Go Deeper

Throwing It Out

Posted August 29th, 2012

Joanna Sycz in The Hoarder’s Child.

Early this summer I set about making space in my childhood bedroom for more adult (read: terrifying) things: student loan bills, GRE study books, and the considerable anxiety of job applications. First, I set out to tackle the at-random piles of books that marked the floor space, the desk top, and my reading chair. Soon though, I was overwhelmed. Convincing myself that a pile on the floor, in the corner, was a fine enough place to house several Murakami novels and an astronomy textbook, I moved on.

Trash was easier to remove. I tossed out a few receipts crumpled on my dresser, and jewelry that dated back to middle school. I left though the notebook from eleventh grade physics on my desk chair; I had just gotten my blog internship with Philly Fringe, and what if two Fringe artists were barreling towards each other, one moving at 10 mph, the other at 15 kph, whose show would be the sleeper hit?

Then of course, for weeks I hoarded the Q & A from Heather L. Jones, playwright of 2012 Philly Fringe’s The Hoarder’s Child, refusing to set it free (in this case, publish it on the blog); e-mail, I’ve concluded, is the greatest enabler of hoarding, because notes and photos and videos of Corgis playing in water parks all fit into one compact computer-ma-bob and its neat and small and doesn’t look messy and like the repository of all my neuroses. But it is. And I’m sorry Heather.

After the jump: we try to redeem ourselves, and Heather talks about theater in Tampa-St. Pete.

“I have a really hard time feeling sympathy for those people grappling with their stuff and refusing to throw things away,” says Heather. She is talking about A&E’s show Hoarders, and not my ineptitude. I think. “Gosh, what if there’s a person under there. They can lose the relationships underneath their stuff.”

The Hoarder’s Child, a one-actress play performed by Joanna Sycz, was a solo writing endeavor for Heather; as part of St. Petersburg-based all-female Blue Scarf Collective (named for the time they sat together in a coffee shop, and two of them were wearing blue scarves), Heather also makes theatre as one of several writers. Recently, the collective’s work was commissioned by Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services and freeFAll Theatre, and for the piece BSC members Roxanne Fay and Aleshea Harris, along with Heather, interviewed clients of GJFCS, including a Holocaust survivor, a survivor of torture in Cuba, and a survivor of the earthquake in Haiti. After gathering material, they met to forge the performance’s tone: “Even though our personal writing styles vary a lot, we all seemed to agree on how to create this piece. The subject matter was so intense, and we didn’t want to make a cliché advertisement, even though ultimately the purpose was to show the necessity for an organization for GJCFS. We knew we wanted it abstract, lyrical, and movement-heavy.”

A Tampa native, Heather returned to Florida only after more northerly stretches; in her mid-twenties she moved to Chicago to work on the now-collapsed art magazine the New Art Examiner, writing book reviews and news briefs, before transplanting with her young children and their father to Asheville, N.C. She studied, getting her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and then her MFA in writing from the low-residency program at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. Never too far from academia, Heather now teaches composition at the University of Tampa, and creative and dramatic writing at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg.

Ah, excuse me. I found Heather’s questions and answers. In accordance, let’s toss them out like we would the tatters of a security blanket: with reluctance.


Live Arts: What’s the theater scene in St. Petersburg like?

Surprisingly vital. I moved down here just three or four years ago from Asheville, N.C., and here, in St Petersburg, there are two professional theaters and a place called the The Studio@620 where all kinds of artists work. There’s a couple more across Tampa Bay, and people go back and forth. Here, there’s everything from little bitty houses full of feral cats to big theaters. The feral cats are over in Tampa at a place called The Silver Meteor Gallery. It’s a place you can rent put up shows. It’s at the edge of Ybor City, and there are a lot of cats in a little shotgun house.


