Mining Themes From A Father’s Past: The Inspiration and Collaboration Behind ‘The Room with Closets’

Longtime { Dd } contributor Alejandra Iannone is not only a dancer, prolific writer, and philosopher, she is also one half of the artistic force, along with performer Rick Ausland, behind Minnesota’s Sparkle Theatricals. With a mission to “engage artists and audiences of diverse backgrounds in inventive, curious, and fun theatrical experiences,” the company mixes theatre, dance, clown, and music. Their most recent collaboration, The Room with Closets — created with director Jon Ferguson for a cast of six performers — will premiere at The Southern Theater in Minneapolis this week and run through May 26th.

Rehearsal Photo, courtesy of Rick Ausland.

Inspired by a book written by Iannone’s father, A. Pablo Iannone, the production takes its title from one of thirteen short stories. A. Pablo Iannone left his native Argentina in 1976, right before what is known as “The Dirty War” began. While the history and politics of the era are compelling, Iannone is quick to point out that the focus of the book and the show is so much more.

“My family’s history is not exclusively ‘The Dirty War’ and there is more to a country than just the wars we participate in,” says Iannone. “I want to celebrate the other things too. These are stories about identity, home, love, family, belonging, there are moments that are grim but also moments that are humorous and fantastical.”

Iannone first read her father’s book when it was published in 2004. “When he gave me a copy, I read it on Metro North and remember loving it immediately,” says Iannone. “He thought it would be a cool movie, but I thought it would be a fun stage show.” Iannone followed through on her vision and eventually wrote a grant to create this work, and then sought rights from the publisher. After devising a script from the book, Iannone and Ausland began developing the show in workshops with Ferguson and the performers using the principles of ensemble created devised theater. “Our process has been developing as the piece has been developing,” explains Iannone. “We did a lot of ensemble building games, to get a sense of how one another plays. A lot of our process comes from improvisation, responding to pieces of text, creating a sense of openness and availability.”

Rehearsal Photo, courtesy of Rick Ausland.

The group wrote their ideas on index cards, both words and images, that came to mind during the initial workshop process. The cards covered large bulletin boards and as the group generated possible themes and made movement. Gradually, the grouping of index cards was winnowed down. “The beginning of this process was exhausting as we were generating a lot and you don’t know what is going to stay,” says Iannone. “The choreography was neither linear nor set, and we are working with a diverse group of collaborators who have a range of experiences that relate, which really is a reflection of the audience too.”

While everything in the piece could be considered dance, some sections are more accessible and straightforward, while others are more gestural and abstract, reflecting a cast that comes to this production with different styles of training. In addition, text, acting, live music, original songs — a number of poems and lyrics are directly from the stories — are woven throughout. Costumes and makeup take their inspiration from the 70s era that the book evokes.

For his part, the usually even-tempered A. Pablo Iannone is as excited for the premiere as his daughter is. While he won’t be able to travel to the Midwest to see the premiere, Iannone is hoping this is only the first city and the first set of performances for The Room with Closets.

The Room with Closets
May 17th-26th, times vary.
$20 in advance, $24 at the door, $12 students/seniors
The Southern Theater

Click here for tickets.

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