‘Beauty^10’ explores power of collaboration

Drawn onto the whiteboard in the design studio, the On-Schedule Cheetah peers over half-moon glasses. On the other side of the board, the Off-book Hound (who is, a caption informs me, “watching you”) wears shades. Beauty^10 is progressing.

It’s the middle of tech week, and the seven students in Theatre 228: Theatrical Self-Production are putting the final touches (and many of the intermediate touches, too) on a project a semester in the making, a culminating performance composed of 10 distinct pieces that together weave a commentary on beauty.

“It’s one of those things that just sort of – after Spring Break a bunch of pieces just came together and exploded. But they exploded in such a pretty way that we thought we’d keep it,” said Mattie Mitchell ’12.
Evidence of the explosion is scattered over the six white worktables forming a U at the room’s center. One is covered entirely with collagraphs – prints of leaves and flowers. Crayons, Prismacolor pencils, tape, paints, scissors, fabric and glue are heaped across the others. A TV monitor shows the action occurring in CenterStage. Deborah Brothers, who, along with David Morris, instructs the course, runs hurriedly in and out.

“Has Meghan Rose [Donelly ’11] been through?”

Not yet. Donnelly comes in a moment later – her book, the springboard for this whole project, is sitting in front of me. I’d meant to look it through in the nature of research, but keep getting hooked on the scene around me. My computer is pushed away.

As Mitchell explains it to me: “Meghan Rose had this idea about a book that would contain everything. She brought this in.” I’m handed a thick volume stuffed, accordion-like, with a collage of pictures, papers, buttons, lighting gels, even packets of tea. One page bears a wide clump of sand glued in place with a penned note: “You don’t plant things in sand. But they still grow. See: beach roses.” After I close the book, I have to brush my lap.

At the beginning of the course, said Lauren Miller ’12, “We made individual pieces based on newspaper clippings. We each dug something out of a folder and made our own two minute pieces. Then we started bringing in stuff from our other classes that we thought was interesting, and over spring break we were each assigned an independent project.”

Donnelly’s book, whose first page bears a sticker reading, “Everything is perfect in the universe – even your desire to improve it,” became the basis for a collaborative exploration. As a team, the students conceptualized, actualized and advertised the show that will play for an invited audience in CenterStage this Saturday. Each one wears many hats – they are not only the authors, but with the addition of four students who have filled various technical and artistic roles, they are the cast and crew as well.

At a late night rehearsal, Alison Pincus ’12 runs across the stage to consult Eva Flamm ’10 on lighting cues and deliver final notes for the piece she has written and directed before running back to her post for the piece itself – she will accompany much of the show on violin. Adam Stoner ’11 responds to Morris’s cry for, “Adam, the lighting designer!” by emerging from behind a lighted scrim in full army garb.
“Time to work again, Adam, dear,” Flamm says, and he laughs.

Beauty^10 is more concerned with process than product – “There is a product, certainly, but that’s not really what it’s about,” said Brothers. The gist of the thing has had a long gestation. According to Mitchell, “The decision making didn’t really start until about two weeks ago, and before that we had this immense project that seemed like it was never going to come together, and then we started cutting and added this through-line – and it looks very nice.”

The set can only be described as beautiful and can’t, I’m informed, be further explained prior to the show (neither can the tangible gifts audience members will receive, though I’m instructed to mention the incentive). But in a brief lull, Flamm nudges me and points to a hanging birdcage: “We tried to convince [the department] that we had the budget for a real snowy owl, but they said no.”

Live snowy owl or no, it’s the kind of quirk that characterizes Beauty, whether with the italics or without.