Chaos Manor Press Release


August 24, 2011

ANNOUNCING:  CHAOS MANOR, a theater installation at The Invisible Dog Art Center in Brooklyn, September 16-17, 2011, and an official Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend event.  Shows at 8:30pm each night.  Duration: 35 minutes.  Free Admission.

Co-Conceived by Christopher McElroen and Sam Stephenson, based on Stephenson’s 2009 book, The Jazz Loft Project, CHAOS MANOR is a live multi-disciplinary performance installation that seeks to capture the visual and sonic event of W. Eugene Smith’s 821 Sixth Avenue “jazz loft” endeavor 1957-1965.  In keeping with the raw creative spirit of Smith and the loft scene, CHAOS MANOR will be performed 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. CHAOS MANOR is produced by the american vicarious, in association with the Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, The Invisible Dog Art Center, A Public Space magazine, the Brooklyn Book Festival, the Boerum Hill Association, and the Reva and David Logan Foundation.

Using the building itself as an instrument, CHAOS MANOR will render the story of W. Eugene Smith, and his particular American moment, by sampling from his 40,000 photographs and 4,500 hours of audio recordings from 821 Sixth Avenue.  The workshop presentation of CHAOS MANOR will be staged within the twenty-two exterior windows of The Invisible Dog and digitally mapped and projected onto the building’s façade with the audience on the blocked-off street below. Layers of recorded sound and live music will be woven through the windows, and the expanse of brick façade will be 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 evoke a space that is both an inspiring creative refuge from the outside world, and a locus of obsession, alienation, and isolation. 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. By experiencing the past life that teemed within 821 Sixth Avenue, it is our hope that CHAOS MANOR will, among other things, reveal the creative life that newly invigorates community spaces such as The Invisible Dog.


Co-Conceived by Christopher McElroen & Sam Stephenson. Created with:  Dan Baker from Arch Production and Design; actor Brian D. Coats; photographer Jason Goodman; musician Levon Henry; publisher and editor Brigid Hughes and A Public Space magazine; actor, writer, and painter Jaymes Jorsling; photographer Kate Joyce; producer Conrad Kluck; video production designers Alex Koch and David Tennent from Central Service; actor Lucy Owen; Jazz Loft Project archivist Dan Partridge; and actor and producer Julia Watt. Directed by Christopher McElroen.
Based on the book The Jazz Loft Project by Sam Stephenson.  Archival materials are courtesy of the Heirs of W. Eugene Smith, the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona, and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.

September 16 & 17, 2001.  The Invisible Dog Art Center.  51 Bergen St.  (b/w Smith and Court).  Brooklyn, NY. 11201.  (347) 560-3641.


The Invisible Dog Art Center opened on Bergen Street in Brooklyn in October, 2009. The Invisible Dog is a raw space in a vast converted factory building with a charmed history and an open-ended mission: to create, from the ground up, a new kind of interdisciplinary arts center. Over the last year, over 32, 000 people have attended our events: visual art exhibits; dance, theater, and music performance; film screenings; literary; arts and poetry; and more.

W. Eugene Smith (1918-1978) quit his celebrated well-paying job at Life magazine in 1955 at age thirty-six. A freelance assignment in Pittsburgh – a job expected to last three weeks – turned into a four-year obsession that he ultimately described to Ansel Adams as a “debacle” and a “failure.” In 1957, Smith moved out of the home he shared with his wife and four children in Croton-on-Hudson, New York and into a dilapidated, five-story loft building at 821 Sixth Avenue in New York City’s wholesale flower district. It was a late-night haunt of musicians. As his ambitions broke down for the epic Pittsburgh project, Smith found solace in the chaotic, somnambulistic world of the loft. He turned his documentary impulses toward his offbeat new surroundings. From 1957 to 1965, Smith exposed 1,447 rolls of film at the loft, the largest body of work in his career.  He photographed the nocturnal jazz scene as well as life on the streets of the flower district, as seen from his fourth-floor window. He also wired the building like a surreptitious recording studio and made 1,740 reels (4,500 hours) of stereo and mono audiotapes, capturing several hundred musicians, among them Thelonious Monk, Roy Haynes, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Roland Kirk, Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry, and Paul Bley, along with underground figures such as pianists Eddie Costa and Sonny Clark, drummers Ronnie Free and Edgar Bateman, saxophonist Lin Halliday, bassist Henry Grimes, and multi-instrumentalist Eddie Listengart. Also dropping by were the likes of Doris Duke, Norman Mailer, Diane Arbus, Anais Nin, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Salvador Dalí, as well as pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts, drug dealers, thieves, cops, photography students, building inspectors, and others.  Smith also recorded an array of programs from radio and TV, including figures like JFK, MLK, Tennessee Williams, Dorothy Parker, Long John Nebel, James Baldwin, Yukio Mishima, Katherine Anne Porter, Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow and Mr. Magoo.

