Open Studio with Jared Bowen


"When Home Won't Let You Stay" & "Shear Madness"

This week an exhibit on migration, immigration and the displacement of people in "When Home Won't Let You Stay" at the ICA, then a conversation with the creators of "Shear Madness" on their 40th Anniversary, and musician David Byrne on "American Utopia," his theatrical concert.

AIRED: January 10, 2020 | 0:26:46

>> 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,

paths of migration that hit home at the I.C.A.

>> I don't see a way that we can do this show

or address the topic of migration

without including artworks that take your breath away.

>> BOWEN: Then,Shear Madness--

the long-running comedy whodunit turns 40.

>> Bruce showed me a rough draft of it.

And frankly, I read it, and I thought to myself,

"How do I get out of here?"

>> BOWEN: And David Byrne-- the man and his music.

>> I've noticed, uh, when we performed the show before,

that audiences... they seem to pay attention,

even through stuff that they didn't know.

And I thought, "Okay, that's, that's what we want."

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

First up, the Institute of Contemporary Art

examines the issue of migration in its latest exhibition.

Placed in the hands of artists,

some who are migrants themselves,

the subject is a mixture of memory, meaning, and mortality.

According to the United Nations,

there are nearly 71 million people worldwide

who've been forcibly displaced,

including nearly 30 million refugees.

For them, home might be a colossus

of what they left behind

or hazy wisps of memory.

>> This is by the Korean artist Do Ho Suh.

And all of his work

is really engaged with places that he's lived.

And you can see all of the amazing detail,

the, you know, outlets and the door handles and the lights.

Really evocative of something that is both kind of present

and not present.

>> BOWEN: Ruth Erickson is the curator

of this exhibition at the I.C.A.,

which looks at migration through contemporary art.

A show of works

by artists observing the globe's record level of displacement,

it's called When Home Won't Let You Stay,

a line from a poem

by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire.

>> Home is,

each person probably defines that slightly differently,

but I think it brings together the real and the symbolic

in really strong ways.

>> BOWEN: We met Erickson in an installation

by English artist Yinka Shonibare

calledThe American Library.

It features more than 6,000 books, all lavishly bound.

Each sports a name embossed in gold.

>> All of those individuals

are either first- or second-generation immigrants,

or they're individuals who had moved

from the South to the North during the Great Migration.

>> BOWEN: Deeply immigrant stories, presumably,

and Donald Trump's name is to be found here.

>> That's right.

Due to the kind of very, um,

divisive rhetoric right now,

around immigration in particular,

he also added in names of people who, in his mind,

were really actively kind of working against immigration.

>> BOWEN: This is an exhibition of deep contrasts.

(waves crashing)

The short film Western Union: Small Boats

captures the sun-drenched glow

of an idyllic Mediterranean island

where tourists take holiday--

and where migrants from North Africa land

if they're lucky.

In an adjacent gallery, La Mer Morte-- "The Dead Sea"--

a sculpture of blue clothing by French artist Kader Attia.

>> Inevitably, when you see that clothing,

you think of the bodies that it used to clothe,

and the ways in which it's strewn on the floor

and kind of twisted,

you get a sense of bodies

that, you know, are no longer living.

>> We've been asked a lot,

what is our polemic, what are our politics?

>> BOWEN: That should be left to the artists,

says I.C.A. chief curator Eva Respini.

There was debate about the show at the museum, she says.

Not about the politics at play,

but how to tackle such overwhelming subject matter.

>> Eventually, we dove in and said, you know,

"This is such a huge topic.

This exhibition can't be comprehensive."

We found value in thinking deeply

about the topic of migration through the lens of art.

>> BOWEN: What do you see surfacing,

in terms of how this is represented in art?

>> Artists are not historians, they're not journalists--

they don't have the responsibility

to bring forward facts and figures.

But I think they have a role to play in our society.

>> BOWEN: The I.C.A. went big for the show

with large films, sculpture,

and paintings that fill galleries

physically and emotionally.

Mexican artist Camilo Ontiveros

created this looming sculpture

out of the belongings of Juan Manuel Montes.

>> The first recipient of DACA to be deported

under the Trump administration.

These are real people, these are real stories.

(hospital equipment beeping)

>> Not breathing.

>> BOWEN: Some of the works are pretty brutal here.

>> "Brutal" is the right word for a couple of them.

Richard Mosse's kind of epic

three-channel video installation,Incoming,

which traces the migrant routes of refugees

from Syria and North Africa to Europe

through some pretty brutal experiences

over water and in refugee camps.

