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Archive for the ‘Presented Fringe’ Category

Big Dance Theater takes on Samuel Pepys: Interview with Annie-B Parson

Posted July 18th, 2017

“In the last few years, what has become important is the uncensored rendering of his bullying, his shame around his behavior and yet his complete lack of awareness of the violence of his actions.”

Annie-B Parson. Photo by Ike Edeani.

From Mark Twain to Euripides, Big Dance Theater is well known for their innovative and unexpected ways of using of literary sources for inspiration. Diligent but whimsical in how they combine the old and the new, they’ve been called “historically promiscuous” by producer David White. In their latest creation, 17c (coming to the 2017 Fringe Festival), co-artistic directors Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar took the diaries of Samuel Pepys as the source of inspiration and investigation in this ensemble work of dance, theater, and music. Throughout 17c, a distinctly feminist voice is interwoven with his words, gathered from the writings of his contemporary, and from a desire to give voice to those who are historically voiceless, most notably Pepys’s wife. We caught up with Annie-B Parson about the inspiration and process of creating 17c.

FringeArts: Do you remember how the title 17c came into being?

Annie–B Parson: The titling of this piece has been an epic story. As the world has changed around us during the two-year span of creating it, the title has changed at least twenty times! Lists and lists of ideas for titles have been generated and circulated; they have ranged from a title which puts pressure on the piece to prove something, to a title that sounds great to see and say, to the simple naming of a fact. On the day the deadline came to title it for the premiere, we liked the simple efficiency of 17c, which supports the formal nature of the material as well. And, as one work is always a response to the work that precedes it, 17c was reactive to our last title, which was cumbersome and obscure.

FringeArts: What first drew you to Pepys as material that might work for the stage?

Annie–B Parson: As someone who is hyper-generative, I am always drawn to others who are also can’t stop making things. Pepys had to write, he was miserable when he missed a day, and this act of getting it down, of recording every little boil on his body, every encounter and feeling around the encounter, made me feel a kinship with him. And, it was amazing when first encountering these diaries, that 350 years ago, dance and theater were so valued. Eureka! I felt vindication in this figure who found dance a worthy daily practice, who valued the dance in theater, and who felt dance would better his standing. And, I loved that this person was so enamored of theater that he would need to quit it from time to time, much like he would quit drinking! I was also drawn to how contemporary he seemed, how trendy, so involved with his clothing, fretting about each outfit—when to wear a new coat, in what situation his new sleeves would have the best effect, etc. This was my first reading of the diaries about ten years ago.

Pepys.

But in the last few years, what has become important is the uncensored rendering of his bullying, his shame around his behavior and yet his complete lack of awareness of the violence of his actions. The absence of the voice of his wife Bess disturbed me more and more, and I began to suspect that he had burned her diaries, thereby silencing her to history. I searched for a female theatrical voice from that time to balance and testify to a feminism that was occurring then, but has been lost. This led me to the obscure radical feminist writer, Margaret Cavendish. To my delight, Pepys had encountered her a few times on the street, as she was a bit of a bad-girl celeb.

Margaret Cavendish.

FringeArts: What made the other source materials you brought into the show—namely Margaret Cavendish’s play—work for you?

Annie–B Parson: I have always dragged the past into the present, as one cannot exist without the other. David White called the work of Big Dance  “historically promiscuous”—and it’s true. I am not interested in linear reality as such, but in a relational reality, one that is elastic and poetic. I read quite a few women’s plays from that time, hoping to stage a play within a play. Margaret Cavendish’s work leapt out at me for its directness and its politics. Cavenidish’s writing was underground at the time, her plays were “closet plays” meaning there was no intention for them to be produced; as a woman, this was an impossibility. But she sustained a prolific writing life and her work speaks to her radical feminist stance. I feel she is owed many, many productions of her work to right the inequality of exposure, and our rendering is part of that re-balancing. It’s not that different today by the way. We are now seeing a few women playwrights on Broadway, and personally, though my work is produced, I am erased in subtle but systemic ways. I feel a kinship with Cavendish for sure.

