Thursday, January 15, 2015

V. Lee's play POSTCARDS FROM HOTEL CASSIOPEIA, Inspired by Famed Assemblage Artist Joseph Cornell, and Celebrates The Artistry In Living


By Kristopher Karcher

Sometimes in life we all can be caught up in our individual lives, in our own little world, our own little boxes.  But what if we took the time to think outside the box to discover the beauty and artistry within our lives?  

Well, V. Lees play, Postcards from Hotel Cassiopeia, a Play with Dance & Music inspired by the play Hotel Cassiopeia by Charles Mee, speaks about the qualities of an artist and celebrates the life of American assemblage artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972). In the midst of recasting, redrafting, and working on many different projects on the West Coast, V. Lee, the playwright of Postcards from Hotel Cassiopeia took some time to chat with me about her upcoming play in the Strawberry Theatre Festival. Heres a little glimpse into our chat:

What motivated you to write a play based on Hotel Cassiopeia?
Charles Mee
Well, as of last spring I did not know of Hotel Cassiopeia or Charles Mee, the playwrights, work. We were reading it in a text analysis course. I was struck by what it evoked in me; the scenes, the language, the timelessness of it all. And I went on his website, which is entitled the (re)making project, and the whole "thing" is that all of his works are sourced from previous stories, or history, or current affairs -- something that he remakes and redesigns into plays. He urges his readers to redesign his plays and (re)make them into something truly different. Mee says, There is no such thing as an original play... and that really struck me and inspired me to make something new out of his fascinating work. Then I started doing research on Joseph Cornell and I couldnt get enough of discovering more about him and his artwork. I wanted to dig deeper into the unique world of this artist. The metaphors and symbolism translate into a surrealistic style of theatre. Our Postcards From Hotel Cassiopeia takes a similar approach, yet the characters in Mees play are based on real people, while ours is almost the opposite. Through the process of our workshop process, Josephs character became primarily a voice from beyond, yet still an archetype of an artist. All of the other characters in our play are aspects of people. Everyones struggle is to discover something deeper within themselves; to discover the artist within. 
Building by Joseph Cornell
How has the creative and workshop process been for you? 
It was so unique. I think because I had decided to do the workshop, but not with a production in mind. There wasnt a performance deadline. It was all about honoring the workshop process for what it was, a workshop. I came in with ideas for the aspects of an artist I wanted each actor to develop. However, the actors and the collaboration process really helped to shape their characters. Im currently located in Southern Oregon so I worked with different actors from both Oregon and Northern California in this workshop. Unfortunately they cant all make it to the festival, but I loved working with them and they really inspired me and moved the piece forward. For instance, the actor playing the young Ballerina (Miss DB) was also a musician, so we made one of the characters a dancer as well as a musician. I actually have a quote from one of my older actors I wanted to give to you. She plays Aesthete Lillian and her name is Carol Weekley: 
"Leila" in Postcards
This play is very personal to me and to my growth as an individual and as an artist/actress/evolving persona. [...] Whether or not I [thought I would be] able as an actress to portray an artist who became transformed, this project transformed me as an individual, who now sees the artist within, art in a whole new context, and the importance of creativity in everyday life --really in everything; simply seeing beauty in everyday life. Creativity is a pathway to the soul and offers many different possibilities to me, a former linear, white, female senior citizen!” 
In all, being involved in the workshop and with these people was a total gift. 
What inspired you to use song and dance in your piece? 
In Hotel Cassiopeia, a ballerina would appear or there would be a dance, or someone would come on and sing a song. And it was a very surrealistic writing style. And I thought, what if I took this out of the box theatre piece, put it in a box, assembling the different elements in different order and with juxtaposition so in proximity to each other, making a new out of the box piece. Yet, instead of the actors singing and dancing, I wanted to do a play where the actors could focus on their work and then have guest artistslike Hotel Guests--come and go and incorporate their artistic work. The play is all about celebrating artistry in living, so I wanted to create a play that could speak to that as well as showcase local singers, dancers and choreographers. 
By Joseph Cornell
Your play discusses what it means to be an artist. As a playwright, what does being an artist mean to you?
I dont necessarily think of it as a label, but more as a human trait that we either do, or maybe dont, discover within ourselves. And people can discover their artistry through a variety of ways, whether its through the performing arts, fine art, gardening, meditation, or some other form that my generation may not even be into! I dont really think of myself as an artist, yet rather as someone in which art may come through to be passed on to others, even future generations, as our play voices. 
As an artist, who and what are your greatest influences? 
Joseph Cornell
I know I havent known about him for long, but I will definitely say Joseph Cornell is a huge influence on me; especially now. He approached life differently. He didnt talk much to others, at least in a typical way, about life, but he would simply live it...and write about it on scraps of paper, in magazine articles, or even on Postcards... I look forward to coming back to New York and taking our cast to see his work first hand when we come to the Festival. Also, I think literaturethe written textis and has been a really big influence on me and my life. Anything written down, even just a singular word, causes me to think a little differently and expands my perspective. Although all forms of art really influence me, whether its music, painting, drawing, dance, literature, etcetera. And this play is a testament to that. Its a testament to all artists and the artist within. And I hope when people come see it theyll discover a little more of themselves through at least one of the characters that come to life in Postcards From Hotel Cassiopeia.

Postcards From Hotel Cassiopeia will premiere at the Hudson Guild Theatre as part of the Strawberry One Act Festival Sunday, February 15th at 2pm, Monday, February 16th at 8pm, Saturday, February 21st at 7pm and Sunday, February 22nd at 1pm.  For tickets go to or call 646-623-3488.  Buy now click here.

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