I don't see a way that we can do this show

or address the topic of migration

without including artworks that take your breath away.

>> BOWEN: What couldn't be taken by migrants on the move

fills this gallery.

First, there is the photography

of Richard Misrach, a California artist

who makes routine trips to the Mexican border wall,

where he's an archaeologist of modern day,

says curator Ruth Erickson.

>> He's really interested in what are the sort of

traces of human passage on the landscape?

How can we know of the events that have happened there,

even if we can't see those events?

>> BOWEN: Misrach collaborates

with Mexican sculptor and composer Guillermo Galindo,

who creates these massive musical instruments,

also from found objects.

>> For instance, the tire would have likely been dragged, um,

behind Border Patrol trucks in order to smooth the sand

to be able to look at where people are crossing.

The boot, the glove, the targets,

the horn, the jawbone-- even the lumber itself.

And in this case, to makeZapatello,

he's actually using Leonardo da Vinci's drawing

of the mechanized hammer.

This actually is a crank, and so if you crank this,

you can imagine these levers go up and down

and bang on this like a drum.

(drum beating rhythmically)

>> BOWEN: All for a beat-- and a march--

that seems to have no end.

(drumbeat continues)

>> Isabelle is dead! >> Dead?

>> (yelps) >> Barbara!

>> She fainted.

(whistle blowing, screaming)

>> BOWEN: That was a scene fromShear Madness

that asks the audience to find a murderer in a hair salon.

This month marks the murder-mystery comedy's

40th anniversary in Boston,

a record that's placed it in the Guinness Book of World Records

as the longest-running play in American history.

Since opening at the Charles Playhouse in 1980,

it's played cities around the world,

has drawn some 13 million patrons,

and grossed almost $300 million.

I recently sat down with the pair who started it all.

Marilyn Abrams, Bruce Jordan,

thank you so much for being here.

Happy anniversary. >> Thank you.

>> Thank you. >> BOWEN: 40 years.

>> Thank you for having us.

>> BOWEN: Well, Marilyn, I'll start with you.

I'm sure you, at this point, after 40 years,

you can distill it into 15 seconds,

but how do you describe the show to the uninitiated?

>> I'll, well, I said now, we, we are immersive,

we're an interactive,

which weren't even words when we opened.

And that's what it is.

It, everybody is part of the fun,

and it's different every night.

And they, there's a mystery.

And you have to figure out whodunit.

How'd I do?

Was I quick enough?

>> BOWEN: That's good and quick.

Well, how did you figure out... As you say,

"immersive" is a word we know now,

but not when you created this piece.

What made you think,

"This is going to work, we're going to..."?

Because it really is kind of two plays.

It shifts at one point,

and then the audience becomes part of it,

and then it just takes off this, on this whole other level.

(actors scream, audience laughing)

>> Folks, you all witnessed what went on in this shop

a little while ago, okay?

And now, well, now, I'm going to need your help.

>> BOWEN: At what point did you decide

that this is something you wanted to try that would work?

>> Well, Bruce showed me a rough draft of it.

And frankly, I read it, and I thought to myself,

"How do I get out of here?"


"This is... I just can't imagine it."

But we had worked together before,

and I... >> BOWEN: Well, but wait,

why did you want to get out of it?

>> Because I, there was nothing to read.

It was a skeleton kind of thing, but...

>> It was all improv back then, totally improv.

>> And so, but there were good parts for both of us.

And I knew Bruce was a wonderful director.

I really respected him.

And so I said, "Well, okay."

>> BOWEN: Is there something fundamental to the audience,

to the role they play,

or do you really have to be on guard every night

because anything could happen? >> Anything can happen.

>> Wait, wait, what did you say?

I'm sorry, say it again.

>> They, like, chit-chat over there,

and then they kiss... >> They kiss?

Wait, did he kiss you, DeMarco?

>> Me-- no, he didn't. >> Yes, he did!

>> Oh, no, he didn't!

Oh, no, he... (blows whistle)

>> What they ask you has an actual outcome of the...

in, in the evening.

>> BOWEN: Well, to be scientific for a moment,

I think this is fascinating.

I'm, I'm a very curious person

about eyewitness testimony anyway,

and especially in... Not to go way off-topic,

but knowing how much eyewitness testimony matters

in judicial trials, and, and the wrongly convicted.

And this is a case

where you see how observant people are.

And so your audience, your, your cast has to be responsible

of that, of how astute somebody might actually be,

that they're not prepared for. >> Absolutely.

And it's a play, as you say, totally about perception.