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Inhabiting habitus

Posted September 23rd, 2016

There’s something special happening across the street from FringeArts. habitus, organized by the Fabric Workshop and Museum and part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, is on view now at Municipal Pier 9 until October 10, free and open to the public during scheduled hours. Visitors have found themselves enraptured by the dreamlike beauty of this interactive interior landscape. Here are just some of the recent posts showing off the serene spectacle of this must visit installation.

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Horsin’ Around at the Navy Yard

Posted September 22nd, 2016

Tonight Julius Caesar. Spared Parts will have its Philadelphia premiere as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, but yesterday there was some important, neigh vital, preparation to tend to for this play from revered Italian theater artist Romeo Castellucci. You see, this provocative and surreal meditation on power and our collective reliance on a societal scapegoat requires a little nonhuman assistance to fully realize.

No, a goat would be too on the nose, c’mon. We’re talking horses. I even did the “neigh” thing back there. You thought it was just a typo. Nope. Clumsily placed horse pun. I’ll do my best to restrain myself from here on out.

But yes, a horse. Turns out Gala wasn’t the only Festival show that required some local casting. Meet Pete, the horse (and Shane the person). img_4919

As our intrepid production crew was preparing the set inside Building 694 of the Navy Yard, Pete swung by to see if he had what it took to land the role of a lifetime. A vast, mostly empty warehouse previously used as a food sorting space for the navy way back when, Building 694 is just a short stroll away from the Navy Yard’s main entrance, past a fleet of decommissioned navy destroyers. It’s also the perfect space to amplify the sounds of the subtle, but essential movements at play within the show. That, and the click clack of hooves.

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Ah yes, the familiar sights of the theater.

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The exterior of Building 694…

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An International Message for World Theatre Day from Brett Bailey

Posted September 22nd, 2016

untitledCreated in 1961, World Theatre Day, is celebrated annually on March 27 by International Theatre Institute Centers around the world and the international theatre community. Each year, a renowned theatre artist of world stature is invited to craft an International Message to mark the global occasion. In 2014 Brett Bailey, acclaimed South African theater artist and creator/director of Macbeth, shared this message, a rallying cry for performing artists everywhere to truly embrace the power of their platform and wield it for the greater good. Find more info on World Theatre Day as well as messages from years past here.


Wherever there is human society, the irrepressible Spirit of Performance manifests.

Under trees in tiny villages, and on high tech stages in global metropolis; in school halls and in fields and in temples; in slums, in urban plazas, community centres and inner-city basements, people are drawn together to commune in the ephemeral theatrical worlds that we create to express our human complexity, our diversity, our vulnerability, in living flesh, and breath, and voice.

We gather to weep and to remember; to laugh and to contemplate; to learn and to affirm and to imagine. To wonder at technical dexterity, and to incarnate gods. To catch our collective breath at our capacity for beauty and compassion and monstrosity. We come to be energized, and to be empowered. To celebrate the wealth of our various cultures, and to dissolve the boundaries that divide us.

Wherever there is human society, the irrepressible Spirit of Performance manifests. Born of community, it wears the masks and the costumes of our varied traditions. It harnesses our languages and rhythms and gestures, and clears a space in our midst.

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Memories of Dance: An Interview with Faustin Linyekula

Posted September 21st, 2016

Faustin Linyekula is a renowned Congolese dancer and choreographer, and the founder of Studios Kabako, based in Kisangani. Le Cargo, Linyekula’s first and only solo dance piece,  finds him adopting the roles of storyteller and dancer in tandem as he leads his audience on an arresting and deeply personal journey to his homeland—a country marked by decades of violence and unrest that persists to this day—in search of a dance from his childhood that has since been erased. FringeArts recently spoke with Linyekula about the origins of the piece and the role of the storyteller in performance.


