“Exquisite Corpse” is unlike any play I have ever heard of. Now those words may not mean much, as I probably have seen or heard of less than a dozen plays, but its unique style of composition, and method of play would be new to anyone who saw it. To explain what I mean, the play itself is composed by the ensemble. I spoke to the director, and some members of the ensemble and production crew, to glean a better understanding of what an ensemble piece is and how they work. When I originally emailed the director Jess Lustig, I asked for her to send me a list of headliners for me to get in contact with. This was my first show of ignorance, as “Exquisite Corpse” does not have headliners, or in Jess’ words “every actor contributes equally.” The co-director senior Madeleine Barry added, “Everyone contributes to the writing, the blocking, the character development…in the end the production is everyone’s creation equally.” Being a member of this ensemble is “different from any piece of theater I’ve been a part of,” according to Karla Coffey, a freshman in the ensemble.“This is truly a cooperative piece of theater…The level of cast involvement is unusual and inspiring.”
This level of collaboration is inherent to the namesake of “Exquisite Corpse.” The name comes from a parlor game created as a game between French surrealists. A paper is folded, a drawing done, and then it is refolded so only the points where lines crossed the crease were visible, and another drawing was done, and so on and so forth. It started as just a game, but the level of dissociation and collaboration became an art form in itself, and has since permeated surrealist work.
This type of disjunction can also be seen in the format of the play. It is in fact, two one-act plays “spoken word pieces from a huge range of sources, and movement pieces created originally by the cast and directorial team” as described by Lustig. Coffey considers this an important part of the play saying “We all contributed to the poetry pieces in the show…It breeds a sort of ownership and pride in the messages we’re conveying.” “What I like about this form of theater is that it gives equal value to each voice,” Barry said, “Even if someone doesn’t have a large speaking role, lets say, then they’ve probably contributed greatly to the other aspects of the play. Ego is supposed to take a backseat to the actual artistic product.” This alienation of ego is perfect considering the topic of the play.
The title “Exquisite Corpse” may be derived from a surrealist practice, but the topic of “Exquisite Corpse” is anything but. In the words of Jess Lustig “’Exquisite Corpse’ aims to explore global involvement in recent conflicts,” more specifically the two one-act plays mentioned take place in Afghanistan, and the topics of poetry surround our society’s response to violence, and our role in world affairs. Jess told me, “I chose to do this play now because I feel like the generation currently in college is so defined by 9/11 and its aftermath.”
For the most part all students here were between the ages of 5-11 or 12 when the twin towers fell. For me at least some of my earliest memories are of watching them fall on TV and going into lockdown, as I was living on a military base at the time. Most people have these types of memories, including the ensemble, as Coffey puts it “All of us have vivid memories of the 9/11 attack and that connection helps to base our performances in a unique, shared, generationally specific reality.” Barry suggests “the reason we are bringing this particular subject to the stage is because it presents a platform for conversation that might not happen otherwise.” This point rings true. The amount of violence we see as a result of our country’s actions every day is astonishing, and to discuss it in an artistic fashion will potentially be a more constructive response than the usual over saturation we get from the common media.
“Exquisite Corpse” promises to be unique, heavy, and entertaining, but, for what reasons does one see a play other than to feel something and be entertained?