ARTBARN Co-Artistic Director, Jess K Smith, will be talking all thing immersive storytelling as part of a panel entitled Blurring Realities at the 2019 Themed Entertainment Association’s National Conference in Seattle, centered around Storytelling, Architecture, Technology, and Experience. Come to Cornish Playhouse on Friday, September 27th at 2pm to hear from a range of cross-disciplinary immersive artists about why audiences crave immersive experiences and how we create them.
- Choose a woman to write about. This could be someone from history or someone from your own life. The only requirements are that she is someone who self-identified as a woman, who is deceased, and whose story you’d want preserved.
- Write up to 500 words about her. This could take many forms (biography, journal entry, memory, recipe, to do list, poem, letter, etc.).
- Include your name, her name, and her date of birth and death.
- Email your submission/s to firstname.lastname@example.org by August 10th
And for those craving a little more structure or help
getting started writing, we made this
SUPER SWANKY FLOW CHART!
This summer, ARTBARN is excited to announce we will be a part of the brand new music and arts festival, THING, at Fort Worden in Port Townsend, WA, August 24th and 25th.
We’ve been working on a piece called The Archivists since 2017, a story about an all too imaginable near future where women’s stories are being erased and a group of women come together to collect and protect those stories before they can be forgotten.
For THING, we’ll be building an installation that audience members can interact with in a variety of ways. They will be invited to peruse the archive, to read and listen to stories of women and/or write or record stories of their own. We are imagining an archive similar to what we built for our 2017 workshop version of this piece that was set in an abandoned gym.
We have compiled over a hundred stories written by our incredible ARTBARN 2017 company of interns, associate artists, and collaborating writers who sent us submissions from around the country about the women (from history and their personal lives) who inspire them. We are excited to feature those stories in this year’s piece.
Our goal is to represent as many women as possible and to build a stunning piece of scale that has an immediate visual and emotional impact. For that, we’re going to need MORE STORIES! If you’d like to contribute a story to the archive, here’s how to do it:
- Claim 1-100 women (by placing your name in the “claim’ column) from this list who we don’t already have content for (those without anything in the ‘fictional material’ column. Or ADD a woman we have not yet listed at the bottom. The only real requirements are that they self-identify as a woman, are deceased, and someone who you think should be included in a preserved archive.
- Write something about them for inclusion in the archive. This should be no more than 500 words and can take a range of forms (biography, recipe, memory, monologue, to do list, diary entry, image, excerpt of their own writing, poem, letter, etc.) in addition to their date of birth and death
- Submit this to us by emailing email@example.com and/or firstname.lastname@example.org by August 10, 2019
This January, ARTBARN Founder and Co-Artistic Director, Jess K Smith, gave a talk as part of TEDx McMinnville entitled The Seeing Place. The talk features much of the research and development of the 2016 production of We Remain Prepared and suggests the ways that site-specific and immersive theatre present a model for how to see more.
ARTBARN’s residency at the University of Puget Sound was recently featured in the Autumn 2017 edition of Arches Magazine. Check out the beautiful article and get a glimpse into our most recent process.
“Please come in,” the women said. “Welcome. You’re safe now. We’ve been waiting for you.” They guided the way with flashlights and handed out Dixie cups of cool spiced tea.
The women drew the audience into a dark, steamy gym, where an industrial fan roared in the corner. There was a circle of gray metal folding chairs, and inside that circle, a circular collection of smooth black stones. There was a nylon net hanging from ceiling to floor that held what looked like hundreds of rolled-up white papers. There were three army cots, and a long table, and the darkness in between.
Set in a dystopian future, in a world destroyed by war, the story that unfolded over the next two hours followed several women survivors living in a bunker and working to create an archive of women’s stories so that they would not be forgotten. The audience trailed the women through their isolated world, where each stone in the circle represented a story that each survivor could recite by heart. Recorded narratives played on speakers as the women went through their daily routines, which gave the scene a ghostly, ethereal effect. A beautifully choreographed “training scene” and a dance between Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein were wholly mesmerizing. What looked like hundreds of rolled-up white papers in a net was exactly that—with hundreds of stories written inside.
When the last scene ended and the women said goodbye, the audience filed outside, squinting at the light. It was a blue June evening, and the air smelled of freshly cut grass. The audience munched on pieces of fry bread while the cast and crew grinned for group pictures with Jess K Smith, the director of the production and an assistant professor at the University of Puget Sound. All 11 cast and crew members were either former or current students of hers. The show they had just enacted—still an untitled work in progress—was part of a grand experiment for ARTBARN, a site-specific, immersive theater company that Jess founded in 2013.
