Back to the Work: Dave Painter

Back to the Work, our project with Lippitt House Museum, aims to reveal the human fingerprints that cover our world, specifically because of work concerning construction, manufacturing, and maintenance. We are also connecting the past to the present by revealing history to be the accumulation of practices that have brought us here, rather than a tidy timeline of isolated events. In order to do all that, we're both researching who labored in the house at the time of its construction in 1865, and interviewing the people who labor in Lippitt House today. 

Lippitt House Museum is cared for by an incredible artisan named Dave Painter*. While he is currently transitioning from being the resident restoration specialist and do-er of all things that need doing to the Property Manager for Preserve RI, he still has plenty to offer about what makes Lippitt House so special. 

We met with Dave a few weeks ago to see if he might like to be involved in the project. We were delighted to discover a kindred spirit full of passion, and got to work scheduling our official interview. Last week Jed, Andy our sound and video designer, and I recorded an hour-long conversation with Dave while sitting in the Lippitt House library. Dave's passion for old buildings and for the artistic skill it took to build them and that it takes to maintain them is contagious. 

We wish we could share the entire conversation, but in the end, Andy will edit the whole chat down to about 10 minutes for visitors to hear. Maybe we'll be able to release some of Dave's other stories eventually. I especially love hearing him talk about the importance of old windows, why you should paint your ceilings a color other than white, and the sled he restored as a kid in rural PA. I'm sure you'll love hearing those stories too.


*Dave Painter got his name because of years working on construction sites with many guys named Dave. There was Dave the Carpenter, Dave the Electrician, etc. Our Dave was always Dave the Painter. When he arrived at Preserve RI, they decided to drop the "the" and just call him Dave Painter.

A Trip to Slater Mill

Back to the Work, our upcoming project with Lippitt House Museum, is sending us on a wild chase around Rhode Island, discovering the path of industrialization. Last weekend we took an incredible tour of Slater Mill in Pawtucket, which as their website says is "recognized internationally as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution." The tour was an in-depth look at the journey Samuel Slater took in his lifetime from frustrated English would-be entrepreneur to inventor of a factory system that changed the way our country and the world did basically everything. 

What follows is a photo and video essay of the tour, led by the wonderful Dee Gustafson. By the end, Jed and I were pretty convinced that the Industrial Revolution didn't actually save any human energy. It just put the energy into different places.

A Trip to Woonsocket

On Saturday Jed and I met up with our friend and collaborator Emily at the Museum of Work and Culture in Woonsocket, RI. We were on a path of discovery to learn more about the people who worked in the Lippitt textile mills in the turn of the 20th century for our upcoming project with Lippitt House Museum, Back to the Work.

The Museum is dedicated to the French Canadians who moved to Woonsocket to work in the mills, and it certainly offered a lot of interesting insights into what the Industrial Revolution meant to everyday life. From the mechanization of work changing literal day to day existence to the changing psyche of moving from a product-driven society where you are paid for something created vs the amount of time spent working, the museum's exhibits gave us a lot to chew on.

Because Back to the Work is about looking at the work that sustained the Lippitt House originally and what that work looks like today, we took advantage of a gorgeous afternoon in Woonsocket after the Museum, and walked down to the building that was the Lippitt Mill. Today it's been converted into a home for low-income seniors.

We found a plaque on the side of the Lippitt Mill (now apartments), but it's been so worn away that we couldn't read it.

It's impossible to walk the streets of Woonsocket and not see the trail of industrialization and then what happens when industry leaves for more profitable pastures. 

This is the back of the Lippitt Mill building. You can see how the low doorway was once a tunnel for the river to move under the mill.

Eventually we grabbed dinner at a Thai restaurant in Woonsocket (that also sells  chicken wings) and talked about what we wanted to do next on our Lippitt trail.

It turned out to be a rural neighborhood surrounding a nature conservancy. Researching later, we discovered that the conservancy was Henry Lippitt's son's farmland which is now surrounded by a subdivision that was built up in the middle of the 20th century.

We decided while the sun was still up to travel to an area on the map we found near Cumberland, RI called "Lippitt Estates."

This Lippitt hunt made the Lippitt Mill in West Warwick irresistible.  It closed in 2010 and is in the process of being converted into something new, and so is boarded up and hard to access -- plus by the time we got there it was dark -- but just driving past it and the twisty streets of West Warwick confirmed our desire to be back next Saturday along with a trip to Slater Mill in Pawtucket

It's hard to say  exactly how all of this will manifest in Back to the Work, but we know that the opportunity to feel these locations in our bodies and glean what we can from the trajectory of industrialization is something that will no doubt inform our multi-sensory installation. We've wondered how to bring this work into that house, and by taking ourselves to the places where the money was made that financed the house, it seems impossible to do anything less.

New and Familiar

The PVD-contingent is digging into a new project with the Lippitt House Museum in Providence, RI. Funded by the RI Council on the Humanities, we are collaborating with this historic home on how to offer an experiential tour that is guided without an expert offering answers or reenactors pretending that the past is present.