And the, the, in the same audience,

two people can perceive one actor's movements

absolutely differently.

And that leads to some comedy on, on its own.

But it's, it's amazing, because it is a study in...

In fact, it was originally used as a study

to how people remembered the events

immediately after a crime.

And it always makes me thankful

that so far I haven't committed a crime,

because actually, it has nothing to do with the facts.

It all has to do with the perception.

>> BOWEN: Well, what have been

some of the most outrageous things that have happened

in, in the 40 years ofShear Madness?

>> Well, we have a number of them.

It really becomes its own reality.

I was playing Barbara DeMarco, the hair, the manicurist,

and there's an appointment book.

And we speak to the audience during the intermission.

And I, I wrote down an appointment in the book

for a woman to come in and get a haircut.

The next day, she called the box office

to say she was sorry, but she couldn't make the appointment.

(all laughing)

>> BOWEN: That's incredible.

Well, you also work in very topical humor.

>> Do you wish to speak to us now?

>> I don't know, I feel like Joe Biden.

I mean, I have so much to say, but shut up, you're winning,

stop talking! >> BOWEN: Early on in the show,

you had jokes about O.J.,

and now you have jokes about Joe Biden

and the political climate.

How do you keep on top of...

on top of today, and make it funny?

>> You know what? The actors do it.

They're... after they've been in the show for a little while,

they understand that each day, they're going to come in

with what's important that day.

And as soon as they think

that enough people in the world know about this thing,

they figure out how they can weave it

into the fabric of the play.

And I think that's the thing that keeps it eternally fresh.

>> BOWEN: Well, thinking about all contemporary things,

is, is Trump funny?

Or does that cross the line at this point,

because it's so controversial?

>> There's, there's so much about Trump

that we have to limit it to two a night.

>> BOWEN (laughing): Okay.

>> It's too easy. >> That's it.

It's too easy, but we don't want to mislead you,

because everything doesn't work.

And there's a little secret about backstage in Boston--

there's a diagram of anchors,

and what an actor may have thought was very funny

and put in that night, and if it's a sinker,

it goes back to be historically never repeated.

>> BOWEN: Yeah, well, it must be...

>> But we are equal-opportunity offenders.

>> Oh, my God, Mrs. Schubert.

You look like Bernie Sanders.

>> BOWEN: Well, how is this... I understand

that this has grossed almost $300 million in 40 years.

How has it changed your lives?

>> I don't know, we're still working.

(all laughing)

>> Well, one of the ways that it's changed my life is,

we've certainly traveled all over the world

with the play,

and, and to get new productions of the play,

which has been a great joy.

And, and to see the, to see the play onstage in Tel Aviv,

or to see the play onstage in Buenos Aires,

is amazing.

And our, our first production was in Barcelona in 1987.

And it was like, you know, watching this little baby

that you nurtured along

all of a sudden in a new language was...

>> BOWEN: Well, and do you make it local for when you travel?

>> Yes. >> Oh, yeah, yep.

It's in that language and in that locale.

>> It's local wherever it is.

>> Oh, I love this Patriots blouse you're wearing.

>> Oh, yeah, no, it's, it's my favorite, uh...

...blouse-- are you a fan?

>> Oh, yeah, I love the Patriots.

Go Patriots! Swish!

>> BOWEN: Finally, as you look back at this,

and you consider 40 years,

what are you most proud of in, in having this very long run

and knowing what audiences, how audiences have embraced it?

>> I'm proud.

I really am proud of the fact

that we are able to show people such a good time,

that people come in...

We have a lot of people who tell us afterward,

they'll say, "Gee, you know, I had something sad happen,"

and I won't go into the various things.

But, but they said, "You took my mind off of this.

I came here, and for two hours, I laughed and really had fun."

And that's really very, very rewarding.

>> And I'm very proud of that.

And I'm also proud of all the actors

who have homes and condos and cars and insurance

because ofShear Madness. (laughs)

>> BOWEN: You do great things in the world.

Bruce Jordan, Marilyn Abrams, again, congratulations

on 40 years ofShear Madness.

It's been great to have you here.

>> Thank you so much, Jared. >> Thanks so much, Jared.

>> BOWEN: No mystery here--

it's time now for Arts This Week.

The gender-bending musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch

is back.

See it at the Umbrella Stage Company's new Concord home


Here kitty, kitty!

Catch Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicalCats Tuesday.

"Memory" and other songs in the Tony-winning production

strive for purr-fection.

Robert De Niro and Chazz Palminteri

are the creative powerhouse pair behindA Bronx Tale

at the Hanover Theatre Thursday.

