The Builders Opens This Week!

Less than a week away from the opening of The Builders! The past month has brought many exciting changes and improvements to the show. We switched our venue from a standard black box theatre into the visual arts studio in the basement of Woodwards; a rougher, rawer space that gave us the ability to work and transform the space in an expansive, long-term way. Once we were given the go-ahead that we could perform in the Vis Arts Studio, the creative process changed dramatically. With basically a blank canvas in front of us, the final month of rehearsals became a game. The rules were simple – you had to claim your space by altering or transforming it with your materials, you could claim as much space as you wanted through these alterations, and you could work at any time and could expand in any direction, and the person who claimed the most space would win a substantial prize (the winner has yet to be named – I’ll wait until after the run). And since those new rules were laid out, the Visual Arts Studio has been completely transformed…

The Builders - Robert

The Builders - Rhinestone Cowboy

The Builders - Holy Jewel Home

Along with this shift of turning the process into a game, the structure of the piece also got a major re-draft. The builders as a collective group were killed (though their scenes did make an appearance during our Vines Festival performance) in favour of returning the focus to the individual ensemble members and their respective creative endeavours that they had been developing since the beginning of this process. More attention was given to each person’s efforts of transforming their territory, allowing these various processes to take up more space within the performance. Yet, I did not want to lose the narratives that each ensemble member had crafted alongside their spatial transformations. These narrative moments were worked into a continuous structure of building, so that amid this work, the audience receives brief revelations into the builders’ worlds – their dreams, desires, and personal mythologies.

The Builders - Robert & Eveleen

The Builders - Rules of the Game
In our new space, the audience is able to move around and experience the environments as they are worked on by the four builders, observing them from different vantage points, both up close and at a distance.

The Builders has also gotten some great press in the past few days! This morning we were featured on North by Northwest, in a 15-minute interview with Robert and I. You can listen to it on the podcast from Sunday, Sept 5 (we’re at the 27 minute mark).

A preview piece was posted last week in the SFU Vancouver blog, a killer preview by Dillon Ramsey is now live on VANDOCUMENT, and we were featured in the Sun and Vancouver Magazine today.

Want to buy tickets for the show? (You probably should, cause our audience capacity is small and the shows are on the verge of selling out.) Click here: bit.ly/1PJhokz

In search of Island art environments

Island art environments - Alberton garden

I spent four weeks on PEI from mid-June to mid-July, a slight summer vacation in semi-warm weather. I only made it to the beach twice (in layers the first time) but I did take a couple day-long road trips up West, in search of Island art environments, continuing my research for The Builders. I don’t remember the last time I drove to places like Alberton, Tignish and North Cape, and I’d never done the coastal drives on that end of the Island either (at least not since I’ve been driving on my own). But, I had vague memories of visiting the Bottle Houses in Cap-Egmont as a kid, and the site had lodged itself into my consciousness when I first began to research art environments as a larger phenomenon in 2011. I’d also heard about Kerras Jeffrey’s Backroad Folk Art in Alma, since he had done design work for Young Folk and Row 142 a couple years ago. So with a car, a camera, lots of snacks and two days of clear skies, I set out on a PEI road trip with my mom, in search of art environments.

Continue…

The Builders

The Builders | Megan Stewart -banner

Step into an environment constructed by seven unlikely architects – theatre artists, dancers, and a musician. The space buzzes with energy as the builders work tirelessly to create the realms of their dreams. In a chaotic merging of theatre and installation, The Builders investigates transformation, territory and the practice of making ourselves at home in the world.

Taking inspiration from the worldwide phenomenon of art environments built by outsider artists, The Builders explores the compulsions behind transforming spaces, materials and the self. The performance immerses the audience into an unfamiliar territory inhabited by the builders, each one engaged in a relentless effort to transform their immediate surroundings. As they work, they reveal their stories and their processes, illuminating the ways in which occupied spaces become reflections of individual identities, mythologies and desires.

Constructed almost entirely out of found materials, the environment of The Builders features 500 feet of netting, three bolts of cast-off fabric, 35 milk crates, along with heaps of ivy, plastic recycling, mylar and scrap metal. Although the materials of the builders are familiar, the spaces they build defy convention and expectation. A gardener tends to a heap of plastic garbage, turning bottlecap seeds into translucent flowers and spindly trees. A lonesome mechanic becomes a bedazzled cowboy in a rhinestone realm that glitters and shines, while another builder aspires to live in the trees, alongside a giant woman woven from branches. All this and more comes to life within the performance, which also features music by David Cowling (of the band Leave) and additional set design by Amanda Larder.

Conceived and directed by Megan Stewart. Devised over a five-month process in collaboration with the ensemble: Robert Azevedo, Gordon Havelaar, Eveleen Kozak and Keely O’Brien

“The oddball protagonists of The Builders shrug off the senseless oppressions and conventions of the society that surrounds them, and set themselves to the sublime task of cobbling together their own unusual havens – or perhaps, heavens. …they reveal the infinite little ways in which a space can be explored, adored, claimed, conceded, and endlessly changed by anyone who identifies with it, and calls it a home.”
Dillon Ramsey, VANDOCUMENT

Photos by Paula Viitanen and Ash Tanasiychuk.

 

The Builders (long cut) from Megan Stewart on Vimeo.

 

Read more about the process on the blog, or check out some of our image-inspiration here.

An update from The Builders

Update from the Builders - Eveleen installation 1
So I’m sitting in the Toronto airport, awaiting a connection back to Charlottetown. Magic hour has just ended and I had a seat at the bar to watch its final moments. It was a good time to land at the terminal, everything glowing amber and sending sunbeams of assurance that summertime has arrived here too.

