Journey through the Creation of Adapt! - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Through the Lobby
An Actress's Notebook by Krista Apple
At Lobby Talks, post-performance.
The Wilma lobby is what I call a ‘charged space’. It’s not just Any Other Place. It contains so much history of its own, and has a story to tell, especially if you stop to look at the production photos from Wilma seasons past. The ten years I’ve worked at the Wilma have inspired a personal history as well. The lobby is where I would sit, as a younger actor, to wait anxiously for my auditions; and after countless opening nights it’s where I would dance well into the morning with my pals.
These days, the Wilma lobby also contains the powerful context of the story we’re telling: the story of a young refugee immigrating to America, escaping the authoritarian government of Czechoslovakia.
Jennifer Baker’s exhibition “Portraits of People on the Move” was originally created as a companion to Cardell Dance Theater’s Supper, People on the Move, created by Adapt! choreographer Silvana Cardell. It was remounted in the Wilma lobby for the run of our production. It features first-person stories and photo portraits of individual Philadelphia immigrants from Argentina, Pakistan, Honduras, Albania and elsewhere. Their journeys to America were undertaken for many different reasons, and have had many different consequences and outcomes.
And every night, the lobby also contains… us. We gather nightly for the Wilma’s new Lobby Talks initiative: an opportunity for artists and audiences to meet one another informally and talk about the play. The bar is open; people come and go as they like. Removed from the social constructs of the theatre space, our audiences has agency to talk with us than in traditional talkbacks, and so genuine conversations often occur about the play, and about the immigrant experience in America.
Sometimes it’s a group of twenty that stays for a Lobby Talk; sometimes fifty. It’s always a multi-national, multi-generational crowd. When we’re really lucky, Blanka joins us for the conversations. She talks firsthand about the scenes that parallel her own experience leaving Czechoslovakia, particularly the experience of leaving her family behind. She also loves to tell the story of her first trip to a department store after leaving Communism behind: she found herself surrounded by so many clothes, so many choices, that she got physically sick. In Adapt!, that experience evolved into the play’s opening image: a young girl, Lenka, is alone on a bare stage until piles and piles of clothing fall from the sky, to the soundtrack of a woman’s orgasmic sighs.
And it’s often these highly imagistic moments that inspire the most conversation in the lobby. There are often many first- and second-generation immigrants and refugees from countries around the world who, regardless of their country of origin, find echoes of their own experience in the play. Lenka’s alienation and confusion resonate powerfully for them. We get to hear their stories, or the stories of their parents. And it’s here that we learn what the play is really about. The audience teaches us, as they always do. It’s a gift.
And all the while, we’re surrounded by the evocative photos of Jennifer Baker’s exhibition. The portraits are of people who came to America and have become doctors, dancers, and painters. People who planned to be those things in their home country before their country’s luck turned, and now clean houses here just to get by. All of them like Lenka. All of them living between worlds and identities, wondering where home really is, both inspired and terrified by the possibilities that America holds.