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Does Making Art Help Us Grieve?

Date: Apr 14, 2016

The quest for legacy in the Assembly's new play


In the Assembly's I Will Look Forward To This Later, now at the New Ohio Theatre, visual art and live performance are inextricably bound. A sculptor mixes clay and water in a bucket onstage. A widow and her late husband's lover taxidermize birds for an installation. Characters talk as one creates a mold of the other's face, pasting on strip after strip of wet plaster until he's buried under a white mask.

This blend of art forms makes sense.The Assembly – an ensemble-based company co-founded by writer-dramaturg Stephen Aubrey, actor Edward Bauer, designer Nick Benacerraf, and director Jess Chayes – tends to tackle themes through the prism of all their theatrical disciplines. "Shows for us take about a year or two years to create," says Chayes, who directs I Will Look Forward To This Later. "We start off with a rough idea of what we're exploring and then the process and teams come about because of that."

In the case of this play, developed as part of the New Ohio and IRT Theater's Archive Residency, writers Kate Benson and Emily Louise Perkins began with the notion of aging. Throughout a year and a half of workshops, the company interviewed elderly mentors, including the late artist Judith Malina. "We talked to a geriatrician and a geriatric psychologist and did a lot of background research," Chayes notes. Soon, though, the play's focus began to shift from aging in general to the meaning of artistic legacy. Or as Chayes describes it: "what it's like to be an artist for many decades, what that constant life of attempt and failure is like."

I Will Look Forward To This Later follows the Holloway family after the death of its patriarch, a famous and prolific novelist. As the characters, most of whom are writers or visual artists, process their grief or lack thereof, his restless ghost strides about the stage, chatting with them.

The emotional trials and errors of grieving are mirrored by pieces of visual art emerging constantly from Benacerraf's studio-like set. The space through which the dead man moves is full of projects in varying stages of completion, reminders that the artistic process – like the process of mourning – is anything but neat. "The most important thing, the thing we're underlining, is attempt, and trial and error, and failure," Chayes explains. "That's why we created this very transient gallery space, to see how the attempts of this family can play out."

The production's props provide tactile evidence that wholly finished creations don't spring forth from artists' minds without plenty of messy, hard work. "It puts on display this process," says Chayes. "And we're a very process-driven company, so I was excited about that."

As characters set out to create a lasting legacy – a memoir, a sculpture, a plaster cast of a face – I Will Look Forward To This Later suggests that it's the act of construction, not necessarily completion, that counts. "It's a space where nothing is ever quite finished, which felt like life and artmaking," says Chayes. "Attempt is art in and of itself. That's part of what we want to say with this play."


TDF Members: At press time, discount tickets were available for I Will Look Forward to This Later. Click here to browse our current offers.

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Photo by Nick Benacerraf. Pictured L to R: James Himelsbach, Edward Bauer, Ben Beckley.