This spring (May 31–June 2), at the Live Arts Studio, we are launching our new performing arts program, Jumpstart, which showcases the work of six emerging artists from the region. The Brothers Beffa, a clown-based theatrical troupe, brings their performance of Lessons for the Lobotomized. Inspired by the words of Argentine fiction writer Julio Cortazar, Lessons follows the story of Phineaus Gage, who survived a large iron rod being driven completely through his head, as he is re-acclimated to society by a pedantic, abusive psychologist and his Pavlovian methods.
The piece is created and performed by Justin Rose, a former cofounder and artistic director of the Montana-based theater company The Candidatos, and Scott Sheppard, who is the artistic director of the Philly-based experimental theater company, The Groundswell Players. Both are currently students at the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training. We caught up with Justin to get some info on the show and his work.
Live Arts: Why is your show title Lessons for the Lobotomized?
Justin Rose: At the time this piece was first conceived, I was living in Missoula, Montana and co-running a theater company called The Candidatos. We were tasked with creating material for two very different festivals: The Sweet Pea Festival in Bozeman, Montana, where we‘d be performing on the children’s stage, and the Lincoln Center Outdoor Festival in New York, where we’d be performing between dance numbers by the Streb Dance Company. We wanted to create one piece that was capable of satisfying both venues. A friend had given me a book of short stories by Julio Cortazar, the great Argentinean writer, and I fell in love with the “Instruction Manual” section. The tone of these stories was great–weird and absurdist and rich with possibility! So my first thought was, what if someone tried to follow these absolutely absurd instructions? As we proceeded to explore the stories on their feet we tossed the idea of behaviorism in—Pavlov’s dog’s positive reinforcement for the task performed well, negative for failure. The final piece to come into play was the story of Phineaus Gage, the railroad worker who survived a steel spike exploding through his head. Gage was effectively lobotomized by the spike, thus . . . Lessons for the Lobotomized.
LA: Where did each of grow up and what was growing up there like?
JR: I grew up in Ankeny, Iowa, which I guess you could call a suburb of Des Moines now, but when I lived there, there were six miles of cornfield separating the two. Now it’s just like any other Midwest suburban sprawling city full of box stores. Growing up, though, it was quaint. I have fond memories of Iowa. Now, it’s kind of a scary place.
LA: The Brothers Beffa is a new company you started. How did it come about, and what are your plans for it?
JR: Brothers Beffa came out of the notion that a rotating group of people could come together and loosely pursue any pressing ideas or questions they may be nurturing, and how to tackle them theatrically. It’s a process for remaining open to discovery. Right now, it’s just a series of open explorations that hopefully, one day, turn into really new and good theater!
LA: You and your co-star Scott Sheppard are currently at the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training. How has the first year been, and what do you think of the whole experience so far?
JR: It’s kind of crazy awesome that this place even exists! For me, it’s hard to classify what has been transpiring since we are so deeply immersed in it every day. It’s definitely a process of discovery, and has been rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, exhilarating, bruising . . . it goes on!
LA: A lot of your work is based in clown technique. What does this approach allow you to do as performers/creators?
JR: For me, clown is essentially a path to a sincere performance and allows for a connection to be established with the audience that “traditional theater” doesn’t always account for, or at least acknowledge. So we try to work with these principles, and create a performance that is vibrant.
LA: How did you go about creating this piece?
JR: Scott and I are essentially new collaborators, and I really wanted this to be our piece, not just a recreation of a piece that I had written 5 years ago with some one else. We discussed what was done in the original, but then just spent a lot of time playing together. Scott has a lot of prop work in this piece, so we really focused on getting used to those pieces, making discoveries with those elements, and then crafting routines that were repeatable. And, originally, I played Scott’s part, so I had to go about creating my character from scratch as well. Then we had to figure out how these two weirdos fit together.
LA: How do you like to spend your last 15 minutes before show time?
JR: I usually spend that time pacing back and forth, peeing one last time and eating way too many Altoids.
JUMPSTART, Live Arts Studio, 919 North 5th Street (at Poplar), Philadelphia, PA, 19123.
Thursday May 31, at 7pm
Friday June 1, at 7pm
Saturday, June 2, at 7pm
$18 for adults, $12 for students and buyers 25-and-under.
Free onsite parking.