PuSh Blog

PuSh Board Member Peter Dickinson Discusses the Premiere of His New Play, The Objecthood of Chairs

August 26, 2010

I’ve written a play. What’s more, it’s actually being produced! As this conjunction of events is unlikely to happen again any time soon, I’d love for friends and fans of PuSh to come and see the show. It’s called The Objecthood of Chairs, and here’s a bit of background on how it came about…

I have long been fascinated by both the functionality and beauty of chairs as objects of design. During years perfecting the fine art of sedentary sitting, I have also spent much time pondering how a piece of furniture usually meant to accommodate one person might serve as a rich dramatic metaphor for the accommodations we routinely make—sometimes willingly, sometimes not—in a relationship.

Thus was borne the seeds of my play, one that tells the story of the romance between two men through the backdrop of Western culture’s historical romance with chairs. We follow the men as they meet, move in together, and eventually part as the result of a freak accident. Along the way, and in a largely presentational style, we are provided various “object” lessons in: modernist chair design; Shaker asceticism; the revolution in sociability and sexuality inaugurated by the Thonet café chair; the inherent cruelty of childhood games of musical chairs; and Buddhist sitting practices. The text draws on architectural theory and art history, industrial design and neurophysiology, poetry and pop culture to think through the relationships and resistances between bodies (and objects) as they move through space, and to reflect on the necessary loss of autonomy that comes with asking for, and offering, unconditional support.

From the very start, this piece was conceived as a creative collaboration, one that would blur the disciplinary boundaries and mine the aesthetic connections between text, movement, video, music, dramaturgy, and design. To accomplish this, I needed the talents and expertise of colleagues in SFU’s School for the Contemporary Arts (I teach in the English Department at SFU).

I first took my script to DD Kugler, who worked with me through several drafts. He then consulted with Rob Kitsos about coming on board as choreographer, who in turn suggested Rob Groeneboer as videographer. By this time we were already workshopping sections of the play, with a view to possible performance; the presence of a stack of chairs outside Kugler’s office was enough to attract others’ attention, and Martin Gotfrit was corralled as composer when he made the mistake of pausing to admire one of the bentwoods we were using as a prop. Eventually Florence Barrett would be invited to design the costumes, and James Proudfoot the lighting, with Gary Harris assuming the role of technical director. Barry Hegland also provided initial advice in these and other production and design matters. Our amazingly talented performers are Victor Mariano and Justin Reist, graduates from SCA’s Theatre and Dance programs, respectively, who have immersed themselves in each other’s discipline specifically for this piece. Finally, a dedicated and enthusiastic group of current SCA students and alumni have assisted with stage management, film production, video editing, effects, and coordination, lighting, research, and publicity. All brought their collective expertise to bear on my script, helping to shape it into a performance. The whole process has been one of the most richly rewarding of my life.

That our production happens to coincide with SCA’s move into their spectacular new Woodward’s digs makes it all the more special for me. Many fans of PuSh who attended the 2010 Festival opener, The Show Must Go On, have already had the opportunity to experience the spectacular Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre, on the lower level of Woodward’s. With SFU Contemporary Arts now formally occupying the building, the smaller performance spaces are also being opened to the public. Our venue, Studio T, is located on the second floor. It is a wonderful black box space that seats approximately 100, and our production will take full advantage of its bells and whistles.

I invite readers to come out and see the show. And to let me know what you think.

The Objecthood of Chairs runs September 8-11 and 14-18 at 8 pm at SFU Woodward’s Studio T (149 West Hastings) map. Tickets are cash only at the door ($20/$15); call 778-782-3514 for reservations.

Click here to visit Peter Dickinson’s Blog: Performance, Place, and Politics