Photo by Elizabeth Nelson
A quintessential play is structured around a script. The actors and director can either take the instructions from it or morph them in their own artistic and creative way. In the Department of Theatre’s next show, “Cities of Memory,” the script serves more as a set of guidelines, like a compass, pointing the actors in a vague, undetermined direction.
“It’s not going to be like sitting in someone’s living room and watching the most important two hours of their life that ends in whatever death, divorce, suicide or marriage. Instead, you hear snippets of conversation and you see kids running by you and a bicycle that’s hanging from the ceiling,” said Kyle Gillette, the professor directing “Cities of Memory.”
“Cities of Memory” is a collaborative piece currently being rehearsed by Trinity’s Department of Theatre. Unlike traditional shows that have fleshed out characters, a script and concrete storyline, “Cities of Memory” has no final destination in mind. The show is more an exploration of the question of how cities remember and interact with memory. What the show will ultimately be like is up to the actors participating in it.
“A lot of what the early rehearsal process is is developing the work. In musical terms, a lot of our rehearsals are like jazz improvisation, some of which do involve riffing on a known standard but then twisting it until it’s unrecognizable,” Gillette said.
So far, the students have had two rehearsals that have centered around everyone sharing their ideas for the show. These ideas come from participants’ own memories of cities, whether it’s their hometown, a favorite travel destination or simply a city that is important to them. Because the inspiration from the show draws from the personal memories of its participants, Gillette and his students work to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and safe with sharing their ideas.
“You’re always especially vulnerable when creating,” said senior Anna Wallack, a cast member of the show. “But because everyone is creating, it’s a lot more fun and comfortable. There’s an anonymity to it.”
The personal and collaborative nature of the show has helped to bring all the participants closer.
“Rather than having leads that might be working on a specific scene alone, you get to work with everyone equally and form an environment where everything is accepted,” said senior and cast member Leah Woehr.
“There are no stars. It’s an ensemble that is creating together,” Gillette said.
“Cities of Memory” will also heavily utilize technology in order to transform the performance space and add to the performance itself through photos, videos and sounds.
“Another important element that we’re playing with are these moving projectors that also have cameras inside so that we can do live video feeds that are projected over the wall and manipulated in different ways,” Gillette said.
Shows like this have to navigate the slippery slope of becoming too dominated by abstract ideas and metaphors and losing their grounding in reality in the process. Gillette, however, hopes that while “Cities of Memory” will explore the abstract, it remains grounded and accessible.
“In a way, it’s experimental, certainly, but my impulse right now is also that the elements in it will be very concrete,” Gillette said.
Though this type of show might be new to most members of the Trinity community, Gillette has worked on similar projects multiple times. He has led workshops and exercises that center around cities and is also writing a book, “The Invisible City,” about travel performance. In addition to this, Gillette has also put on similar productions for a festival in Italy. Some participants, like Woehr and Wallack, have worked with Gillette in the past and were drawn to this show because of his dedication to this topic and previous shows.
“I had done research with Dr. Gillette this past summer for his book, so I knew the kind of work he does and his attraction to studying cities,” Woehr said. “I knew that it was something that I was already interested in and wanted to be a part of.”
“I worked with Kyle before and it was a great experience. He really pushed us in a friendly way to be the best as actors,” said Wallack.
The show will open on Feb. 21 and will run until Feb. 29.