There's so much about this project that is asking us to rethink our process -- in part because there are no actors and in part because we are collaborating with a new organization -- but there is still that incredibly familiar feeling of following interest in order to create the work; of deep consideration of our audience's experience; of research into the past resonating with the lives we hope to influence in the future; of leaping into the unknown and realizing that we can do anything because we are the one's making it.

A few mornings ago after a deep visioning session, Jed said, "I always have to remember that the best part of making my own work is that I get to decide what I'm interested in. I can make it about exactly what is obsessing me, no matter what the prompt is." Truer words were never spoken. See you at Lippitt House in the spring of 2018.

The Sea Pageant Happened

More videos and photos will follow, but before the day fades too far from our minds, we wanted to send you an update.

Photo by Stray Creatives

100 performers came from all over the state, and met for the first time in the ballroom at Easton's Beach at 11am. We had only one large group rehearsal, but because of their collective commitment it was as if they'd been practicing together for months.

Photo by Shea'la Finch

Photo by Jeannine Chartier

Our visual artist team executed an incredible sand design while the tides went out, people assembled on the beach to bear witness to the spectacle, the Eastern Medicine Singers kicked off the day, and we began the only public sharing of this vision as the moon eclipsed the sun. The weather was perfect, the sky was clear, and everyone offered the ocean all that we had worked for months to achieve.

After it was over, everyone shared eclipse glasses, jumped in the water, and enjoyed the planetary delights.

And now, we are resting, planning, and taking stock. There are a few ways you can still participate in and/or help The Sea Pageant:

  1. Our documentation team is crowd-sourcing photos and video from the day. We are putting together a book for The Providence Athenaeum, as well as trying to see the day from as many vantages as possible. If you'd like to share anything, please email 
  2. Our crowd-funding campaign hit its goal, but we can keep receiving donations for another month, which will go to cover all those costs that we incurred along the way that we couldn't budget for, like gas mileage, performer snacks, and photo copies. If you would still like to offer this project some funds,  donate here.

  3. Thanks to WRNI for the great preview of The Sea Pageant. We are so glad for our story to be shared with your listeners, and we encourage you to listen here. 

Photo by John Bender

Enjoy the rest of your summer. Be generous. Love and support each other. Never doubt your ability to make our collective experience on this planet one of joy, creativity, fascination, truth, and possibility. 

On Flocking

A major experiment in The Sea Pageant is flocking.

We start every rehearsal with a flocking warm-up. On the day of the show all 100 performers will flock together. Rarely do we talk about what flocking is.

I learned the term flocking in grad school, but was exposed to it in various rehearsal processes before that. It's always been something we speak little about in terms of its technique, but feel a lot about it in terms of its internal centering power. Most people I've worked with recognize flocking as an important way to drop in, connect with your partners, and warm up your body, letting your mind slip away from the driver's seat.

Bringing flocking to The Sea Pageant performers has caused us to challenge our thoughts on how to teach flocking, especially as something to perform. When flocking is a warm-up that you discover, it has a magic edge as you gradually feel what it means rather than understand it. When you turn a warm-up into a performance, you have to ask for something specific, which is the opposite of gradually feeling.

It's hard to describe what we are looking for to the people who are inside of it without destroying it, and so I find myself repeating: listen to each other, take the lead when it's given to you, follow with simplicity, make your partner successful, and seek forward momentum.

If you happen to come to The Sea Pageant, when we get to flocking section, keep in mind that the performers are all improvising. They don't have a plan for which corner to go to or who is leading. You may wonder, how are they doing that? How do they know when to turn? Remember they are listening to each other, making each other successful, moving forward, turning their minds off, and following instinct. I have no idea how it will look, but from the inside I hope they enjoy the ride.

Rehearsing The Sea Pageant

We are deep in rehearsals for The Sea Pageant, and normally at this point in a process we would be spending ~30-40 hours/week in the same room with the same people slowly moving forward, understanding new things about the work. The Sea Pageant is not normal, however, and instead we're going to different places all over the state every day -- most of the time outside -- teaching basically the same thing to a new group of people. In some ways it is very very simple, and in other ways. . . Well, totally not.

In April we held drop-in workshops, which is how we created all of the sequences that are now part of The Sea Pageant. This amounts to: The Slow Sequence, Dry Then Wet (a chant song we don't have recordings of), The Wild Ocean Dance (Group Leaders only), and Crowded in a Dinghy (song and dance). There are also two sections that have to be invented by the performers: Individual Expression, responding to the prompt "Of the shifting of the planet" AND the Group Expression (which is created with no prompts by the group, with the suggestion that it be 1-min long)

