back to news May 28, 2018

Art professor's production brings experience of reading to life

In Virginia’s Woolf’s 1927 novel, “To the Lighthouse,” the plot takes a backseat to the book’s philosophy. The same can be said of Ann Hamilton’s immersive theatre production, “The Theater Is a Blank Page.”

Hamilton, Distinguished University Professor of art, originally debuted the installation at the Wexner Center for the Arts in 2015. She has continued to work in collaboration with co-director Anne Bogart and the New York City-based Saratoga International Theater Institute (SITI Company) to redesign and bring life to this noteworthy interpretation of Woolf’s work.

In early May, Hamilton brought the production to the Center for the Art of Performance at the University of California, Los Angeles. Working with the vocabulary of the theater — lights, ascending and descending curtains, video, pipe organ, and directional sound — Hamilton and SITI Company created an atmosphere of spaciousness related to the experience of reading itself.

Strips of white cloth created a separation within the performance space; shredded book paper blanketed the stage floor to create a tactile experience for the audience. The Virginia Woolf narrative, a continuous audible accompaniment, was read aloud by a reader. The book transformed and printed as a single line was pulled from a floor-mounted film reel to pool on the floor as it left the reader's hands. 

A still from Distinguished University Professor Ann Hamilton's immersive theater performance, "The Theater is a Blank Page," which was staged at UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance in May. Image courtesy Calista Lyon.
A still from Distinguished University Professor Ann Hamilton's immersive theater performance, "The Theater is a Blank Page," which was staged at UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance in May. Image courtesy Calista Lyon.
Images by Calista Lyon.


Hamilton said that the format of the performance was developed as an exploration of the conditions and experiences of reading and the theater.

“Anne [Bogart] and I started a conversation…to discuss how to share the privacy and intimacy that is reading or being read to in a theatrical setting, and how to make a project that responds to and uses the vocabularies of each of those experiential conditions,” Hamilton said.

The audience plays an active role in the show, at times reading silently and aloud from a handprinted and annotated copy of “To the Lighthouse.” Audience members also move through the space as they move through the production of "The Theater is a Blank Page," beginning in the nosebleed seats of the theatre and moving to seats on the stage.

Hamilton said that, aside from the production being an immersive experience, the performance is unique because the audience size is limited to no more than 100 individuals, while occupying an auditorium with hundreds of seats.

“Normally, you have to sell a house to support a show,” Hamilton said.

But the whole space of the theater is part of the project, and the project’s just not what happens on stage.”

Hamilton hoped that the one-of-a-kind portrayal of Woolf’s novel would encourage audience members to take a step away from the fast pace of life and slow down.

“We were interested in the condition of slowness and reflection,” Hamilton said. “It’s also a really large imaginative space because when you read, you’re in the space where you’re sitting or standing and all the contingencies of everything going on around you are happening, but at the same time you’re in that really far away space of the world the book is making, and you hold those two simultaneous spaces together. I think that part structures the theater piece.”

“The Theater Is a Blank Page” was also covered in the Los Angeles Times. A review of the production can be found here.

The act of reading is reimagined with Ann Hamilton & @siticompany’s “The Theater is a Blank Page,” which recently came to @CAP_UCLA. #ASCDaily


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