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Be adaptable. "The Crumble Collection" shifts space between five works in development.

The Scene:

Moving through the parking lot of a dark strip mall on the outskirts of a campus town. You know the kind: angular buildings of nearly identical business fronts, blinds drawn against being forgotten to a bygone era. Two people are unloading something out of a box truck into a barely-lit storage unit. Some of the parking spaces have chalk writing in them and are blocked off by orange cones. There are colorful strobe lights illuminating one entrance up ahead. The destination becomes clear, we join the subdued and curious crowd.

In her essay on bewilderment as, “a poetics and an ethics”, Franny Howe cites the Muslim prayer: Lord, increase my bewilderment. It is with this in mind that I entered the light strewn lobby stocked with stress balls, bottled water, and beads to wear in case you don’t desire to be photographed (I’m especially grateful for the beads). Past the makeshift greenroom/backstage, down a narrow hallway is the gathering space. Half the walls are fake. This place is made to shift its shape. Adaptable.

Grey Box Collective works at the intersection of performing/visual arts, psychology, educational theories, and feminist theory to produce work that is “interdisciplinary, experimental, and post-dramatic”. The collective endeavors to be OK living in grey (areas), spaces of contradiction, of questioning. This changeable, tucked away studio suits the ambiguous greys. I ascend into Bewilderment, what Franny defines as, “an enchantment that follows a complete collapse of reference and reconcilability. It cracks open the dialectic and sees myriads all at once”.

The Crumble Collection: an evening of five works in development is a conversation about navigating the impact of various media on social and emotional well-being. Each work begins with a live ensemble-created letter to the audience in lieu of the traditional director's note.


One: “Friend me, Follow me, Say hello”

Photo taken by Connor Child, courtesy of Grey Box Collective

Penelope and Alicia are tired, but committed to holding it down in their chalk squares. It’s likely past their bedtime when the screens around them flash on and the show begins.

What do kids think of social media? What does an emoji really mean?

What happens when you move into a chalk square that belongs to someone else?

Penelope and Alicia charmingly pantomime emojis cycling on a screen down front, then move into the audience making friends, inviting us into their game.

Director, Sarah Tan and stage manager, Chris Weise are as active in this work as the two six-year-old performers: moving lights, offering cues, and engaging in the flow of dialogue. They are also both present on screen behind the girls via pre-recorded social media blasts documenting their relationships with social media. This question stands out, “What if you never deleted that one post you made when you were feeling rafical? What then?” Rafical, I think, means radical. I don’t know what I would do.

What would Penelope or Alicia have to say about feeling radical posts? They didn’t seem to pay much attention to the scrolling monologues around them.

How do the recorded videos relate to the live action? I am in perpetual distraction: screens and children.


Two: “EMP_T_Y”

“Dear Audience, you might feel some things.”

Photo taken by Connor Child, courtesy of Grey Box Collective

Two bodies dressed in white begin buried beneath an epic pile of crumpled issues of the New York Times. A scattering sound winds its way in, they begin to move. Newspaper shifting. They spiral to sitting back to back, then begin to read,

“Bridge Teeters—”

“Shouldn’t Be Women’s Work”

“Accused of Sexual Assault and Harrassment”

An invitation: would I please read this headline over and over? “Don’t stop.”

“The Predator is in the Kitchen”

“Sexual Assault—”

“Sexual Harassment and Bad Behavior”

An armful of stories are handed to someone else, “—just hold these for me”.

Piled voices reading, cacophony of resonance.

“Assault and Battery”

Noise builds to electronic clamber, newspaper swish, shifting notification symphony, earbuds untangling untangling untangling untangling untangling.

Alone together. Silent disco.

“Amazing Grace” begins to play.

“May we find ourselves worthy”

Performers Crystal Lapachelle and Lauren Scott embody the hot noise fatigue with a certain quality: a lightness of being that brings us into the center of their sweet camaraderie. Penelope and Alicia reappear joined by a young audience member. The three make their way into the fray and frolic, openhearted in the crinkling chaos. They are making angels and laughing, taking up the play. A celebration springs up dancing on the heavy headedness of piled up newsprint pain. Director Molly W. Schenck has conceived a thoroughly disorienting heat wave of headlines, and constructed a work of art that validates the need to keep reading, even when all the news begins to sound the same. She even offers a lighthearted alternative to internalizing the burnout: who doesn’t love a good newspaper fight?


Three: “Structural War Zone”

“Contemplate how we

change and reshape our

structural war zone.”