In June we enlisted 10 group leaderswho were each tasked with getting 9 other people to join their group, so that eventually we would find 100 people. We asked them to schedule 4-6 rehearsals in total and to decide when and where they would be. There are three lead artists who know the whole piece really well, and are assigned in some combination to each group's rehearsal. As Group Leaders made their schedules, we mapped out our summers, so that at every rehearsal, there's a lead artist with the Group Leader. Together we teach the piece, answer questions, address group-specific needs and creation, and offer a consistent experience. We have a really crazy google doc to keep track of it all. It looks like this:

On August 21, 2017 at 11am all 100 performers will arrive at the ballroom at Easton's Beach. For the first time they will all meet each other and we will have two hours to rehearse together. At 1:30pm everyone will go outside and perform The Sea Pageant on the beach as the solar eclipse starts. There won't be any amplification or music that tells the performers if they're together or not; there aren't any counts to rely on or backstage areas to hide behind if you mess up. If the performance all falls apart, so be it. We keep reminding ourselves that no matter what, The Sea Pageant is actually happening now. It's already a success. August 21 is just the excuse. 

And figuring out what we do August 22, 2017 is the real question. . . 

Your Eclipse Questions Answered

The Sea Pageant is in less than a month. Our one-time-only, one-hundred-person, all-ages, all-abilities unison performance on First Beach in Newport on Aug 21, 2017 during and because of a solar eclipse is nipping at our heels.  Rhode Islanders from many walks of life, are busy rehearsing all over the state, prepping for the big event. . . 


A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes in front of the Sun causing a shadow to fall on certain portions of the Earth. 

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes in front of the Sun causing a shadow to fall on certain portions of the Earth. 

The last time North America saw a total solar eclipse that stretched from one side of the continent to another was June 8, 1918, crossing from Washington State to Florida. This path is roughly similar to the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse, which is why some people are calling this the 99 Year Eclipse.

And if you're thinking, wait a minute! I know I've seen an eclipse before, you are correct. You probably have. There have been many solar and lunar eclipses around the world since 1919, but this is the first one to stretch across the North American continent in 99 yearsThe Washington Post has a really good article about all of that -- and when the next eclipses are going to happen.

What it's going to look like all over the contiguous US. Newport, RI will be around 60% totality.

What it's going to look like all over the contiguous US. Newport, RI will be around 60% totality.

Will my eyes be okay if I look directly at the eclipse?

No. You definitely definitely definitely should not do that. It's apparently very bad for you, even though it seems harmless. We have a few suggestions on what to do instead of looking directly at the eclipse:

1.Don't Look.
This might seem difficult, but we are making The Sea Pageant for the ocean, and we are not involving plastic or human-created goods because the ocean doesn't need anymore of that. This has led some of us to wonder what if we human beings just aren't supposed to be looking at eclipses? Maybe that's our biggest issue as people: we think everything is for our consumption. What would happen if we honored something the only way our bodies are able to?

2. Wear Special Glasses.
Okay, so you want to look. You can't help it. Understood. I would guess most of you feel that way. In that case, you want to use a tool. A lot of companies make special eclipse glasses you can purchase on-line. We encourage people to team up on purchasing a bulk batch because the more you buy, the cheaper they get. Try or check out the NASA eclipse site, which has lots of useful official information.

3. Use Your Hands and/or Paper.

No matter what you do or where you are, we hope you take a few minutes to look outside and remember that we live in outer space, and even on a Monday afternoon, that's pretty amazing. At a rehearsal this weekend, Group Leader Suzu said she's excited to be marking the event with such a big action that she's going to remember for the rest of her life. We are too.

How to Make a Sea Pageant

Photo: Rebecca Noon

Step One: Dream about it for three years. Look at the ocean. Really look. Imagine what it wants from you, if anything. Ask it what it needs. Really ask. Listen. 

Step Two: Look at a calendar. Discover a solar eclipse is coming and will pass over this continent. Realize it will not be full totality by the piece of ocean nearest to you. Decide that it's okay. Your ocean still wants what it wants.

Step Three: Start talking about it. Get people excited about something happening a long time from now. Realize that people love anticipation. They will need to think about this one-time-only performance for the ocean and ask a lot of questions. Their questions are the key.

Courtesy of the Providence Athenaeum

Step Four: Accept the Providence Athenaeum's invitation to be an Artist-in-Residence. Research the ocean and Rhode Island's relationship to and history with the ocean in a historic library. Build relationships with librarians (especially Kate). Don't be afraid when people who come to your salon are angry or confused about the history you present. Listen to their questions and try to understand why they are angry at your reporting. It's hard for us to remember how much the ocean has gone through. 

Step Five: Talk to the people who manage the beach. They will want to know what this is all about. It might be tempting to do it without permission, but resist this lazy temptation! Don't assume you know who cares. Invite everyone to bring their questions, especially those who are in charge of this section of ocean. They will be excited about your common interests.

