Tell us what you think of ALL THE NAMES…

Quantum "All The Names" previewWe hope your experience at Quantum’s All the Names was a good one. Our staff and board are interested to hear what you think, and encourage you to talk with others as well, so we have initiated an online conversation you can join with fellow attendees. What did you like/dislike about the production? Was there something in particular that resonated with you? Something particularly confusing? Any comments or suggestions are greatly encouraged.

Leave your comment in the comment box below. Be sure to click the box that will notify you of responses to your comment.  Some will come from Karla, and some (we hope) will come from other patrons.  You’re a valued member of the Q-mmunity.  We’re all hoping for greater understanding through the art that we experience.

We greatly appreciate your thoughts and look forward to continuing the conversation of All the Names… and of Quantum Theatre experiences to come, we hope there will be many more.

Devising ALL THE NAMES: A Conversation with Karla Boos

By Brandon Getz

Barbara Luderowski Artist Pittsburgh, PA

Barbara Luderowski

Q-Blog: How did development on All The Names begin?

Karla Boos: Barbara Luderowski [founder, The Mattress Factory] said she was interested in doing something together, and this book seemed like it would provide a platform for that. I thought I could lure Barbara in with it. Everybody fell in love with the book.

Q: How did the other collaborators come on board, and what talents do they bring to the team?

KB: I thought about who would compliment Barbara, and who would like to work in a way that tended more toward installation and abstraction. Narelle Sissons seemed really key to me, but they’re all folks who might be very adept in more straight theatre but feel constrained by the usual demands. And the book also invited different kinds of treatment. Sound was clearly going to be very interesting, video, etc.

Quantum "All The Names" preview

James Fitzgerald and Mark Thompson (photo by Heather Mull)

Q: Actors James Fitzgerald and Mark Conway Thompson mirror each other as kind of dual aspects of Senhor José’s consciousness. What inspired that device? What effect does it have on the play?

KB: Early on, while grappling w an interesting aspect of the book, S. José having these dialogues with himself and imagined conversations (like we all do in life) I thought to separate that into a 2nd person who would be a kind of very physical S José to the other’s verbal take.

Q: Why adapt this book? What about it spoke to you, or begged for adaptation?

KB: The book is one of the greatest I’ve read. It’s about one person, the inside of one person’s psyche… But it’s about all people, it moves you because we are all Senhor José. I thought it would lure Barbara, and be the right platform for these different, interesting modes of treatment and fabulous artists.

Q: How does the show follow Saramago’s book? How does it depart?

KB: The show tells the story of S. José, which is actually quite linear: it’s a suspenseful narrative. But it’s more than that, and we theatre people and visual artists were inspired to use three dimensions in our different modes to express its themes and emotions. We also put the audience members in the shoes of the protagonist at times. It’s important to us that YOU be S. José, feel what he feels.

AlltheNames_Web2Step into the shoes of Senhor José in Quantum Theatre’s world premiere of All The Names, devised by Karla Boos, Chris Evans, Cindy Limauro, Barbara Luderowski, Sarah Pickett, Megan Monaghan Rivas, Joe Seamans, and Narelle Sissons. The show opens April 10 and runs through May 2 at the Original Carnegie Free Library in Allegheny Commons, adjacent to the New Hazlett Theater. Purchase TICKETS online or call 412-362-1713. More info here.

Brandon Getz is a writer and blogger living in Pittsburgh.  Read more at brandongetz.com

Memory Space: The Carnegie Free Library and ALL THE NAMES

By Brandon Getz

PHLF-marker“The Central Registry,” an ominous recording explains as you walk into darkness, “is comprised of the card indexes and archives of the living…and the archives and card indexes of the dead.” You move through cavernous rooms—rooms which, for a hundred years, held the stacks and catalogs of the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny—now refitted with the surreal scene design of All The Names’ Central Registry, where the protagonists of José Saramago’s Nobel Prize-winning novel come to life in Quantum Theatre’s Kafkaesque adaptation.

