How to turn your home into a performance space

When does a home become a performance space? When Stephanie Golino designs an afternoon event for the ladies of the Santa Cruz Dance Salon. Stephanie is an experienced theater producer and director and conceived of a performance art project using her own home as the theater space.

“Home” in fact was the unifying topic for our improvisations. Each participant brought an appropriate written passage and one household prop with which we would begin our explorations. We would pair up, select a passage, a prop, and a room in which we would create a bit of theater.

Roberta and Robin rehearse for onlookers

To begin, Stephanie took us on a tour of her home to show us which rooms were available for our work. The large, sunlit living room would act as the common room. We toured several bedrooms upstairs and down, a stairwell, two raised landings, the laundry, and a garden, each space evoking a distinct drama. Stephanie invited us to use the rooms in any manner and to use anything as a prop. Back in the common room, given the choice, I jumped right in and requested the small, downstairs bedroom. Located in the lowest point of the house, the room was self-contained: a closet, bathroom, a bed, a breakfast-sized wooden table and chair, and a little deck overlooking the harbor. Like a lonely artist’s quarters.

Each team retreated to their chosen space. Stephanie had us play with our verbal passages first, to make us more comfortable with the act of speaking, which would be integral to our productions. Marlene and I decided on a section of a poem by Bill Collins: “And the soul was up on the roof, in her nightdress, straddling the ridge, singing songs about the wildness of the sea.” It was more evocative than specific and I felt it was right for the room…and our moods. We read it in tandem, first slowly then quickly, whispered, alternating and repeating lines at random.

After an interlude in the common room to play with props, we returned once more to our micro-theaters. Each room became both stage and set for which we created short theatrical moments inspired by our texts. We took about 10 minutes to prepare them, then met again in the common room to make a group tour of our instant performance art.

This was the really fun part.

Dawn and Varvara in bedroom scene

We started at the topmost room, a bedroom with a curtained deck door. Varvara entered with a basket of laundry as Dawn frantically tore up a real estate catalog and read home descriptions with the despair of the homeless. Varvara soothes her with her home-themed text. “It’s all right, all you have to do is click your heels three times and repeat ‘There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.’”

Robin dashing down stairs

We trouped down to the livingroom to watch Roberta and Robin performing on the stairwell. While Roberta read a poem about home, Robin ran up and down the stairs moving laundry and other household stuff from one floor to the next. She ran energetically at first, then petered out after repeated flights. Her actions were so familiar, an ordinary day of housework.

Clomp clomp clomp we march downstairs to the apartment. We had our audience sit on the bed or stand in the closet peeking out at the scene. Marlene sat at the desk with a bottle of wine and a glass and verbally playing with our poem while I improvised movement on the little deck. We exchanged places, intoning phrases and invoking souls in nightgowns on the roof. It was kind of meditative and low-key (reflecting our moods) and lasted only a few minutes. I would love to play with it more and re-perform it someday.

Lorna and Rita in garden

Back up the stairs we stomped to watch Rita and Lorna perform in the garden while we watch from inside. They recited their text as a dialog, the subject of which I don’t recall.

Lorna performs in garden as we witness

I became so fascinated with the scene of everyone looking through the doorway at the garden dance, that I forgot to look at the dance myself! Performance art does that sometimes: it forces you to see the art and the context.

Heidrun and Maris in kitchen antics

Heidrun and Meris took us into the kitchen for a delightful play on Julia Child’s famous advice: if you are alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, just pick it up…who’s going to know? Wearing aprons, they whispered this advice to us echoing one another. Then they played with food at the stove.

Stephanie and Meris had prepared a short script to perform for us. It depicted an actual event in which the two of them sat at the dining room table looking out at the harbor for signs of the Japanese tsunami. Clever, rhythmic, and inclusive of the group, it was a charming conclusion to the afternoon.

Each room, each performance, offered a tiny glimpse into domestic life—ordinary, unglamorous, unnoticed but filled with pathos and humor and the pulse of living. These simple domestic actions were foregrounded by our deliberateness and by the poetic sounds of our recitations. It was real and immediate art performed by experienced dancers, wise women. I’ve been dancing a long time, but I’ve never had an experience quite like this. Can we do it again, please?

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