ever thought about living in an intentional community, or something like that?
NORA: Hell yeah, let's resurrect the Chelsea Hotel* and build a performing arts center and recording studio inside. And on the roof we'll have a garden and pool. And we'll have a second community in the country for creative retreats. Dream Machine. Intergenerational. Patrons welcome.
BEN: No but now that I am thinking about it I'm sure I would get completely lost in one if I did.
Do you ever think of leaving? If so, where to?
NORA: I think about traveling with a company that creates pieces of dance music theatre and tours international festivals, releasing films and albums.
What were your parents doing in the 70s?
NORA: They had moved from Allentown, PA to Hartford, CT. My mother was teaching art to unwed mothers and students at a psychiatric facility, and my father was working in furniture design and helping his family manage rental buildings.
BEN: My dad was working in construction in Abu Dhabi and my mom was living in Seattle in the house I would eventually grow up in.
We're so happy to be working with these two talents on the upcoming run of Old Paper Houses at the Irondale Center (2/27-3/14)! These two Marianne Dwights seem to be pretty excited, too:
NORA: I enjoy working in a creative space with my friends, and learning more about the history surrounding this work. I really like the improvisational exercises and the collaborative nature of the script development. And I love me some fiddle practice!
BEN: I wish we could actually move to rural New England and have a go at our own little farming community. I really do. Not forever, but for at least a few months. I know we stage exactly how and why this wouldn't work out, but I still don't believe it. I think we could do a little better, right? Right. Which is another way of saying I like and trust everyone a lot.
*The Chelsea Hotel, incidentally, was based on Charles Fourier's designs for phalansteries, or sorta dormitory-like buildings to be used on the hypothetical commune....Although Fourier wrote half a century earlier than the formation of Brook Farm, Fourierism became more popular in America after his death. Not everyone at Brook Farm agreed about his vision, but George Ripley, the founder of Brook Farm, grew increasingly interested in the absurdly mathematical formulations of Fourier's vision for a better future. A sensational thing about Fourier that everyone loves to point out: he said the sea would turn into a lemonade. Yeah, but he also said a lot of other more reasonable sounding things, and also even MORE things that might be reasonable or not, but they're so excessively quantified you couldn't even bother to pay attention enough to figure it out, AM I RIGHT??**
** you might be better off reading about Fourierism yourself.***
And it sure is AWFUL...INTERESTING...BEAUTIFUL
(Get your tickets for Old Paper Houses, so we can hang out and stay warm together).
So, first things first. I think we can all agree that a lot’s changed since 1857. I mean, sure, you could play devil’s advocate, blow a few minds with some parallel factoids if you thought about it, but let’s just agree - that was a while ago. Now, one of the things we’ve been exploring with Old Paper Houses is the way history lingers in spaces - from historical plaques to ghosts (of course) to a vague sense of inspiration/destiny/”chills.” With those two thoughts in mind, it gives us great pleasure to tell you a bit more about our hosts for this run - The Irondale Center in Fort Greene. In 2008, the Irondale Ensemble (which has been making theater in New York City for over thirty years) completed renovation of the former Sunday school auditorium of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. The space is beautiful, theatrical, historical, and alive - which is only appropriate given its association with a congregation, organized in 1857 (there it is!) with an explicitly abolitionist mission. That is to say, from its inception, this community was committed to the most pressing fight for justice of its time.
Through the nineteenth-century the church continued to take up progressive causes; this pearl-clutching blurb from 1872 in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle gasps:
The called session [of the Presbytery court] is to take action upon the report that the pastor of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, Rev. Theodore L. Cuyler, D.D., has recently invited and permitted a lady preacher, Miss Smiley, an orthodox Quaker minister, to occupy and preach in his pulpit.
A lady preacher! Quite the scandalous (I believe the word employed at the time was “promiscuous”) affair. One can only imagine the delightful heresies that were taught in the Sunday school that now teaches countless delightful heresies as a theater.
The church itself continues to host an active, multicultural congregation - you can read more about their history here: http://www.lapcbrooklyn.org/#!history/c21ta. For us, the opportunity to perform in a space so connected not only to “history” in a general “cool old stuff” sense but specifically to the kind of idealistic, activist history that informs Old Paper Houses is incredibly exciting. As Dr. David Gregg, former pastor of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, said in an essay published in 1896: "We possess nothing more valuable than history. History broadens human life by bringing the life of the one man into touch with the lives of all men." Will we discover, in moments here and there, the coexistence of all the old ghosts, gathered in the auditorium to talk through their failures and successes; regrouping and looking forward - maybe with a few snacks, and a little music to lift the mood? Fingers crossed!
