Gabriel Quinn Bauriedel is co-founder of the Pig Iron Theatre company, one of Philadelphia’s most successful experimental theater troupes.
Its premieres are hotly anticipated at the annual fall Live Arts/Philly Fringe festival. Audiences wonder how Pig Iron will reinvent theater once again. The actors might play corpses, the props might be made of corrugated cardboard, there will likely be some kind of puppet involved, and physical action trumps wordplay.
Bauriedel says Pig Iron practices what he calls “total theater” as every aspect of the experience is considered anew. Movement can be clownish, speech can be mumbled, the stage can transmogrify, stories can implode, the audience can be tricked.
Here are four basic elements of theater, done the Pig Iron way.
Pig Iron uses original music, often performed live. In “James Joyce is Dead, and So is Paris,” the music is the play. This rock and roll cabaret set in a mental asylum has the inmates performing the tale of Lucia Joyce, the institutionalized daughter of the famous Irish writer. They may all be bozos on this bus: Quinn Bauriedel played keyboard on stage for the “Napolean” number (James Sugg replaced him on the recorded version, listen to the audio clip above.)
This scene featuring Geoff Sobelle (old man), Alex Torra (son), and Hinako Arao (waitress) comes from Pig Iron’s 2009 piece, “Welcome to Yuba City,” a series of vignettes loosely connected in a desert diner.
Pig Iron develops material in an ensemble process wherein the play is created out of what the cast and crew bring to the table—rather than the alternative, wherein a playwright and a director tell everybody what to say and do. The ensemble tends to favor action over words.
Theater (aka artistically sanctioned make-believe) is suspended between flights of imagination and physical reality. Pig Iron has tried to reanimate the dead, flatten into a two-dimensional world, and crawl into the brain of Anton Chekhov; the trick is to make these things happen on a stage.
In this video, Quinn Bauriedel shows how theater props may not be what they appear.
Pig Iron normally does not start with a script. It starts with an idea, and a bunch of people who have signed onto that idea. And then they all workshop, over and over and over, until the shape of a play emerges. This page comes from Quinn Bauriedel’s notebook, where he scribbled notes while watching a rehearsal of “Welcome to Yuba City.”