Bringing a painting to life, with audience in tow, at Barnes Arboretum

A painting often has a story to tell. But that story can spill out beyond the canvas. What happened just before — or after — that scene? What lies past the frame, just out of sight?

This weekend, The Renegade Company will explore those questions at the Barnes Arboretum. They’ll bring to life a 1901 painting from the Barnes Foundation’s collection: “Unpleasant Surprise” by Henri Rousseau.

“We continue the story that’s brought up in the image,” said artistic director Michael Durkin. “We keep going back to images in the painting, themes that are brought up in the painting, but then we do play writing. How do we continue telling it and bring in new perspectives on it?”

While Durkin and the actors have created an outline of the action and a musical score, parts will be improvised, depending on variables, such as weather, and the audience who will be part of the performance.

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“It’s not a sit and watch performance,” Durkin said. “The audience is walking throughout the arboretum, following the three characters that are in the painting: the hunter, the bather and the bear.”

“Unpleasant Surprise” by The Renegade Company takes place at the Barnes Arboretum, Latches Lane, Merion, on Saturday and Sunday at noon. 

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