Chipping Smooth Is Something 'Bout Love, Most Likely
"It's like I can feel our electrons falling so love with each other's positive particles...Because chemistry is the only thing deep enough to explain this."
Pipe Dream Productions/Taylor 'Effin Cleveland Chipping Smooth features Mary Ehrlicher and Beaven Waller.
This the last line in the trailer for Chipping Smooth, the inaugural work from Pipe Dream Productions, a rag-tag organization of artists founded just this summer in anticipation of the showing of this work. The spontaneity surrounding Pipe Dream is actually quite exciting and reminds me of my readings on art groups and collectives from the 1960s -- groups of experimental and traditional artists coming together to work on a project, finding a location to present their work, and springing invitations on us. Invitations that came from word of mouth, written notes slipped under doors disclosing a secret location for you to arrive at, and posters and signage pointing you toward something that might change the way you view the world.
Now, we have Facebook to help us out. Happenings are not so much a secret anymore, at least the details aren't as we rely on the press to help fill venues, but there is still something unusual with Chipping Smooth. The Facebook event page only tells us where to go, when to arrive and who worked on the piece. The trailer gives us a two-minute glimpse at blurry images and lets us listen briefly to narrative lyrics that only hint at the intention of the work. The website is simple and clean. All we really know about the project is that it is "an original, multimedia enhanced theatrical work that delves into the challenges of finding and sustaining love amidst life's periods of emotional and social transition."
Well, that's pretty vague, but it's clear who has inspired these artists: William Shakespeare. Chipping Smooth cites and includes excerpts from The Comedy of Errors, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Sonnet 86 and Much Ado About Nothing. That's not surprising when you read the biographies of the cast and crew; most of them have either worked for or were somehow involved with Junior Players. But don't be surprised if you don't immediately recognize the Bard's words as they are integrated within the narrative and poetry of Phil and Sarah Kaye. The spotlighted piece, "When Love Arrives," comes from their "Project Voice," a new program that uses the beauty of spoken-word poetry to, in their words, "entertain, educate and inspire." The project aids in improving literacy, personal growth, and "empowerment" among young people.
From the trailer, Chipping Smooth seems to work within that concept as it alludes to a story that is meant to show how relationships are formed, how they collide, the aggression that can arise and how we can ultimately reconcile our feelings. Chipping Smooth also utilizes music from Samuel Lockridge, a Kentucky based folk singer, and a presentation from Jason Silva, a "performance philosopher" who as been described by Atlantic magazine as a "full-time walking, talking TEDTalk." I can't say what the definitive thesis to the plot is, but if Shakespeare has anything to do with it, it will be all about love.
But I should make this clear: this is not your traditional theatre work. It's not on a stage. The actors, while trained, are doing their best to get rid of any conventional trope to create something that is truly method, making Lee Strasberg so incredibly happy.
Chipping Smooth invites you into a house on North Montclair Avenue that for four days has been transformed into a performance space. We saw a similar event last summer in Trinity Groves with the Dead White Zombies and their immersive, interactive performance piece, T.N.B. The Zombies sent out ambiguous PR materials with just an image and the title of the show, the show blurb was vague and sent us to an abandoned crack house behind Babb's Brothers. From the moment you walked in, you entered into the world of the characters of the show. But they were not characters at all; these actors were real people -- the transformation from "actor" to "character" was so seamless it was almost impossible to tell when the show started to when it stopped. The suspension of disbelief that occurred worked in a way that utilized the idea of mob mentality and mass media. We all willfully entered into the house, into the neighborhood and into the story. What was a fictional tale became truth.
Pipe Dream Productions is using a comparable model -- and one that has been in place for decades and used by many contemporary theater/performance companies today -- with Chipping Smooth. When you arrive at 201 North Montclair Ave., you'll be directed to a carriage house that that group has transformed into an immersive performance space, allowing you to become a part of the story and a part of the experience.
They just want to make art, and make it up as they go along. And make it with us.
Chipping Smooth, July 31-August 3 at 8:30 p.m., 201 North Montclair Ave. Free admission.