LibraryExteriorThe space could not be more perfect. One of the country’s oldest library buildings, the Carnegie Free Library, which sits in the Allegheny Commons area of Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood, was once a bustling cultural center. Seeing its patronage diminish as Allegheny City’s population fell and resources were diverted to other branches, the library closed after lightning hit the clock tower in 2006, its once-hallowed halls stripped of books and shelving and the card indexes of a century of history. But, at least for the run of All The Names, the ghosts of the stacks are back, stocked with the Central Registry’s records of Births, Marriages, and Deaths: the primary data of everyone in Saramago’s unnamed country; stocked, essentially, with all the names.

Carnegie_Library_Allegheny_ReadingRoom_1900“Carnegie, when he had these things designed, he designed them for multiple uses,” says John Canning, vice president of the Allegheny City Society, a historical group dedicated to the legacy of North Side landmarks. “They often had music halls, lecture halls. They weren’t just libraries.”

Karla Boos, Quantum’s founder and artistic director, adds, “It’s a municipal building, once home to city records, the building itself a repository of information, in a way representative of the city’s people, their lives, behind the books, and in that way like the setting of the novel.”

Carnegie_Library_Allegheny_1900Boos has been co-adapting the production with Mattress Factory founder Barbara Luderowski and a host of “co-devisers,” artists and designers who’ve not so much transformed the library as restored it, at least a version of itself, a version that feels at once fantastically overwhelming—the labyrinthine world of the Central Registry—while throwing the absences in the space into stark relief: you become acutely aware that this beautiful place once housed real books.

Canning sees hope in that awareness. “Having a performance in this location will highlight the potential of this building. It will show what can be done with a space that’s now been vacant for a decade. And it’s a public space—it belongs to the city.”

Quantum "All The Names" preview

‘All the Names’ (Photo by Heather Mull)

Boos and her team seem to agree. They’ve incorporated the classic architecture of the building, utilizing the grand rooms, the articulate columns, the balconies, the hidden staircases. “We found it felt right,” Boos says. “[The library] offered several spaces so the audience could move and actually feel like [protagonist] Senhor José on his journey of discovery, and we could treat that journey in different ways, involving all the senses.”

Quantum "All The Names" preview

‘All the Names’ (Photo by Heather Mull)

Explore the Central Registry will all of your senses in Quantum Theatre’s world premiere of All The Names, devised by Karla Boos, Chris Evans, Cindy Limauro, Barbara Luderowski, Sarah Pickett, Megan Monaghan Rivas, Joe Seamans, and Narelle Sissons. The show opens April 10 and runs through May 2 at the Original Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny, adjacent to the New Hazlett Theater. Purchase TICKETS online or call 412-362-1713. More info here.

Brandon Getz is a writer and blogger living in Pittsburgh.  Read more at brandongetz.com

Intersections: Karla Boos & the Brahman/i Experience

by Brandon Getz

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Karla Boos, Artistic Director

Though Karla Boos built Quantum Theatre to experiment, intersections formed fertile ground for that experimentation: where performance meets unconventional space, where art meets community, where theatre meets real-life.  The company’s founder and artistic director notes the latest production, Aditi Brennan Kapil’s Brahman/i, is no exception.

“I love poking at form because I’m experimenting with audience behavior in quote-unquote ‘theatre,’” she says. “I likechallenging the idea that the play is up there and you’re here in the dark and there’s this metaphysical divide [between you and the play].”

While Quantum has always experimented with how it engages audiences, the 2014-2015 season does so in especially new ways. The wildly successful Tamara (voted best play of the year by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) was a fully immersive experience that included a champagne party in the garden, following characters all over Shadyside’s Rodef Shalom, and sharing a fully catered dinner with a table of fellow theatre-goers.