ARTBARN is a company of five women, and their performances have typically been large-scale productions with professional actors. Their 2016 show, We Remain Prepared, was mounted at the decommissioned Georgetown Steam Plant in Seattle, and focused on three fictional workers left to tend the empty plant in case of a citywide emergency. It was part theater, part art installation, part walking tour through a historical site filled with turbines, boilers, and valves. A glowing review in The Seattle Times said the show “resonates with the collapse and shock all around us—in industry, finance, universities, the newspaper industry, and beyond.” This year, with support from the Department of Theatre Arts, the company launched a 17-day residency on campus to workshop a new play with a team of interns.
“This year it was about developing the piece rather than producing the piece,” Jess says. The core team flew out from New York, and the whole group lived in a fraternity house, where they covered framed pictures of men with posterboard to fully claim the space. “It was a little bit like camp, but only the good parts of camp,” says Hannah Ferguson ’17.
The story was inspired by the Women’s March, which Jess attended in Washington, D.C., in January. It got her thinking about how women come together in crisis. “It was pretty emotional, to see just how many people across the globe chose to stand together,” she says. But in the months after the march, as each day brought a new crisis, the threat of apathy, or outrage fatigue, felt especially dangerous. What would a post-outrage society look like? How would the same women who had marched in solidarity early on resist the urge to stop caring when things got steadily worse?
The ARTBARN workshop began with these questions. The team imagined the bunker as a sanctuary where a few women survivors would care for each other and work to commit lost women’s stories to memory. Each would hold aloft a stone and recite the story of Amelia Earhart, Ching Shih, Virginia Woolf, Caterina Sforza, Julia Child. “Choosing to preserve stories, to hold on to these legacies of real women—that felt like a rebellious act to me,” Jess says.
Working on a production about women, led by a team of professional women, made a deep impression on Erin Ganley ’18, a theater major. “Having that structure of powerful women doing theater in the real world is very special and important to me as a young woman in the arts,” she says.
McKenna Johnson ’19, a softball player and psychology major, was just dipping her toe in the theater world with this internship. “I was a little intimidated,” she says. “But Jess was very encouraging and was constantly assuring me that I have value in that space. That was the coolest thing for me, to have that validation and support from her.”
Jess was in her element—teaching and directing simultaneously. “I was so proud of them,” she says of her current and former students. “Our department puts a lot of emphasis on being a total artist, which is about being just as comfortable doing research as you are in writing, performance, and design—that’s exactly what we’re asking of them through this residency process, and I was so impressed. Everybody contributed to the conception of every part.”
As both a faculty member and an alumna, Jess is teaching in the same department as some of her former mentors, now colleagues. Professor Geoff Proehl said that when Jess was his student, he immediately recognized her talent when she worked as his assistant director on a production of Russell Davis’s The Wild Goose Circus. “Jess had worked with the actors and developed a complex, beautiful movement sequence, but I didn’t think it was right for the show and pretty much scrapped it,” he says. “All that thoughtful, careful work went out the window. It was Jess’s ability to let that go, and then to continue to fully support the production in every way possible, that most underscored for me her deep skills not only as an individual artist, but also as a collaborator.”
Collaboration is the key to everything for Jess. Each new ARTBARN production begins with “big huge messy ideas” tossed around the room, and Jess steers any conversation, class, or practice room by being completely open to what others have to offer. “I always felt like my voice was heard and that my opinion mattered,” says Zoe Levine Sporer ’15. Other students have said that the most important thing Jess teaches them is not to be afraid to fail. Creative work is about taking risks—and doing it together.
Each woman would hold aloft a stone and recite the story of Amelia Earhart, Ching Shih, Virginia Woolf, Caterina Sforza, Julia Child. “Choosing to preserve stories, to hold on to these legacies of real women—that felt like a rebellious act to me,” Jess says.
If Jess has a genius for community- building, it might be traced to the many, many practice rooms of her youth. She grew up in Jericho, Vt., a town so small it didn’t have a stoplight. Her mother played piano for local theater productions, and Jess spent her early childhood tagging along to rehearsals until she started performing herself. In her first year at Puget Sound, she joined the Adelphian Concert Choir and landed the role of the Witch in her favorite musical, Into the Woods. She was as enamored by theater and music as ever, and she also found that she loved the liberal arts education model. “All of my professors were asking me to make connections across disciplines, and that was really exciting for me,” she says. She double- majored in psychology and theater, and minored in music.