FringeArts: What is the origin of the title Le Cargo

Faustin Linyekula: Le Cargo was initially the title of a carte blanche given to me by the Centre National de la Danse in France in 2003. We proposed, over 4 days, a cargo full of artists and artistic proposals from the African continent. I wanted to call it “Cargo nègre” but it was too polemical for a public institution. I kept this title for the solo. It refers to the idea of (shameful?) trade, (easy?) exoticism, travel, and to this journey into my oldest memories of dance.

Le Cargo, ChorÈgraphie et interprÈtation : Faustin Linyekula Studios Kabako - crÈation 2011 - Centre national de la danse

Faustin Linyekula in Le Cargo (photo by Agathe Poupeney)

FA: Can you discuss some of the background of the piece?

Faustin Linyekula: I have never made any solo. Until today, I have only created this very solo simply because I believed and I still believe that the whole point of making work is not to be alone. It’s actually to try and find a place where you share something with people. You doubt together. You dream together.

So it was only in 2011 that I created my first solo. This was my way of celebrating the tenth anniversary of our company, the Studios Kabako, in the Congo. So it was a way of asking myself, “What’s next?”

FA: How did you transform so much personal and national memory and history into art? 

Faustin Linyekula: I don’t have so much imagination, so I take what is around me, what life gives to me.

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Tales of darkness shot through with light: Brett Bailey & Third World Bunfight

Posted September 21st, 2016

This weekend FringeArts and Opera Philadelphia will present Macbeth as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. A reimagining of Verdi’s nineteenth century opera from South African theater company Third World Bunfight, this production brings the classic tale of greed, tyranny, and corruption to the Democratic Republic of the Congo where a brutal warlord and his ambitious wife murder the king and unleash atrocities on the crumbling province that they seize. For more info and to purchase tickets click here.


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Brett Bailey (photo by Nicky Newman)

Brett Bailey and his company Third World Bunfight have been making iconoclastic, politically-charged theatre in South Africa since 1996. Driven to tell “tales of darkness shot through with light” and inspired by what he calls the “addictive funkiness” of African aesthetics, his work concerns Africa’s post-colonial dynamics and the historical and contemporary relations between Africa and the West. His work is eclectic in style and syncretic in form, weaving together African spirituality, a fascination with pop culture, a strong visual design drive, the belief in theatre as a communal space of potential and transformation, and an acerbic political critique. Utterly intolerant of cruelty, oppression and injustice, he believes that theatre has to be rooted in social and political issues, serving a purpose other than pure entertainment, without being the slave of such agendas. And finding a balance between social critique and aesthetic beauty and atmosphere in a work is his constant goal as a theatremaker.

He plays in worlds of risk and liminality, where ritual meets theatre and ceremony and presentation collide. “Liminality, the sacred, places of paradox and confusion, border zones where anything can happen, contested territory and risk are the areas I like to work in,” he says. He aims to inject spirit into theatre and to “unpick the threads” of fear and racism that divide people.

Born in 1967 as a privileged child of apartheid, Bailey studied drama at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and graduated in 1991 into a transforming political climate. After a year of spiritual searching in India in 1994, South Africa’s transition year, he joined the New Africa Theatre Project, whose goal it was to create work that spoke to the burgeoning new democracy. In 1996, Bailey immersed himself in Xhosa ritual, folklore, and performance, training with and living at the rural home of sangoma (traditional healer) Zipathe Dlamini in Port St. Johns in the Transkei.

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Meet the Cast of Macbeth

Posted September 20th, 2016

This weekend FringeArts and Opera Philadelphia will present Macbeth as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. Tonight there will be a panel discussion with members of the cast hosted by Stephanie Renée at the African American Museum of Philadelphia. In anticipation, we thought we’d help you get acquainted with these distinguished performers with these short bios. RSVP for the event here and learn more about this week’s ancillary Macbeth events here.


