Climbing a friendly, graffitied-up staircase weathered by age and reputation, we ascended to the fourth floor of the Copycat Building. There’s a palpable, yet indistinguishable, energy in the air. Is this an ethereal remnant of an intense brainstorm or leftover vibes from theatrical antics that transpired the night before? Perhaps there was a party here recently.
We have just arrived to the doorstep of B403 at 1511 Guilford, the bedrock of the Copycat Theatre. And if you’ve never been there, I recommend finding a way in.
Walking through the entranceway, filled with plants, unusual forms, masks, hanging fabrics and unnamed oddities, we were greeted by the kind of solidarity among comrades that only comes about from living together for a period of time.
Since the launch of this beast of a website, we at What Weekly have been reiterating the essential, absolutely unequivocal power of the tribe, the necessity of a healthy and compassionate community. The Copycat Theatre and their tribe are beautiful and honest examples of what we believe in.
After spending some time with this troupe, I ascertained What Weekly has vital practices, intentions and ideas in common with these folks:
1. Art is a social tool and the artist is a change agent
2. Blurring the lines between performer and audience is important for achieving #1 above
3. Values should be the common denominator in all decisions and behavior
4. Build a tribe and take care of your people and your environment
5. Include everyone who wants to be there
6. Be smart and resourceful, reuse and locally source what you can
7. Challenge and change broken systems
They didn’t lay down this list, but I was pleased to see their way of being is akin to ours. In that, I felt a special closeness with them and thought it imperative to articulate how we’re aligned and why the story of the Copycat Theatre should resonate with everyone who is perpetuating the Baltimore Renaissance.
While writing this, I’m reminded of a simple truth summed up flawlessly by a tasty fortune cookie, opened only moments ago, that reads, “Nothing dared, nothing gained.” Thank you, little wise fortune cookie, for revealing the perfect conclusion to this introduction and for succinctly describing the essence of the Copycat Theatre. For the record guys, you nailed it.
There are countless reasons why you need to pay attention to the Copycat Theatre, here are three. Number one. This DIY group’s favorite brand of experimental performance is immersive theatre, which means not only will you be watching the show, appreciating it and summoning a catharsis from it, but you will also be transformed into a character. Number two. The main cohorts and founders of the Copycat Theatre, Person Ablach, Hoesy Corona, Pilar Diaz, Monica Mirabile and Sam Shea, are amazing, thoughtful individuals who are successfully creating sensational experiences, community and conversation through art and performance in a magical way.
Spearheaded by the Copycat kids, The Rooms Play has synced up and inspired over 50 artists who are all working to build 22 very distinct environments to shock and delight. Each space is directed by a different team of 2-5 local artists and musicians. The structure of the play is such that you will travel from one world to the next, never knowing what to expect. Just know that much more will be required of you than sitting passively and clapping on cue. This will not be your ordinary theatre performance.
Here’s the rub. In order to experience The Rooms Play, you must sign up for a very specific time to start your journey. You will be injected into a group, totaling four people. A new group begins their journey every six minutes at the first room. There is no advanced sign up, so get there and get your name on the list.
Rooms Play will begin in the Whole Gallery (405 W. Franklin St., 3rd floor) and will traverse the street via guided outdoor transit to Current Space where the show reaches its zenith.
<< During Transmodern >>
Fri, April 29: 8PM – 12AM
Sat, April 30: 8PM – 12AM
Sun, May 1: 1 – 3PM
<< After Transmodern >>
Fri, May 6: 8PM – 12AM
Sat, May 7: 8PM – 12AM
Sun, May 8: 1 – 3PM
The theme of this year’s Rooms Play is immigration. The powerful feelings associated with alienation and themes of social injustice, The Other and cultural divides is all tough subject matter to tackle. It doesn’t hurt that many of the performers have immigrated to the United States for reals.
In their own words, “We are encouraging artistic meditation on what it means to be faced with the challenges of legal, ill legal, alien(nation) and othering. This year, the play will focus more specifically on issues of power, control, and choice. The theme of freedom and its guises are being explored through a re-writing of the heroes journey to reflect contemporary uses of power and control.”
“We created a structure where so many people can collaborate but still have creative freedom. Whatever people bring to that is what they bring to it and it’s going to be amazing.” -Monica Mirabile
Monica is an artist finishing up her studies at MICA, and also a member of the truly inspired Baltimore Experimental Dance Collective (BXDC).