It's based on Palminteri's boyhood in the Bronx.

Friday, see the New England premiere ofPass Over,

a modern interpretation ofWaiting for Godot.

The play chronicles two young black men looking for a way out.

Head out to MASS MoCA Saturday

to see Ledelle Moe's exhibitWhen.

The South African's monumental works look at our desire

to make the impermanent permanent.

American Utopia, a show built

around the music of Talking Heads front man David Byrne

just extended its Broadway run.

But it first launched here, at the Emerson Colonial Theatre,

in September.

That's when I sat down with Byrne

to talk about the show and what it's like

to have to sing all those audience favorites

over and over again.

David Byrne, thank you so much for joining us.

>> Thank you. >> BOWEN: So you...

I read that as you were recording the album,

you had a sense that this had the presence

to have presence, to be theatrical.

What was it that occurred to you

as you were underway with this piece?

>> I realized that the... well, that we could do a performance

where the band was untethered,

where everybody is free to roam wherever on stage.

Which meant that there would be no stuff on stage.

There'd be no amplifiers or drum kits or platforms

or bits of equipment-- it would just be us.

And I thought, "Oh, well,

"that's what most people are interested in-- other people.

"Let's take away everything else and was just...

It's just us and you guys."

♪ Same as it ever was

♪ Same as it ever was

♪ Same as it ever was

♪ Same as it... ever was

>> BOWEN: How easy is that to do that?

To just, to strip away all those elements?

>> It's really, really hard. (chuckling)

It's really hard.

There's a lot

of very kind of up-to-the-minute technology going on,

say, behind the curtain,

that allows that to happen.

It's invisible.

You don't notice it, I don't...

In this case, I don't want the technology to be visible

so that you're thinking about that.

But it is there.

>> BOWEN: What does it feel like to be part of this show

where you are unencumbered?

>> It's kind of extraordinary--

I can only speak for myself--

where sometimes, if I'm on stage and kind of facing the audience,

I realize that I could...

I could run backwards and there's nothing...

I'm not going to bump into anything.

(laughs): And...

There's no cables to trip over, nothing.

It's, it's incredibly liberating.

>> BOWEN: But it's also really well-choreographed,

and it seems very, very choreographed.

>> Yes, it is.

It's, it's kind of all worked out.

There's a few places where we can do whatever we want,

but in most cases, it's worked out.

And, and when that works,

it reinforces what's going on in the song,

what's going on between us on stage,

and it kind of amplifies that in, in a good way.

>> ♪ Once in a lifetime

♪ Water flowing underground

>> ♪ Same as it ever was

♪ Same as it ever was

♪ Same as it ever was

♪ Same as it ever was

>> BOWEN: Well, we hear and see

some of your older work in the show--

Talking Heads, for instance.

Has putting that music into this context on a stage like this,

has that changed the way you look at your own work?

>> Uh... a little bit.

And it's sometimes puzzled me.

You don't expect an actor to come out

and be the same character

that they were in their hit last year.

But we are expected to kind of do those...

the songs that were... that are really popular.

But I accepted that that...

that that's because there's some...

It has some kind of meaning, not just for me, who wrote it,

but also for the audience.

And I try and integrate them

so that they don't feel exceptional.

I noticed, uh, when we performed the show before,

that audiences,

they seemed to pay attention

even through stuff that they didn't know.

And I thought, "Okay, that's, that's what we want."

>> BOWEN: To go back to that point, though, about the music,

and I've heard other artists talk about this, as well,

do you have a greater sense of why, for instance,

people want that from their musicians

more than they would, say, want it from an actor?

>> A little bit.

I, I don't understand it completely,

but I understand a little bit.

Music is something that you can hear over and over again.

You can listen to a song on your phone, computer,

records, whatever,

over and over again--

not too many times, I hope.

But it still has meaning.

I listened to, uh, some old songs--

not of my own, of somebody else's-- this morning.

I found them incredibly moving.

And I thought, "But I know this song inside out."

Music does that.

You can listen to it over again.

You don't... not too many people

watch movies over and over again.

There are people who go to see movies over,

and there's people who go to see plays

over and over and over again.

But that's kind of the exception.

I think most of the time, people feel

like if they've watched a play or a movie,

they feel like they got it, they've done it.

They're not going to go back to it.

Same with books.

But music, you can do over and over again.

>> BOWEN: What about for you performing it?

Do you, do you ever make new discoveries at this point?

>> Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

One of the songs that we do,

I'd seen it done recently by a kind of high school choir

in Detroit, Michigan.

