Ever heard of Then She Fell, named as one of Ben Brantley’s top theater performances of 2012? If not, please take note. Then She Fell is a site-specific, intimate and immersive theater experience performed at the Kingsland Ward in East Williamsburg. Produced by Bessie Award-winning Third Rail Projects under the co-artistic direction of Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett, this Sleep No More-esq performance is based on Alice in Wonderland and has received praise after praise. The best news? Third Rail Projects has found themselves a home in North Brooklyn and now you can play too!
Third Rail Projects produces wildly imaginative site-specific dances and has a knack for picking difficult and curious performance terrain. Their movement has been described as “wickedly clever” and “off-kilter.” No surprise there, as TRP’s whimsical themes have included family legacies shrouded in secrets, a ship’s interior, undercurrents of daily routines, haunted house landscapes and Native identity. They intersect these themes with a site-specific eye, engaging with the space in addition to performing in and around it. Man-made structures offer endless possibilities. Dancers can mold their limbs around a block of cement or intersect their bodily plane with a wooden chair or steel railing. Site-specific work allows for performers to be seen by a larger audience and oftentimes, by accident. TRP has created site-specific pieces at Abrons Arts Center, One New York Plaza, Great Hall of the Hudson Opera House, St. Marks Church, and many more.
TRP is now offering audience members, dancers, actors and curious souls an opportunity to experiment in their space. They are hosting a series of workshop classes at their 195 Maujer Street home that explores the site-specific realm of dance. I signed up for two of their previous workshops and got to not only meet the creators, but see and play in their process.
At the “Creating Off-Site/Adapting On-Site” workshop we warmed up in the “tea room” – the same room used in Then She Fell. It was a no-pressure environment where you could move at your own pace. Following the warm-up, Jennine Willett played a “cooking” movement generation game. We were instructed to think of our favorite recipe and break the process down into five steps. We then transcribed the same steps into something bigger, something miniscule and something extra slow. Adding each of these layers allowed us to create our own movement recipe, a great lesson in composition.
We were then given a series of questions for a mini site exploration. The questions included: “What is the geometry of the space?” “Does it feel balanced or weighted in certain areas?” “Are there hiding places?” “What is weight bearing?” “Are there ledges or surfaces?” We pondered the possibilities of the seemingly barren stairwell, the tone of the wall paint and the effects of light. Discovering alongside one another, a participant noted, “Sometimes the space is a missing puzzle piece of your story.”
Breaking off into two smaller groups – one group stayed in the stairwell while the other group went back upstairs to the tea room – attendees got to develop a small phrase within a given space. Playing with weight, hiding places and physical emotions of the room, the investigation process was fun and eye-opening.
The next workshop is a three-part Choreography Intensive taught by Jennine Willett. Participants will have the opportunity to create a composition at the Kingsland Ward, which will include establishing an organizing principle, using research as source material, creating movement generation games to support the idea (like the cooking game), and adapting or creating the composition with architecture in mind. Sign up here!