Pittsburgh

At the top of Bricolage Theater Company’s mission statement is a dictionary definition of “bric-o-lage…making artful use of what’s at hand.” In a conversation with wife and husband team, Producing Artistic Director Tami Dixon and Artistic Director Jeffrey Carpenter, it is clear that this phrase is not just words for their funders or website—it’s a creative path. A choice to make having and running a theater company not just a place to produce plays, but a method for making theatre, i.e, an ongoing creative process.

During the G20 Summit, when every other artistic institution and many businesses shut down, Bricolage, in the heart of downtown’s theatre district and steps away from the global discussions happening at the Convention Center, kept their doors open. Instead of joining in the screaming, anarchist poop-throwing dumpster-rolling protests, Tami (who had participated in her share of protests during her time as an actress in New York and as a steering committee member of THAW Theatres Against War) wanted people to shut up and write it down. So they created a haven, a place of quiet reflection, covering the walls and floors with white paper. At least one word on the wall was the price of admission.  Three hundred people came, including diplomats writing in their different languages.  The next day protestors from those countries responded in kind. Tami was even featured on Chinese television saying, “we need less talking, more listening.” While the protesters rolled dumpsters down Baum Boulvevard, Bricolage was hosting a “global conversation” on Liberty Avenue.

This is just one example of the spontaneous, open-door, responsive spirit of Bricolage.  Past events have included readings, workshops, or productions, which they’ve either hosted or produced. They’ve also included stand up comedy, concerts, and artist installations, such a workshop for local artists with Guillermo Gomez-Pena of La Pocha Nostra during the Three River Arts Festival. They are used to thinking outside the box—so far outside the box that their Midnight Radio Series was not reviewed by local critics, despite being one of the best-attended events this summer, because the critics didn’t know how to categorize the performance. A series of nine radio dramas written by local playwrights (including Guild members Sloan McRae, Robert Isenberg, and myself) were staged in a competition over the summer in front of a live audience, which culminated in a “Smackdown” for the audience favorite. (You can hear the winning radio play by Wali Jamal as a podcast on the Bricolage website). The theatre hopes to continue the series as an ongoing part of their programming.

When our conversation turns to In The Raw, the latest in their free programming, watching Tami and Jeffrey brainstorm is a lesson in how one “makes artful use of what’s at hand.” As they threw ideas back and forth, building and revising off of each other, Jeffrey suddenly turned to me and asked, “What do you think?” My response became part of the bricolage. Essentially a play lab that evolved out of their previous reading series, In the Raw is an on-going exploration of how to best help the artists that they care about. Tami and Jeffrey see themselves as a “resource,” helping local artists help themselves.  They offer space as well as promotional assistance through their website and connections with their solid audience base, who are always ready to come to the next free event. But they remain open to other, yet-to-be-imagined ways of moving playwrights and their work to the next stage, of giving them a start and then sending them out into the world.

In the four years that Bricolage has been at the 937 space, it’s developed not only an audience, but also a cadre of artists and projects to support. The next big production,  Great White, by Matt Morrow, is a twelve-person opera, inspired by the events of the 1916 New Jersey shark attacks. Bricolage is also hospitable to new friends who knock at their door. In November, they enthusiastically hosted the Dramatists Guild town hall meeting and our first PlaySlam. Hearing the diversity of voices and recognizing the spark of creative energy in the room, both Tami and Jeffrey expressed an interest in hosting future Slams. In short, what they’ve started with Bricolage is an ongoing, multi-partnered conversation with the community. I invite you to go downtown to Bricolage, introduce yourself, see what’s going on, and involve yourself in the conversation.

For more information about Bricolage, 937 Liberty Avenue:  www.webbricolage.org

Tammy Ryan
tryan@dramatistsguild.com

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