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The Builders Assocation's "House/Divided." (Photo by James Gibbs)

House/Divided, the Builders Association

The Joads 2.0.

Marianne Weems, DIRECTION: Master Builder was the Builders Association’s first project in 1994, and it featured a three-story house. For all these years, I’ve thought about trying to revisit that house somehow. In light of where we are almost 20 years later, I realized that the house is no longer a sign of the suburban middle class, because that class was affected most in the foreclosure crisis. I had also been interested for a while in looking at The Grapes of Wrath, the movie and the book. John Steinbeck talks about the banks taking the farm—and if you replace the word “farm” with “house,” it’s the same scenario! So in this piece, we interweave between Steinbeck’s story of the Joads and the recent foreclosure crisis. The above-right photo depicts the Lehman Brothers crash—you see the stockbrokers at their desk. The numbers above and below them are related to the stocks at that moment in time. The house [above left] is a character in the show. The history of the house is part of the history of Americana. The house deconstructs during the course of the show, and by the time of the Greenspan hearing in 2008, it’s completely gone.

John Cleater, SCENIC CONCEPT & DESIGN: Marianne brought me on board because I had built that first set for Master Builder. For this project, a woman at the Ohio State University hooked us up with a local developer. It was a dream come true, because one of the commonalities between Master Builder and House / Divided was an interest in revisiting Gordon Matta-Clark, an artist who used to cut up houses. So we took our saws and went into a few foreclosed houses, cut pieces up and reused them as the primary set elements. We remade a more fully engineered, house-shaped set, using this light steel frame, and dropped the house pieces into it, also upped with steel frames so the pieces themselves became movable. From the outset, we know we wanted the house to transform into different things, and then we wanted it to disappear. There’s some great documentation of Neal Wilkinson and me walking through a foreclosed house after we had cut it up and put a sledgehammer through it—that’s used in the show, too. It was a great opportunity for us, even though it was a lot of dirty work!

Neal Wilkinson, SCENIC CONCEPT & DESIGN: I’ve been the production manager for the Builders since 2003. The photo of the full house on the left introduces the Grapes of Wrath characters, who are inside, bleeding through the scrim. We knew from the beginning that it would be necessary to have large canvases for Austin Switser to paint—so we had a large screen at the back of the stage that was the primary canvas, where the ticker tape passed through. We also played with projection mapping, where you take a 3-D object and project itself back onto itself (which you see in the roof piece on the left, where the video is being projected onto 3-D scenery). The rest of the house is textilene panels that are moved in and out. The desk (at left above), acting as the financial area, is ever-present as a contemporary framework, even as the scenes change from the Grapes of Wrath story to the modern world. The financial market eats the house, metaphorically, and we’re left with Greenspan.

House / Divided, inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, ran Oct. 6–8, 2011, at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, in association with the department of theatre at the Ohio State University. It will tour this month to University of Massachusetts–Amherst and to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music. Conceived by director Marianne Weems, James Gibbs and Moe Angelos (with text adapted by Gibbs and Angelos), the production features sound design and original music by Dan Dobson; video design by Austin Switser; lighting design by Jennifer Tipton; co-lighting design by Laura Mroczkowski; scenic concept and design by John Cleater and Neal Wilkinson; augmented reality design by Cleater; animation by JR Gualtieri; costume design by Shiree Houf; video and photo documentation by Phil Garrett; props coordination by Divya Murthy; production management by Wilkinson; and technical direction by Joshua Higgason.

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