Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S8 E39 | FULL EPISODE

The Worcester Art Museum, Liars & Believers, and more

The Worcester Art Museum and their teachers reinterpret works from their collection through food. Then theatre company, Liars & Believers creates several works from puppet shows, radio plays to an upcoming serialized Macbeth play--all free and available on their website, and a group of theatre performers sing an adaptation of a Hamilton song--promising that they will return to performing on stage.

AIRED: May 15, 2020 | 0:26:46
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

at the Worcester Art Museum,

a centuries-old tradition of art appreciation is freshly baked.

>> What is fun for us, I think, is it makes us think about

our collection in a totally different way.

It makes us think about the materiality of these pieces.

>> BOWEN: Then Liars and Believers--

the fringe theater company has become a mini Netflix.

>> And then as we started getting settled in,

we started thinking, "Okay, well, what else can we do?

What else can we do?"

And as we've been doing one play after another

we've been pushing on the form.

>> BOWEN: And aHamiltonian promise

from the Boston theater community.

>> ♪ We'll be back

♪ We're not done

♪ Maybe June or 2021

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up, worldwide self-quarantines have resulted

in creativity in captivity--

with art lovers recreating favorite works of art

from objects in their homes.

The Worcester Art Museum has a delicious twist on all of this--

challenging patrons to create edible works of art

from the museum's own collection.

Claire Whitner, thank you so much for joining us.

>> Thank you, Jared, for having me.

>> BOWEN: You are a curator at the Worcester Art Museum

and now you've turned to food as a way of engaging in art.

How did that happen?

>> I had noticed that other institutions

were inviting people to recreate

paintings in their homes with the props they could find

around their houses,

and I was really enjoying those on social media.

But then I also noticed there was this whole other stream

of various posts from friends

who were baking with great intensity.

And I thought, well, can we not merge these events?

Can we not have people interpreting works of art

from the Worcester Art Museum in baked goods or even food?

You know, we can speak... think more broadly.

So that really was the inspiration for Edible WAM.

>> BOWEN: Well, how's that working out for you so far?

>> Well, right now, it's just staff.

(laughing): I'm unaware of any visitors

working on these projects.

And since this was my grand idea,

I felt that I had to have a go at it.

My first project was to try to realize

some of our ancient Egyptian jewelry pieces in cookie form.

Uh... for some reason, I thought this was going to be easy.

And instead it ended up being this like eight-hour odyssey

in which I was entirely covered in blue and green frosting.

>> BOWEN: Well, well, tell me about that piece that you made

because when I was looking at it, of course,

I would have no idea of the havoc you may have wrought

in your own home, but it looked pretty good.

>> Well, thank you, Jared.

I appreciate that.

It is a photogenic cookie.

I have to say, in person, it was not as attractive.

So our Egyptian jewelry collection has been on my mind.

And I thought a scarab, a scarab is a pretty easy shape.

And since I don't have any cookie cutters

I felt like I had to draw one.

So I made a little um... I free-hand drew the shape--

pretty simple.

I had this great idea that I was going to

frost the cookie and then make some sort of

really dark food coloring to make the details.

That was truly an epic fail.

So instead,

after I showed that to my husband and he shook his head,

and said, "Mm, no, that doesn't...

(laughing): that does not look like a scarab."

I... I went in with a fork, and dug it all out,

and then I started trying to apply the food coloring

directly into the crevices, which made for a better effect,

but really what worked was that when I took a picture,

it kind of hid a lot of the issues with the cookie.

So it really is a much more photogenic image than...

than what we had.

>> BOWEN: Give us a sense of the range of what you've seen

come out of this.

And it's everything from antiquities

to more contemporary art? >> Oh, yeah.

Edible WAM spans millennia.

(laughing): So one of the great efforts was put together

by our curatorial assistant

in prints, drawings, and photographs, Lauren Szumita.

She had some failed brioche dough in her refrigerator

from some sort of a baking attempt on Easter.

And she thought that that would be the perfect way to attempt

to realize a Greek mask that we have in the collection.

It's this votive miniature mask.

She felt that with the dough, with this brioche dough,

she could get a patina that was similar to the terracotta

for the miniature mask.

