The Obsidian Show, Fall 2008 / Winter 2009
“The words and the physical poetry of human movement and stillness resonated within me during the evening, and the reader of my single tarot card was either very perceptive, psychic, or very lucky. Thanks again for your dreams, my thoughts and the rock and the lubricant” – Nat
ABOUT THE SHOW
Provocative, and powerful, Obsidian is an intense journey – an immersion – designed to draw the live audience into a created world. It’s dark, visual, sensual, psychological, in the theme of obsessive love, producing an exhilarating experience. Incorporating performance art, circus acts, dance, movement, spoken word, and so much more, Obsidian is also unbelievably hot, in my own special twisted cerebral flavor.
Obsidian is a large, interactive show, with about 30 cast and crew members entwining with our audience. The show opens as a vaudeville style circus, with uplifting accordion music lofting through the bustling air. As the circus begins, we are introduced to the Obsidian Carnival family, including the carnival’s prized starlette, Zita the Aerialist. It seems like Zita has it all, but a powerful stranger soon shows us that things are not always as they seem.
The Obsidian Show is a thought provoking epic, showcasing layer upon layer of subtle and profound story. The characters are paired with counterparts or otherwise coupled as a means to provide tension and depth. The show is committed to encouraging you to beg the question; What is the true controlling force in our lives?
Obsidian was an intensely personal show, stemming from places I only vaguely knew I had. I spoke about that process at length on my blog a few times.
As fate would have it, I wrote, directed, and starred in Obsidian immediately following an intensely painful breakup from an emotionally abusive sociopath. Obsidian became a part of my therapy and helped me to take my life back. In addition to it being an amazing show, Obsidian was an important way for me to channel my grief and harness the power that I had lost within that destructive relationship. Pressing onward and doing the show allowed me to use what I saw as my weaknesses to connect with and move both myself and my audience.
Each main character is imbibed with an embodiment of a part of my psyche. For quite some time, I was planning to switch between the Zita character and The Obsessor during the 5 month show run. Turns out I wasn’t able to direct, co-produce, and star in two very opposing roles – so I stuck with the one I gravitated to more. Zita the Aerialist.
“As someone who was body painted I have nothing but awesome things to report. The audience is encouraged and emboldened by being in a group, and that is part of the magic. The thought that went into the whole concept is awesome and the integral nature of it being woven into this show is superb. Their faces portray a medley of trepidation, hesitancy, wonder, and curiosity. Once they start you can feel love and appreciation being transmitted from their being, through the brush and paint, into your own. It is beautiful and spiritual. It is an honor for me to be a “guardian of the dead” and then a canvas for the artistry of the audience. Thank you Courtness for the opportunity.” – Bruce Magnotti
I discovered with Obsidian – simultaneously my first and most ambitious directorial experience – that as a director, I am most at home when providing supportive and transformative experiences for the performance artists. My hallmark is encouraging my cast and crew to stretch to the edges of their range with subject matter that challenges them. I see my job as helping those who are supporting me in expressing myself to deepen their stories with their experiences in my shows. Because of this, much of my cast and crew has been intensely loyal to me as well as to the concept of The Obsidian Show.
In 2011, I was encouraged by my cast once again to consider mounting Obsidian for a second run. We began working on it, planning how we might leverage the experience and knowledge gained in the years since the first show, which included digging into the story more and tying up the loose ends that we hadn’t had the opportunity to cauterize the first time.
My man at arms, Christina Dietrich and I, worked on a new character synopisis which dug deeper into the complex layers of the show that had largely gone unspoken (but certainly not unfelt). Many of these words are hers.
The Ringmaster (Played by David Cohen / Andrew Cardillo)
The ringmaster believes he’s in control of the show; after all, he’s the one wearing the top hat and brandishing the cane. He’s directing performers and moving people around “his” game board; he’s the master of the show! He’s the face, the audience interface, the guy with the answers, the guy who makes decisions. But whether he knows it, someone chose him to be in this role precisely because his ego is bigger than his brain and that makes him easy to control. So long as everyone listens to him, he believes he’s The Man. He’s the shepherd over this flock of crazy, broken, special-needs cats. Right? But while the audience focuses on him, more sinister events transpire just outside his (narrow) field of view.
Zita the Aerialist (Played by Courtnee Papastathis)
Zita is the darling of the show, the center of attention, the Star. She believes she’s the primary reason there’s a show at all, that it’s her strength as a performer and her inherent “star power” holding the whole thing together. In reality, she’s weak, a pawn (perhaps the weakest character in the show) – all the while believing she’s the queen. Zita is a construct, an object to be manipulated by her environment and the characters in it. She’s sweet and disarming and trusting and beautiful, the popular girl everyone openly admires and secretly hates. She’s the movie screen onto which the other performers project all their desires and ambitions, and it’s because she’s the container for all that energy that she serves as the catalyst for obsessions realized.
