Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Chairs

The Chairs
Conceived and Directed by Theodora Skipitares
Produced by La MaMa in association with Skysaver Productions

Nominations: Alice Tolan-Mee & Tim Schellenbaum are nominated for Outstanding Sound Design; Donald Eastman is nominated for Outstanding Set Design; Jane Catherine Shaw & Theodora Skipitares are nominated for Outstanding Innovative Design for Puppet Design; and The Chairs is nominated for Outstanding Performance Art Production

About this Production

Loosely inspired by Ionesco’s absurdist classic, The Chairs, Theodora Skipitares creates a post-apocalyptic world in which an old woman, portrayed by a 10-foot puppet, invites guests to hear an important message about the meaning of life. One-by-one, a collection of 25 chairs appears, each one a unique performing object with something important to say.  Judith Malina (of The Living Theatre) stars.

Artists Theodora Skipitares, Jane Catherine Shaw and Donald Eastman talk about this larger than life tale about passing on the stories and heritage of humanity.


What attracted you to this project?

Theodora: I was interested in creating a response to Ionesco's play The Chairs, where people are invisible and where there is finally no message of any kind for human beings.

Jane Catherine: I have known and worked with Theodora Skipitares since the 1980's. Her work is always stimulating and collaborations with her are a pleasure. I know that the work being made is thoughtful, relevant and experimental, all of which make the process vibrant and rewarding.

Donald: This was my fourth collaboration with Theodora along with the opportunity to work at La MaMa and their great space and crew.

What was your favorite part of working on this production?

Jane Catherine: I worked with Theodora Skipitares on The Chairs from the initial thinking and building phases, through to performance. Each part of the process offers its own rewards, and I would be hard pressed to single out one aspect from another. In truth, this is probably what attracted me to puppetry and experimental theatre in general. There is a feeling that one should dive into the process on all fronts; be prepared to do anything, challenge one's skills, be ingenious, break boundaries....be innovative!

Donald: The inspirations for the design were both abstract and emotional informed by the reality of the Ellen Stewart Theater's impressive space. My favorite part was post load in when all the collaborators completed the space and the resolutions from moment-to-moment were all at hand. Then there was the post curtain realization between me and Theodora that, by the final tableau, we had created a gallery space that audience could walk through and become close and one with Theodora's amazing charectors and constructions.

Theodora: My favorite part was making The Chairs and bringing them to life as performing objects. Also, we were able to work with Judith Malina on this production and that was a fantastic experience.

What was the most challenging part of working on this production?

Donald: Focusing the intimate moments. The solutions were at hand and I had to trust my instincts and experiences within the grand space.

Theodora: Not having enough funds.

Jane Catherine: The most challenging part of working on The Chairs  was also the most  pleasurable; how can 25 or more chairs be altered so that they can be manipulated, and each have a distinct, unique, and compelling presence that is appropriate to the speaker and the text being presented? We  must be able to envision movement possibilities that can  define character, and intention while thinking of how the chair might be altered technically.  We also need to think of each chair's design and style so that even in static repose, it can still be striking and visually resonant with the theme of the text and the speaker's character.

What was the most memorable part of this production for you?

Jane Catherine: About a year before this production of The Chairs, I had begun thinking that I wanted to work with Judith Malina on something....and then suddenly she agreed to work on this production. I was thrilled.  We gave several works in progress showings prior to the official La MaMa premiere, and Judith was at all of those rehearsals and performances.  This was a great fulfillment of a private fantasy!.

Donald: Staying honest with the rigging systems that supported the 20 plus constructions became the design and instinct to make the rigging elements a great red. Together a set design emerged. Honesty led to innovation.

Theodora: A lot of the chairs that I bought secondhand and repurposed, came from Old Iron Salvage, underneath the Smith-9th Street subway. It's a magical place, and I returned many many times to sense if there was something calling out to me. The chairs were all a bargain.......that was fun.

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