And, I have to say, the results are fantastic.

And I asked her if she then proceeded to eat it

because we definitely ate our scarab cookie.

She said, "No, no."

They decided that eating a face was just not going to work

for the family.

>> BOWEN: Well, to... to get into some of the more

contemporary art, is it... you know, I don't want to...

I don't want to criticize someone,

but is it a little cheating?

Is it a little entry level to try to do somebody

like Josef Albers and his homage to the square.

>> Uh, no, because I think that's

a practical minded person. that chooses minimalism.

There were just many ways into that edible art.

>> BOWEN: And you also deal with

one of my favorite subjects-- cheese.

>> Yes.

That was a really fantastic submission

from our curator of American art, Erin Corrales-Diaz.

And I thought that her "Cheeseworth Kelly,"

which is a take on our "Orange White" Ellsworth Kelly

from 1961, was truly inspired because she had already

gone grocery shopping at Costco with her husband

and they had purchased a mild cheddar.

And she said she was pondering the groceries in her fridge

and saw that there was a certain resonance between

the orange of the mild cheddar

and the Ellsworth Kelly.

And, you know, "Cheeseworth Kelly" was born.

>> BOWEN: Well, let me ask you.

So this is more than simply about trying to destroy yourself

in the kitchen.

But this is this engagement and it also has great tradition

with it going back to the 1700s I read.

>> What is fun for us, I think, is it makes us think about

our collection in a totally different way.

It makes us think about the materiality of these pieces.

It's very humbling because we're just trying to make...

recreate these works of art in very basic materials.

>> BOWEN: Has thinking about it in the context of food

given you... given you new awareness,

new understanding of that collection?

>> It's stressful to be living through this time

and that we spend all day in Zoom meetings, and emailing,

and the opportunity to just kind of step away from that

and to take part in the joy that is art and humanity,

and all of the wonderful things that we make,

either in earnestness, you know, out of real materials

or out of silliness when we're making things

out of failed dough.

I don't know, I think for me, just the moment to kind of

have a little levity is so important right now.

>> BOWEN: Well, you know, you're onOpen Studio now.

It's just a short hop to Jimmy Fallon with this.

I have my sneaking suspicions.

(laughing)

>> I really would love to see what Jimmy Fallon could make

out of dough in his kitchen that relates to

the Worcester Art Museum.

Actually, Jared, I would love to see

what you could make in your kitchen

that relates to the Worcester Art Museum's collection.

>> BOWEN: I will tell you...

I'll tell you, I just saw you from where my studio is now.

I'm looking at my kitchen.

I don't think I could even tell you where the oven is.

So I don't think it's gonna happen.

>> You know, don't limit yourself.

What could you do with a mild cheddar cheese?

(laughing): There are so many options.

>> BOWEN: Well, Claire Whitner, it's such a pleasure

to speak with you.

And I look forward to seeing you again in person

at the museum some day soon.

>> Thanks, me, too.

Thanks a lot, Jared.

>> BOWEN: These adaptations are also a class act--

at least in Leicester--

where middle school teacher Laura Dusty

has inspired students and staff alike to recreate

Worcester Art Museum objects

from any manner of things in their homes,

including the very valuable toilet paper.

Laura Dusty, thank you so much for joining us.

>> What a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

>> BOWEN: Tell me about how you launched into this project

for yourself and what you first recreated.

>> I presented this idea to our librarian

to do the artwork recreation.

And she was the one that mentioned having it be

exclusively from the Worcester Art Museum collection,

which is just, you know, what a great opportunity to do that.

>> BOWEN: And Winslow Homer is what to drew your attention.

>> That's the painting that I decided to recreate.

>> BOWEN: What was it about...

I know you've grown up with it,

but what was it about that Homer painting

that that was the first one you went right to?

>> Honestly, I love the mood of it.

Um... I love the... the gesture, the movement with the waves,

the resiliency of the woman standing there.

Um... (chuckles)

It just seems very New England to me.

>> BOWEN: A couple of others that really caught my attention.

There was one of a Syrian relief.