Boris the Strongman (Played by Shawn Keegan)
Oh, Boris. You’re handsome and strong and you’ve always had the prettiest girl on your arm–but you’re not very smart and you don’t know how to pay attention to what’s going on around you. As the boyfriend/love interest of Zita, Boris provides her “strength,” the rock upon which she builds her house of dreams and love and glory. He’s the prince-consort to her queen, firmly in the passenger seat and perfectly content. He’s utterly focused on making sure Zita is happy and protected; his devotion is unwavering and his adoration obvious for all to see. Unfortunately, he misses important cues and opportunities to actually protect her, and by then it’s too late.
The Obsessor (Dawn) (Played by Beverly Sobelman)
Opposite: The Ringmaster
When Dawn watches Zita perform she’s transported, carried away, stricken immediately by Zita’s magnetism, her beauty–she’s completely in awe that anyone so brilliant could be real. She adores Zita (she’s so beautiful and graceful – what amazing charisma), wishes she could be Zita (if only people would look at ME like that), wants Zita (if I could make her love me then maybe I would be worth something). There are so many things Zita possesses that Dawn wants; she can almost taste it, smell it. She could collect Zita like a butterfly or a beautiful bird and pin her, cage her, protect her from all those dirty prying eyes in the audience. Only Dawn’s admiration and adoration are pure enough to pay Zita the honor she deserves. Dawn is committed to getting what she wants, willing to take the necessary steps, willing to do whatever it takes. She’s committed to dance with madness because sometimes you have to reach sanity’s edge to hold divinity.
Chameleon (Played by Lance Channing, Greg Bennick, Jad)
Opposite: The Beast (which is an extension of the same energy from which Chameleon comes — Chameleons pet, familiar, or daemon).
Chameleon makes (or entices) Beast to do all the stuff he’s too “elevated” to dabble in; Chameleon doesn’t want to get his hands dirty (well, not TOO dirty). He saves all the high-brow shit for himself and sends Beast to do his Dirty work.
The Beast (Played by Benjamin Soler)
Obsession made manifest. The force behind all that anger. The tip of the knife. Tip of the tongue. He wants what they have but he’s not from here. So he’s perpetually shut out, excluded. Kept from. Kept away. Squashed down. We don’t want to give all that simmering resentment any space because then we’d have to acknowledge it’s real. He does what we’re too afraid to consider. No worries about conscience or consequences. Lizard brain, hind brain. The fist in the glove.
DustBunny (Played by Kerry Christianson)
DustBunny is the carnival’s only child; the innocent. The representation of purity and light and trust before anything worldly touches/spoils it; before obsession has had the chance to creep in and take root. DustBunny tries to play with the other characters because it would never occur to her that anyone would find that space onerous, difficult, or unappealing; that someone might not want to join her in a carefree, joyous place. She loves the world and everyone in it. But the darkness can smell energy like that; and it’s oh, so tempting.
BeastMaster (Played by Donn Christianson)
BeastMaster is the carnival’s animal tamer, the alpha male, the guy who takes no shit from anyone and who shows a generally gruff exterior. He’s better with animals than people because the nuances, subtlety, and conniving natures of people and their politics puts him on edge; animals are straightforward and you always know where you stand with them. The only other character for whom he shows any affinity is DustBunny, perhaps because her innocence and openness are more akin to an animal than an adult human; she makes sense to him. He finds himself motivated to watch over and protect her, an inclination that will pit him against darkness incarnate.
DustBunny’s Doll (Played by Sophia Sky)
Opposite: The Handyman
Every little girl needs a doll and a carnival child like DustBunny is no exception. The doll is a marionette, but because of her rather large size (for a doll), DustBunny isn’t able to use her in that way; so, she totes her around in a wagon, often stopping to sit with her and watch whatever happens to be going on, pretending the doll is alive and her best friend. What DustBunny doesn’t know is that her doll is special; when strung up and activated by someone who loves her with a pure heart, the doll comes to life. But there’s a cost.
The Handyman (Played by Jim Duvall)
Opposite: The Doll
The Handyman is that quiet, shy, dependable, jack-of-all-trades guy: the guy who can fix a leaky faucet or a busted carburetor. The guy who will watch your dog for the weekend if you buy him a six-pack. When it comes to gears and dust and hands-on applications, he’s your guy, but when it comes to interpersonal relationships? Well, let’s just say that women are a lot more complicated than a carburetor. He looks like love would be the last thing on his mind, but at his core, he’s a romantic and he’s got dreams; all he needs now is a focus for his fantasies, and his very capable hands.