Sam Stephenson is a writer, instructor, and consultant at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.  He has researched the life and work of photographer W. Eugene Smith since before he can remember, authoring three books: Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburgh Project (W. W. Norton, 2001), W. Eugene Smith 55 (Phaidon Press, 2001), and The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue (Knopf, November 2009). He curated a 400-piece exhibition of Dream Street for the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and the International Center of Photography in New York City in 2001-02, and a 300-piece exhibition of The Jazz Loft Project at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in 2010.  He co-produced the The Jazz Loft Project Radio Series with Sara Fishko at WNYC: New York Public Radio.  His writing has appeared in the New York Times, A Public Space, Paris Review, Tin House, Oxford American, and DoubleTake, among other publications. He has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition, as well as NBC’s Today Show, CBS Sunday Morning, CNN, and the BBC-TV’s 2007 series The Genius of Photography.  He won a 2010 ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for the Jazz Loft Project.  His biography of Smith, Gene Smith’s Sink, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and he is publishing pieces from the book regularly on Paris Review Daily. He is directing a new project, Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark, about the AAA baseball team, Durham Bulls, in 2012.  He lives in Chatham County, N.C.

Christopher McElroen is a New York based theatre producer/director. Selected directing credits include Jean Genet’s The Blacks: A Clown Show, which received four 2003 OBIE Awards and was named one of the ten best Off-Broadway productions of 2003 by The New York Times, Sekou Sundiata’s 51st (dream) State, a multimedia exploration of American identity and citizenship that premiered at the BAM/Next Wave Festival, and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot staged outdoors in the Lower Ninth Ward and Gentilly communities of post-Katrina New Orleans.  The New York Times listed the project as one of the top ten national art events of 2007.  The archives from the production have been acquired into the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art and will be on exhibit through September 2011. In addition, Christopher has directed or guest lectured at Stanford University, Duke University, Purdue University, New York University, Dartmouth College, The Contemporary Arts Center Boston, The Walker Arts Center and The Museum of Modern Art, among others. His work has been recognized with the American Theatre Wing Award (Outstanding Artistic Achievement), Drama Desk Award (Artistic Achievement), Edwin Booth Award (Outstanding Contribution to NYC Theater), Lucille Lortel Award (Outstanding Body of Work), and two Obie Awards (Sustained Achievement and Excellence in Theatre). Christopher recently founded the american vicarious whose inaugural projects include Living in Exile, presented at the 2011 Under the Radar Festival, and the world premiere stage adaptation of Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man, opening Chicago January 2012.

A Public Space is an independent magazine that was founded in 2006 to support a new generation of writers. Why write fiction? Marilynne Robinson asked in “You Need Not Doubt What I Say Because It Is Not True,” an essay in the debut issue. And why read it? What does it mean? Why does it matter? These questions have continued to invigorate the magazine. Work from A Public Space has been selected for Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Prize Stories, and Pushcart Prize anthologies; and A Public Space contributors have been honored with Whiting Writers’, Rona Jaffe, and Lannan Awards, as well as MacArthur Fellowships.

Brigid Hughes is the founding editor of A Public Space. She received the 2011 PEN/Nora Magid Award for Editing. Previously, she was executive editor of The Paris Review.

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