Step Six: Hold drop-in rehearsals. Invite everyone you know. Tell them they can invite anyone they know. When they come, start by asking questions. Sample questions are:

  1. What is The Sea Pageant?
  2. Why are you making a Sea Pageant?
  3. Tell us a true story about the ocean.

Step Seven: After you've listened to each other's stories free-write on a shared piece of paper. Then warm-up together. Feel silly, get out of breath, make joyful noises, make contact with each other's playful bodies. Once you are warm, look at the words on the paper and each person choose one. Make a repeatable movement phrase. Teach it to one person and learn someone else's. Combine movements. Combine groups. Keep doing this until everyone knows everyone else's movements and all of the phrases are in a sequence. Some names of sections in our sequence are: Clara Mermaid Hair, Casey Sandcastle, Starfish City.

Step Eight: Rehearse on the beach. This might feel scary, but in the end it will be the best way to understand what you're doing. Make eye contact with the ocean while you practice. Don't worry about the weather. Remember that the ocean doesn't care if it's rainy or too hot or windy. Deciding to be outside no matter what for the whole rehearsal will change your relationship to the ocean and the earth. When people approach you with questions, make sure you have something to offer. We always have small flyers and buttons. 

Step Nine: After awhile you'll be able to ask the people who've been coming for awhile if they'd like to be a Group Leader. You might think everyone will say no, but you'd be surprised. A lot of people will say yes. (A lesson you will keep learning is that a lot of people like to say yes)

Step Ten: Write a song with friends. Make a dance with other friends. These will be things you can put on the internet and people who can't get more involved can learn them and then participate on the day-of. This is also a good way to get friends involved with skills like songwriting and dancing. Bring your friends brunch and make it fun. Making art for the ocean can be really fun.

Our flyer

Step Ten: Support your Group Leaders. Help them make Groups and find rehearsal space. Go to their rehearsals and teach the movements. Let them invent new ones and also modify the ones you invented so that they can all do it safely and comfortably. Remember that the ocean doesn't want perfection. It is wild.

Step Eleven: TBD, this is where we are so far. I could pretend to know more, but I don't want to pretend about this kind of thing. Ask me next month.

The Audience Laughs at the Clown - The Bouffon Laughs at the Audience

Hey folks. Glad to be home in Juneau as the First Folio is on display at the new State Museum and Theatre in the Rough is in the midst of making Juneau, AK the only city to read the entire First Folio aloud while it's in town! Hazzah. I am returning from two incredible workshops at my new favorite retreat, the Celebration Barn, in Maine. I was fortunate enough to attend thanks to the Juneau Arts and Humanities Individual Artist Grant program.

The Bouffon and the Ecstasy of Mocking with Giovanni Fusetti was a powerful journey into the ancient human energy of parody. An extraordinary pedagogue, Giovanni took us into a deep remembering (to put memories into the body once again) of the joyful passion of mocking our fragile lives. The fantastic creative energy that can be generated by a cohort of artists opening to the heated flow of improvisation was restorative.

Spymonkey's Creating Clown Material with Aitor Basauri was equally challenging and rewarding. Another deep examination of the performer's power to create visions for an audience to dream. Though this work opened more questions for me as to where I go next, paired with the bouffon workshop I have been renewed and coagulated - inspired for the next level of creative work and the next projects!

Celebration Barn
Celebration Barn

Collaborating with Manton Ave


When Jed and I first entered the Providence theater scene we were enthusiastically advised to volunteer with The Manton Avenue Project. We jumped into our first MAP production in 2010. Jed played a rich man who went to Wal-Mart to buy a computer and I played a dog who who was also a lumberjack. Over the years we continued to volunteer when we could, and our mutual affection grew. Eventually Strange Attractor even purchased a button maker with MAP, which cemented our bond in commerce.  At some point committing to the MAP schedule became difficult. Show after show came and went without us, while we made our own shows happen, knowing we couldn’t be everywhere at once and that both of our organizations were contributing to the health of Providence. Anytime I’d apologize for not being able to volunteer MAP's generous director Meg Sullivan would say, “Don’t ever apologize” and give me a big hug.

When Marc Boucai at AS220 created the Community Live Arts residency, Jed and I knew that Before We Begin would be an interesting project to propose. A personal artistic experiment requiring large-scale space demands, it was the kind of non-play play that would be fun to create in the unjuried uncensored environs of AS220. That the residency required 30 volunteer hours with a non-profit was a bonus. We decided to ask Meg at Manton Ave to collaborate.


The young playwrights at Manton Ave took to our physical playwriting techniques with more enthusiasm and joy than many adults. We asked them to find empathy with the physical world around them -- to become sugar cubes melting, fire growing and being extinguished, balloons being blown up and let go. For young playwrights who routinely create characters from animals and inanimate objects, these leaps of empathy were pure joy. After one class we reflected with Meg about her incredible kids, and she said people will sometimes say that MAP teaches young people empathy, but after the past several years, she’s come to realize that the kids don’t need to learn empathy -- they teach it to us.

Now we’re in the theater, on the verge of this new batch of plays, created using physical theater techniques with audience interaction, written in the woods of New Hampshire, in the MAP Clubhouse in Providence and with the input and care of adults who are more than willing to let these young playwrights lead the way and will assist in telling their stories with generosity and love.


