By Tia Shearer, Deb Sivigny, and Anna Lathrop
Editor’s note: DCTA occasionally invites artists to write about their own work. In this submission, artists Tia Shearer, Deb Sivigny, and Anna Lathrop write about their five-year-and-counting rehearsal process for Edward and Christine, a 1996 poem-play by Kenneth Koch that the trio will be presenting in a Zoom production for an intimate audience of active spectators from May 13 through June 17, 2022.
In the play, Edward and Christine meet, fall in love, get married, procreate, get divorced. Only, they do it completely out of order and with talking bunnies, hungry statues, cannibals, and a host of other witnesses and players both real and imagined.
In this version, the 100+ characters are all portrayed by Shearer, performing from her living room to yours (with potential guest appearances by her son and cat).
Audiences will be invited to keep their cameras on…to have a few of their own pre-gathered objects near, and to embrace the delightful messiness of love, life, and Zoom/living room theater!
And now, without further ado, Anna Lathrop, Tia Shearer Bassett, and Deb Sivigny (plus guests) discuss Edward and Christine…in the unconventional style of Edward and Christine.
Tia: Edward and Christine is a poem-play by Kenneth Koch, written for an undisclosed number of actors to portray 100+ characters in 50+ locations. We got permission to do it all with one actor and a bunch of objects. And then our actor got cancer, so we re-envisioned the re-envisioning for Zoom. But, from the start, the idea was that we would work on this play together, when we could and wanted to, with no definite result in mind.
Tia’s cat: <eats half a prop>
A calendar: I’m going to need more to work with, please. If you mean, When is the show? It is happening now. At least, iteration one is happening now. On an oddball schedule that works around the actor’s home life, and takes into account her neighbors in the apartment building.
If you mean, When did this all begin? Well. Tia fell in love with the play just out of college, when she performed in the premiere in New York City (directed by Unexpected Stage’s Chris Goodrich). In 2015, she took an earlier idea of the project to Anna, and they began to imagine the piece for 2 clowns (“shout-out,” as the kids say, to Séamus Miller). Then, after working on 2 wonderful solo shows, Tia got struck with the idea to try E&C as a single-actor piece. In 2017, she took this wild notion to Deb and Anna.
Anna: I wanted to work on this project because I was attracted first by the opportunity to work with Tia, who is a truly formidable actor, and then later by the opportunity to work with Deb, who is a truly amazing designer. It’s so rare to work on a project where every artist has an equal voice — theater as we typically know it in America is normally very hierarchical and siloed. This was a chance to work with two artists whose voices and visions I deeply respect in a deep way without the constraints of urgency and product-focused art-making.
Deb: I’m always on the lookout for interesting projects that stretch my design knowledge and dramaturgical brain at the same time. When Tia and Anna approached me about joining their team it was an automatic yes — the opportunity to work with two amazing, creative, generous people on a narrative that had no predetermined outcome was thrilling. As we worked together, it was genuinely the first time I had experienced a project with no hierarchy. We worked together as a trio where ideas and roles overlapped and complemented each other. What a dream!
Tia: There is a reason this play has vibrated inside my brain since I was 22. I wanted to find that reason. Or at least (and maybe more importantly), enjoy the heck out of the chase. Also, these days, I only want to work on projects that make me happy, with people who make me feel comfy and welcome and safe and intellectually ignited and challenged.
Tia: We worked over email, Zoom, in-person, across multiple states. We would meet and then months would go by; then we would have a period of focused work together, and then part again, letting the piece simmer. I have to credit another dear collaborator of mine, Natasha Mirny, as well as Michelle Kozlak of Arts on the Horizon, with opening my mind to the possibility of slow-cooking a theater production. I think I can come off as someone with very quick energy? Like a bunny or a squirrel? But this bunny-squirrel loves working slowwwwwly. It lets a piece grow, it lets you grow with it, and creates layers of richness, like sediment.
Airbnb farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania: Oh yeah, those artsy city gals! They stayed for a weekend. Called it a retreat. They were nice, so I gave ’em my sweetest quiet. The squirrely one started makin’ my sewing kit talk. Another one made these pretty paper cut-outs, and a kind of zipline for ’em.
Deb: I was really drawn to the look and palette of mid-20th century travel postcards — especially as hotels, cities, cruise lines, etc. were advertised. The rich but muted colors, that dusty, grainy look to the printing, and the blocky coloring of the graphic — all of them lent a dreamy, hazy quality to the story, which goes to many many places in a blur of memory.
Blurred memory: It’s truuuuue.
Deb: I was also inspired by the simplicity of a hand or an object representing an entire character: how expressive the turn of a finger could be, how the twitch of a muscle could convey huge emotion. I found artists like David Leventhal and Paul Zaloom and how they used objects and gestures in their work to be particularly informative.
Anna: Some of my inspirations were the artwork of José Naranja, who created The Orange Manuscript; the works of 1927, a UK-based theater company; and the rest of Kenneth Koch’s poetry. He has such an amazing poetry collection and he creates such exquisite worlds that you just want to climb in and inhabit.
Anna’s biographer: Anna often has a resting skepticism face, but really she’s just thinking — or trying to, anyway. She currently occupies many worlds, that of research, that of futuring, and that of theater, and finds that these worlds crash together in the most magical ways sometimes.
Deb’s biographer: Deb often has this look on her face, one of skepticism and sadness — but she doesn’t really intend it — rather she’s just thinking really hard about the thing she just saw or heard. She’s kind of an octopus of ideas but sometimes her brain ties those limbs in knots.
Tia’s biographer: Tia is a Russian doll of sorts — a squirrel inside a tortoise inside a wolf inside an actor. One day, she received a grant from her local government to help bring a first iteration of Edward and Christine to The People. That work is currently playing here.
Edward: Ah, hello!
Christine: I felt the excitement of a walk of which I didn’t know the end….
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes.
Edward and Christine plays on Zoom on select dates from May 13 through June 17, 2022. For more information tickets, go online. Tickets are pay-what-you-wish. The show is recommended for adults aged 18 and up.
Fun and intimate ‘Edward and Christine’ plays live online (review by Charles Green)