While most people visit the Loeb Drama Center to see theatrical works, this December audiences will have the unique opportunity to view a visual art exhibit as well. In preparation for the American Repertory Theater’s (A.R.T.) new musical play “The Blue Flower,” co-creator Ruth Bauer will lead students in a series of workshops to create an art installation in the lobby of the Loeb.
Bauer, a Rhode Island School of Design-trained visual artist, will be working at Harvard as part of the Office for the Arts at Harvard’s (OFA) Learning from Performers program. Co-sponsored by Harvard Art Museums and Adams House, the program gives students the chance to interact with professional artists across a range of disciplines through master classes, workshops, and informal meetings. Bauer hopes to have approximately twenty students participating in the workshops, the first of which takes place on October 27th, preceded by an informal informational meeting on September 15th.
Bauer’s own work focuses on painting and collages. “The Blue Flower,” which she has been working on for a decade, is her first theatrical production. The show has been performed several times before its A.R.T. debut, but this production allows for more full-scale facets. “Different incarnations have happened along the way, but [staging the show] at A.R.T. is our first opportunity on a large stage, with all the elements in place,” she says. Adding to the novelty of the undertaking, the art installation is Bauer’s first project with Harvard students.
This installation will serve as a visual introduction to “The Blue Flower,” created by Bauer and her husband Jim. The play follows the trajectory of a handful of German artists on their journeys through pre-war Paris, the battlefields of Verdun, Weimar Germany, and finally New York. The Bauers describe the play as “a Dada inspired romp down the twisted rails of history.” Many of the central characters are loosely based on personalities associated with Dada, an anarchistic artistic and cultural movement that reached its peak between 1916 and 1922.
Artists Franz Marc, an expressionist painter killed at Verdun, and Kurt Schwitters, whom Bauer calls the “presiding spirit” of the play, serve as the inspiration for the male characters. The female characters are inspired by Hannah Höch, a proto-feminist and pioneer of photomontage, and scientist Marie Curie. But Bauer insists that “The Blue Flower” is not a historical play. “It departs from truth in all ways; Emily Dickinson’s line ‘Tell all the truth, but tell it slant’ is our motto,” she says.
“In spite of the serious subject matter of World War I...[the play’s tone] is irreverent,” Bauer says. “The way the whole piece is constructed as a collage is in the spirit of Dada.” The Loeb installation aims to reflect this multimedia format.
To better understand the Dada aesthetic, Bauer will take students to view objects in the Busch Reisinger collection, temporarily located in Somerville, in mid-October. Students will have the chance to view original artwork from the period, including etchings by Max Beckmann, collages by Hannah Höch, and other contemporary material, such as an almanac of which Franz Marc was editor. The curator of the collection will talk about the historical significance of the objects, while Bauer will comment on them from the perspective of an artist.
Bauer anticipates that students will use work from the period to inform their ideas for the installation. “My hope... is that it will be a lot of assemblage, 3D work, and relief work,” she says. The A.R.T. has even given her license to take down existing posters and fixtures to help achieve her vision. “The A.R.T. is very excited about letting me create an environment in the lobby that [will signal to] audiences that they are in a different universe right away,” she says.
In keeping with the spirit of Dada artists, who had limited resources during and after the First World War, Bauer intends to use as much recycled material as possible to create the installation. She has been collecting lumber, scraps, found objects, paper, and cardboard to use alongside other media. Audience members will also be able to make their own additions on one wall, so that the work will continue to develop during the course of the show. The project will combine visual and theatrical art in innovative ways, allowing for a new kind of theatergoing experience. As Bauer says, “I can totally take over the space.”