BACK ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT) BECKY ELLIS, DEBRA WALSH, MISSY BURMEISTERFRONT ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT) GABRIEL APREA, FRANKIE ALICEA, SRI DOPPPHOTO BY SETH LERMAN
What might Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh have thought of modern day auction houses where one of his 2100 artworks, that were largely ignored in his lifetime, are now fetching upwards of $100 million? Recognized today as a genius in the art world, he was only able to sell one painting for what would be the equivalent now of $50. The Bated Breath Theatre Company will be bringing the thrill of the auction block, like a Christie’s or Sotheby’s, to the New Britain Museum of American Art for five performances Thursday, March 10 and Friday, March 11 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, March 19 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Thursday, March 24 at 7 p.m. when “Beneath the Gavel” comes to elegant and fast paced life.What began in 2008 as a small volunteer laden theatre company started by professors at the University of Connecticut, Bated Breath now embraces an active partnership with art galleries, museums, schools and other public spaces. Using site-specific locations (like its present endeavor), an experimental approach, encouraging audience participation, Bated Breath, under the dedicated and inspired leadership of Executive/Artistic Director Mara Lieberman since 2012, has now emerged as a vital and exciting immersive experience.With an emphasis on dynamic interactive performances, the theatre company has already created a number of cultural works like “The Unmaking of Toulouse-Lautrec” about the French artist, “Freedom: In 3 Acts” commissioned by The Amsted Center for Art & Culture that explores emancipation and the rich American history carried in the Negro spiritual and earned a prestigious Award of Merit last May from the Connecticut League of History Organizations, and “Wild Things: The Life and Work of Maurice Sendak” based on the children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are.“ Their newest original work “Beneath the Gavel” will take the audiences plunk smack dab in the midst of an art auction where a raising of a numbered paddle can signal a bid for hundreds, thousands, even millions of dollars. Talk about high blood pressure deviations! Forget the fourth wall, as you as audience members are front and center to the action. That prized piece of art can be yours for the taking.
Mara Lieberman is enthusiastic about “waking up the arts, making things matter, creating an exciting adventure” and calls “Beneath the Gavel” the company’s biggest effort to date since she’s been at the helm. A year and a half in the making, it is the product of interviews with figures in the art world as well as the ideas of the entire company, completed as “assignments, homework and compositions,” that she videotapes and researches, throwing away 90%, but then assembles the finished product “like a chef” from all the ingredients provided.At the open rehearsal I attended, I saw the contemporary art world being designed with visual effects, picture frames, a quartet of umbrellas, a beach ball, balloons, feathers, money guns, funky eyeglasses and a hamburger. It will be interesting to see how the company members Gabriel Aprea, Debra Walsh, Becky Ellis, Sri Dopp, Missy Burmeister and Frankie Alicea, with stage manager Ayla Davidson, Executive Administrator Missy Burmeister and Assistant Stage Manager Krista DeVellis, with Mara Lieberman incorporate these diverse items and many more into a cutting edge presentation.For Lieberman, the goal is to “find texture” and coordinate “so many moving parts.” describing it as a cross-pollination of the visual and performance arts, which she calls “Interludes.” While “reaching for high quality,” she needs to “focus on the art and germinate it to fruition.” Creating immersive theater, where the audience is surrounded by and central to the action, is challenging. Here the troupe is creating a heightened artificial work, telling the biography of a painting from first brush strokes to auction house bidding. This "marriage of art and theater" is being celebrated.This is Bated Breath’s third collaboration with the New Britain Museum of American Art, 56 Lexington Avenue, New Britain. For tickets ($20 member, $25 non-member), call 860-874-3522 or 860-229-0257, ext 201 or online at www.batedbreaththeatre.org/up-next or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A wine and cheese reception at 5:30 p.m. will proceed the Thursday, March 10 opening night performance.Come collect your play Monopoly money so you can bid with abandon at the Awesome Art Auction at the New Britain Museum. Is there a Dali or van Gogh in your future?