New collage play, "Shoulder to the Wheel," opens Thursday at Riverside Arts Center
“Shoulder to the Wheel” is a new, locally produced, original collage show that has a list of contributing writers (14) that’s longer than the cast roster (8). So how did it come into being?
“What I did was, I put out a call on Facebook and through e-mail to as many people as I could reach, asking for scenes, monologues, poems, songs, movement, films, vlogs, stories, rants — anything having to do with the American experience,” said director and show creator Lyndsay Michalik. “And I got a pretty awesome response. I had no idea how this would latch on, but the day I sent out that message, I got tons of e-mail back from people wanting to write something for this. It was extremely exciting.”
“Shoulder” is partly being funded by Michalik’s BoxFest Detroit 2009 Financial Award, and the cast includes Matthew Andersen, Jennifer Graham, Maxim Hunt, Analea Lessenberry, Andy Orsheln, Emily Tipton, Lorenzo Toia and Jamie Weeder.
And while the project might seem daunting, by way of its unconventional content and structure, Michalik is enjoying the process of working through it.
“There have mostly been really happy surprises,” she said. “I’ve been really lucky. I feel like I had no idea what was going to happen, and even now in the rehearsal process, we’re still building (the show). We have a script, but it’s a script that’s not set in stone. It still could morph into something completely new.“
Michalik’s inspiration was Charles Mee’s “Under Construction.” Mee, now on faculty at Columbia, publishes his works online and encourages people to freely use, rearrange, and alter them. This practice, which he calls “the (re)making project,” is partly an extension of Mee’s belief that there is no such thing as an original work.
“He points out that Greek plays were taken from other works, and Shakespeare was taken from other works,” said Michalik. “No play is totally original. The (re)making project opens his work up to artists so they can pillage it and use it as an inspiration for own work. And I thought that was really great.”
“Under Construction,” specifically, is described by Mee as “a collage of America today — scenes and songs and dances inspired by Norman Rockwell of the ‘50s, and scenes and songs and dances inspired by the installation artist of the present day, Jason Rhoades: Rockwell and Rhoades juxtaposed side by side—then and now, the ‘50s and the present, the red states and the blue states, where we grew up and where we live today, a piece that is, like America, permanently under construction.”
Similarly, “Shoulder” juxtaposes different time periods, theatrical styles and multimedia in order to explore the ways in which American society’s values have changed over time, as well as our changing notions of family and community, and the disconnect between what we have and what we want.
The show’s title, however, was drawn from the last line of Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America” (“America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel”) which appears in “Shoulder”’s script.
“I kept thinking about that line, and I feel like that, more than anything else, encompasses this show in its unapologetic sense of culture, community — what all these people want to say,” said Michalik. “That’s the drive of it.”
Jenn McKee is the entertainment digital journalist for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at email@example.com or 734-623-2546, and follow her on Twitter @jennmckee.