Scoliosis debut starring Frances MacDormand

Reposted from Wall Street Journal article:


'Bodycast' Won't Confine This Actress
Oscar-winner Frances McDormand Relays Artist's Trauma   

By LIZZIE SIMON - Nov. 26, 2013 10:16 p.m. ET

Frances McDormand runs through her lines. 

For four sold-out nights in December, Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand will deliver a monologue with little more on stage besides her, a PowerPoint presentation and off to the side, a woman feeding her lines via an earpiece. The woman, Suzanne Bocanegra, is the creator of "Bodycast," a theater work that delves into her experience as a teenager in Texas with scoliosis, a condition that causes the spine to curve and was, in her words, "a social trauma."  "It sucked," she said. "I went to a large Catholic high school, and I had to wear a uniform over my body cast that didn't fit."

She and Ms. McDormand, who declined to comment on the performance, met at a 2011 experimental-performance festival where Ms. Bocanegra's first theater piece, "When a Priest Marries a Witch," was being shown. Ms. McDormand said over post-show drinks that she wanted to work on her next project, Ms. Bocanegra said. "I told her that I had two stories left to tell," said Ms. Bocanegra, who, like Ms. McDormand, is 56 years old. "One about my grandparents' farm in La Grange [Texas], and one about the two years I spent in high school in a body cast. She said, 'I'll take the body cast.'"

The setting is spare, as it would be for a museum lecture, with the presentation behind Ms. McDormand, who is standing. The vocalist Theo Bleckmann and former dancer Emily Coates make appearances, adding further theatrical elements to the work.

Neither Ms. McDormand, who won her Academy Award for "Fargo" and has been nominated three other times, nor Ms. Bocanegra will be elaborately costumed. "We're not really sure what we're wearing," Ms. Bocanegra said. "But it will be something out of our closets."

Ms. Bocanegra, whose work as a visual artist has been shown at London's Serpentine Gallery and Los Angeles Hammer Museum, began her path to theater with an invitation from the Museum of Modern Art to present an artist's talk. "I wanted to push it somewhere outside of myself, and outside of a slide presentation," she said.

She penned her story of becoming an artist, titled it "When a Priest Marries a Witch," and turned it over to Paul Lazar, an actor and director with a 20-year history of melding words, music and dance as co-artistic director of the New York-based Big Dance Theater.

He agreed to perform "When a Priest Marries a Witch," and after its MoMA premiere, the pair hit the road, presenting it in museums and festivals across the country.

"Suzanne is quietly animating the world on stage with her ideas," said Mr. Lazar. "Visual artists act from such an intuitive and mysterious place, and yet Suzanne can describe the way her art mind works in a disarmingly simple, direct and surprising way."

For a 2011 performance at City University of New York's Prelude Festival, he invited Ms. McDormand, who he had worked with in the 2010 Wooster Group production of "North Atlantic," a military satire. By the end of the evening, the three of them had decided to tackle "Bodycast."

In "Bodycast," Mr. Lazar switched to the director role. Ms. McDormand, as the lead performer, tells the stories as if they were hers, but Ms. Bocanegra has an onstage presence too, feeding the lines to Ms. McDormand.

The three of them rehearsed in an unusual venue. Beyond the living room and kitchen in Ms. Bocanegra's SoHo loft, there is a 40-seat theater with a 12-by-14-foot stage outfitted with a lighting and sound system by theater designers Jim Findlay and Jody Elff.

It is a throwback, said Ms. Bocanegra's husband, the composer David Lang, to a long-ago era when artists could afford to live and work in SoHo, collaborating and performing in each others' lofts. "There's a historical re-enactment thing going on," he said.

Within earshot of the theater is Mr. Lang's own studio, which allowed for eavesdropping through "Bodycast's" creative process. "It was very free-flowing," he said. "Because they're three people working in this tiny environment in this intense way, everyone was in everyone else's department."

It is Mr. Lazar's favorite theater in New York. "Its purpose is to be a place for artists to try ideas out and benefit from the response of other artists," he said. "It's a collective brain or heart, pulsing away and producing exquisite life and art experiences, outside of the ever-exasperating arena of critics and presenters."

"Bodycast" is even further outside the professional environment where Ms. McDormand typically dwells, but Mr. Lazar wasn't surprised that she attached herself to it.

"Fran is a free spirit," he said, "whose nature is to jump at what excites her."