Heading in to watch the final dress rehearsal before the opening of Emily Dickinson OUTER SPACE at The Bushwick Starr, I am gleefully informed by Noel Allain, the theater’s artistic director, that they are making some “adjustments” to the staging of the show.
In as much as adjustments can be made to a three-day marathon performance featuring 88 performers adapting the poetry of Emily Dickinson to music, things are going pretty well. Instead of the usual box office and foyer entrance that greets visitors for most Bushwick Starr shows, I make my way through a long, dark hallway and into a performance space that features one big ass pink frosted cake, bedecked with giant silver Hershey kisses and jewelry decorations.
The rest of the set sort of resembles a space-themed high school formal, with foam cutouts and silver wrapping paper along the walls to make it seem as though you’ve just crash landed onto the surface of the moon.
Instead of a stage towards the front and a sound booth behind the audience, there’s a DJ booth on one side and elevated rafters on another, lending the proceedings a party vibe that’s more Bossa Nova Civic Club than Bushwick Starr.
The Theater Plastique actors rehearse their routine.
As a collection of more than 30 different actors and composers rehearse their parts or revise sections of the script on the fly, Michelle Sutherland, the show’s producer, floats throughout the space tapping a baton in time to the cadence of the show’s featured songs. In the space, the sound of actors calling out the different numbers of Emily Dickinson’s collected poems reverberates: “1-1-6-5, 1-3-4-8, 1-5-8-1.”
The rehearsal picks up even more when the music switches from sultry disco to throbbing house, and the big frosted cake truly takes center stage as the featured prop, with actors going into their choreographed dance routines in front of, around, and on top of the giant confection.
It’s that “aesthetic of radical inclusivity,” as actress Maya Kates described it, that makes the basically live staging of Emily Dickinson OUTER SPACE so thrillingly terrifying.
“I expect it’s going to be a show in which everyone can participate in everything,” says Kates.
There goes that cake again.
For show producers Michelle Sutherland and Jordan Harrison, the staging of Emily Dickinson OUTER SPACE to kick-off the Bushwick Starr 2014 season is the culmination of a yearlong dream.
“I think one of the most interesting things about this show is the scale of it, within this one single room,” explains Harrison.
“Emily Dickinson, with her work, created an entire universe out of living within a single room for the vast majority of her life…so taking that concept is what we’ve tried to do, by throwing everything we can imagine into a single space and also working with this concept of America’s fascination with outer space.”
Rather than going off of the typical play workshop model, the show is designed to be a collaborative “intergalactic jam session” between Sutherland, Harrison and the Theater Plastique ensemble, borrowing elements of everything from numerology and astrology to the music of disco anthems like “Love to Love You Baby” to guide the show’s choreography.
Emily Dickinson OUTER SPACE is the second show in a series for the Theater Plastique team, behind the immensely successful staging of Gertrude Stein’s SAINTS!, which completed its run in June of this past year.
Intergalactic themes and disco iconography collide
When asked why this show is deciding to focus on Emily Dickinson’s poetry in particular, Sutherland offered an answer that speaks to the collection of different writers and actors influenced by such a fast-changing neighborhood like Bushwick.
“So much about her poetry is about nature and what she saw out of her window, and that’s what we’re doing too, but we’re seeing different things, we’re in a different era.”
In a way that’s perhaps most emblematic of Bushwick’s frenetic partygoer nature, the staging of Emily Dickinson OUTER SPACE will be a non-stop, three-day marathon staging, starting tonight at 8 PM and going all the way through to a closing party on Saturday night at 10 PM. You can either choose to pay a one-time ticket price of $15, where all exits from the show are final, or you can get unlimited entry to come and go as you please for the price of $30.
So if the typical Friday night forays to Tandem and Bizarre Bar aren’t doing it for you this weekend, head on over to Bushwick Starr at 207 Starr Street, where the party will just be getting started.
Emily Dickinson OUTER SPACE will run starting tonight at 8PM non-stop until Saturday at 10PM. For information and tickets, visit thebushwickstarr.org.