Without the Building, What is the Piece

We have a secret to tell you. For the past month or so we’ve been uncertain that our latest project, She Died for Our Convenience (SDFOC) would actually happen.

Last summer we were accepted into Providence Preservation Society’s Sites and Stories Explored to create a choral haunting at the site of what once was known as the Earnscliffe Woolen Mill and then the Paragon Worsted Co. You can read more about it all on our blog or by checking out the show page here.


In a city of abandoned mills, this one is particularly special. The mill complex was on the “endangered” list in Providence, but had been a kind of mythic space for artists for decades. An enormous complex of buildings deserted by industry, people consistently found use for it in both ways that were technically legal and illegal. That we were being invited to make a performance there by the Preservation Society was already kind of square, but that we were using the time and space to tell some of the feminist industrial stories buried in the bricks felt significant.

Sometime in December we found out that the building was being sold to a developer, which suddenly put our project at risk. That it would no longer be available for any kind of chaotic use felt universally sad — what does this loss mean for a city that once housed Fort Thunder? Now even the weird squatted mill would be . . . condos? Who knows. But in a very personal way, we were suddenly told that our project, approved by the Preservation Society and funded by the RI State Council on the Arts, was no longer possible now that the mills were moving from “endangered” to “purchased.”


But how could this be? Simultaneously our composer Chrissy Wolpert was composing luscious music and a community chorus of 50 people was coming together at Rhode Island College on Monday nights to learn the songs. Our costume designer Priscilla Carrion was designing costumes, our lighting designer Andy Russ was designing lights, our scenic artist Emily Shapiro was dreaming up how to dress the space. We didn’t even want to go inside the building. . . and yet, a double chain link fence went up around the parking lot that has been open for decades.

I described all this to a friend last weekend and she said, “You already have the hard part in place — the people. The space will work itself out.” But all of us working on SDFOC all year knew that the building was the piece; that without the building we kind of had nothing.


And yet, what a miracle Providence is. Last week we had a meeting with the city, Arts, Culture, & Tourism and PPS. One last pitch, a promise to make everyone sign waivers, and a drastic limitation of how many rehearsals we’d have on site and approval went through.

Relief turns quickly to work! Now that we have the green light, there’s so much to do!

See you May 4th at 7pm at Paragon Mills. Who knows? It might be your last chance to see some weird art at this legendary spot.