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“From the Edge: Performance Design in the Divided States of America”

By Adèle Bossard

"From the Edge" at La MaMa La Galleria. Photo by Adele Bossard

As I was walking a few blocks on East First Street before getting to La MaMa's Galleria, I felt the artistic creativity that exudes from this neighborhood, the East Village, where street art paintings flourish on the walls. I found the gallery near the corner of Extra Place, a small dead end on East First Street, where half of the street is covered by colorful paintings.

"From the Edge" -- The portrait of Obama on a brick wall for "Bush to Obama" (left) and Betty Book aka the Nippler (right). Photo by Adele Bossard.

The exhibition currently on display compiles pictures and work from 37 American theatrical productions. This exhibition, “From the Edge,” commissioned and sponsored by the USITT (United States Institute for Theater Technology), represented the United States at the 2011 Prague Quadrennial, a world celebration of performance design and theater architecture. The pictures show several stage designs of plays that took place all over the world (as depicted on the huge map at the entrance of the gallery). In addition to these pictures, some installations are on display, such as two inflatable constructions, one of a crocodile eating Uncle Sam and another of “Betty Boob aka The Nippler.”

“From the Edge” aims to spotlight the country's edgiest design processes and performance works from young ensembles. The edgy nature of this exhibition refers to the fact that the performances represented tried to build up a bridge between theater and topical events, although theater is not usually the first medium to tackle contemporary political issues. But with those productions selected by Susan Tsu (from 360 submissions), the exhibition focuses on theater companies that confronted problems consuming the American society today, including war, environment, race, gender, wealth disparities, religion, and the animosity between the political paritie

Lights by Kevin Adams and scenic design by Christine Jones in the Broadway musical "American Idiot."

The period in consideration ranged from 2007 to 2011, a time of major changes in the US political scene including the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the election of Obama. The dramatic ascension of a black man to leadership of the USA is depicted in the portrait of Barack Obama on a brick wall, for the set of “Bush to Obama.” The production design of “Waiting for Godot” by the Classical Theater of Harlem (and its National Tour) is particularly relevant of this period too, as the production was set in the post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Paul Chan, the producer, visited New Orleans in 2006 and was astonished by the absence of reconstruction in the city: no hammer sounds, no cranes visible on the skyline, no construction crews on the streets... That is when he decided on an outdoor production of Beckett's famous play.

This exhibition of innovative productions is also an occasion to acknowledge some enduring founders, artists and ensembles for their edgy vision and for the great work they accomplished through the years. Ellen Stewart, the founder of La MaMa E.T.C., occupies a place on this wall of fame.


If you go:
“From the Edge: Performance Design in the Divided States of America”
At La MaMa La Galleria
6 East First Street (Between Bowery and Second Avenue)
December 6 to 16, 2012
Opening hours: 01:00 PM to 07:30 PM
Free admission


Adèle Bossard is a free lance writer from Saumur, France.

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