Mayhem and Noname – The Clowns (Played by Ben Dobyns and Kaleen Mills)
Opposite: One another
The clowns represent the hand-in-glove/twin nature of relationship, where each partner either already exhibits or eventually adopts the persona that perfectly dovetails with or complements the other: the extrovert and the introvert, the politician and the humanitarian, the depressive and the caretaker. The male clown is sadness and uncertainty; he doesn’t believe he’s worth loving because he doesn’t really love himself, so he struggles to connect. The female clown is happiness and confidence; she knows who she is and trusts her instincts, so she’s able to generate love unconditionally and seeks relationship with others. Her attempts to woo him and his difficulty with receiving her offer serves as a tender and melancholy view into the poignant (and often painful) dance of love.
The Juggler/Magician (Played by Cody Allison and Nancy Erikson)
Opposite: The Acrobalancers
The Juggler/Magician represents the Extrovert; the person who thrives (LIVES) off the energy of the room. He makes a big, showy display – all drama and intensity – that’s sure to dazzle everyone watching. SPLASH! The Magician depends on the fact that your eyes can focus on only one spot at a time; he gets you looking at one the pretty rings while behind his back he’s working on the REAL trick. He’s managing a lot of props and energies; he’s got to keep you looking exactly where he wants. The Juggler has to keep everything up in the air and on the move: plates spinning, balls moving, pins whirling. It’s a frentic energy, a chasing energy, an outward energy. Juggling and making magic are acts of – BOOM – an area-of-effect weapon that sprays the audience with glitter.
The Acrobalancers (Sara Olson Sparrow and Graeme Quinn of Levity)
Opposite: The Juggler/Magician
The Acrobalancers represent the Introvert; the person who thrives on focused, one-on-one attention and interaction. Pull in, ground down and out, breathe slowly IN through your right nostril and OUT through the left. Hold. That. Pose. The Acrobalancers ARE the real trick; their focus, their intention, their slow pace. Don’t chase the energy, pull the energy toward you; it’s inside you. There’s nothing in the room to manage or watch. Only the core of your strength.
Among the main characters with storyline and potentially some dialogue, there were many extras which had purpose but simply weren’t accesible or large enough to deepen their official presence in the show. The actors were encouraged to produce their own backstories and look for opportunities to interact with the audience as well as other characters in an improvisational basis. No show was exactly the same.
Stallion girls (Played by Adrienne MacIain and Heather Lainer)
Bearded lady (Played by Christina Dietrich)
Bearded Ladies Pet (Played by Leopold)
Tarot Reader (David Trotter)
Aerialists (Played by Bruce Magnotti and Simonne Garrigues)
Chester the Stagehand (Played by Beau Prichard)
Fortune teller (Played by Kirsten Lauzon)
Musician (Played by Taylor Reinhardt Matson)
Baker (Played by Kim Black)
Childlike Ghost (Played by Lucy Kee)
The Poets (Eileen Fix, Chris Jarmick, Shoshauna Glick, David Jones, Ben Sodencamp)
Dancers (Kelly Rothwell, Anthony Poff, Cherilynn Brooks, Roxanne Rae, Letha Fernandez-Stray)
“One of those shows that will never leave me, or any of us, and thus will never really be over.” – Adrienne MacIain
On May 21, 2012, I ended preparations for the impending Obsidian remount. Shortly after beginning the work to remount the show, I came to the realization that it wasn’t going to work. There were some shining moments that I was looking forward to experiencing again, but the motivation wasn’t there – I had healed, and moved beyond the point in my life where I wished to be immersed in the energy of the show long term, which has a life to it all its own.
With my love, this page serves as The Obsidian Show’s official memorial.
Thank you, Obsidian. You changed me.
Creative Director/Writer: Courtnee Papastathis
Theatrical Director/Choreographer: Kerry Christianson
Producer: Jeff Hengst (Little Red Studio)
Stage Manager: Beau Prichard
Tech: Willow Brugh, Baron Von Oldenburg, Phil Brucato, Sandra Buskirk
The Obsidian Show could not have become a reality without Jeff Hengst of Little Red Studio. The environment in which the Obsidian Carnivale atmosphere was created directly correlated with the work Jeff has done to break down the fourth wall as well as many other barriers of conventional theater. The roadmap for Jeffs studio events served as a guide for me and provided the structure I needed to succeed as a first time director. I was able to touch and move my audience in ways I may not have thought possible without his influence. Thank you, Jeff.