Jed and I keep remembering that we ended up here because we decided to make a play, and that play was accepted into a residency program that asked us to go farther than our show. Making Before We Begin was incredible, but by volunteering with MAP this summer, we’ve extended that creative impulse well beyond the walls of our own performance. While we wrap up our own Community Live Arts Residency this weekend, we can’t help but imagine all of the other projects upon projects that will happen in Providence because of this multi-layered opportunity, and we hope all of them have the multi-layered heart-opening process of creation that we have.

Before We Begin: Flat History

The Before We Beginroom is coming up like these things do: one wall at a time. As theatre-folk, when we say "walls," what we mean are "flats," ie, fake walls that create space. These are common base-objects in lots of plays -- particularly when you're using black boxes that need help defining the performance space and creating architecture. We're pretty lucky that we have some storage at our house so that when we finish a show we can actually store the flats and use them again. Each show, however, wants a different scenic feel, which means that unearthing flats is like a trip through your past shows. By the time audiences see Before We Begin, of course all of this will be covered up, but right now in the Black Box I can personally see the ghosts of three past shows on these flats.

This flat still has the painted scene from last summer's Idle:


You can see it in action here with actor Clara Weishahn in the show:


These flats still hold the colors from 2012's A Terrific Fire. The colors had fantastic names like "creme brûlée" and "hot watermelon. We were obsessed with them while making the show, but I can't remember them now. Anyway, here they are the flats today:


And here's some in their original incarnation.

This is the green (like, "majestic forest" or something?):


And here's that "hot raspberry" or whatever:


This wallpaper looked super familiar and I couldn't place it. . . .


Then I remembered we loaned the flats to our pals at Elemental Theatre Collective in 2012 for their show Vacancy, and they had wallpapered it to look like a cheap motel room. I wish I could find a picture of that online, but sadly. . . we'll all just have to use our imaginations. Unless someone from Elemental can hook me up with a picture. . .

(UPDATE) D'Arcy Dersham read this post and then sent me the perfect picture. Check out the then-in-tact plaid wallpaper with actor Jeff Hodge:


And soon all these concrete reminders of these past shows will be covered up by Before We Begin. Good thing we take pictures.

Before We Begin: In the Space!


Today is the big day. We've officially started moving into the AS220 Black Box and building our room within the room for Before We Begin. Jed found a rock on the beach last week that is our guiding force for the visual aspects of the room:

There are a lot of reasons why this rock is a powerful symbol for what we're building. It's simple and grey. It's round and ovally. But it also is deceptive. There is a strange tork to it -- a kind of divet if you look close. It has these vague lines and circles. It has a great weight. It kind of makes you feel calm and also in love with how nature makes such perfect objects.

We had a mid-day trip to an unnamed hardware store where we bought all the wood that could possibly be available to two people not building a home, and then brought it back to the space. Here's Jed in shopping mode:


While there we got to ask ourselves, "What kind of wood paneling should we get?" Thank goodness for that rock. It might sound nuts but it guided us toward the exact right wood siding.

And more and more more!

Before We Begin: Songs and Movies

We are making a new play that isn't really a play. As a part of the work we're doing on this non-play is collaborating with Xander Marro on a video that goes in the piece and Kirsten Volness and Jacob Richman on writing a song that we will teach the audience to sing. Both avenues of creation are new to us and all are artists we've admired for a long time, but never worked with. In other words, we're having a good time. We can't show you the video or sing you the song (yet!), but we thought it might be fun to share a couple little teasers.

So! Here is a still from a video test shoot Xander did with us to get the green screen down:


And here are the lyrics of the amazing song we wrote with Kirsten and Jacob:

We live in a dead man's house. We live in someone else's dream. I live in a time of creation. My bones grow while I sleep.

Show up when you're ready. Tell me how you feel. Dirty snow is dirty Because we get behind the wheel.

Past hopes. Future wishes. Time washes the grooves of our struggle From the shores of our remembering.

Who will sing your song when I am dead?

Then there's also this little chant:

If it's useful, celebrate it! If it's crashing, elevate it!

See you June 1-12 at AS220 in Providence.

Building the Future


Making a new play can happen in more ways than you can imagine. Because of our ensemble, our time, our interests, and the time frame we're working in to make Sans Everything, our unbeatable costume and sets designer got us a full day at the John St Studio on Brown University campus with a bunch of materials and helpers and machines. Check out the process here, but come to the show to see the glorious results.

Watch a video of Clara talking about her piece here.


On my way

Hey, everyone! Thanks for all the support and assists and conversations. I'm excited to be heading back to Rhode Island for to finish this Sans Everything...that is the title of the show. If any Alaskans will be back East in March, we will be in lovely Providence March 3-6 at AS220 and in Boston at the Charlestown Working Theatre March 10-12. Even though my gps is saying this photo was taken in 'Inner Mongolia', I'm pretty sure it is just the international cloudspace outside the Alaska Airlines window on the way to Seattle.

