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Ghostbird Theatre's "One Island" is a hybrid improvisational performance and art exhibit

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Since its inception in 2012, Ghostbird Theatre Company has built a nationwide reputation for site-specific theater. Crafting productions that are uniquely integrated with the space in which they are staged, Ghostbird has performed plays under the super moon at Happehatchee Center in Estero, in nearby Koreshan State Park, at Shangri-La Springs in Bonita Springs, and in the historic Langford-Kinston Home in downtown Fort Myers. For "One Island," Ghostbird will alight inside the Wasmer Art Gallery on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. That’s because "One Island" is performance art that evolves into a studio exhibition. Ghostbird co-founder and professor in FGCU's Department of Language and Literature Jim Brock tells you what to expect.

“When someone comes to "One Island" for the performative part of it, it will be a mix of video, of spoken word, of dialogue, of dance and soundscape. For the exhibit, what people will see will be the remnants of the performance.”

The performances run June 8-12. During each performance, the performers will be building sculptural pieces and doing fabric work that will be added to the basic set they’ve created for the show.

“For the first night of our performance on June 8, we’ll have a little bit and on June 9, we’ll have a little bit more, and after the 10th, a little bit more,” Brock explains. “And so it will be an accumulation.”

This additive feature makes "One Island" different from anything that Ghostbird or, for that matter, any other theater has ever done before, which fascinates Wasmer Gallery Assistant Curator Anica Sturdivant.

“We’ve done stuff with theater in the gallery before, and we’ve done stuff with Ghostbird in the gallery before. This one is very interesting because it’s experimental, and people are coming in to view a production that winds up building a set as it goes along," said Sturdivant.

"I think there’s a base set that they plan for, but then with each performance they add something to their installation, and so it grows during the sequence of their performances. That’s an interesting thing for anyone who wants to think about how these different fine arts, and visual and performing arts, can work together.”

All Ghostbird performances are immersive in the way that the performers connect their audiences to the physical space they occupy. But "One Island" will surprise even the most ardent Ghostbird patron. Because the set changes with each new performance, there’s no set script. As a result, there’s an improvisational element to the show for both the performers and the audience, as Brock readily acknowledges.

“Our work is a little bit chaotic anyway. I do get that. A little bit more here. We’re not too sure about this one, but I’m very sure about the work we’ve put into it," said Brock. "But we’re going without a net here.”

While Ghostbird’s work may indeed border on the chaotic, the content and themes of the plays they produce are intelligent, insightful, and highly metaphorical.

Brock’s earlier use of the word “remnants” wasn’t accidental. The play takes its name and inspiration from Pangaea, a supercontinent that came together roughly 400 million years ago. When it broke up 175 million years ago in the Middle Jurassic Period, this one island splintered into our current seven continents. The Appalachian Trail, much of the Scottish Highlands and Little Atlas of Morocco are remnants of Pangaea’s massive central mountain range.

To Brock and company, they symbolize both the divisiveness we experience in present-day society and our hope for reunification one day. Brock puts it this way:

“This cyclical process of the continents breaking apart and then coming together over and over again every 700 million years... gave us a sense of deep time, but it also seemed as a metaphor for us to talk about all these things we wanted to do or that were a concern of ours – this sense of separation in our culture, the United States, the global crisis of climate change to wars to racism.”

Nashville performance artist Juliana Morgan Alvarez is part of the production's creative team. In her estimation, the play is also about bringing people back together again.

“One Island is about bridging distances. There was a lot of distance that we all felt in 2020, not being able to be around our friends and our loved ones, feeling really remote and isolated, and so the process of "One Island" was about bringing people together, first virtually and then eventually in person. And it’s important for us also that we’re inviting other people into the gallery space with us because it’s ultimately about us all connecting, not just us the performers but with the people who live in Fort Myers as well.”

Ghostbird wanted to reinforce the idea of bringing people together in one place or island. So they’ve intentionally blurred the line that separates the audience from performers in a traditional theater. At the Wasmer Gallery, the performers and the audience will share the same space.

“In the abstract sense, we’re tapping into a collective consciousness of how we’ve all dealt with distance and solitude and isolation, and creating an event with us all being present and together and connecting to acknowledge that and celebrate that and work together in the space,” elaborates fellow collaborator and conceptual designer Xiaoyue Zhang.

In addition to Brock, Alvarez and Zhang, the "One Island" creative team includes U.S.-Irish poet Kimberly Campanello, Los Angeles-based theater artist, FGCU alum and Ghostbird co-founder Brittney Brady and her husband Philip Heubeck, fellow alum and Ghostbird co-founder Katelyn Gravel and Chilean actor Carolina Vargas Romero. The project evolved from conversations that Brock, Campanello and Brady started shortly after the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and blossomed after Brock secured grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

In order to keep performances intimate and introspective, seating for "One Island" is limited.

The exhibition runs through June 25.

For more, please refer to the following:

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall's website: SWFL Art in the News.

Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.

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