Tell me about that, which there seems to be

a lot of structure involved there, a lot of architecture.

>> That work of art was recreated by one of my coworkers

who was a history teacher.

She loves ancient art.

So, naturally, she was drawn to that.

And the way that she re-created is just hilarious.

She captured that monochromatic tone with the clothing

that she was wearing.

And she had her engineer husband kind of work on the winged part

of that work of art.

It's actually a dining room chair where the legs

have been taken off and it's kind of just sort of

perched against her back and balancing on the couch.

So I just was blown away as to how she interpreted that.

>> BOWEN: The other piece I think that is getting

a lot of conversation-- and maybe it's because

this is getting a lot of conversation anyway--

but the use of toilet paper in one of the pieces.

>> Tammy Rebello, our secretary, was specifically looking for

a work of art where she could incorporate that,

and kind of send a message to everyone saying how much

she missed the kids and the staff at that school.

So... (chuckles) that was kind of funny.

>> BOWEN: Well, what... what does this do for education,

especially at a time when kids are home,

they can't go directly into the museum.

How do you find it helps this... this period of self-quarantine?

>> Students are looking at the collection,

so they're becoming familiar with that.

They're building a connection with the specific work of art.

They're thinking about composition.

They're being introduced to color theory, technique.

There's a lot of positives that they can get

by integrating themselves into the artwork.

And I can't imagine that anyone that participated

doesn't at some point want to see that work of art in person

now that they have a relationship with it.

>> BOWEN: Actually, thinking about Homer,

well we'll have to find ways to socially distance recreate

on the beach.

I look forward to seeing what continues to come out

from your project.

Congratulations on what you've done.

>> Thank you so much.

>> BOWEN: When the pandemic hit, Jason Slavick decided

it was his responsibility, his imperative, to produce art.

His theater company, Liars and Believers,

has become a streaming machine, pushing out

serialized Shakespeare, dramatic shorts, and radio plays.

Here's a look at this week's new piece, "Ted and Marie."

(cars rushing by)

>> Beautiful sun, dear!

>> What's that?

>> (trailing off): ♪ Beautif...

>> Louder!

It's the rush hour, my love.

Your words must blaze in a fiery trail to my waiting ears!

Damn the chariots!

>> BOWEN: Jason Slavick, thank you so much for joining us.

>> My pleasure, I'm glad to see you.

Glad to be here.

>> BOWEN: Let me just start by asking for, for people

who don't know Liars and Believers,

it's a very deliberate choice in name.

It spells out LAB, which is part of your mission.

Tell us what that mission is.

>> So, um, our mission is to really push the boundary of what

(laughing): live theater can be.

Sort of ironic in this era.

So we do mask, and puppet, and clown, and live music,

and really trying to change the face of what theater

looks like here in Boston.

>> BOWEN: Well, what does it look like right now?

You've... (Jason laughs)

(chuckling): Yeah, right.

You've found yourself in this moment where...

where I think everything is up for grabs,

but it's also really hard to make in some regard.

>> Yeah, it... it...

On the one hand, we are in the worst position

with this pandemic isolation, and best position.

We're in the worst position because we really focus

almost exclusively on live, physical interaction.

Like when we do shows we almost never use recorded sound.

We're... we are so committed to

the live thing happening in the moment

and shared space and time with the audience.

So to suddenly be trapped in this... on these screens,

in these two dimensional forms, where we're sitting in space

apart from one another,

and there is no audience, it's very, very difficult

and undermines everything we've been doing.

On the other hand,

because we're an ensemble

that devises original work together and...

and because experimentation is in the DNA of the company,

we're well-positioned to pivot.

So that's exactly what we did.

We were in the middle of a puppet project,

when the pandemic hit,

and then all of sudden, boom!

We can't touch each other,

we can't be near each other, we're not in the same space.

And so I just took the company, and I said, "Okay,

"this is the new world we're in.

Let's go make art, and this is what we have."

And since we have long relationships with one another,

we are used to improvising, we're used to creating.

We're used to relying on one another.

We just apply it to this new medium.

>> (gasps)

Frisbee!

>> My love!

Thou art my love, I think?