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Temple of Comedy, Quantum’s pop-up club

“We’re putting audiences in different situations throughout the whole season,” Boos explains. And for Brahman/i, “we have done everything to convince audience members to behave as if they are in a comedy club, that it’s okay to get up, that it’s okay to flag your server.” From the space’s design (small cabaret-style tables, arranged between the stage and the bar) to the opening comedy act by Vince Ventura to your complimentary Kingfisher beer and naan/chutney snacks, you know as soon as you walk into the room that you’re not in a typical theater—and with Quantum, you never are.

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David Bielewicz and Sanjiv Jhaveri in ‘Brahman/i’

Brahman/i doesn’t just represent an intersection of experiences; it’s also an intersection of communities. At the heart of the play are questions about gender identity and sexuality, about colonialism’s legacy and the immigrant experience, complex questions of the self without any easy answers. With these issues in mind, Boos assembled her team, drawing together talented artists to whom these questions matter deeply. Director Shishir Kurup, Boos’ friend from the 1980s, has written and produced a number of plays about the American experience of Indian immigrants, and actor Sanjiv Jhaveri caught Boos’ attention at a reading of one of those plays, performing the comedic role in Kurup’s Merchant on Venice. Her design team includes prominent members of the GLBTQ+ community, and even Brahman/i’s sidekick “J,” David Bielewicz, is a practicing musician who founded the open mic night at Hambone’s in Lawrenceville.

“Every show I’ve worked on, it’s a team effort, and there’s a reason Karla has assembled each artist or team member,” says costume designer Richard Parsakian. “As a member of the GLBT community, I loved that [Brahman/i] spoke of tolerance and acceptance…a very universal message.” In Pittsburgh theatre, Parsakian says, these issues “haven’t been approached in this way before, in terms of comedy. It’s usually pretty serious.”

Quantum’s mission statement declares that the company “is a kind of laboratory, an incubator for the amazing…rededicated each year with the rites of spring.” With spring looming, expect Karla Boos and Quantum Theatre to keep innovating and bringing unique experiences to Pittsburgh audiences. April’s world premiere of All The Names will push the boundaries even further than Brahman/i when answering the question “What is theatre?” Boos is working with the Mattress Factory’s Barbara Luderowski and a team of artists whose work may look as much like installation as theater, to build another immersive experience—one in which audiences will move freely, have a lot of choices to make and autonomy to shape their understanding of the story and events.

“What you go to the theatre for in 2015 is not exactly the same as what you went to the theatre for in 1995,” says Karla Boos. “That’s why when we’ve done something, we’re not going to do it again. We’ve already done it.”

Experience Brahman/i now through February 22 at the Temple of Comedy, Quantum Theatre’s pop-up comedy club in Garfield, 113 N. Pacific Avenue. Purchase TICKETS online or call 412-362-1713

 

Brandon Getz is a writer and blogger living in Pittsburgh.  Read more at brandongetz.com

Becoming Brahman/i

by Brandon Getz

_MG_3343Brahman/i is a play about the spaces in between. Conflicting identities, transformations, trying on different skins until one finally feels like it fits. A play about the process of becoming, and an acknowledgement that that, more than anything, is what life is: the process, not the endgame. To become the title character of Quantum Theatre’s latest production, New York-based actor Sanjiv Jhaveri has to inhabit those between-spaces. It’s challenging, and Sanjiv is bringing his A game.

“[Brahman/i is] intense. In your face. Mercurial. That’s a word Shishir [Kurup, the director] would also use,” Sanjiv says. “He/she is very much a human being, in terms of the comedy and the showmanship—parts of the show are about covering up pain.”

The play balances on a ledge. It’s got the character’s pain, heartbreak, confusion and loneliness underneath, but ultimately—truly—it’s a comedy. It’s right there in the subtitle that playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil gave her play: “A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show.” Her note in the script reads, “This play is intended to be a stand-up comedy routine, until it’s not….”

