Sunday, January 7, 2018

A great thing

Five years ago, our artistic director had an idea for a project. I thought, "Well, that could be a thing. Sure, lets try it." We put together a series of three plays to share staged readings of at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. We wanted plays that were directly related to works in the Currier's collection or to special exhibitions at the museum. We invited Dr. Landis K. Magnuson, professor of theatre at Saint Anselm College, to lead a discussion with the audience after the play was read.

Sure, I like reading plays. That's what I have been doing all weekend. Reading plays that stimulate thought and conversation. I know it's a good play when I tell my husband he needs to read it when I am only at the end of the first act because I want to talk to someone about it. But who else likes reading plays as much as I do?

The first season we read Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still because the Currier had mounted an exhibition of Vietnam War photography. We read Edward Albee's The American Dream because the Currier had acquired a screen print by Robert Indiana, so named after he saw the premiere of that play. We read John Logan's Red because a 1967 painting (Untitled, Red Over Brown) by Mark Rothko is a favorite in the Currier's permanent collection. Each play was followed by a discussion with the audience. We launched the program and thought, "Will anyone else come?"

We're in our fifth season now of the ARTiculate Playreading Series, and it is always an absolute joy to have as many as 75 people join us in the auditorium at the Currier on a Sunday afternoon to listen to a play, to talk about the ideas in it, and to look at art. Doing a script as a reading really harnesses our focus (and the audience's) on the words of the playwright, and on the stories and ideas in the plays. It's funny, because stripping away design and the visual element of theatre (sets, lights, costumes) seems antithetical in a setting which celebrates the visual. An audience member told me recently that the play readings have become her favorite program at the Currier, and provide her a new lens through which to look at the art.

We'll be back at the Currier again this month to read Sight Unseen, another play by Donald Margulies. Among other things, the script raises questions about the value of art, the definition of art and who can be an artist, questions of cultural appropriation and gender politics, and truth/memory/ownership/identity. It is not uncommon to have to cut off the conversation after a reading because the galleries are about to close but folks are still talking. Now that's just a great thing, isn't it?

~ Carey Cahoon

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