By Anna Papadakos
A semi-fictionalized account of an interview with myself on the eve before New Year’s eve 2010 – 2011
SPACE ODYSSEY: Confessions of a Montreal theatre artist (who could have been a rich Real Estate agent in NY) with a proclivity toward both site-specific and site generic theatre
My attraction to site-specific theatre is not an incidental act. I have been enthralled by the beauty and uniqueness of spaces from the time I was a child. While growing up in New York with my father and brother, I remember regularly going through the free weekly “The Pennysaver”, looking for homes, run down farmhouses and industrial buildings to fix up and live in. I was particularly attracted to structures in remote areas of town. I was lucky in that my father, a man with the bug to be constantly on the move didn’t need any coaxing from his little daughter and that we had rather similar tastes…up to a certain point.
Our weekend family outings often consisted of visiting all kinds of places in several types of locations and meeting realtors and/or landlords. So taken was I by the exploration of new spaces that by the time I hit twenty-one years old just before entering CUNY (Lehman College), I had already obtained my realtors license under the tutelage of Mr. Baretta of Barettas’s Real Estate and had assisted in the rental of four brownstones. I soon after moved on to work for another realtor, which I rather quickly abandoned to pursue my dream. Bye, bye real estate and hello theatre!
Rewind to earlier years. I had once located a wonderful looking farmhouse in “The Pennysaver”. So my slightly younger brother, my father and I, hit the road one Sunday afternoon in pursuit of my dream. Following the realtor’s directions and accompanied by a map, we arrived in front of a great old white Victorian house. It was absolutely gorgeous but there was one little drawback: it was built smack in front of a graveyard that held twenty dead. Yes, I counted the little three-foot high crosses designating who was where. Needless to say, this was not THE one.
The experience of the “το σπιτι με to νεκροταφιο” which literally translated from the Greek means the “house with the graveyard”, as we came to call it, was extremely provoking and intriguing. I found myself wanting to know who the dead people were. I wanted to know their histories, their lives and mostly I found myself curious about their connection to the old house. I wondered if they were descendents of those who owned the abandoned old home. I reveled in the possible stories and scenarios.
Today, in my approach to creation this curiosity translates into various methods of gathering as much information possible about the space I occupy and work in.
I must also confess that at one point in my formative years, I was very much into mobile homes - dreaming of hitting the road. Consequently, we often integrated visiting mobile home lots into our little weekend family excursions. But by the time I hit thirteen, my fixation with remotely situated homes and inner city buildings had completely dissipated to be replaced by a singular desire - finding that used and affordable, perfectly neat little house on wheels that would enable me to “see the world”. Ms. Suzie Homemaker and Ms. Fixer - Upper were cast aside by a sexually unidentifiable being which I will call - MISS/MR. Adventure. This new human wanted to see and discover EVERYTHING.
World Here I Come was my “thing”.
Jump cut to later in life. It made absolute sense that I would initiate the founding and become the Artistic Director of a theatre company that could not sit still. I was simply continuing the journey that I had begun so many years before. All very beautifully unconscious, I was “working it out”.
For a decade (1991 - 2001) Dummies Theatre, comprised by a group of giving and talented artists and creators, full-heartedly joined me in my sojourn from commercial venue to commercial venue along The Main, six in all, sandwiched between Mont-Royal to just south of Duluth, to create theatre productions and theatre spaces in nearly abandoned sites. During that decade the proliferation of time worn “A LOUER” signs was phenomenally disturbing; gorgeous stores stood alone, voiceless and forgotten as people walked by without noticing them. They had become part of the landscape and the community. I was driven to intervene and I did. The wonderful irony of it is that I was under the impression that my actions and passions were a choice!
Our small lives are extremely big in their generosity; ever so kindly handing us all the material we need to create with.
I realized later that I learned how to bargain rental prices with landlords of spaces/commerces that I have worked in from having watched my immigrant father haggle with property owners and salesmen of mobile homes back in New York.
After all those innumerable visits to many properties and used mobile home lots, my father finally and unilaterally decided on the purchase of a store that housed three apartments above it on a commercial and highly dangerous street. By then I was sixteen years old, no longer believed in an “IDEAL” anything and was more concerned with self-satisfaction… of all sorts.
He saw it as a great buy: cheap and practical in that he could open up his machine shop in the store, have heavy duty steel roll-down doors installed to guard against repeated break-ins, buy a German shepherd dog he named after himself, to protect us and his tools and we could live a nice little life in the first apartment directly above the store. What else could we possibly want? My early years of having looked for that perfect space were finally over.
I had barely finished “decorating” our apartment when the announcement was made that we were going to move downstairs to inhabit the back of the shop/store. It was “less expensive” my pragmatically – minded father said. He deftly and quickly set up eight foot high Gyprock divisions to section off door less “rooms” for each of us: three humans - three divisions – unpainted Gyprock. If I stood on the stool that traveled around the basement/home/store, I could peek over into my brother’s stark cube-like “bedroom”. Light was non-existent since as you walked toward the back of the storefront the building slanted downward toward the bottom of the earth hence, the windows were ever so tiny and at the level of the concrete alley.
Under the staircase, leading to the first floor, my father tucked away the Barbie – size kitchen comprised of a mini fridge and a portable burner. It was the ideal location for a kitchen only because it was the ONLY place for one. I don’t recall a counter because there wasn’t one. We lived, ate, prepared our food on the used table in the washed out green - colored “living room” immediately behind the store. The smells of motor grease were part of our existence. Welding and dog sounds flew about the air. My father worked “with” the space in a very natural and organic manner.
Had I known what was unfolding right before my eyes, I would have participated to create site-specific theatre right there where I lived. I would have attempted to rejuvenate not only a neighborhood that was horribly decaying but also a space/store. The displaced immigrant with two teen-age kids would have become my characters. I would have done my damn best to bring passer-bys in and offer them a chance to experience theatre free-of-charge and be witness to life behind the steel doors of the machine shop. It was all quite “theatre-like” in a very unromantic way. The fact is, I was an embarrassed teen-ager trying to blend in and survive the experience while living it. Obviously, I was not creating site-specific anything, no less theatre. I was, however, in some queer, inexplicable way, LIVING it!
The time I spent inhabiting a commercial site directly corresponds to my respect for space and my continual interest in the exploration of the inter-relationship between space and theatre. The question of how space impacts upon both the creation and presentation of theatre is one that is an integral part of my creative process and one that informs my work.
The apple has not, in this case, fallen far from the tree.
However, the significant difference between the late
Mr. Papadakos and myself - Ms. Papadakos, is found in the treatment of the subject and in the approach. One person rolled down the steel gates to shut out life and light. Whereas the other, being I, opens up doors wide to invite everyone in. There is nothing to hide……except some teeny weeny little things such as what I am doing next.
Next time I will get down to real business and stop bullshitting about a life that never happened!
Happy New Year!