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Owen Metsileng (photo by Nicky Newman)

Owen Metsileng (Macbeth) was born in 1987 in a village called Manamakgotha in Rustenburg, South Africa. He comes from a musical family and started singing at an early age in church and school choirs. While in secondary school, he was introduced to classical music. He was a member of the Black Tie Ensemble from 2006 to 2008 and joined the Cape Town Opera Studio in 2010. He has sung many roles with the Cape Town Opera, including Le Dancaïre in Carmen, Barone Douphol in La Traviata, Marcello in La Bohème, as well as Jake in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess on a UK Tour. In September 2012, Owen performed in Cape Town Opera’s Gala Concerts with Orchestra Victoria at the Hamer Hall in Melbourne. He also took part in the Belvedere singing competition and was chosen to compete in the finals in Amsterdam in 2014. He has been performing the role of Macbeth in Third World Bunfight’s adaptation since its 2014 premiere.

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Nobulumko Mngxekeza-Nziramasanga (photo by Nicky Newman)

Nobulumko Mngxekeza (Lady Macbeth) was born in Queenstown in 1981. She was introduced to music when she joined her high school choir. In 2001 she enrolled at the University of Cape Town’s College of Music and trained under Virginia Davids, Sidwill Hartman, Marisa Mavchio and Angela Gobatto. In her young career she has performed in Carmen as Micaella, as Bess in Porgy and Bess, as Pamina in Der Zaubeflute, as Anna in Nabucco. She has worked with Isango Ensemble where she performed in the following productions, Impempe Yomlingo (The Magic Flute), Abanxaxhi (La Boheme), Aesop ‘s Fables and Ragged Trouser Philanthropist. Nobulumko has also travelled internationally with various productions for Cape Town Opera where she was previously a Studio Member. She has been performing the role of Lady Macbeth in Third World Bunfight’s adaptation since its 2014 premiere.

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Otto Maidi (photo by Nicky Newman)

Otto Maidi (Banquo), born in 1972 in South Africa, began singing at a tender age of eight in his church’s Sunday school and his school. He studied classical singing at the Pretoria Technikon Opera School under Pierre du Toit and later moved on to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, where he obtained his Artist Certificate Degree in Vocal Performance under Prof. Barbara Hill-Moore. He has toured throughout the U.S. and Europe and has sang with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, the Turtle Creek Chorale, and the Meadows Symphony Orchestra. Previous roles Otto has played include Bonzo in Madama Butterfly, Colline in La Boheme, Peter in Hansel and Gretel, Crown in Porgy & Bess, Olin Blitch in Susannah, Ramfis in Aida, Vodnick in Rusalka, Dulcamara in L’Elisir d’amore and a highly acclaimed Joe in Show Boat. He has been performing the role of Banquo in Third World Bunfight’s adaptation since its 2014 premiere.

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Interior Landscapes: An Interview with Ann Hamilton

Posted September 20th, 2016

Ann Hamilton is a visual artist known for her large-scale multimedia installations, flowing fabrics and the immersive atmosphere of her work. Hamilton has filled Pier 9 along the Delaware River with a field of spinning curtains, creating an interior landscape within which, suspended in time, a visitor can be both lost and held. habitus, organized by the Fabric Workshop and Museum and part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, is on view now, free and open to the public during scheduled hours. habitus also includes a corresponding exhibition of historical objects—including literary commonplace books, textile sample books, dolls, and needlework portfolios—at The Fabric Workshop and Museum from Saturday, September 17, 2016 to Sunday, January 8, 2017. We caught up with Hamilton earlier this summer to discuss her interest in fabric, Philadelphia’s textile history and the character of Pier 9.


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Ann Hamilton (photo by Michael Mercil, courtesy of Ann Hamilton Studio)

FringeArts: What was the inspiration for this installation?

Ann Hamilton: The Fabric Workshop and Museum began as a place for making. Initially they made a home for students, interns and artists to silkscreen. Pulling color across a screen transformed the surface of a white cloth.  The process repeated made a whole room and changed the way you feel. It is an institution that like FringeArts trusts artists and believes in the power of acts of making and transformation and this is an inspiration.