And like some thrown-together abode (feline overpopulation aside), The Hoarder’s Child’s start was haphazard: it originated as a supplement for a job application. “I was applying for a job, and they needed a story, so I wrote [The Hoarder’s Child] as a story. When I didn’t get the job, I decided to create the play. The story had three characters, but I wanted just one. As I worked to tell the same story from one point of view, the language became much more lyrical, the ‘reality’ became more ambiguous, and the tragedy of consumerism and longing for human contact took over.”


Live Arts: What objects do you hoard?

Pictures of my kids and things they made when they were small. I made them both scrapbooks for Christmas last year and ended up having to call them Volume 1. But writing the play really did make me aware of things I buy and things I keep. I made the set, and the rag rug is made of clothes, sheets, etc. that I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of. I made my boyfriend give me some of his as well. There are also towels that belonged to my stepfather’s mother, who died several years ago. His dad is going into a nursing home and my parents are spending months sorting through years of collected stuff.


In The Hoarder’s Child it’s the mother too who hoards things, and the child, the play’s sole embodied character, who must make sense of it. Heather says, “Whether it’s true or not, this person’s buried under this stuff. One of the stories she tells is how her mother’s bones came to be there. A man and a woman have purchased the house and they come in, and she tells the story of them coming in. She responds to the light, and to the sound of them, and saying the word garbage when it’s the place where she lives. She gives a child’s interpretation of the reason for hoarding—we need enough, there always has to be enough.” Has to be enough, until there’s too much, until the log becomes a backlog becomes a heap, and the questions and Heather’s answers finally must come out:

Live Arts: What is your personal history with theater?

The trashed set of The Hoarder’s Child.

When I was 12, my mom played Nurse Ratchet in a local production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I ran lines with her and I went to every single rehearsal. I knew everyone’s lines. The group was called the Bokononist Players, and I was totally in love with them and with the whole process of putting on plays. Strangely, when BSC decided to put up my The Waitress Play as our first show, the director people steered us toward was the director of that very Cuckoo’s Nest.

Live Arts: Because of the general chaos of hoarding, what are the challenges of staging this show affordably and efficiently, and planning it from a distance?

If I had my way, and a million dollars, I would’ve made something like an ant farm out of stuff, with tunnels. But I have no dollars! So for the first version of it that we did I went into recycling bins, which really was gross, but it helped me get a sense of what it would be like to be in these places, to go into places you’d normally only throw trash into and pull it out. I had a better sense of the bad feelings. We had cardboard boxes, and black garbage bags around, and piles of newspaper I pulled out of recycling. It really was hard for [Joanna] to get around, especially because we choreographed her stance to be very odd, like a person who has been ducking down or climbing over things for a long time. It was too hectic. So I started thinking about ways I could get at that feeling but still make Joanna mobile, and create something that we could take into an environment that we weren’t familiar with. So I took cardboard boxes, and die-cut the fronts off of all the packages in my house. Everything’s in plastic bags, so I collaged them onto the front of these boxes, so it’s a collage of packaging. Then I took Styrofoam blocks, and old clothes—it was amazing how many of those I was able to find in my old home—and I cut and glued them so they look like piles of clothes sitting on stage, but they’re actually clothing bricks, they only weigh a pound, so the whole thing can slide under the seats of a van if you want.

Live Arts: Why is Philly Fringe a good home for The Hoarder’s Child?

I love Philadelphia, and have friends there. Ever since I read Young Jean Lee’s Songs of the Dragons Flying into Heaven and knew she brings work there, I have wanted to go. So much of the work at Philly Fringe looks like it is courageous and curious; I very much hope The Hoarder’s Child fits right in.

The Hoarder’s Child runs September 13 and 14 at 8:00 pm, September 14 at 1:00 pm, and September 15 at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm at The Off-Broad Street Theater at First Baptist Church, 1636 Sansom Street. $15.

–Audrey McGlinchy, with reporting from Nicholas Gilewicz (whose own hoarding habits proudly include the final editions of extinct newspapers and Adidas shelltoes)

Photos by Daryn Murphy.