We ended our 30th devising session for The Builders last night, concluding part one of our creation process. We’re taking a one-month break, and I’m confident in the place where we’ve arrived. We have a slew of material and a few different dramaturgical arcs that are starting to materialize. Members of the production team are now appearing at the sessions, including set designer Amanda Larder, musician David Cowling, and Dan O’Shea, who is our dramaturg. It’s exciting having these people in the room and witnessing their contributions to the process. Having live music accompany our improvisations and group compositions has really helped to fill in the sound world of this piece, adding an additional layer to all the elements at play within the work. Just last night, David started to learn Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy”, in connection to research Keely is doing on Loy Allen Bowlin, the ‘Original Rhinestone Cowboy’, an outsider artist from Mississippi. Hearing those lyrics drift down the hallway as he practiced and we worked on solo etudes was thrilling.

There have been some great developments with regard to the installation/spatial intervention projects that I assigned everyone to do somewhere in the Woodwards building or in the neighbourhood. We started quite small and local, with Robert doing a mini intervention with string and pushpins on a 4th floor bulletin board, and me hanging pinecones from the interior of a Woodwards architectural crawlspace on the 4th floor.

Update from The Builders - pinecones(my pinecones)

Update from The Builders - pushpin installation(above is Robert’s installation, a few weeks after being installed)

A few weeks later, Eveleen blew us all out of the water with a banner she installed at 4am underneath some scaffolding around the construction site beside Woodwards.

A week after its installation, I’m amazed to report that the banner is mostly still intact. These photos below are from this Monday. The photo at the top of this post is from the day of installation.

Update from The Builders - Eveleen installation 2(Full quote: “The measure of a civilization is not how tall its buildings of concrete are but rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow humans”)

Update from The Builders - Eveleen installation 3
And then, on Sunday, Keely presented her installation, a bathroom stall shrine on the fourth floor, dedicated to the Rhinestone Cowboy, complete with an LED candle.

Update from The Builders - rhinestone cowboy shrine

Update from The Builders - Rhinestone cowboy shrine 2
And I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the wonderful serendipity that resulted in Amanda and I finding the exact set design material we had been hunting for, coming to us via a treasure chest in Ladner, BC. On Monday of last week, I’d mentioned that I’m interested in working with netting as a material with which to create an immersive set design in Studio T. Neither of us had much idea of where to acquire such a material, but I left her to the task. By Thursday, she had found a craigslist free ad listing a trunk full of green garden netting. The next morning we were driving to Ladner in her station wagon, nervous and full of anticipation. We arrived at the home of a fellow named Russ, who was getting rid of the netting and the chest. Apparently it was given to him years ago, and he didn’t even want it, and it collected dust in his garage until he decided to get rid of it. The ad had been up for six weeks! We loaded the beautiful tin and wood chest into the trunk of the car, marveling at the score we’d landed. Later, Amanda unraveled it at the Douglas College scene shop where she works, and discovered that there was 500 feet in length of the stuff, and it was about 17 feet in width! We had found a significant amount of the exact thing we needed, for free! So far, my plan to use mostly recycled and found materials to create this set is working. The amazing circumstances that led to us finding exactly what we wanted reminded me so much of last year’s hunt for a red rotary dial phone, which led me to Dave Hunter and the PEI Telephone Museum. I love when this kind of thing happens.

Update from The Builders - netting treasure chest

So by now, I’m on the plane to Charlottetown, where I’ll spend three and a half weeks writing draft one of my defense statement, playing the fun game of writing the show, going to the beach (fingers crossed for warm weather), and starting the planning phase for The River Clyde Pageant, my next theatre project which comes to life next summer. More on that later.

art environments in the neighbourhood

East Van fence mosaic

Oh the excitement of discovering a kooky little art environment right in East Van! Keely, who is a part of the ensemble for my MFA project, discovered this house on a walk, and brought us photos of it today for our creation/devising session. I hopped on my bike after the session to go find it, and here are the photos! Nobody was outside while I was there, nor when Keely was there. But I’m so curious to know who is behind this work!

More photos are being added to our little tumblr of research and inspiration, check it, here:

http://environmentbuilders.tumblr.com/

East Van mosaic house entry

East Van mosaic house

Builders Research

In June 2014 I spent nine days on a solo road trip through Wisconsin, searching for art environments. I visited folk art environments scattered throughout the state, and paid visits to the Kohler Foundation and the John Michael Kohler Arts Centre, two organizations dedicated to the preservation, maintenance and display of art environments around the world. I was lucky to be granted access to the collections in storage at the Kohler Foundation and JMKAC, and was able to see works by Mary Nohl, Madeline Buol, Stella Waitzkin, Emery Blagdon, Eugene Von Bruenchenheim among many others.

I visited eight different environments all around Wisconsin:

Mary Nohl’s house in Fox Point, Milwaukee
Dr. Evermore’s Forevertron in Baraboo
James Tellen’s Woodland Sculpture Garden
Fred Smith’s Wisconsin Concrete Park in Phillips
Herman Rusch’s Prairie Moon Museum in Cochrane
Nick Englebert’s Grandview in Hollandale
The Dickeyville Grotto in Dickeyville

The trip immersed me into these environments and practices of making, which I’ve been researching for the past year and a half. This preliminary research will eventually evolve into a devised theatre piece based on these environments and their makers for my MFA graduating project.

Below are photos from Mary Nohl’s House, the Forevertron, Prairie Moon, Wisconsin Concrete Park, and James Tellen’s Woodland Sculpture Garden. All photos © Megan Stewart