After the death of her mother, Paula and her father Al struggle to navigate their grief while their neighbors Charlie and Andy adjust to their new home, all under the looming shadow of a mysterious Blue Whale. Blue Whale Variations is an investigation of the precariousness of identity, love, and the construction of meaning in the shadow of loss.
Blue Whale Variations was presented as my MFA thesis at the Iowa Playwrights' Workshop in May of 2021 as a site-specific audio/environmental-installation piece.
Given the circumstances of a global pandemic, here is what that looked like:
We held auditions and rehearsed over Zoom®. We recorded the audio of each scene using Audacity™ while on these Zoom™©-calls. The actors uploaded their takes to a OneDrive™®. I downloaded each of these takes and edited them using Audition©®™ and GarageBand®©™ (to cut out Zoom©©©™-latency pauses, do some leveling and "sculpt" the scenes). These "sculpted scenes" were then reuploaded to the OneDrive™™ where our Sound Designer, Katie, made them sound like a piece of theatre.
Each scene was paired with an installation and placed on the land surrounding the University of Iowa's Theatre Department. The audio of each scene was then uploaded and placed in the geo-located audio platform Echoes.
Upon arrival, the audience was given a map (below) and a tutorial on how to use the app. They were then set off to wander, to allow their play to develop around them.
Director – Ann Kreitman
Dramaturg – Rob Ascher
Stage Manager – Dylan Nicole Martin
ASM – Kyle Schindler
Costume/Set/Installation Design – Kaelen Novak
Sound Design/Engineering – Katie Polaschek
Media Design – Ann Kreitman
Media Co-designer – Emily Berkheimer
Music – Dakota Parobek
Spanish Language Consultant – Natalie Villamonte Zito
Cinematography – Jessica Kray Martin
PAULA – Amy Rodriguez
CHARLIE/COBWOY – Liat Graf
ANDY/RESPONDENT #2/BANK ROBBR – Nick Vogt
AL (voice) – Joshua Fryvecind
AL (body) – Bob Mussett
TV/RESPONDENT #1 & #4 – Katey Halverson
STAGE DIRECTIONS – Meg Mechelke
Blue Whale Variations was conceived, first and foremost, out of a deep fascination with
the work of composer Maryanne Amacher. Her music – comprised of specific, digitized frequencies which would trigger correlative, audible vibrations within the listener's ear – positioned the audience member not as passive observer, but as the performer of/instrument necessary for that music. With this fundamental transformation of the audience's role, Amacher's task as the composer likewise became something other than musical notation. If the frequencies the audience listen to is not the product, but the means, the catalytic raw material that activates the score, then the composer herself becomes distanced, in a way, from her composition. Simply put, she sculpts the mold of the artistic product. Completely rattled by this undertaking, I asked myself: What would the theatrical analog of this process look like?
In so many ways, a play happens within its audience; events unfold in a play-space, but these events are not singular, taking place without consequence, existing for themselves alone. These events activate an audience's empathy, evoke emotions and memories. Just as Amacher's music takes place within the listener, it is within the viewer that a play's meaning discloses itself. Blue Whale Variations is an investigation of this process of disclosure, with the audience's empathy, memories, and emotions as the play's constitutive structures.