Randi Alexis Hickey on Living The Buried Life
But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us
—excerpt from ”The Buried Life” by Matthew Arnold
The mid-19th century poems of Matthew Arnold have influenced generations of readers, including Randi Alexis Hickey. Arnold’s poem “The Buried Life” (and a recurring storyline in Gilmore Girls) inspired Hickey’s 2018 Fringe Festival show. She talked to FringeArts about the poem, her show, and why she loves the Fringe.
FringeArts: What was your introduction to Matthew Arnold’s poem “The Buried Life”?
Randi Alexis Hickey: When I was in high school there was a show on MTV called The Buried Life, which I loved. It was a group of guys who bought a bus, fixed it up, and went on a road trip to check things off of their bucket list. For every item on their list, they helped someone else check something off of theirs. They were obviously inspired by the poem, so I looked it up and read it in full, and I was in love all over again. At the end of my senior year it came time for us all to make our senior pages in the yearbook. My roommate tells me this is not something that happens everywhere—each graduating senior gets a page in the back of the yearbook to to pay tribute to their high school experience or do whatever they want with. Mine was simply this poem, “The Buried Life” by Matthew Arnold, and two pictures of me: a baby photo and one in my cap and gown.
FringeArts: What moved you about it? Why did you think it would make for an interesting theater piece?
Randi Alexis Hickey: “The Buried Life,” for me, speaks to the elemental desires in us all. The need to find out why we are the way we are. Why we’re all here. I believe that everything happens for a reason and that we all have a purpose for our time on this planet, and our whole lives are this journey to “spend our fire and restless force / in tracking out our true, original course.” Personally, I love to know about people. Not in a gossipy sort of way—I’m interested by people’s stories. I’m drawn to documentaries, autobiographies, and theatrical storytelling. First person storytelling is something so unique and beautiful that I’ve never gotten the chance to curate. “The Buried Life” felt like the perfect narrative guide for that kind of piece.
FringeArts: Why did you think the show was right for the Fringe Festival?
Randi Alexis Hickey: Our production of The Buried Life is really the melding of two inspirations: the poem and the Life and Death Brigade. The Life and Death Brigade is a fictional secret society run out of Yale, which had a beautiful storyline on Gilmore Girls. It’s essentially a bunch of rich Yale kids who get together and throw these elaborate parties and pull dumb stunts as the grand finale to each one. Fuck those stupid entitled kids, right? Actually it gets to the heart of what “The Buried Life” is saying: let’s take a minute to actually see and hear each other. Tell stories. Drink. Sit around the fire. Then jump off 30 foot scaffolding with only an umbrella to break your fall to close out the night. Or cross the English Channel in a giant kangaroo balloon.
You know when you’re feeling stuck and frustrated in your life and you just need to do something about it? The Life and Death Brigade is fictional, but is based on very real collegiate secret societies across the country (who did, in fact, cross the English Channel in a kangaroo balloon). So we’re throwing that Life and Death Brigade party with songs and stories guided by “The Buried Life,” and you all are welcome to join us. That felt very Fringe to me.
FringeArts: What has the process been like? Where does it go from here?
Randi Alexis Hickey: So far it’s been a lot of coffee meetings with Damien Figueras, who is the coconceiver, arranger, and music director for this. We’ve been spending a lot of time with the poem as well as doing music research. We’ve been finding out what songs we already know and love that speak to this experience, as well as introducing each other to new music. A large part of this is cultivating the performers’ stories that will drive the piece and click everything into place. In just a few days we’ll have everyone in the same room for the first time and that part of the process will begin.
FringeArts: What themes do you want to bring out in the show?
Randi Alexis Hickey: There will of course be themes that emerge due to the nature of this work. However, in a lot of ways, we’re not imposing those themes. It’s a party, and we want the folks who join us to have their own experiences within that. I hope that every person that buys a ticket to The Buried Life comes out with a different perspective and a different story of how the night went. On a whole, a huge theme for us is “coming of age,” but in a sort of non-traditional way. People can tell a new coming of age story every month, and even every day, no matter how old they are. With this piece, we view coming of age as an everyday experience, as opposed to a summary of the first act of your life.
FringeArts: Should art be understood, or experienced?
Randi Alexis Hickey: Experienced. Then digested or internalized, and carried with us as we go forward.
FringeArts: Why does Vox Populi suit the show?
Randi Alexis Hickey: We chose Vox because ON THE ROCKS (Elaina Di Monaco & Haygen-Brice Walker) was looking for some folks to go in on it with them this year. I think we could tell these stories and sing these songs anywhere, but I want to do it with my early-career artist community. Real, classic Fringe is something I love and think is important. You know, theater on a shoestring, rehearsing in basements, and throwing house parties for funding. So to have a space that isn’t costing us an arm and a leg, and to have ON THE ROCKS in our corner, allows us to do that and create the kind of work you don’t necessarily see all year round in Philly.
FringeArts: We agree! What else are you looking forward to this Fringe Festival?
Randi Alexis Hickey: ON THE ROCKS’ WOLFCRUSH of course. Close Your Legs, Honey—Damien Figueras, my partner in crime on The Buried Life, is doing orchestrations for that and basically all of our friends are involved. White Feminist by Lee Minora. Phaedra’s Love by Svaha Theatre Collective! I’ve gotten to know Elise D’Avella through Directors Gathering’s DG Fellows program and I’m stoked to see her direct this. There are so many more I could list! It’s why I love Fringe—I’m so excited by so much of the work going up during in just the span of a month.
FringeArts: So are we! Thanks Randi!
What: The Buried Life
When: September 18 – 21, 2018
Where: Vox Populi, 319 North 11th Street
Created by Apartment 20