Creating and exploring new maps for theater
BY CAMILA RYDER
In print | Published September 2, 2010
From the Frear Ensemble Theater to the renowned Philly Fringe, the Telephone Bronco Theatre Company, comprised of Swarthmore alumni and current students, hits the ground running with their first show, “Cartogoraphasia,” debuting this Friday, September 3. A brainchild of Louis Jargow ’10 and Sam Goodman ’10, Telephone Bronco began with the goal of debuting a piece at the Philly Fringe. A director, a playwright, a set designer and four actors make up Telephone Bronco, which includes Jargow, Goodman, Emma Ferguson ’10, Jessica Bear ’09, Isa St. Clair ’11, Nell Bang-Jensen ’11 and Eric Holzhauer ’10, respectively.
Telephone Bronco received a Swarthmore Project in Theater grant, which allowed them to utilize the Frear Theater over the summer.
“I’ve only had Swarthmore to thank for [the] use of space and support and I think the [theater] department really encourages [the] small theatre company [and] collaborative model that is just the … absolute best way to do theater,” Bear said.
Though the company appears to follow the typical format of defined director, writer and actors, all seven artists work collaboratively in a devised theatre form, where all the members of a company write and create the work together.
“We wanted everyone to have the opportunity to have his or her voice heard,” actor St. Clair said. “That … has really affected the structure and the tenor of the piece that we have made — you can see it doesn’t follow one person; it follows six different people.” Telephone Bronco’s collaborative process allowed for every member to have hir or her own input and the character building, script, and staging fell easily into place. At the start of summer, the group got right to work.
“We all kind of just brainstormed themes and ideas that we … wanted to see on stage or our ideas we had about characters,” Jargow said. “We came across characters that we liked and … we tried to figure out how to tie them together in the most rich and dynamic way.”
Following the devised theater model, all the artists started the process by presenting and talking about their ideas, combined with hours of improvisations and creating characters. They would also have one-on-one interviews with each other as their characters, building backstories.
“We started by playing, and then we did a lot of improvisation, so once we knew which characters we wanted to highlight, we figured out what scenes we need[ed] to tell their stories,” Bang-Jensen said.
There was also a video camera recording their improv games and scenes, which playwright Goodman later watched and edited to pick out the strongest characters and stories.
“[It] was fun for me to have these scenes that the actors had done so much in developing and to just put them in order and streamline them,” Goodman said, translating the fast-paced movement of improv to dialogue or a scene.While other theatre companies can’t dedicate as much time as Telephone Bronco did (20 hours a week through the entire summer), the process led to stronger characters and defined themes. Even before rehearsals, the group agreed on two themes: the brain and cartography, the study of map-making. They wanted to explore how the inner workings of the brain translate into the external world and the borders and lines in which we place and define ourselves. The title came from merging cartography with aphasia, an acquired language brain disorder.
“At first, we were really interested in the idea of exploring sort of how to physicalize brain science on stage and … ideas of perception and theatricality,” Bang-Jensen said. “We were also really interested in exploring [and] ‘Cartogoraphasia’ formed from that.”
“We started with these themes in mind,” Holzhauer said. “But what ended up coming out in the end of the improvisations were dozens and dozens of characters.” They eventually whittled down the list to six main characters, with a handful of supporting characters. “The script … follows the different story lines of the characters,” he added. Not all of the storylines intersect.
Focusing on their theme of exploration, “Cartogoraphasia” follows six characters who are all, in their own way, exploring, whether it’s a country, their body or their own mind. One character is the literal explorer, another is a little girl, played by Bear, who dreams up her own adventures; two teenagers explore their bodies and sex; one woman with memory loss tries to piece together her life, and another character searches for her keys to happiness.
Though the play may highlight the exploration of six characters, it really is an exploration of the members of Telephone Bronco and what it means to be an actor, a director, a playwright or a set designer.
“Cartogoraphasia” debuts this Friday, Sept. 3 at 8:00 p.m. at the Circle of Hope on 1125 South Broad Street, with show times on Sept. 4, Sept. 10 and Sept. 11. Tickets are $15. Get off at Ellsworth-Federal station on the Broad Street Line. For more information, check out www.livearts-fringe.org or Telephone Bronco’s Facebook page.