When in confinement or isolation, what world do we create? Who are our solitary selves? How do we perform, even when we are alone? In those moments, if we look in the mirror, who do we see? A composition devised by the company, THE WALLPAPER PROJECT offers a glimpse into the worlds (or bedrooms) of five women as they explore the stillness and chaos, the sensuality and starkness, the tension and solace that comes with being alone.
Early last spring, when winter was only halfway out the door, I found myself embedded in a way of being when I was alone. An intimately repetitive performance that I adopted for each day, presented to no one, but for everyone at the same time. In the absence of people, of our global kinesthetics, it was almost as though I was watching myself establish my own rhythm of "aloneness." It was clunky and very ripe, something I had never been forced to explore. The way I absentmindedly breathe. How I traced my bed sheets each morning. The way I looked at myself in the mirror - and what I looked at. How I read a book, the volume at which I typed, the daydreams I let permeate. I wondered if other people felt this way. I wondered about other women, specifically. How universal were my noticings, my loneliness tics? These questions led me to this project and our focus on womanhood and confinement. Women are confined everyday in so many ways -- both literally (bras, anyone?) and figuratively. So how do we embody confinement? I was reminded of the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. But that was written a long time ago. Can confinement drive the modern, liberated woman insane? Is insane even the right word, or does confinement in fact just draw us closer to clarity? How does the modern woman confine herself? What confines are placed upon her?
In a way, every being on earth experienced some form of aloneness last spring. Perhaps it carried into the summer. We are surely reentering it now this late-fall. Four seasons of having the very frightening privilege of being with ourselves. There was and is truly nowhere to go. So what do we do? There are so many ways that we perform for others as we walk through the world. A sense that someone is watching, seeing even your sneakiest, smallest moments informs our actions. So how do we inhabit our bodies and spaces when they are without the presence of others, without vastness, when they are much more confined? How does our body change? Our thoughts? What are our cravings? Our comforts? Our reversions? When we are alone, who do we see when we look in the mirror staring back? Is it who we hoped for?
And with these questions, our process began. Starting with the confined madness of Gilman’s leading lady in The Yellow Wallpaper,” we traveled with Carrie Mae Weems in her Kitchen Table Series and Not Manet’s Type, examined art, poetry and music and flowed through our own personal writing and movement; our explorations of joy and sorrow, uncertainty and fantasy. Our company of actresses were constantly creating content that all, whether in giant globs or tiny droplets, poured its way into our final composition. Our company’s goal was to capture the individual confined worlds of these five women, each one attempting to answer these questions while also making sure to answer none of them at all.
Ana’s Morning Routine
The cast co-wrote a list-like sequence of the morning routine of a woman (any woman) in concise, specific detail. Some things included...
4. Open left eye, look up and to the side
20. Aggressively remove my sheets
26. Pinch a lock of hair and look at its end
28. Look at my body to make sure it’s still there. Touch boobs.
44. Trace the eyelash
52. Kiss wrist
From here, each actress selected 12-20 of the 60 instructions, put them in whatever order they wanted and crafted a video out of it. It had to be something they could repeat, and something that would make sense backward—like crawling out of bed just to get back into it. The only universal requirement was that each somehow incorporate #60: love chaos hungry kisses skin. This video is Ana’s morning routine exploration.
A note about Scenic Design: The aesthetic of each bedroom was crucial to creating each world. Katie Heaton, our scenic designer, wanted to ensure that each room felt lived in by the actress. Some items, scavenged by Katie, carried through the pieces, like a broken hand mirror, old cassettes, books and flowers. Others came from the actor’s personal stock. The objects were used to give a glimpse into both the personal and the universal, like Ana’s rotating wooden dancing couple.
Don’t Lose Control:
An Art Recreation
Each actress was asked to recreate a piece of art (any kind of art) in which they saw themselves, both in a photographic and video format. Saman chose a painting entitled, “Don’t Lose Control.” Here is a video of Saman describing her piece and her video.
Bedsheets Prompt: And a Note on Costuming
One of our exploration prompts was to create a piece about being alone in bed, using bed sheets as much as possible. The work created by the actresses directly inspired much of our final composition (take a look at Victoria’s sequence!) Jillian, our costume designer, zeroed in on the use of sheets as costuming and asked, how do bedsheets play into the way we feel in our moving and operating bodies?
Not Manet’s Type
One of the main sources of inspiration for this piece and our process was “Not Manet’s Type,” a series of photographs by Carrie Mae Weems. Carrie Mae Weems’s photographs feature herself and capture her day to day life as a Black woman. In “The Kitchen Table Series,” her “black-and-white photographs are like mirrors, each reflecting a collective experience: how selfhood shifts through passage of time; the sudden distance between people, both passable and impassable; the roles that women accumulate and oscillate between; how life emanates from the small space we occupy in the world,” (Jacqui Palumbo). How does life emanate from the small space we occupy in the world? Especially when your space is forcibly tightened? The aspect of looking in a mirror, of women seeing themselves in Weems—something she believes that every woman can—intrigued us further. We began to explore Not Manet’s Type, Weem’s response to the chosen subjects of artists Eduard Manet, Pablo Picasso, and Willem De Kooning. In 5 photographic stills the viewer sees her take five different poses. But we can only see what is visible through the confines created by the edge of her beauro mirror. Inspired, we worked a lot with mirrors. We asked ourselves, how do we inhabit the world created by the rim of a mirror, of what you can only see what is reflected back at you? How is the day to day a performance? What is a woman’s relationship to a mirror, and how does what we see in it sometimes become all that we can see of the world? How are we ourselves art?
Articles about each photographic work can be found here:
Black Lace Bra Kind of Woman
We followed Sandra Cisneros’s lead and each actress wrote their own version of “Black Lace Bra Kind of Woman.” Here is Sandra Cisneros’s original poem. Each actress was asked to respond by asking themselves, “what kind of woman are you?”
!Wachale! She's a black lace bra
kind of woman, the kind who serves
up suicide with every kamikaze
poured in the neon blue of evening.
A tease and a twirl. I've seen that
two-step girl in action. I've gambled bad
odds and sat shotgun when she rambled
her '59 Pontiac between the blurred
lines dividing sense from senselessness.
Ruin your clothes, she will.
Get you home way after hours.
Drive her '59 seventy-five on 35
like there is no tomorrow.
Woman zydeco-ing into her own decade.
Thirty years pleated behind her like
the wail of a San Antonio accordion.
And now the good times are coming. Girl,
I tell you, the good times are here.
Sound Design: Our Playlists
In collaboration with Mellie Way, our sound designer, each actress curated a playlist for their work. Songs that bring them joy, songs they listen to when in a certain mood, songs that make them feel small, songs that make them explode. They also added to a cast playlist and, while viewing their work, Mellie made her own.
Playlist links can be found here:
Take the Quiz!
CAST AND CREW
Directed by: Olivia Spenard
Devised by the Creative Company
Scenic Designer: Katie Heaton
Costume Designer: Jillian Neary
Lighting Designer: Jayla Pollock
Sound Designer: Amelia Way
Production Stage Manager: Dana DeVries
Stage Manager: Nandini Tandon
Assistant Director: Sylvie Tamar and Eva Gelman
Assistant Scenic Designer: Haley Crawford