Go Deeper

Myth Making: Welcome to Yuba City

Posted June 19th, 2009

The whole blog crew went over to check out Pig Iron’s meet-the-artist event at the Arts Bank earlier this week. Before we get to the details of character development, some core information must be conveyed.

Here are three important things we were told:
>>>To the question “Do you have a metaphor for life?” Geoff Sobelle, as Zeke, replied, “Life is like a metaphor.” Damn skippy.
>>>Quinn Bauriedel, director of Welcome to Yuba City: “If life can get worse, it will. And sometimes it becomes so catastrophic that it’s hilarious.” [Your friendly neighborhood blog manager is familiar with this concept, having used it as a guiding principle between the ages of 19 and 23.]
>>>Sarah Sanford as L.J.: “Watch out for the jackalope.”

Some things we learned about Pig Iron and Welcome to Yuba City:
>>>Pig Iron’s self-described themes from the last four shows were, in order: dread, death, loneliness, and then all three rolled into one with Isabella.
>>>Welcome to Yuba City will, according to Quinn, take the theme of wildness as far as it can go.
>>>Geoff Sobelle, on the Yuba City characters: “They live in the myth of America.”

Of course, whether you can make characters who capably reflect the myth of America is rather the trick, isn’t it? After the jump, how Quinn and actors Charlotte Ford, Sarah Sanford, Geoff Sobelle, and Dito Van Rigersberg get there, and pics from Tuesday night.

Quinn said that Pig Iron has been working with the tension between increasing conformity and increasing individualism in America. So he headed west to try to capture some of that openness, “where people can grow and develop completely and uniquely on their own.”

Characters are inspired by such things as these twin cacti with “prickly dispositions:”

Pig Iron Pit Stop

And the road runner:

Pig Iron Pit Stop

And other phenomena of the American West, including a shy truck (really!), the Joshua tree, and the tumbleweed.

Unique to this night, though, was getting a peek inside Pig Iron’s character development. Clowning is at the essence of Welcome to Yuba City, and Quinn introduced the process of examination and transformation used by the cast members to create their characters. Described as “embracing their inner clown,” Sarah, Dito, Charlotte, and Jeff accentuated and exaggerated their bodies’ forms. The cast worked closely with Italian clown master Giovanni Fusetti to identify their own personal idiosyncrasies and out of these, create unique clowns to play with.

Take Charlotte:

Pig Iron Pit Stop

Here, Quinn shows how Charlotte’s shoulders are ever-so-slightly rounded forward:

Pig Iron Pit Stop

Pushing them far forward yields:

Pig Iron Pit Stop

That becomes the dominant physical feature of the character, and with a couple of other tweaks, a costume change, and a clown nose, meet Shania:

Pig Iron Pit Stop

And other characters emerge as well. On the left is Geoff. With a slight bounce in his step pushed to an extreme, he becomes Zeke, a guy who runs a “compound” and loves to pose. On the right is Dito, whose long arms have led his transformation into Mickey, with Charlotte and Sarah also as Mickey:

Pig Iron Pit Stop

To transform into cowboys, Quinn said, they looked at two ways that the body undulates. Working with Sarah, they showed the cowboy undulation to be front-to-back – the first part of the motion is similar to what happens when you’re swimming underwater and come up to break the surface. Do that, then lean a little further back to take in your surroundings, and voila – cowboy:

Pig Iron Pit Stop

At the end of the event, some of these characters came together in a very physical household scene where Geoff’s character, an elderly man of the West, tries to make it across the stage using his walker. Hilarity ensues.

The Pig Iron process is especially intriguing because of its collaborative nature. The performers take actions and ideas that appeal to them personally, and bring what emerges to the table. In July and August they’ll be working more intensively to bring the show together, but the process seems to be one of emergence than of top-down writing and direction. Maybe this explains the playfulness that Pig Iron always delivers?

Anyway, if you missed it on Tuesday, too bad. But here’s the obligatory plug: Tickets for Welcome to Yuba City are on sale now!

–Nicholas Gilewicz, Jennifer Burrini, Sophia Ozenbaugh

Photos by Josh McIlvain