The group’s very first play illustrated the history of civilization split into five scenes where each one of them was the director of one of these scenes. “We started thinking about that from the very beginning… that we wanted participants, not just an audience.”
“Through magic this translated into Rooms Play,” said Hoesy Corona. It’s all about “tiny little environments and lots of them. It’s not digital or hard to get to. It’s transformative. It’s accessible.”
Hoesy Corona makes amazing costume performances at least once a month while working as a florist and taking care of hundreds of plants in the house.
“I feel very strongly that we are doing something more effective than virtual reality,” describes Person Ablach. In regards to the idea of reaching a larger audience, or an entirely different demographic, say, politicos in DC for instance, Person has this to say: “There’s nothing I’d rather do… than to take the individuals who make the decisions (and therefore, because of their authority, are responsible for the condition that so many people live with) and take away their authority by putting them in a place where we collectively control their experience and rob them of their privilege for a period of time.”
Person Ablach is engaged with creatively spreading information around Baltimore while concocting amazing puppet machinery. We caught him in the act of manipulating music using an interface of his design and simple gestures a few months ago. Have a look-see at his gadgetry.
“We use art and theatre for social change rather than the reverse, very exciting. We’re not about theatre, it’s so much greater.” -Sam Shea (man with the reptilian head in the photo above)
Sam’s teaches kids set design at New Song while simultaneously making music under the pseudonym DJ Diva Cup.
The first Rooms Play in 2010 was the result of six months of dreaming and boatloads of dialogue about transformation, ceremony and sensation. The set build-out was completed in three weeks.
As we sat with Monica, Person, Sam and Hoesy inside their mammoth warehouse space, which also doubles as the theatre, they explained the concept for the first Rooms Play relies heavily on inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s interpretation of the monomyth, often referred to as the hero’s journey, which he documents in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Here’s the gist of Campbell’s theory: There’s a basic pattern found in many narratives from around the globe, and there are three major phases to all great stories in mythology: Separation, Initiation and Return. The Campbellian Analysis breaks down these phases.
The first ever Rooms Play synthesized the hero’s journey with the digestive system, which was awarded City Paper’s Best Shit Ever Missed Award and was the basis for receiving a $1,000 B Award from the Baker Artist Award fund.
It all started in December 2008 when Pilar, Monica and Person shared a space at the Copycat. Studying at MICA, they seemingly gravitated to each other and the momentum grew from there. Monica and Person are originally from Tampa; Hoesy and Sam, who moved in later, went to high school together in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Whatever synergy they shared then has since transformed into something much bigger, attracting and inspiring more artists, musicians and collectives – all practicing a form of sensational performance, which is currently coalescing as the Rooms Play.
“A lot of conversation that we had from the very beginning was about wanting art to be more sensational, in the way that it lends itself to the senses and includes more people,” Monica Mirabile recalls. “We don’t want it to be exclusive.”
This year’s play has a different twist. The performers are dealing with an alternate reality that isn’t too distant: The reality of the being an illegal alien in the U.S.
“We don’t want to make it too didactic in telling artists what to do or how to interpret what it means to migrate or what it means to be put into a situation where you are The Other,” explains Monica. “We all have an intense relationship to this feeling of alienation.”
We missed Pilar Diaz, the fifth co-founder the Copycat Theatre, so here’s a photo of Monica and her pet snake instead. Pilar and Monica taught a headdress making workshop to neighborhood kids as a part of the community outreach of the Annex Theatre’s “The Dark World’s Destruction.” They also worked on a documentary together about Baltimore’s food system and the sociopolitical issues that surround food accessibility titled B FED.
Pilar has created a tool for artistic-activism approaches in Baltimore – peelspawn.info – a semi-documentarian expression of the way both approaches can be merged in our city today.
The Copycat Theatre
Personally, I am in love with the idea of blurring the line between spectator and actor, especially when the art pushes boundaries, raises eyebrows, acknowledges stigmas and invokes questions.
More and more, it seems audiences are becoming receptive to these types of experiences. The sensations of discovery and excitement cultivated in environments like this are beautiful, and often something worth remembering.
It is these kind of imaginative, playful, socially-conscious, boundary-pushing experiences that breathe life into the people, give meaning to art and work, and force us to reckon with ourselves so as to ensure we all evolve a little bit before we die.