This From Cloudland opens at Harper Joy

Michelle Foster, Staff Writer

boy’s head is stuck in a bear’s mouth, people speak of stealing free things and two lovers hold themselves hostage in “This From Cloudland,” an original piece written and directed by Whitman Professor of Theater Kristen Kosmas. The opening performance took place on Wednesday, October 19 at Whitman’s Freimann Studio Theatre. Performances will continue through Sunday, October 23.

The production differs from conventional plays in both its extraordinary subject material and its unusual structure.

“There are no characters, there are virtually no stage directions—I think there are maybe two or three stage directions—and it looks, on the page, like a long poem,” Kosmas said. “So it’s a highly fragmented, nonlinear performance text; it’s a choral text-for-speaking.”

As Lud Brito, a student performer in the show, said, “It’s hard to put [the show] in a box.”

Essentially, the performance is a collage of many stories and scenes that are seemingly unrelated—there is no central plot—but somehow come together to form a remarkable theater production.

“Most of my writing for the theater is written for the voice and has to do with the variety of sounds of speech,” Kosmas said. “So all this variety of musicalities of different kinds of speech and their sounds is what the script is made of.”

According to Kosmas, the play is broken into about 37 episodes, with each episode representing one type of speech. There is no concluding narrative, although a kind of overarching context that holds it together, which the audience may learn about in the last episode.

The production is its own form of art, with elements of musicality and poetry bringing it together.

“There’s a rhythm to it,” Brito said.

Andy Burnstein, also an actor in “This From Cloudland,” agreed.

“It’s like music; it’s like a giant poem,” Burnstein said.

Kosmas noted that she found more inspiration from poets than conventional playwrights.

“The book-length poem, from the singular voice of the poet, felt familiar to me and was something I wanted to recuperate in my work,” Kosmas said.

“This From Cloudland” had previously been performed as staged or concert readings. It was first performed in 2009 in Brooklyn, New York, and since then has been heard at the Prelude Festival in New York City; at the New City Theater in Seattle, Washington and the Fusebox Festival in Austin, Texas. In February 2016, the production was staged and performed at California Institute of the Arts. The production was also published in 2009 in a journal of plays.

This is the first time Kosmas has staged “This From Cloudland” as a college production. She also collaborated with Professor Michelle Acuff of the Whitman Visual Arts Department. Acuff, primarily a sculptor, designed the set for the production. The set includes lighted signs with phrases such as “lush with gratitude,” as well as a large, mobile “&” sign, among other pieces.

Audiences and performers alike found much enjoyment in elements of the show.

Brito said, “You find something new every time. And it’s an ensemble, so everybody works together. Working with other people to create something that’s going to bring joy to other people—it makes you feel good to be able to do that.”

“Doing the show is kind of like running a marathon,” Burnstein added. “You’re going and going and going but then it’s euphoric, because it’s really difficult but you’re still doing it…It is a feeling of accomplishment for sure, but it’s more [than that]…Doing theater is like a spiritual activity. You reach something—you don’t know what it is—but it’s there.”

Both Kosmas and her performers found much to say about the joyful nature of the production.

“The performance, this work, was written during one of the happiest times in my life, and a tender time in my life,” Kosmas said. “My life was completely full of possibilities so it has a kind of exuberance or excitement of possibility together with a kind of tenderness within it, so I hope that’s what people will experience.”

“We just need some joy in the world where so many things are happening,” Brito added.

Those involved in “This From Cloudland” found connections and great appreciation for one another in the making of the show. The student actors praised their director highly.

“Kristen is an incredibly talented person,” Brito said.

Kosmas spoke similarly about the students and others involved.

“The whole thing has been a total pleasure,” Kosmas said. “Every single person who is working on this theatrical event is just a jewel.”

The production, running through the weekend in Harper Joy Theatre, is indeed a joyful and thought-provoking experience.

“I hope it’s just a kind of lovely weather that [the audience] passes through for an hour and fifteen minutes,” Kosmas said.