By Melissa F. Moschitto
This is not a Big Apple bus tour. Of that, Melanie Joseph, Co-Artistic Producer of The Foundry Theatre, is emphatically sure. The Provenance of Beauty
is a play, on a bus, that departs from East Harlem and rides through the South Bronx. The set is created by where the audience happens to look, the story informed by their knowledge of the neighborhoods they're visiting. From red lights to traffic jams, acts of urban nature become part of every performance. "We've made room for the happenstantial," Joseph explains.
Not everything is left to chance, however. As they ride, patrons (or is it passengers?) wear headphones so they can hear an original text by poet Claudia Rankine. Her script offers both historical information about the communities passing by the window and reflections on what they represent.
Rankine's play---her very first--- was commissioned by the Foundry. "I was surprised and flattered, [and] naively willing to do it," she laughs. Working within a production timeline had an immediate effect on her work: drafts came - and went - faster. Language lost its "preciousness." She also credits Joseph as a valuable collaborator. "It's like having two brains, one of them working much faster than the other!" she says.
At its core, Provenance is about belonging and transformation. Joseph, who co-directs with Shawn Sides, says it's challenging to write about a place that isn't her own, especially a place with the contentious history of the South Bronx. It took nearly a year for the company to develop the physical journey of the play, and the route has profoundly affected the show's literal and figurative shape.
Two years and nearly one hundred bus trips later, the central question remains: "How do you look at something? How do you see a neighborhood?" That is what The Foundry intends to discover.
For more information about The Foundry and The Provenance of Beauty
Melissa F. Moschitto
is the Founding Artistic Director of The Anthropologists, an ensemble theatre company based in New York City. She is an award-winning playwright and director and has also written for American Theatre Magazine and Kenneth Cole's Awearness Blog. (www.theanthropologists.org