More specifically, the Fabric Workshop and Museum is rooted in the history of cloth, textile related processes and productions. They make a place for artists to explore and extend their vocabularies, to ask “what-if?” My history also begins with a cloth on my lap and so this project began in response to our shared legacy and collaborations by exploring Philadelphia based textile collections and local industries who have been in production over several generations. Littlewood Dyers does vat dying of raw fiber for a whole host of clients including the intense purple in a Disney costumes and the deep blue/black of Navy wools. The several hour tour of Littlewood, a highlight along with the loom and weaving production at Langhorne Carpet Company—where the scale the reeling of thread and the looms that have been in operation for decades—are inspiration for several project to come. Watching a raw material become a single thread, join other thread to become a warp or weft of a cloth or carpet holds for me all the possibilities for making; sewing and writing are for me two parts of the same hand. In the former the hand directs with subtle sureness a needle through a cloth up, down, up then down again and again and again, a running succession, the trail of thread making one out of what was once two. The pace is regular like walking, like writing. It keeps the body busy so the mind can wander.

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Ann Hamilton, (habitus • doll ) Doll, 1800–1820. Papier-mâché; Wood; Linen; Cotton; Paint; Silk. Courtesy of Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Gift of Katherine Gahagan, Michael H. du Pont, and Christopher T. du Pont in memory of A. Felix du Pont, Jr., 1999.19.1.

I have long been drawn to textile sample books—the cloth fragments, the hand written notes, the folio sized pages, their gorgeous unintentional compositions, and find in them a relation to the fragments of writing, inspiring to the collector, intentionally gathered into a commonplace book. The liquidity of the copied out text in the handwritten books, or the cut and paste of more contemporary versions are sources stitched into thinking just as the bits of cloth pasted into the textile books imagine a larger cloth or garment. We were shown beautiful swatch, sample, and dye books in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection, Winterthur Library, and Philadelphia University whose archives contain so much of the city’s textile history. The project will include examples from each of these collections. As well as commonplace books from Rosenbach Library, the Philadelphia Free library and others. The history and tactility of these objects began the project.

FA: What was the process from initial idea to installation? 

Ann Hamilton: A project always begins with an intuition, a hunch, a half formed question – these direct the research and through an associative and often circuitous process the project forms from trying to understand them. The challenge is to trust the process and remain open to change, to keep putting your needle down into the cloth and see what is drawn up from underneath. I suppose it is a little like fishing. You have to wait and see what you will find and in waiting you have to pay attention to everything.

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Explore Macbeth, Third World Bunfight, and Congolese history with these events

Posted September 19th, 2016

This weekend FringeArts and Opera Philadelphia will present Macbeth as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. A reimagining of Verdi’s nineteenth century opera from South African theater company Third World Bunfight, this production brings the classic tale of greed, tyranny, and corruption to the Democratic Republic of the Congo where a brutal warlord, General Macbeth, and his ambitious wife murder the king and unleash atrocities on the crumbling province that they seize. For more info and to purchase tickets click here. Be sure to check out our timeline of Congolese history as well.

In anticipation of this tour de force opera gracing our city as part of its American premiere tour, FringeArts is hosting several ancillary events leading up to and in tandem with its Saturday and Sunday performances, each tackling different contextual aspects of the show with an overall focus on representation. Below you’ll find a rundown of these events. RSVP here. They’re all free, but those that precede performances are only open to ticket holders.

 

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(photo by Nicky Newman)

9/20 @ 6pm:
Panel discussion with members of Macbeth cast
Hosted by WURD’s Stephanie Renée

Join 900AM WURD’s Stephanie Renée at the African American Museum in Philadelphia in meeting the virtuosic cast of Third World Bunfight’s Macbeth. The cast will speak to their own experiences working with classical material, approaching the form of opera, and working with controversial theater maker Brett Bailey.