And thanks to the great State of Alaska for helping pay to get me on this flight and create new performances. I get my own tag line in the program, too: "Roblin Gray Davis is supported, in part, by a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts."

Be well.

Where We Are: Sans Everything

We've spent a good deal of time revisiting material and inventing new stuff. Even though we know a lot about what happens in this play, we really haven't figured out how it happens. The "how" of theatre is actually the part that makes it a play and not a novel or a synopsis. A few days ago we decided to write down all the things we know about the space ship before and after it encounters As You Like It. Here's what that looks like:


Here's just what we know about the ship before:


Here's what we think happens after:


Today we move into the ever-exciting notecard (Strange Attractor language) or paper plate (Lightning Rod Special language) stage. This means we'll start turning our bits into sequences, thus specifying all these ideas into something a little more cohesive.

Someone once called devising "ruthlessly inefficient." Certainly one writer might be able to sort all this out in a more efficient way than a room of actor-creators, but is that really the point? Is art at its best efficient?

Meet Mason

Our series of interviews between Jed and the Sans Everything co-creators of Lightning Rod Special concludes with this last-but-not-least interview. Please please please. . .  Meet Mason.

Jed: Here we go. We're at Nam Son. No. Wait. Are we at Tram Son?

Mason: I think this place has a different name. There's a really nice one [Vietnamese restaurant] in the same complex with Nam Phuong and they have live frogs and lobsters and all sorts of fish -- eels in a styrofoam box with a metal grate on top.

Jed: Have you ever bought any live things to eat?

Mason: Oh yeah. Here's a good story. Have you heard this one before? For Go Long Big Softie we created all these trials and one was a trial of courage and we were like, what should happen in this one. And -- do you remember the part when Scott drank the blood of his ancestors? It was just a silly moment. But I think there was something where maybe at first Scott thought we should kill a live chicken on stage during that part. We have a friend named Matt Lowe who has a farm and he kills chickens all the time and has killing cones --

Jed: Killing cones! Yeah. One time I killed a turkey.

Mason: Yeah, they take the chicken and put them upside down in these cones and they're constricted and upside down and you cut their necks. If you do it correctly they die very quickly because they bleed out because they're upside down. What we were told is that they still thrash around and freak out and then projectile poop. It's not a pretty thing. We went so far as to talk with Matt about it and actually meet with someone in the Italian market near to where we were rehearsing where they sell live chickens and rabbit and duck. Charlotte Ford [the show's director] was really excited about the idea and I was like, "we can't do this." Not because I'm morally opposed to killing an animal or even killing an animal in live performance. I was just like, then the whole show will be about that and our show wasn't really unpacking what that meant. You can't just, as an extra thing, kill an animal.


Jed: Like a special effect. All anyone would want to talk about is that chicken moment when the piece is about way more than that, and you would be like, "All anyone wants to talk about is the chicken."

Mason: Right. We were like, Oh we'll kill the chicken and then send it to this other farmer friend who will pluck it and we'll eat it and I was like, "Fine. I don't feel bad about that, but I do feel bad about putting that in a performance piece and then not thinking about it."

Jed: Are you from New York?

Mason: I'm originally from Chicago. From Skokie, Illinois actually. I was born in Chicago, but when I was very young my parents moved to the suburbs to Skokie, which is North of the city. And then I moved to New York for college. For NYU.

Jed: Did you do plays as a child?

Mason: I did. My mom had a friend, Sue Pector. And Becky Pector was in these community theatre play things and my mom would bring me to see Becky Pector when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade to see these plays. I saw Alice in Wonderland, I remember seeing that. I really liked it and apparently -- I recently asked my parents about this. I was like, "Did you sign me up for drama stuff?" And they insisted that I asked to be in these drama production things after I saw Becky in them. We didn't do faithful productions. Even then they were weird adaptations. I remember being a weird kind of Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. I remember being a Heffalump in a production of Winnie the Pooh, but I was a hip hop Heffalump. So I started doing theatre early, and my mom started taking me to commercial auditions.

Jed: Was that your decision?

Mason: I think it was my mom's. She had a photographer friend who took pictures of me. I think it was very exciting for my mom. But I enjoyed it too. I was a funny-looking kid. I had glasses and was adorably nerdy. I remember auditioning multiple times to play Rick Moranis' son. I was almost the lead character in Freaks and Geeks. I've never watched that show.

Jed: Really?

Mason: Yeah, I met with the producers and the directors and stuff like that. I think I was among, like five people who were in consideration. They did a lot of casting and producing in Chicago.

Jed: Did you book any commercial stuff?

Mason: I did some print things. And I was the understudy for all the kids' roles in a production at the Goodman Theatre called Randy Newman's Faust. The music was by Randy Newman and the book was by David Mamet. And later I went on to study with Mamet. They hired me knowing I'd have to go on a bunch of times and it was really intense because I had to go on for all the kids' roles. In that play they show Lucifer and God as children so there was a kid Lucifer and a kid God role and I understudied both of those. I don't remember exactly how old I was. Maybe 5th grade. Later I went to a public high school that had a really great arts program, but when I was younger I went to a private Jewish day school that was half in Hebrew and half in English.

