Thesis Christ: Two Original Works Premiere at “5 on 5”

Photo by Katherine Draves

Photo by Katherine Draves

Opening Thursday, March 7, the Theatre Department presents “5 on 5: Two New Shows,” an evening of new work by thesis candidates Ryan Gamblin ‘19 and Jack Jackson ‘19. Gamblin’s production The Last to Go (Reprise) is a song cycle with live music exploring memory, and Jackson’s production Untitled (I am disappearing) is a two-part piece inspired by artist and AIDS activist David Wojnarowicz. Performing Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in the Blackbox Theatre at 7:30 p.m., these new works promise to create an evening you don’t want to miss. The Quest sat down with Gamblin and Jackson to learn more about their theses and their productions.

Katherine Draves: What is your thesis on?

Ryan Gamblin: My thesis is on the form of the performed song cycle. It’s a study in what the song cycle does as a performance genre. It’s on the performed song cycle as a medium and ways in which contemporary artist are using the song cycle as a way to harness music in performance without having to adhere to the baggage and restrictions of the formal concert or the Broadway musical or Aristotelian drama. This production is basically a laboratory; it’s us figuring out how a song cycle works by making one.

Jack Jackson: My thesis is about power hierarchy and structure in theater making. In general, what I’m analyzing is the way that power relationships play out in theater making processes and how that affects the kind of theater that is produced and what the purpose of that theater is. This production is an experiment, literally, in that we have set up two different shows kind of that are built around the same topic but are created in very different ways. In one of them, I have all of the authority in that I wrote the play and I am the director of the play, and in the other show, I, in theory, have no more authority than any of the other six people who helped create the show.

KD: How was your production created?

RG: We started with the music: we brought in some musical ideas for the cast to play around with. Then, we brought in pieces of text that were important to us and had significance. And per Professor Jaclyn Pryor’s suggestion, [we] had kind of a “dramaturgy unloading” where we put a whole bunch of information about memory into the room and then had the cast respond to that either by bringing in texts or by bringing in original texts. [Then we] matched musical ideas to the texts [and] put lyrics to these ideas. Then we arranged it. Following the recommendations of a Reed alum, Tina Satter, who works with a company called Half Straddle and has made a song cycle called Ghost Rings, we put it in a way that makes dramaturgical sense. I was able to interview her and she suggested making an emotional map for the piece so … we’re following an emotional map instead of a narrative one. It’s much more about an arc of atmosphere and feeling and intellectual exploration.

KD: How collaborative was the creation process?

RG: I think it was more collaborative than most straight play productions. Because of the number of devised shows that I’ve designed for as a sound designer, I found that a process struggles when a director fails to take a strong hand. So I tried to have everyone bringing in ideas, everyone bringing in suggestions, and then as the director, I feel it was my role to guide those ideas and suggestions and funnel them into the construction of a cohesive piece.

KD: What is the subject matter of your piece?

JJ: The subject matter is somewhat loosely inspired by the life and work of [prolific artist and AIDS activist] David Wojnarowicz. I needed a subject for my thesis over the summer and I had been struggling. I just didn’t know what to do. I was in New York and I just happened to go to the Whitney Museum on the recommendation of a friend. I walk in to the second floor and I see this piece of art which is this man and half of his face is a map and he’s on fire. I sort of stumbled upon this art gallery of the works of David Wojnarowicz and I was just taken immediately. I actually went in the wrong way so I started with his final works, his final pieces that he did before his death which are all incredibly powerful and I immediately knew, I didn’t know how or what it would look like but I immediately knew this needed to be on stage.

KD: What have you learned throughout this process?

JJ: Well it’s very visible in the performance. [There are] different feelings and styles and even messages embedded in the two pieces of the play and that came about in ways that were sometimes obvious and sometimes surprising. [Also,] I was surprised at how often I was surprised. Some things I have learned is that people are incredibly good at creating at a group without necessarily having a leader telling them what to do. I think that’s something that we don’t think is true all the time. I think especially in theater making, there’s this sense… that you have to have a leading voice. I think that that is only true if you are committed to making a sort of kind of theater. If you are willing to expand your horizons, it is very surprising what five people who are all on equal footing can create.

RG: I’ve learned a lot about what is important for me in a collaborative making process. I’ve learned a lot about the importance of what each individual collaborator brings to the table and how those experiences and expertise levels are vastly different and how all of those things combine into creating one big interdisciplinary concoction.

KD: Why should people come see your production?

JJ: This is not like an evening of theater that is a bunch of actors performing very well [but] performing somebody else’s words. There’s some of that but the primary driving force of this show is people creating something for themselves and really throwing themselves into it. Just showing things that are completely real and true and raw which is an astonishing thing to see. Beyond that, the actual mechanics of the theater, this is one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen in terms of the design. I feel so blessed to have all these people creating all these wonderful things all around me. If I wasn’t part of this show, I would not be able to imagine how it got made because it just astonishes me so much.

RG: People should come see this show because we’re trying to do something new in the field of performance and I think that’s always a worthwhile endeavor because if we do well, it will be amazing and if we do poorly, well you’ll be able to say you saw it and maybe laugh about it later.

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