Openness, Togetherness, Play

Each semester, BCL students have partnered with an artist-in-residence. Each unique collaboration has provided a way for BCL students to both synthesize and express the semester’s learning. Since 2018, BCL students have apprenticed as sculptors, photographers, portraitists, storytellers, light show designers, muralists…so it was only natural that BCL9 students would jump into being writers, producers, technicians, and performers of a devised immersive theater experience!

None of us knew what we were getting into, but we trusted Trish Denton, from In Tandem Arts. Trish has spent her career building community and consciousness through emergent, collaborative processes. As she recently wrote, “I’ve been playing with this fire as a teaching artist for nearly a decade– how to put people into ambiguous situations and collaborative moments to see what approaches arise.” To put it another way, if we were going to warp time, break the quantum field, devise parallel timelines, and invite our audience to consider their own role and responsibility in the climate crisis, then there was no better guide than Trish. 

Early on, Trish introduced us to a world of theater movements that most of us had never heard of. Each shifts the role of performer and audience, and the purpose of performance. Trish’s own work is most heavily influenced by Lecoq, whose motto is “Openness, Togetherness, and Play.” 

We’d been nurturing “openness” and “togetherness” throughout the BCL program, but Trish’s arrival opened the door to the third concept: play. Together, with open hearts, we dove into a generative, collaborative, yes-and process. And while that process would have been powerful enough, students were clear from the start that they also wanted their show to carry a message, and to move the audience. What unfolded was something truly unique – something that could only have occurred right here, right now, with this singular group of writers, designers, dramatists, and performers. 

You can’t design immersive theater without experiencing full immersion!
Play? Yes, we played.
We also paused, to explore emerging ideas and themes…
…which came out in ways both silly and profound.
(Yes, that is indeed a spaceship.)

Having art in communities brings them closer and makes them stronger. “When community members see themselves reflected in social spaces, they feel a sense of respect, ultimately allowing for people to identify with the place they are from, live in, or are visiting.” Having your community feel like they belong is the first step to making it thrive. People need a sense of place and this is a way to bring that to them. …We have art in Burlington but I think it is very important to keep involving it in our communities to bring them together and show others what they are and what they believe. We can use it to spread our messages and stories to people who otherwise would not listen to them. Art is extremely important to creating a thriving community…We can use it to spread our messages and stories to people who otherwise would not listen to them. Art is extremely important to creating a thriving community.

– Reid

When we started to learn about In Tandem Arts with Trish, I was apprehensive as to what our main goal was, but as we got deeper into learning about our show I got more excited because that means we got to make a play/show about different problems in our world like climate change, homeless population, equality, education, and more. We want to make the play dark so we can really get the point across. “We shield ourselves from this violence because it is hard, and uncomfortable, and inconvenient to consider the roles that we play in allowing these forms of violence to take place.” Our society is scared to fix the problems that we create so we just ignore them. One way Trish is trying to help us create a show that includes some of those problems…We need to decide what our world is going to do – ignore the rest of society that dosen’t get seen, or connect with people who can finally be seen. One way we can help them be seen is through connection, so people can finally find what they love to do and be themselves. 

– Hadley

I think that this project helped to bring our BCL community closer together. Most of us have never been involved in any theater so when this project was thrown and we were all placed in these groups and given these roles it felt really vulnerable. I think that communities grow so much more when people are pushed out of their comfort zone and are trying new things. I think that once we start finding comfort outside of our comfort zone we associate it with the people we are surrounded by. I felt this in the smaller groups, I noticed that over the few weeks that we were working in our groups of 4 I was getting so much more comfortable with my group and I felt as though I could really be myself on a different level. I think even people becoming closer with one or two people can highly benefit a community and create connections with more people and pull them closer as well. I think our BCL community became closer during this art project without trying to or even realizing it.

– Camryn

Throughout our time with in tandem, we have been sharing ideas, solutions, and inspirations through the BCL experience, and in doing so we created an environment in which vulnerability was invited and embraced. It brought together a group of people to have a once in a lifetime experience and learn more about what we do in BCL.

– Nash
“Devised Theather” requires devising, a process of collaborative, generative , iteration.
Once our core theme emerged, we made as much time as we could…
…. along with a replicant DNA lab, a dystopian vision of plastic, a free-will time loop. Let’s just say we were busy.
And somehow, it all came together.
Our plastic-DNA replicant scientists, looking appropriately confident.
Trish, in the foreground, helping our performers practice voice-projection.

Art can be used to share an idea or convey an emotion, it can also be used to bring people to change society.  Re-creating, modifying to enrich is the key to changing things and bringing people together.  An artist named Theaster Gates said “How to start with what’s within reach, how to make something out of nothing”

– Angèle

Art is beautiful in the community. The project helped the community because it was beautiful and brought joy to friends and teachers in the community. It helps the community thrive because it is fun and brings people together. Creating the show helped me feel better and closer to my friends at BCL.

– Cosmo

“What can or should art do?” was a question that was asked recently in class as a writing prompt. My answer, written in my journal, was that art “should be whatever the viewer and creator want it to be. There is no single impact, feeling, or message it should have. Art is there to be anything and everything. There are no limits to what art can look like. It’s not something to be labeled.” My favorite art movement that I learned about …was Peter McIndoe’s Birds Aren’t Real, “an idea that people can tap into in the form of a movement and mobilize in real life; an immersive role-play experience that’s an effective diffusion tactic for counter protesting.” I connect with it because this is a movement of my generation. It uses humor to bring fun and lightheartedness to serious issues and “fighting lunacy with lunacy,” This is art that gives me hope.