_MG_3483Sanjiv admits: “I would consider myself a funny person, blah blah blah, but I’m not a stand-up comic.” Not that the actor is a stranger to comedy. Sanjiv has been playing “character” roles since forever. “I’ve been a character actor my whole life. Theatrically speaking, [I started] early in my career letting my body become different characters, and then in the last few years I’ve been doing audio books and giving these different voices to those.

It was this experience in character acting that landed Sanjiv his starring role in Brahman/i. A few years ago, during a South Asian Theatre Festival here in Pittsburgh, the actor performed the part of the clown character in a staged reading of Shishir Kurup’s Merchant on Venice, a present-day Indian-American adaptation of the Shakespearean classic. “Shishir and I go way back. I was in a play of his fifteen years ago: On Caring for the Beast. The work that he’s done as a playwright is outstanding—he’s written the bulk of it in iambic pentameter.”

_MG_3741Quantum founder and artistic director Karla Boos presented the reading as part of that festival and, two years later, recruited Sanjiv Jhaveri and Shishir Kurup to take on Brahman/i, part one of Kapil’s Displaced Hindu Gods trilogy. After reading the script, in which 95% of the lines belong to Brahman/i, Sanjiv thought, “Wow, this is going to be a massive challenge. But if I can get out of my own way, I can do something special with this.”

To do that, Sanjiv was off book on the first day of rehearsal. “We read the play, and then I got up on my feet and started moving. That doesn’t usually happen.” Having the lines already committed to memory, Sanjiv could focus on comedic timing, on delivery, and on inhabiting the multitude of other characters—a know-it-all aunt, an apathetic cousin—that Brahman/i works into the comedy routine.

To become Brahman/i, Sanjiv has had to explore the gender fluidity of the character. It isn’t drag, and it pushes beyond the male/female binaries we often take for granted. “I bought some nail polish the other day,” the actor says. Onstage, “I want to make sure I don’t chip my nail polish, and that affects my physicality in a certain way. That’s something Brahman/i is commenting on—here are these roles we take on as men and as women, and what is that? Are there more options than that?”

_MG_3517“I have always felt like I’ve had a male spirit and a female spirit inside me, so there were things that weren’t totally new for me,” says Sanjiv. “But then there were things that were—like the nail polish.”

As opening night nears, Sanjiv has risen to the challenge. The performance is intense, but it isn’t grueling—the actor is having a blast onstage. “The most fun has just been seeing how ridiculous my mind can be when I allow myself to be completely open, in terms of delivering a line or becoming a character. You have to let yourself be open to the ridiculosity.”

See Sanjiv Jhaveri become Brahman/i in Quantum Theatre’s production of Brahman/i, directed by Shishir Kurup, playing at the Temple of Comedy, 113 N. Pacific Avenue, January 30 through February 22. Purchase TICKETS online or call 412-362-1713

Brandon Getz is a writer and blogger living in Pittsburgh.  Read more at brandongetz.com

(photos by Heather Mull)

Tell us what you think of BRAHMAN/I…

_MG_3395We hope your experience at Quantum’s Brahman/i was a good one. Our staff and board are interested to hear what you think, and encourage you to talk with others as well, so we have initiated an online conversation you can join with fellow attendees. What did you like/dislike about the production? Was there something in particular that resonated with you? Something particularly confusing? Any comments or suggestions are greatly encouraged.

Leave your comment in the comment box below. Be sure to click the box that will notify you of responses to your comment.  Some will come from Karla, and some (we hope) will come from other patrons.  You’re a valued member of the Q-mmunity.  We’re all hoping for greater understanding through the art that we experience.

We greatly appreciate your thoughts and look forward to continuing the conversation of Brahman/i… and of Quantum Theatre experiences to come, we hope there will be many more.