After graduating in 2005, Jess worked as an intern at Seattle Repertory Theatre, then moved to New York in 2008 to get her Master of Fine Arts degree at Columbia University. That’s when she met Melissa Brown, who would become the co-artistic director of ARTBARN. Melissa grew up outside Seattle and had actually worked at Seattle Rep at the same time as Jess, but they had never met. They kept hearing about each other through mutual friends, but it wasn’t until they were both living in New York, about 10 blocks from each other in the Inwood neighborhood, that they finally collided. They met for coffee at a little café between their apartments.
“We basically started spending all of our time together from then on,” Melissa says. They cooked Thanksgiving dinner together a few days after meeting, and eventually Melissa moved into Jess’s apartment, where they began collaborating on theater work. “The vocabulary felt really immediate and understood between us about how to work on a piece,” Melissa says.
In 2012 Jess started dreaming up a company that she would call ARTBARN. She loved site-specific, immersive theater, but what she craved most was a community of artists to create it with. The heart of ARTBARN is its residency model—the members of the company develop each piece collaboratively while living and working under the same roof.
“I was just missing why we got into theater in the first place,” Jess says. “I think people do it because of a sense of community and building something that’s bigger than what they can build on their own. I wanted to collaborate more deeply than I had ever been asked to, and I wanted to create a structure to invite others to do the same.”
ARTBARN established its first residency at Byrdcliffe Art Colony in upstate New York in 2013. When the designer needed help hanging lights, everybody pitched in. When Jess needed an extra set of eyes on a scene, everybody dropped what they were doing to help. They shared meals and rehearsed every day. “Then we mounted a show, had one performance, and tore it all down,” Jess says.
“I wanted to collaborate more deeply than I had ever been asked to, and I wanted to create a structure to invite others to do the same.”
In between creating ARTBARN and launching its first production, Jess was offered a job teaching theater at Puget Sound. She was thrilled by the idea of returning to her alma mater, but the timing was off—she had only just created her dream company in New York. It was a “torturous decision,” but she knew what she had to do. Two weeks after the Byrdcliffe residency ended, she packed up and moved back to the Pacific Northwest, hoping she could continue to lead the company from the opposite coast.
Four years later ARTBARN is thriving, and Jess has been able to use the company’s collaborative model as a teaching tool for her students. Melissa, who is head writer in addition to co-artistic director, flew in for the summer residency. “Having this particular team of interns was phenomenal,” she says. “And it was great to see Jess in teacher mode.”
The workshop production had been mounted at Warner Gym, which wasn’t an ideal space, acoustically speaking, and certainly wasn’t specific to the story of women holed up in a bunker. Now that the workshop process is over, Jess is focused on developing the piece further at Fort Worden Historical State Park, and estimates that the final production is still two years away. “I felt a different pressure this year than I have ever felt with ARTBARN, I think partially because we are a company of women, and we finally chose to do a piece about women,” she says. “I’d like to give ourselves the time to do it well.”
Fort Worden is located on the Kitsap Peninsula, overlooking the Puget Sound, 88 miles north of Tacoma. The grounds include a long, rocky beach with a lighthouse, dense woods dotted with concrete bunkers, and big military houses. Part of what appeals to Jess about the space is how “masculine” it feels. “Everything about it is such brutal architecture,” she says. “It feels like it wants contrast, to be reclaimed with a different kind of power.”
Ultimately, she hopes to curate an arts festival there, where ARTBARN would be just one part of the whole experience. “I would be really thrilled to create a platform for a lot of different artists to collaborate across disciplines in response to a similar site or a shared theme,” she says. Her eyes light up then, and for a moment she gazes out her office window, presumably envisioning the creative work ahead.
We are so very lucky to be working with Adrian Kljucec for our third year in a row! After serving as an invaluable part of our dramaturgical team for We Remain Prepared alongside Sara Keats and presenting about the process at the National Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas conference in 2016 alongside Jess K Smith, we were thrilled to work with Adrian in the fall of 2016 when he served as the course assistant for the Projects in Dramaturgy class taught by Jess. Together, they guided a tremendous group of students through research, writing, design, and performance of two original site-specific performance pieces staged throughout the University of Puget Sound campus. When Adrian applied to be an intern for the 2017 residency, we were thrilled. There’s little that Adrian can’t do. He’s a fantastic collaborator, an insightful dramaturg, a gifted writer, a beautiful performer, and a badass designer. Among his many gifts, the greatest is perhaps his heart. He brings a rare emotional generosity to each and every project and our entire company has been made better because of it.