>> Think what thou wilt.

I am thy lover's grace.

>> BOWEN: You've been making radio plays,

you've done Shakespeare,

you're doing serialized work...

Have you put limits on yourself or is it just...

how have you decided what to put out and what comes to the fore?

>> First we started with radio, because that's what I knew best.

And then as we started getting settled in,

we started thinking, "Okay, well, what else can we do?

What else can we do?"

And as we've been doing one play after another,

we've been pushing on the form.

>> Ariel.

>> Yes? Just a second.

I'm still taking in this view.

>> I kind of have something to ask you.

>> If this is about that sweater again, I told you...

>> No, no, it's no that--

(man imitating bird squawking)

What the hell?!

>> BOWEN: So where does theater come into this space

when it's on the screen up against other very big screens?

>> Certainly as a Boston theater company, we are your neighbors.

We are the people you see live on stage,

we're not strangers from Hollywood

or from somewhere else in the world.

We are your local artists.

And so, as we're starting to build these video plays,

we're approaching them the way we would approach a set.

I can't put an entire garbage dump on the stage.

I mean I guess we could go hunt down a garbage dump,

but rather than do that,

what's one visual image I can give you?

And your imagination fills in all the rest.

That's how we approach it in theater,

so that's how we're approaching it on the screens.

>> BOWEN: What are you most excited about in terms of

what you've done so far in, in just the eight weeks--

at the point in which we're talking--

that you've been able to ramp this up,

and what you've learned, and how far you've come?

You know, I...

I'm really excited by

a beautiful little gem called "Ted and Marie."

It's super, super simple and it's tiny.

And it's this little,

beautiful glimmer of hope and compassion.

I love that little piece.

>> You had a bad night, Ted.

>> I... I don't remember.

Do we have any bread left?

>> You were out here on top of the tires again.

The bread's gone.

>> That's what it was.

The bread was gone so I came out here to air my grievance.

>> (laughing): At the top of your lungs!

>> So a lot of this we, right off the bat,

started just so everyone would stay sane.

One more time through and we're done for the night.

Because everyone at the beginning was terrified

and felt alone and isolated.

And we just had to make stuff for us to be okay.

And then along with that we felt like this is something

we can share with the public,

because I assume other people feel scared and alone.

And art can lighten the load,

and can help you process things,

and that's what we can do as artists.

We can be creative and make work and make people feel better.

>> BOWEN: Something else, another piece you've done

is "The Huns," an audio play, which reminds me of radio plays,

something very huge in the 1940s.

But we have returned to them, and I think the podcasts

have returned us to them too. >> Yeah.

>> BOWEN: What do you think it is about this time

that, that makes it really-- again, of course,

people even before the pandemic were super into podcasts--

but we're, we're back into listening,

and we're back into length.

>> Radio plays free the imagination in a way

that video doesn't.

>> Neither rain, nor snow, nor dark of night.

(various voices overlapping, repeating oath)

>> Neither rain, nor snow, nor dark of night.

What word have you for me, postman?

>> It is all true-- the Huns are coming.

>> From which direction? >> We're not sure.

>> So you have no accurate measure of their distance.

>> No, ma'am.

>> Nor the size of their army. >> No, ma'am.

>> Then how is it, postman, that you come to me

with a report of the Huns attacking our country?

>> To be honest, ma'am... I'm not quite certain.

>> They trigger your imagination.

And it's freeing,

your mind fills out all the things

that aren't being presented in front of you.

And it's really healthy, I think, to get to exercise

that mental muscle.

Because we don't often.

>> BOWEN: And finally, I want to ask,

you founded your company... (chuckles)

I think you... you're a masochist in some regard,

during the Great Recession...

>> (laughing): I did! >> BOWEN: ...and now we're here.

So you're... one might argue that you have good training.

Is it good training, and how will you

make your way through this?

>> I launched the company just as the recession hit,

and, there was like no resources and no money.

And so I cut my teeth in the fringe world, of like,

"Okay, how can we make the absolute best thing

"we can make with these very few resources?

And I'm just not going to be stopped."