Photo taken by Connor Child, courtesy of Grey Box Collective

Outside, we are a parade of cell phone flashlights bobbing and weaving through an audience of our parked cars. Balls and cones. Straining to hear our instructions. Getting grumpy at having instructions to follow. Squinting, still can’t read smudged chalk writing underfoot. I can appreciate the haughtiness of this spectacle. Performers Chelsea McCasland and Lauren Scott are clad in reflective vests while they wrest the balls back and forth, watchful of the watchers. Two mirrors propped up in the parking lot: pantomime private.

time, preening and reflecting

the smudged intentions

of weak light here and there

to wind chimes

to traffic moving by.

Director Thomas J. Underdal seems drawn to a whimsical beheading of linear narrative, rebellious post-dramatic wondering. A structural war zone is a parking space painted on the concrete where you pay rent and see yourself publicly in intimate ways. It’s passing mirrors back and forth, delicately precarious hand off of self-image.

“What do you see in the war zone?”

I see parking lot, compound, mobile phones, unsettled earth, power tripping, the difference, what is conjured from fragmented definitions, storage, what becomes of what you own, tentative friction.


Four: “Thanks for tuning in and please stop staring!”

“Sometimes you’re doing the surveillance, sometimes you’re being surveilled.

Dear Audience, see through the stereotypes that limit your potential.”

Photo taken by Connor Child, courtesy of Grey Box Collective

Who is the watcher and who is being watched? The stage is screens layered upon screens: laptop size and larger. Who is here and who isn’t in the space-time continuum? William Crook enters adjusting the screen, reading distracted bits and pieces of an audience address, scrolling on a cell phone. Beginning on one monitor is Michael Tristano Jr. on camera lounging to an internal monologue of the watched on being watched in a cafe by a white woman. Can he see us, too? Back to the stage: William, blonde and adorned in beach linens begins, “I could kill you if I wanted to”. Nonchalant as the bold floral attire. The premise for being murder ready: advanced movement class equals mad skills. Preston Thompson is joining us via Instagram Live, “everyone please get out your phones and tune in”. His voice comes over the sound system and echoes from 20 phones. What is the ethos of this induced technology dysphoria? I get anxious wondering what I’ll miss not having Instagram on my phone.

“Thanks for tuning in and please stop staring!”

Live and virtual bleed together. I am lost in the airport without a map. Repetitive beginning inverts giving way to a conclusion of rules including, “silence your cell phones”. Embodied contradictions. Harsh electronic beeping.

“This process wasn’t made for ambiguous bodies”

“Show me your hands”

“Why do they keep staring?” (-via Instagram Live)

Director Dienae Hunter, in Rube Goldberg fashion, makes me second guess my perception of what is even happening when Michael and Preston transition from virtual performers to physically present flanking William onstage. Why the reveal? What are the implications of the initial ruse? What is the purpose that unites this trifecta of social disruption? More questions than answerssomething of the process of reclamation.

Now, to the TSA pat down protocol, a routine, “not made for ambiguous bodies”.


Five: “Hyphenated States”

What would an alternative to foster care be like?

What does family mean?

We are relational beings,

made to bear the seams that stitch

us into home, into our kinfolk,


Photo taken by Connor Child, courtesy of Grey Box Collective

Ray Hopkins, Chasity Flores, and Michael Tristano Jr. evoke statistics and spirits alike in a powerful homage to thriving in the face of adversity. “Hyphenated States” is a story told in refrains rivering through dynamic bodies. Given voice, “sweet psychedelic candy—”.

The use of an overhead projector is a poignant metaphor, a time stuck machine telling stories from a stagnating system. The outline of a hand. Five things to count on: “faith, intuition, time, spirit, self”. The trio decries the failures of the foster care system profiting on children, “people are found/people are taken/the state makes money”. Then, they graciously offer gifts to younger selves, acknowledge the strong beauty in being soft, the process of learning to treat yourself with tenderness. This is a story that moves through the placenta of grief into deep acceptance.

It feels akin to witnessing birth, fitting since director Lizbett Benge is also a doula. She has constructed a full-bodied ritual of this investigation, and ushered generational healing through the channel of these three powerful performers. The lasting takeaway: Be adaptable. Be brave.


Ada McCartney is an educator, literary artist, and contemplative movement practitioner. Born in Colon, Michigan, she now resides in Tempe, Arizona. The aim of her work is to find metaphor, extrapolate meaning, to liberate herself from oppressive socialization, and to explore the internal~external landscape with unencumbered attention to detail.

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