– Scout

Art, in our world, has a powerful sway over people. In the article, 15 Public Art Pieces That Boldly Advocate for Social Justice, it says ‘Art has massive power to move people to social change.” It has the power to change someone’s mind, or change someone’s life. Using this tool, in a world today filled with so many conflicts, is so valuable. The idea of using art to create social change is a non-violent way to get your point across is amazing. The main point you’re trying to make can be rendered in beauty…In Burlington City & Lake we are using art, in this case the form of theater, to comment and draw awareness to a certain social issue, climate change. We are using ways to create awareness of the climate crisis. Through the art we are doing we are using it as a call to action. To do what you can to reverse our mistakes of the past…Using art is such an important tool in a world that is filled with conflict and hate. Art is the future of creating communities that are just and equitable. 

– Lilia

What emotions should a masterpiece provoke from the viewer? What should an audience feel when experiencing a performance? What it comes down to is, what should art do?

  • Art should create change whether on a personal or global scale.
  • Art should make you think.
  • Art should challenge your biases.
  • Art should be an expression of culture and belief.
  • Art should be a universal language.
  • Art should do more than look pretty on a wall.

Theaster Gates, a potter out of the South side of Chicago, describes how he has learned “to make great things out of nothing.” That is the magic of art. That your creative experience has the possibility to create greatness from a hunk of, well, dirt. But he took this analogy one step further. His neighborhood, as he describes it, is not a gated community. There was a raging issue with abandonment of property but he saw this as a big round hunk of clay. He shaped these buildings from the wheel up and created magnificent community centers that created change, made people think, challenged ideas, and did more than just being pretty to look at….How is art so powerful it leaves a mark on everyone and everything that creates, views, or experiences it?

– Isaac

A pattern that is often seen in public art is that the purpose is to bring attention to some issue or struggle. We see that in the Walk with Amal where she is bringing awareness to the hardships of being an immigrant and the dicrimination and obstacles that come with that. We see that in Juniper Creative where they see that there is little to no representation of black people in public art and so they actively fix that problem, by making it. Our art piece also brought attention to something that was brought up again and again in BCL. Climate change began to feel like a topic we couldn’t escape because it seeps into everything…We knew we wanted a time travel dimension within the piece and climate change has so much to do with time. When you hear about climate change it’s always also about what timeline we are on with it. This was also an interesting piece in terms of the ages that were performers and the age of the audience and the gap in time between. My mom said after that holding onto the rope and going between classrooms led by the next generation felt like she was feeling the punishment for the sins she and her generation had committed. It was so interesting to become a teacher and show the people who are much older the real and major impact these things have on our lives…The interactive part also was super important in that it allowed it to become a piece of curiosity for the audience and not just a piece where they felt like they were being preached at. It was them exploring all these spaces that taught them things instead.

– Rosie
Three audience volunteers hinted at our themes.
The TIME COUNCIL made sure we knew how grave the stakes were.
Every participant held fast to the timeline…
…even as they were transported back to 1889!

Bertha Benz, spreading the good word…

Wait — Is that a tear in the quantum field?
What do you think of that, Bertha Benz?
In the lab.
Can the loop be severed?
Our performers, gathering for the audience Q & A.
During the Q & A, students were articulate and provocative; audience members were inquisitive–and also clearly moved.

Looking at our project and how it went, I feel like it was great and very impactful to the audience who were there.  The theater is something that I have been doing for almost four years, but I have never seen [theater] include our audience or be on stage with the audience. It was easy to tell the story and express the problems without being able to explain them. It also helped the community thrive by giving them advice about the way they could help solve the world’s problems. Art should be all about helping the community and giving people lessons about the environment they’re living in. In a way, they could save it before they lose it. 

– Damascene

I think that our art project was on brand for BCL, because we took some of the topics that we had been talking about, (like climate change, cars using combustion engines and their danger, the danger of being connected but also disconnected,) and used them to create something positive for our community. Another part of this project that I found to be on brand for BCL was the actual creation, where everyone was split into 5 different groups, where each individual voice would be heard better and be able to be part of the show’s creation, effectively creating a strong chance for everyone to be able to influence the whole show. This is something that BCL cares a lot about, and making sure there’s space for everyone’s voice is an important thing. [In the end,] I think that our performance will have made the people who were a part of it more aware of their actions considering the environment, and made them change how they act towards our earth. It feels like a small piece, but it shows that art has the ability to influence people and how they think, and that we can use that to better the place we live in.

– Hank

I hope in the show we put on, that we blended an immersive theater with a Brecht style message to convey our struggles and thoughts on topics like climate change, time, and attention span. Theater can make a real change in society, so our production can make an impact, even if just one person’s perspective shifts… I think the most meaningful part of the show was when everybody wrote down a place they want to save and how they’ll do it. They picked up on the theme of climate change, and realized it was their responsibility to save our future. We’ve gotten many compliments on our creativity, along with our message which shows me that we made an impact using art. Hopefully, our audience members will go through life thinking more critically about themes of place, distraction, time and hope.

– Vivian

Our project was built on our themes, values, and learning from BCL. The value of community was extremely prevalent throughout the entirety of the performance. From bringing the audience into the experience and giving them the space to reflect on their community, to the trust and cooperation required in our own BCL community, community was the glue that held this entire experience together. All within this community experience we also were able to convey our learning to the audience, sharing our learning with the greater community. From our experience with protecting the turtles, exploring types of energy, learning about climate change as a whole, to our learning on the arts with Trish. The audience came away with knowledge from all of these experiences.

– Sophia
Openness, Togetherness, Play!
Sophia Chant perfectly captured the spirit of the performance with her graphic!

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