And you have to have a really thick skin,

and you get knocked down a lot,

and you hit roadblocks and things fall apart,

and you just build up the muscles to get back up.

I had a conversation with someone recently asking--

who was worried, like,

"What's going to happen to all the theater companies?

"And... and will there ever be theater again?

And all the restaurants and will it all close?"

And I said, "I'm confident

that theater will rebound, and restaurants will rebound,

and all those things will happen because

those are artistic expressions

that are driven by an internal need to reach out,

to create, to explore.

We will get ourselves back up, we'll make it work,

we'll figure it out, and we will be alive and kicking

more and more now online, and when the door is open,

we will be hugely available in whatever safe way there is

to reach out and connect with the public.

>> BOWEN: Well, Jason Slavick from Liars and Believers,

thank you so much for being with us.

>> My pleasure.

It's great to chat with you.

>> BOWEN: Well, finally, we want to share with you

a musical number produced by StageSource,

which is a non-profit that serves as a resource

to theater artists.

Taking their cues fromHamilton,

these musical theater performers want to remind you

they'll be back.

("You'll Be Back" fromHamilton playing)

>> ♪ They say

♪ To socially distant ourselves and keep six feet away ♪

>> ♪ You cry

♪ Days to fill as you Netflix and chill ♪

>> ♪ With yourself stuck inside ♪

(chuckles)

♪ But don't pout

♪ Remember that Shakespeare wrote ♪

♪ All the world is a stage

>> ♪ But you cannot go out

♪ Remember that even the Globe had to close for the plague ♪

>> ♪ We'll be back

♪ We're not done

♪ Maybe June or 2021

>> ♪ We'll be back

♪ You haven't seen

♪ The last of the Boston theater scene ♪

>> ♪ Curtains rise

♪ Curtains fall

♪ This is not our final curtain call ♪

♪ After night comes the dawn

>> ♪ You can bet your wicked Boston accent ♪

♪ That the show will still go on ♪

♪ Da da da dat da

>> ♪ Dat da da da da ya da

♪ Da da dat dat da ya da

>> ♪ Da da da dat da

♪ Dat da da da da ya da

♪ Da da dat dat da da

♪ You say the theater's dark and the spark is gone ♪

(holds note)

>> ♪ But you can't get live theater from Amazon ♪

♪ No, no, no, no

>> ♪ So, no, don't close the curtain ♪

♪ 'Cause we'll be back, that's certain ♪

♪ The future... looks uncertain ♪

>> ♪ But we still need diversions ♪

>> ♪ Forever

♪ And ever

>> ♪ Forever and ever and ever

(holds note)

>> ♪ We'll be back

♪ To dance and sing

♪ The reverse of social distancing ♪

>> ♪ What would that be?

♪ Social close?

♪ That comes free with every single show ♪

>> ♪ Musicals, tragedies

>> ♪ Comic breaks from harsh realities ♪

♪ And so when

>> ♪ COVID's gone

♪ We'll be right here to remind you ♪

>> ♪ That the show will still go on ♪

♪ Da da da dat da

♪ Dat da da da da ya da

♪ Da da dat dat da da da

>> ♪ Da da da dat da

♪ Dat da da da da ya da

♪ Da da dat dat... everybody

>> ♪ Da da da dat da

♪ Dat da da da da ya da

♪ Da da dat dat da ya da

>> ♪ Da da da dat da

♪ Dat da da da da ya da

♪ Da da dat dat da ya da

(holding note)

(music ends)

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, we head to the great outdoors where social distancing

is easier and there's art to be enjoyed,

just as Edward and Josephine Hopper did on Cape Cod.

>> Hopper for sure was an introvert.

He was not a very social person,

and being out in the hills of Truro,

surrounded by hardly anybody, was probably ideal for him.

>> BOWEN: Plus the fog sculptures that made

our appreciation of Boston's Emerald Necklace less hazy.

>> She thought for a while

in the 1950s and '60s how she could create a work of art

that is both composing and decomposing,

and appearing and disappearing at the same time.

>> BOWEN: Until then, I'm Jared Bowen,

thanks for joining us.

And as always, you can visit us online

at wgbh.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioWGBH.

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