And their version--

they didn't want to change the words or anything--

it had a completely different meaning.

>> ♪ Everybody's coming to my house ♪

♪ Everybody's coming to my house ♪

♪ I'm never gonna be alone

♪ And we're never gonna go back home ♪

>> It made me rethink what the song was about.

Their... their version made me think the song

was more about welcome and inclusion and...

"Everybody come on in."

And I, I thought that might have been what I meant,

but it really comes across in their version.

>> BOWEN: What was the song?

>> It's called "Everybody's Coming to My House."

>> ♪ Everybody's coming to my house ♪

♪ I'm never gonna be alone

♪ And we're never gonna go back home ♪

>> BOWEN: That must rock you as the person who wrote that song,

who birthed that song.

>> Sometimes we work intuitively

and we don't know exactly what it is we've, we've done.

We don't know exactly why it's connecting

to ourselves or to other people.

And sometimes it, it takes somebody else to reveal

what it is that's, that's really happening there.

>> BOWEN: Going back to the dismantling your audience

for a moment, you're just visualize...

You had me visualize how this was staged,

but you had to break apart the drum set...

>> Yeah. >> BOWEN: ...for this show.

I mean, so what is percussion like in this show?

>> It sounds...

It sounds like a drum kit with maybe an extra percussionist,

but what you see is six different players.

So one person might be playing the bass drum,

one person is playing the snare,

one person's playing hi-hat and this and that.

And sometimes it takes all six of them to make the sound,

and it all kind of fits together.

And if you closed your eyes, you would have no idea.

Um, I realized it was possible

from hearing, like, second line drummers in New Orleans

or drum line from various universities

and samba schools in Brazil.

And you realize this idea of assigning parts

of the drum and percussion world

to different players,

it's fairly common,

but it hasn't been used in my world.

>> BOWEN: And, finally, I noticed you're all in bare feet.

I've only ever noticed that once before,

that's with Anna Deavere Smith.

She always performs... >> She does?

>> BOWEN:, yes.

>> Wow, I didn't know that.

>> BOWEN: So I know what her answer is to that question.

What's your answer?

>> My answer is that I knew we'd be wearing suits.

Oddly, she wears suits fairly often, too.

But I thought, "What are we going to wear on our feet?

"We're not going to wear, uh, big business shoes, are we?

"Or are we going to wear, like, casual shoes?

Nah, none of that."

I thought, "Well, okay, no, well, we'll be barefoot,

because that will offset the formality of the suit."

And it has this...

The other effect is, it kind of grounds you a little bit.

You feel like you're in touch with the earth.

Although it's a stage, it's not the earth,

but it, it feels like it...

It's the ground, and you feel it physically with your, your body.

And I think the audience senses that, too,

that these people are connected.

>> BOWEN: Well, that's, that's how she answered it.

As she shifts characters, she has to feel the ground.

Well, David Byrne, it's such a pleasure to have you here.

>> Thank you. >> BOWEN: And we're thrilled

that you're taking this show to, in Boston

before taking it to Broadway-- thank you.

>> Thank you very much.

>> ♪ Once in a lifetime

(song ends)

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

Next week, the Fuller Craft Museum

confronts the opioid epidemic.

>> It has to be the most painful, intense interaction

I've ever had in my life.

>> BOWEN: Plus, there's comedy and controversy inThe Cake,

a ripped-from-the-headlines play about same-sex rights.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen, thanks for joining us.

And as always, you can visit us online at

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,


>> What happened after the phone call?

>> Well, that was when he came racing back into the shop.

>> Lawrence, this is you. >> That's true,

I came back into the shop here.

I wanted to get over to the sink...

>> No, no!

>> Wait, he came in through the side door?

>> Yes. >> Wait a second, Lawrence,

you came in through the side door.

>> Yeah, yeah, I came in through the side door.

Big deal, so what?

>> No, no, no-- thank you, sir, thank you, everybody.

Now, Lawrence, why did you leave through the front door,

come in back through the side door?

>> Let me explain-- I went out to my car, like I said,

I put my briefcase into my car.

While I was out there, I accidentally cut my finger.

>> How? >> Yeah, who said that?

>> How? >> How?

>> Oh, I, uh, punched out a little orphan girl,

and her glasses broke. (audience laughing)

Sliced my finger.

>> Lawrence! Lawrence? >> What?

>> Answer the lady's question.

>> I don't like the lady's attitude.

(audience laughing)

>> Her attitude is fine, answer the question.

>> I'm just kidding, I'm sorry, okay?


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