This semester, in his final months on campus, we are honored to have Adrian serving as our one and only ARTBARN intern. If you’ve seen the recent “Research | Realization” posts, those are all him! And there’s so much more that he’s doing to support our company behind the scenes. If you don’t know Adrian yet, make an effort to get to know/collaborate with/hire/cast/befriend him. You can thank us later!
Three questions with Adrian:
What’s the best performance you’ve seen lately?
The best performance I’ve seen lately would have to be a show from Lady Lamb’s Acoustic Living Room Tour. One of my favorite musical artists, Lady Lamb, began an intimate “Living Room Tour” to explore vulnerability with her latest album, Tender Warriors Club, and her audience. I saw her in Portland over Spring Break in someone’s tiny home, which held about 35 people comfortably. I sat on a couch, behind her guitar rack, to her left not expecting to be seen, but she made sure to acknowledge every single person in that room by holding eye contact with each one of us at least a few times. It was one of the most raw, vulnerable, humble, and connected shows I’ve seen in a long time.
What have you recently fallen in love with?
I have recently fallen deeper in love with devised work; watching it, dreaming of it, and creating it. Pushing the boundaries of what we consider to be theatre, expression, and performance continues to excite my spirit. Currently taking a course on directing, I am gaining a number of insights and tools that are already expanding what feels possible for performance in my mind. There is a type of fruitful freedom in devising work when one explores previously established limits, presses on them, and introduces their own. This is what most gets me giddy and gushy these days.
What do you hope to gain from working with ARTBARN?
I am ecstatic to continue my long-standing internship with ARTBARN this year. I have had a wonderful experience working with ARTBARN as an assistant dramaturg an exploring director and designer in the past, though I am greatly looking forward to gaining a better understanding of production management, strategic planning, and marketing this time around. I hope this facet of experiential learning with ARTBARN will prepare me for entering the professional world as a freelance theatre maker!
Adrian Kljucec is primarily an actor, but has discovered his love for design recently. He holds a B.A. degree in Theatre Arts and African American Studies from the University of Puget Sound. For his senior thesis project he sound designed for Lunacy by Sandra Perlman, and played the role of Connor in Afterlife: A Ghost Story by Steve Yockey. During his time at the university he has had the pleasure of acting in a number of pieces including: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee, Yellow Face by David Henry Hwang, One Tennis Shoe by Shel Silverstein, Sidewinders by Basil Kreimendahl, and Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn. In addition to his acting roles, he dramaturged the university’s production of RENT by Jonathan Larson, and has been a stage carpenter for all four years. Last summer Adrian was the assistant director and dramaturg on ARTBARN’s We Remain Prepared, while fulfilling additional roles as design assistant and set constructor. This past summer he co-dramaturged a staged reading of Gemini Season by Nelle Tankus for ACTivate, a series of readings through ACT’s ACTLab. He also participated in One Coast Collaboration’s week-long workshop as an actor for MJ Kaufman’s new developing play. Adrian is excited to have another opportunity to work with ARTBARN during his last semester in college!
This week, ARTBARN’s very own intern extraordinaire, Mckenna Johnson, is being featured in a Tacoma Weekly article about the ways in which she balances being a student, athlete, and and artist. Check it out!
When she’s not putting in swings in the batting cage, Mckenna Johnson can be found working near a different stage. The Puget Sound softball junior recently made her directorial debut on campus during Homecoming and Family Weekend. The script, written by Puget Sound senior Allie Lawrence, fascinated Johnson from the start: The relationship between personified Pepsi and Coke cans.
“There’s definitely some cheesy humor,” Johnson said about the play she directed. “But it’s cool to show that best friends can have opposite personalities.” The 10-minute play was part of a series of plays during the festive weekend, and it might just be the first of a handful for Johnson.
“I didn’t have much of an opportunity to participate (in the arts),” Johnson recalled of her high school years. “I was just a fan.” But her appreciation turned into active participation when she came to Puget Sound.
This past summer, Johnson held an internship with Artbarn – “an innovative theater company in residence at University of Puget Sound.” Johnson was part of a team that worked on a fictional story about a group of women that – in time of conflict and war – preserved the legacies of women.