P.S. (think of this as a casual footnote) to find more tidbits about this space or almost any space in Brooklyn, check out the Brooklyn Daily Eagle archives online. This is a favorite Piehole internet resource: http://bklyn.newspapers.com/
For the David Gregg essays mentioned above, check out Makers of the American Republic, David Gregg, D.D., E.B. Treat and Company, New York, 1905. What, you say, how could I possibly? Archive.org baby!!
SNACK CART COMING THROUGH.
STRANGER TALKING YOUR EAR OFF ABOUT HIS DOG.
WE CAN'T WAIT TO FLY INTO THE UNKNOWN WITH YOU THIS 2015.
Ah, the 22nd of December. The day after the longest night of the year. It was on this day in 1978 that Bernadette Mayer wrote Midwinter Day, and we've been quoting it (literally and figuratively) for a year now. This time last year a few of us were gathered around a kitchen table reading the text out loud with dear friends; passing the book and eating too many sweets. It clarified (and complicated) our process with Old Paper Houses, already well under way by then, so it seems fitting to reflect for a moment today as we sit in our separate homes, furiously trying to plan our future via email. Just this Fall we were returning to a script that didn't exist at this time last year; deconstructing it with note cards and trying to tease out its essence. As the days grow longer we'll be working to stage the latest version at Brooklyn's beautiful Irondale Center (more on that soon!) while simultaneously developing two other pieces (more on those soon!). How did a show (partially) about the perils of Utopian thinking lead us to become so optimistic about the year ahead? Will everything work out in the end, and what's the end? We probably should have thought about all of this more carefully last night, when things were all mystical and solstice-y, but we were too busy, and now it's just a regular day, the 22nd of December, so we have everything else to do - write some emails, feed the cats, try to raise $10,000, read the news and comment on it responsibly, eat dinner too late, try to finish a script, watch a murder mystery, maybe wrap a gift, look for our copy of Midwinter Day in the couch cushions.
Piehole Allison at the Ring of Brodgar in the Orkneys because we're all confused about the significance of the Solstice, really, but we know it's old, like this.
P.S. Did we mention that we need to raise $10,000? Maybe we're optimistic partially because we've received some very generous donations from some absolutely top-notch people; if you're interested in joining their ranks and throwing down for some upstarts this year, here's the link: https://www.fracturedatlas.org/site/fiscal/profile?id=9784. Happy Solstice to all, and to all a good night!
Last week we had the great privilege of performing in Prelude 2014. If you were able to join us there, thank you thank you thank you! If you were not and you want to know more about Prelude, consider reading this American Theatre article that features - get ready - you'll never believe it - A PICTURE OF US! We've been inspired by work in Prelude for a long time now, and at some point over the past year our interest evolved into the somewhat more active directive to "GET PRELUDE." Maybe it was a little aggressive, maybe one shouldn't set out to capture a work-in-progress theater festival, but the more we said it, the more we wanted it, which makes last week's events that much more important to us. We performed an excerpt from Old Paper Houses (with some fresh faces courtesy of Madeline Wise and Ned Riseley) and we saw lots of risk-taking new work. We were delighted to see a mix of new and old friends in the crowd, and if you're one of those new friends, well - call us ;) ;) It's a humbling experience to walk into a university lobby (Prelude is held at CUNY Grad Center) not knowing where to go but knowing that you'd better get there fast because you have to perform in an hour. It's an even more humbling experience to be greeted as part of a larger community of peers when you've been working together, often at the expense of most other interactions, for so long. A big thank you to everyone who helped welcome us into that space, particularly the people who helped us with tech (even when that meant moving a mysterious baby grand piano). Peter Mills Weiss, the TD who saved us from darkness (or at least really screwed-up lighting), Blaze Bishton who brought the sun into our cold New England world, Greg Redlawsk the SM who saved us from multiple disasters (including the aforementioned piano), Sarah Stites who produced Prelude and answered our 1,000's of questions, Allison Lyman who curated us in, Rebecca Sheehan who housed a very large balloon for us; we thank you all!
Cover image by Carol Rosegg