Inside the Temple of Comedy

Brahman-I_WebGraphicby Brandon Getz

Onstage: instead of an altar, a lascivious leather loveseat. Instead of a choir, a Casio. At the opposite end of the sanctuary, shelves of liquor bottles glow disco colors, and between bar and stage, in place of pews, are cabaret-style tables. Get comfortable. You’re about to worship at the altar of the Temple of Comedy, Quantum Theatre’s pop-up club for Aditi Brennan Kapil’s Brahman/i.

“What was exciting about creating a comedy club,” says Scenic Designer Britton Mauk, “was thinking about what kind of club [Brahman/i] would be performing in—a seedy place where you’re only paid in drinks? Or the kind of mid-level place with a warm-up, et cetera?”

Mauk decided it wasn’t that kind of mid-level place. It ain’t a club where dad comedians tell dad jokes and get polite chuckles from all the other dads. “It’s titled a comedy club, but it should have a vibe like bands playthere as well…Practically, also, I don’t think Brahman/i would be hired to do standup in any other sort of establishment!”

TempleofComedy_logoThe Temple of Comedy is popping up inside the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation’s Community Activity Center on N. Pacific, in what used to be a church. The building is still undeniably churchy in its architecture, especially with the stained-glass lancet windows still in place where the altar used to be. The windows provide the perfect backdrop to Brahman/i’s routine: colorful, vivid, with a shade of the spiritual.

bgc-activity-center“We didn’t set out to be in a former church,” says Karla Boos, Quantum Theatre’s founder and artistic director. “But what could be better than a former church, a ‘transitioned’ place of spirituality.  And we started riffing: it’s the Temple of Comedy.  The ‘marquee’ outside is a church sign, with rotating jokes like the sermon announcements.”

Mauk adds: “Pittsburgh is kind of known for its reclamation of church spaces.” The designer points to Church Brew Works on Liberty Avenue, where beer-brewing kettles sit like silver idols on the desanctified altar.  All over the city, old churches are music venues, apartment buildings, tattoo parlors. And now in Garfield, at least for the run of Brahman/i, a comedy club.

“Our thought was that the pop-up comedy club we wanted to create would be in a neighborhood like Garfield, where there were artists doing their thing despite challenging economic circumstances,” says Boos. Recent construction issues brought tough times to that corridor of Penn Avenue, and still businesses remained open, and eager art-lovers braved the construction fences and broken pavement to attend Unblurred, Garfield’s “First Friday” art-gallery crawl.

PennAvenueDistrict2“Penn Avenue has carved a niche for itself as a place where the grass-roots arts scene can flourish, and Quantum certainly fits that definition,” says Rick Swartz, executive director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation, the organization that owns the venue. To find a home for the Temple of Comedy, Boos and her team at Quantum reached out to Swartz to explore spaces near Penn. Of the Activity Center now being overhauled by Britton Mauk, Swartz says, “Our Activity Center is certainly a modest place by comparison with the O’Reilly, and the fact that Quantum wasn’t put off by that fact is great.”

Far from being put off, the Quantum team has embraced the space. In addition to the riffs on its house-of-worship flair, Mauk is adding architectural details like moulding and spindles to accentuate the space. The designer is utilizing a vivid color palette drawn from East Indian inspiration. “There’s so much in East Indian culture that has these lush, vibrant colors, and Brahman/i is a very colorful character.”
unnamedBut Mauk isn’t just creating a comedy club. There’s an invisible element at work in the design, an element you’ll feel as you enter. “No one should feel like an outsider in this space,” he says. “They should feel at home and entertained or intrigued by their surroundings. So much about the piece is just accepting someone as they are, how they feel in that moment,” and the club Mauk is building sets out to offer that same feeling of acceptance, where everyone, even someone like Brahman/i, can feel at home.

Flock to the Temple of Comedy to see Quantum Theatre’s production of Brahman/i at 113 N. Pacific Avenue, January 30 through February 22. Buy tickets online or call 412-362-1713.

Brandon Getz is a writer and blogger living in Pittsburgh.
Read more at brandongetz.com.