Stephanie Renée is the host of 900AM’s The MOJO, emphasizing issues of arts and entertainment, cultural identity, education and economics. Renée guides her audience through a daily exercise of finding beauty in the midst of ugliness, hope in the face of strife, and inspiration in moments great and mundane.

At the African American Museum of Philadelphia
701 Arch Street

 

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(photo by Nicky Newman)

9/23 @ 6pm:
Performance Provocations: 20 Years of Brett Bailey and Third World Bunfight
Lecture by Dr. Megan Lewis

Third World Bunfight strives to create innovative, multi-layered, deeply considered performance and installation works that reveal the beauty, the wonder, the darkness and the tragedy of our world, with a main focus on the post-colonial situation in Africa, and historical and contemporary relations between Africa and the West. This lecture from Dr. Megan Lewis will engage the history and work of this stalwart and controversial company and its director Brett Bailey.

Dr. Megan Lewis is a South African-American theater historian and performance scholar concerned with the staging of national identity, gender, and race. She is an assistant professor of theater history and criticism at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

At FringeArts
140 N. Columbus Boulevard

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Caught in the Throat: On Romeo Castellucci’s Julius Caesar. Spared Parts

Posted September 19th, 2016

This week acclaimed Italian theater artist Romeo Castellucci will return to Philadelphia (following The Four Seasons Restaurant and On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God) with Julius Caesar. Spared Parts, a re-envisioning of his groundbreaking 1997 production Giulio Cesare distilled to a series of “fragments.” This powerful, visceral work runs from Thursday to Saturday at the Navy Yard, Building 694 as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. Daniel Sack was on hand for the original premiere in Bologna back in 2014 and wrote the following essay in response. 


How can we, as Yeats asked us, know the dancer from the dance? Or, for that matter, the actor from the act? Knowing the speaker from the speech presents no such problem. These are the days of speechwriters and teleprompters, but even in those Ancient Roman days of oratorical improvisation, the treatises of Cicero dictated set tropes of persuasion. We have been, and remain, apart from our speech. In the theatre, as always, this division is doubled over. One speaks the speech that precedes and exceeds its vessel – the actor – Shakespeare’s corpse still sound 450 years after the fact. So Artaud wrote with terror about how his voice escaped himself to play a part that did not belong to his whole. Not only because sound cannot stand still or it would cease to be, not only because it must always leave us, but also because the speaking subject does not possess the word “I” it temporarily claims from a common language.

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(photo by Luca Del Pia)

The prophet foretold such a possession of the voice from without. A kind of pre-attic tragic actor, he is reduced to a carrier for the message of those divine playwrights, the gods. He may retain the grain of his voice – those textures particular to a body, a tongue, a throat – but the content belongs to another. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar questions not only the performance of rhetoric but also the disjoined nature of prophecy, a prophecy that visits the dreams of Calpurnia, that stalks the city streets in unnatural omens, that speaks in the mouths of soothsayers – resolutely ignored or misapprehended like all good prophecies (Cicero, the central presence in Castellucci’s first imagining of the play also wrote an extended dialogue On Divination). It asks, then, how power, divine or earthly, speaks through the body of another, that spare but necessary part.

No such speech for the masses in this grand hall at the heart of the Accademia di Belle Arti in Bologna; a host of sculptures surround me like some mute chorus, mythic and familiar characters, Neoclassical fragments of Michelangelo’s David and the Laocoön, reduced to but a head or a father clutching at limbs in place of boys. These parts alone are spared. And yet, they are inversions of the monument. Clearly plaster casts, molded imitations of their more weighty granite originals—theatrical sculptures, perhaps, of accumulation rather than chisel’s negation. Set on pedestals of painted wood, it as if they stood frozen for eternity on a small stage, or what we call “the boards.” They are objects for study and future reproduction. In other words, they are characters in a play waiting for something to happen.

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