Jed: Can you speak Hebrew now?

Mason: I can. [speaks Hebrew] I speak Hebrew, but it's not so great because I don't speak it actively. I did a Birthright trip and I was like, "This is so great. It's all coming back to me." I feel like if I spent a good year living in Israel it would all come back to me because I have an innate sense of the grammar from studying it as a real young kid, but in high school I studied Spanish. So, I went from a Jewish day school to a public high school with an amazing arts program. We put on tons of productions and had a directing class and advanced scene study class. I did Kabuki with a living national treasure of Japan who was my theatre director's teacher. It was a really big deal. He did Kabuki MacBeth and Kabuki Medea, along with Fiddler on the Roof. But we also did, like, Zoo Story.

Jed: Earlier, full disclosure, we went to a boxing gym, and I took a class with Mason.

Mason: What was that like?

Jed: It was fun. I feel like the initial learning experience with any kind of physical discipline for me is always tied up with my difficulty in processing names or numbers or sequences and my dyslexia and frustration with those things. But then my enjoyment with any movement things get me excited just to move in the end. There was just enough repetition that I was able to have some fun. But I was curious now, you'd said you'd done all kinds of martial arts. Did you ever try Krav Maga?

Mason: I've never tried Krav Maga. I know a little bit about it, but I never took intense self-defense martial arts classes. As a very little kid I took Taekwondo at the Skokie Park District. I took judo with my dad and brother for a while for a couple years. Not very long, but my dad wanted a practice -- something to do with me. A lot of it was that my vision is so bad and it wasn't so bad as a kid. But like, I thought I was really bad at sports because the sports you play as a kid are like, baseball or like, soccer or tennis or all these things that require hand-eye coordination. All these things to track these balls and I'm like, "clearly I'm a nerd and inept with my body." But then I started doing theatre and gymnastics as a kid, and martial arts and I realized, no I like moving. I even like competitive sports. I just can't do these more common sports because I have really bad vision. That's part of why I got into martial arts. My dad had always been into it as well. I was also obsessed with Star Wars as a kid. My brother and I were written up in the local paper for our Star Wars toy collection. My mom pulled me from school the day the Star Wars movies were rereleased in the theatre. I became obsessed with being a Jedi. My dad was a philosophy major and he'd read all these Eastern spiritual and philosophy texts on Zen Buddhism and all that. So at a young age I read like, Zen and the Art of Archery and all these spiritual texts and was obsessed with being a Jedi. Meanwhile I was going to Jewish day school and I was like, not into that.


Jed: Where does theatre fit in with martial arts?

Mason: I think it fits in in a big way. I became interested in it as a spiritual practice. We had this directing class in high school and on our first day of class we had this assignment to write the definition of art. And everyone writes these smart, interesting things and I was like, "I think everything is art. Art is a verb or an action. It's a thing you do. It's a lens." Would it be good to consider certain things art? Probably not, but you could. I was being influenced at that point in time by all my very Zen readings. Things are so shaped by how you look at them and your experience of the world is constructed and an illusion. Even in high school. And the teacher wanted us to come to a group agreement because we were supposed to be making these plays together in this group directing class and I would not concede. I was like, "Respectfully, I don't think I agree with any of these definitions." This assignment that was supposed to be a day went into the whole week until eventually we decided to just move on. People were a little bit frustrated with me. They were like, "It needs an audience." and I was like, "I don't think it does." So that was intense. I was already thinking about art and theatre as a way of exploring these mysteries.

Jed: How does the high school Mason Jedi decide to do NYU Atlantic theatre school?