During her three-week internship with Artbarn, Johnson spent up to 12 hours per day researching, writing, and helping with set design. She also participated in workshops with directors from all over the country.
“Mckenna has a number of different talents outside of the softball diamond,” said Puget Sound softball head coach Kellyn Tate. “Her teammates have enjoyed supporting her ability to take her gift of comic relief and apply it on the stage. McKenna helps minimize the most stressful situations by keeping her teammates loose and relaxed. Her personality is definitely fitting for the first play she directed.”
RESEARCH: Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas.
REALIZATION: Characters Dee & Izzy, and their falling sequence in the 2017 workshop showing.
Gertrude Stein, an art collector, publisher, writer, and journalist, is often associated with “the lost generation”, a group of expatriate writers living abroad between the wars. In addition to pushing boundaries in her writing (applying abstraction and Cubism to prose), she was also known for pushing boundaries with her peers. In fact, she was considered a formidable contemporary of Earnest Hemingway’s, who both respected and despised Stein for her confrontational style. While her writing was groundbreaking, ARTBARN was most drawn to her personal relationship with Alice B. Toklas.
Stein, who was working on research for her own writing, asked her friend Annette to share the letters she had been exchanging with her friend, Alice B. Toklas. That is how Stein first learned of this American-born member of the Parisian Avant-garde: through letters intended for another. Stein finally met Toklas in person when she arrived in Paris at which time Stein began openly courting her. From that moment onward, Toklas became Stein’s assistant and long-term companion/lover/partner. Interestingly enough, Stein’s autobiography is called, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” which was written about Stein from Toklas’ point of view. Together, they hosted a dazzling array of the famous, the ambitious, the wealthy, and the curious at their Paris homes for Salons and lively debates (including with Hemingway himself). While their apartment was later deemed the “first museum of modern art” by the New York Times, what interested us most was the unique and seemingly unbalanced relationship between Stein and Toklas.
The relationship between the characters Izzy and Dee in ARTBARN’s 2017 workshop showing mirrored that of Toklas and Stein. Izzy would become Dee’s assistant in maintaining their place of refuge, quickly becoming an invaluable part of the process, but rarely given leadership. Simultaneously they found a deep romance, kept hidden from the rest of the girls. Their nuanced relationship was a central part of the story. For the 2017 workshop showing ARTBARN incorporated a movement sequence called “falling,” which was developed in response to Stein and Toklas’ history. The choreography featured Izzy and Dee swaying back and forth, using each others’ bodies and weight to “fall.” Their sequence was mirrored by two ensemble members completing the same action.
RESEARCH: Caterina Sforza.
REALIZATION: A central gesture in Artie’s training sequence in the 2017 workshop showing.
Caterina Sforza (1463-1509) was a brutal Italian warrior who bore 8 children and travelled on horseback across the Tiber while she was 7 months pregnant. When approached by an army of men attempting to kill her children she threatened them by lifting her skirt, bearing her vagina, and exclaiming, “Go ahead take my children, do what you will. I have what’s here to make more!”
Caterina’s blunt force towards any man’s attempt to overpower her easily made it’s way into the 2017 workshop showing. One of the central gestures in Artie’s training sequence was inspired by Caterina’s threat towards the army of men, when she lifts her skirt and lets out a warrior’s scream as she prepares to face the outside world.
RESEARCH: Marsha P. Johnson.
REALIZATION: Artie’s training sequence in the 2017 workshop showing.
Marsha P. Johnson is responsible for the first brick that was thrown at the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, launching the Stonewall riots into action. Robert Heide remembers that he “just saw her [Marsha] in the middle of the whole thing, screaming and yelling and throwing rocks and almost like Molly Pitcher in the Revolution or something.” The Stonewall Riots had become the spark that ignited transgender rights and activism and Marsha P. Johnson was at the front of that, leading transgender visibility. It has been said that “Marsha’s political strategy was to model victory. And by doing that, she really gave power for people to believe that there would be some sort of a victory in those initial days of the movement. Everybody followed her, and I think she would find a way to get us to follow her today.”
Marsha’s unforgiving fight, tenacity, and resilience found their way into ARTBARN’s 2017 workshop showing through Artie’s training sequence. Before entering the dangerous world beyond the walls of their refuge, Artie would train her body and mind. As she moved through a sequence focused on physical strength and opening her heart, the audience heard text inspired by Marsha’s life flowing out of speakers in the space. Artie trained herself in order to lead a band of women through a world that sought to deny their existence – just as Marsha modeled for us.