Chaos Manor at Invisible Dog

The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn

The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn

Last week at the Invisible Dog Art Center on Bergen St. in Brooklyn, the first steps were taken toward creating a dramatic performance based on the Jazz Loft Project story.  Director and Producer Christopher McElroen and I spent the week working five hours a day with actors, theater professionals, two photographers, and Brigid Hughes from A Public Space, taking apart the JLP story in the Invisible Dog’s basement (photo below).  By week’s end we’d drafted some text that we’ll use to develop the project.  It reads like this:

In keeping with the raw creative spirit of 821 Sixth Avenue, CHAOS MANOR will be developed and presented at The Invisible Dog, a raw space in a vast three story converted Brooklyn factory building with an open-ended mission to create, from the ground up, a new kind of interdisciplinary arts center.

The premiere of CHAOS MANOR will be staged within the twenty-two exterior windows and on the building façade of The Invisible Dog, located at 51 Bergen Street in Brooklyn, NY, with the audience on the blocked-off street below.

Using the building itself as an instrument, we will play the story of W. Eugene Smith, and his particular American moment, by sampling his 40,000 photographs and 4,500 hours of audio recordings from 821 Sixth Avenue.  Layers of recorded and live sound will be woven through twenty-two exterior windows, using the expanse of brick façade as a canvas to video map both live and archival imagery. The story will begin with the slow hoisting of a piano from the sidewalk up through an open window where a pianist will be waiting to play it.  From there CHAOS MANOR will commence and accept the musicians and artists that perceive the space a creative refuge from a chaotic world.

As the event continues, CHAOS MANOR will chase the arc of Smith’s own internal chaos of isolation and identity, while simultaneously tracing the chaotic American moment that was 1957 – 1965 and the revolutions that were taking place in the music as well.

This initial incarnation of CHAOS MANOR will take place at the Invisible Dog September 16-17, 2011.

The week was one of the highlights of my 14.5 years researching Smith.  Sitting around a table for five hours a day and pulling threads on Smith and the JLP story with theater professionals was exhilarating.  Their efforts aren’t just to analyze the story but to inhabit it, and portray it.  After reading several of Smith’s letters aloud, actress Lucy Owen made the inspired comparison of Smith to Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire (the 1947 opening of which Smith photographed for LIFE).  I don’t think I would have thought of that comparison in another 14.5 years.  But now we can use it.  Below are several photographs made by Kate Joyce on Friday.

Actors/artists Jaymes Jorsling, Brian D. Coats, and Raffeal Sears

Jaymes Jorsling, Brian D. Coats, and Raffeal Sears. Photograph by Kate Joyce.

L-R, Christoper McElroen, photographer Jason Goodman, and Julia Watt

L-R, Christoper McElroen, Jason Goodman, and Julia Watt. Photograph by Kate Joyce.

Sam Stephenson and Jaymes Jorsling.  Photograph by Kate Joyce.

Me and Jaymes Jorsling. Photograph by Kate Joyce.

By the way, Lucien Zayan, who runs Invisible Dog, took one look at this picture by Smith and told Chris he’d always wanted to stage a performance in the windows of a building.

smith jazz loft scans nov 07 007

After the September performances we’ll begin working on a narrative script for a more conventional theater telling, making use of the visual and sonic elements that prove effective in the Invisible Dog shows.

Invisible Dog Basement

Invisible Dog Basement, after cleaning up, as we are about to turn out the lights on Friday.

-Sam Stephenson

1 Comment

  1. K. Mendenhall Said,

    May 15, 2011 @ 12:19 am

    As a photographer and professor of the History of Photography, I am thrilled to hear of your project. The tortured soul of W. E. Smith must be smiling down on you and your efforts. I am even more delighted that Raffeal is a part of your program.