I prefer to be in a protected environment for special mutants," says writer/director/choreographer David Gordon.
As such, the wildly adventurous theater-dance artist has flourished on the regional-theatre circuit. It has been a hospitable laboratory for the experiments he has conducted in collaboration with his son, playwright/director Ain Gordon, and his wife, Valda Setterfield.
Their ensemble, The Pick Up Performance Company, has earned critical acclaim and numerous awards for such productions as Shlemiel the First, a Klezmer musical that was developed at Boston's American Repertory Theatre and was done earlier this year at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre and L.A.'s Geffen Playhouse; The Family Business, which played the Mark Taper Forum in 1995 after receiving productions at Dance Theatre Workshop and New York Theatre Workshop; Punch and Judy Get Divorced, which was developed between 1991 and 1995 and premiered in Philadelphia in May of 1996; and The Mysteries and What's So Funny?, which was developed at Minneapolis's Guthrie Theatre, Boston's American Repertory Theatre and Playwrights Horizons.
The latest of the Pick Up Performance Company's projects is the Gordons' The First Picture Show, a work commissioned by the Mark Taper Forum where it was workshopped last March. Now, the show about the early days of Hollywood filmmaking is about to be mounted once more at St. Clements in N.Y., this time with Estelle Parsons playing Anne First, a 99-year-old pioneer of silent film. It will play there Oct. 2-5 before returning to the Taper next year for yet another workshop after which there will a national tour.
Like many of the other Pick Up projects, the Picture Show is a dance/theatre work that is long on innovation and fluid in its theatricality, this time using black-and-white silent filmed sequences, computer-generated imagery, original film and actual film and title cards and an interracial, inter-generational cast of 11 actors and 4 dancers to play characters that move between the past and the present. The latter is set in a retirement home where a host of silent movie veterans recall and re-create the rise of the film industry and the rise of censorship in the person of Will Hays, the pinched, self-appointed guardian of American morals. What is certain is that almost "anything goes" in a Pick Up production, "eccentric" being the word that Gordon uses to describe his approach to creating art. After all, in one of its best-known and most-acclaimed works, The Family Business, the role of Annie, the kvetching matriarch, was played by Gordon himself, hairy legs and mustache badly undisguised behind the pink housecoat. Having emerged out of the contemporary dance world, the choreographer-turned-director has a bold and daring vision that he implements through a core company of performers and designers, which is loosely held together from project to project.
"I'm very grateful to have been supported in the way that I have by regional theatre," says Gordon. "People have been very responsive and have given me and my family a lot of opportunities even though my work may require a lot more effort. But I don't work in a vacuum. This idea of an artist working away, isolated in a garret, is foreign to me. I work in a world that includes the people on the street, board members, the money people and, most particular, the audience and what they are doing and feeling when they're at a performance. I always feel accountable."
-- By Patrick Pacheco