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Humanity's Future Depends on a Bamboo Dome
By JEFF POTTER
Tuesday, November 10, 2015  •  
Tue Nov 10, 2015  •  
Borough Play  •   0 comments Share This
"People were standing on chairs and knocking each other in the head."

Buckminster Fuller inspires a loopy new comedy

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Welcome to Borough Play, our series on theatre in Brooklyn, Queens, and beyond

Director Chad Lindsey recalls cringing as he watched his fellow members of the Hook & Eye Theater rehearse a pivotal scene in their new piece, God Is A Verb, a play inspired by the life, theories, and works of the iconic architect/theorist/inventor Buckminster Fuller. In the crucial, highly theatrical moment, the ensemble was to collectively construct a nine-foot tall bamboo geodesic dome in a fluid synchronicity intended to unite the play's themes and metaphors. Instead, they unleashed a string of comic mishaps.

"People were standing on chairs and knocking each other in the head," Lindsey laughs. "I thought, 'This is going to be a nightmare.'"

Luckily, he embraces the unexpected, and he's keenly aware that experimental theatre can—and should—thrive on stumbles. He quotes his muse, Fuller, saying, "When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty, but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong."

Co-founded by Lindsey, Hook & Eye Theater collaboratively creates and develops original pieces from the ground up. At their monthly meetings, company members are encouraged to introduce a so-called "snag," an idea that catches their collective imagination. Lindsey proposed the Fuller theme.

"I'd been obsessed by Bucky Fuller from an early age, ever since my dad would drive around Michigan pointing out geodesic dome homes," he explains.

A fortuitous coincidence arose shortly after Lindsey's proposal. A company member had joined his girlfriend's family for dinner and causally mentioned Fuller. His girlfriend's father piped up, "I worked with him in 1969! I've got all sorts of notes and papers."

"So first we had the idea," Lindsey says. "And now we had access to never-before-seen primary source material."

The absurdist comedy, written by Gavin Broady with input from the company, runs through November 21 at the Actors Fund Arts Center in Brooklyn. The play begins in1969, when an eccentric professor gathers a group of offbeat academics and challenges them to a mysterious game in which the winning goal is to make the world work for all humanity. As the game unfolds in a surreal blurring of time and space, the characters are transported from a beatnik café to a treetop hearing before a simian Senate committee and back again.

A scene from "God is a Verb"
A scene from "God is a Verb"

Once the project was underway with crowdfunding support, Lindsey stepped in as both director and set designer.

"Sustainability was a concept and guiding principle for the set because Buckminster Fuller was obsessed with the idea of making the worlds' resources work for the whole of humanity," he says. "So we chose bamboo; it grows quickly, replenishes easily, and is therefore a sustainable building material. And it also fits into the jungle motifs in the play."

In addition, bamboo was chosen for practical reasons. It was essential that all set pieces be light and mobile because the production shared its space with the Brooklyn Ballet.

"Weekly, the entire stage would have to be free for their rehearsals," Lindsey says. "Restrictions are tricky, but sometimes they present a unique challenge because you're forced to adapt and simplify."

Lindsey also introduced the bamboo and triangular shapes comprising the dome into the backdrop and other set pieces, including two massive 1960s Pan Am luggage carts that the company scavenged from a salvage yard.

"Buckminster Fuller identified the triangle as the universe's most stable shape," Lindsey notes. "He championed the geodesic dome, an apparently spherical object made out of other shapes, most commonly triangles."

After the initial dome-constructing disaster, Lindsey rallied the company for a redo of the crucial scene. This time, it flowed effortlessly.

"It fell into their bones," he says. "It was like math onstage. They were like a machine. And I thought, 'This works!' Because it's about collaboration. And it serves not only as a tribute to our company's technique, but also to the efficiency of collaborative living. And also the simplicity of shape and the power of tension. In that moment, I felt we were serving the ideas of Buckminster Fuller and our company's mission at the same time—to collaboratively create from less to make more. Those are the things that I wanted as a director and Bucky wanted also.

"Then, all of a sudden, I realized, 'Crap, how are we going to get this thing down?'"

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Jeff Potter is an arts journalist and musician living in Washington Heights

Photos by Mitch Dean. Top photo: The cast of God is a Verb.

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