Mason: I was pretty sure I was going to go to my state school, University of Illinois, which has a great theatre program and would have been ridiculously cheap in comparison. A high school friend at the time was really excited about NYU and I went to this college thing at the Hilton Hotel where all the colleges show up and you audition for all of them. On a whim, I made the appointment because they were there. I did my NYU audition for Rosemary Quinn, who at the time was the head of ETW, the Experimental Theatre Wing, and she had asked me what studio did I want to be in. And I was like, I want to be in the Experimental Theatre Wing because I already knew I was interested in working with theatre in these different ways and I wasn't interested in commercial theatre. I wanted to make my own stuff. I had this great interview with her and she said I'd be a great fit.  And so I was surprised when I got my letter of acceptance -- I didn't think I'd get accepted at all, but when I got accepted and was put in Atlantic I was a little bit puzzled. My parents said, "This is great. We're really proud of you. You can't go. There's no way we can afford this." We had a family meeting and they were like, "We looked at our money situation and we can't afford it, but let's have another meeting next month." And then we'd have another meeting. I think we had three or four meetings where they were like, "I'm sorry. We tried to figure it out, but it's just not possible." And after four of those meetings they were like, "Okay. Student loan rates are really low. You can take out all these loans in your name and we'll take out a couple." They said I could go. But I was already pretty much not pushing for it. I was pretty set on U of I. They really surprised me, but my parents have always been very supportive. Anyway, I ended up at Atlantic and I just loved Atlantic so much. They had very strict script analysis and heavy intellectual scene study -- which I also really love, thinking of theatre as a craft. But the voice and movement teachers were very strong and really experimental in their approach. I met Rosemary Quinn when I was there and she remembered me by name -- which is an amazing thing about this woman -- and I asked her why I ended up in Atlantic and she was like, "I don't know. I thought I put you in ETW."  But I stayed because I liked it a lot. And then I taught there, which is where I met Katie Bull, my voice teacher, who was the daughter of Richard Bull who was big in the Judson Church dance movement. He had coined this term Structured Dance Improvisation. He was a jazz pianist and he would play in jazz classes and thought, what if dancers could improvise around a tune the same way jazz musicians could? He started working with dancers and through Katie I met George Russell who was a movement teacher at the Atlantic who I hadn't studied with, but met when I just started teaching there. He sort of took me on as a mentor, which I am very grateful for. I don't think many people have mentors, especially men. Having another man as a mentor, that's not a thing that happens. That changed my life. George is an amazing teacher and very close friend. They threw me into teaching, and thought that having watched some of these master teachers I would know how to teach, and I had no idea how to teach. George taught me how to teach. Even though they invited me to teach acting technique and script analysis, I was really learning more how to teach movement and voice through Katie and George. I became more interested in that and less interested in script-based actor-training. George eventually introduced me to David Brick who was a student of his and ran Headlong along with Amy Smith and Andrew Simonet. David offered me this position as a teaching fellow at Headlong where I would teach and also study. And that's what caused me to move to Philly. George does dance improvisation, but for him it's a very personal and spiritual practice. George does improvisational dance as a way to investigate who you are as a person.

Jed: What are you looking for now? What's your quest at the moment?

Mason: I read this text called The Genuine Heart of Sadness when I was in college by this monk, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He's not really a monk. He's a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who founded Naropa.

Jed: I read a book by his wife.

Mason: Right. He was also a drunk and having sex with all these women.

Jed: And taking acid. He's a fascinating dude.

Mason: I read a chapter in his book in college with this Buddhist teacher and performer and I was like, "This describes something I've felt my entire life and never had language for." It's interesting to think about in the context of Sans Everything and melancholy and Jacques [from As You Like It] and everything. It's about how the practice of being human is actually a revealing of your heart. It's allowing your heart to be exposed and for everything to touch you. The genuine heart of sadness is so sad, not because it's been mistreated but because it's so tender. It's so open to the world and that state is a state of sadness. The kind that comes with being receptive to the world. I thought that was amazing because I was always a sad child. Not unhappy, but like, sad. Like a tender little thing.

Jed: Do you think that's where Jacques is at? Or do you think he's pushing it?

Mason: I think he's pushing it, and they all poke fun at him. But I think there's something there -- that state of being melancholy. The shambala text talks about how a real warrior is tender. A real warrior isn't like, "You hit me I'll hit you back." It's about being open to receiving to what the world is giving you and still being there for it. Fearless is not not having fear. It's going beyond fear. He talks about these two metaphors: that it's like a deer's antlers. When they first appear they're these soft bloody sacks and they must first feel so useless. But over time they become these 30-pointed, hard weapons. I think that has a lot to do with my martial arts practice and is also my quest. Now I'm getting even deeper with it. I'm thinking a lot about forgiveness, especially in the context of things like the church shootings in South Carolina. When that happened the families of the victims came out and forgave the shooter publicly like, immediately in this very Christian way. I thought it was really interesting and also felt the social media response being, "I could never forgive this person. We should never forgive this person." And so I'm thinking a lot about forgiveness and acceptance in the context of privilege and progressive values. What does it mean to forgive and allow? Is there a time that not forgiving is a way of avoiding social change or action?

Jed: Do you like hypothetical questions?

Mason: Oh yeah. I love hypothetical questions.

Jed: If you could give your life to make the world non-violent, would you do it?

Mason: I don't know that I would. Non-violent is a tough one. What does that mean? It seems like it could be bad in a cosmic perspective. Violence is a force. A vital force. Certainly the world is too violent in many ways. . .

Jed: Let me change it. If you could give your life to ease suffering and regret in the world, would you do that?

Mason: Maybe. It sounds like Jesus. I don't know. I'm such a subjective person. I'm often thinking about morality as entirely subjective so it's hard for me to make a big moral decision like that. There's an essay I love that is before the John Patrick Shanley play, Doubt. He says, "Doubt is a more powerful place to be, as opposed to knowing or conviction. From the place of doubt everything creative comes." It's hard for me -- even though I said I like hypothetical questions. I don't know, but I think I probably would sacrifice my life. That sounds like a good thing to do, right?