From Darkness Artist Profile: Ethan Bjelland and Andrea Gross
From Darkness is a tale of art and passion and truth and betrayal. The actors and designers have immersed themselves in the history of the New York art scene as they developed, rehearsed, and designed the show. We thought it would be great to highlight our amazingly creative production team by asking them a few questions about art, character, and the nimbus creative process. Check back for more Artist Profiles leading up to our opening on May 16!
Actor Ethan Bjelland
What is your favorite painting?
The first painting that I really fell in love with is called The Dance of Life (Livets dans) by Edvard Munch. I really got into reading Munch's poetry and journal entries. He has a clear emotional connection to every color on the canvas, and I get something new every time I look at his work.
As far as other art goes, I could watch glass blowing for hours, and I'm a big Dale Chihuly fan.
Tell us about one of the characters you play that you find most intersting...
Willem de Kooning is such a melancholic, funny man, and he's been a joy to get to know throughout the creation of this play. His art is immediate and impulsive, and at once, full of meaning, study, and universality. The cast and I have had a great time with an interview in which he and his thick New York/Dutch accent talk about putting a magazine cut-out of a woman's mouth in the middle of the canvas, just to have a place to start on a blank art project. "I yust vanntid tuh make it easier for myself tuh put someting right inna middle of de canvas..." There aren't many filmed interviews with de Kooning in his early years, but I've started to feel, from the later interviews and accounts of him as an emerging artist, that he must have been pretty feisty. "I make pictures and someone comes in and calls it art," he said. Introspective, and deeply observant, but probably one of the artists with the most humility in this bunch. Having known nothing about him before this project, I've gained a love of his work and his character, and I look forward to noticing them more openly when I visit museums.
Costume Designer Andrea Gross
What is your favorite painting?
Gustave Caillebotte: "Paris Street; Rainy Day" (1887)
I could stand in front of this painting for hours (and maybe have, even though Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Grande Jatte" is in the same gallery at the Chicago Art Institute). The attention to and expression of detail is so powerful. You could be looking at a photograph, but you're aware at the same time that you're not, because there is so much depth to it. It's like the difference between theater and film for me: there's a texture to the storytelling that I never get over.
Tell us about an interesting design challenge for this show...
With projects like this, where we're telling a story over decades and across cultures (even here, all in the 20th C of America, and NYC, we're dealing with eras of profound change), I always start in the same very technical place: where are the traffic jams going to be? Because we want the story to move fluidly, and the story to be told through the characters we're meeting, I always want to figure out where our fastest changes are so I can develop those characters as completely as the limitations of time and space allow...and then build a costume concept out of that. It boils down to how to create all the characters we need to (and how to abstract the ones we don't need to attach to) in a way that won't just be "oh, here, wear this hat because that's all we have time for." Once I've figured that out, I can realize the rest of the world from there and start filling in with pieces.
Any interesting insight into nimbus' process for creating devised work?
The ideas and the drive behind the play are always inspiring and invariably take me new places as a collaborator and designer. In the decade I've been in the Cities, this is my tenth nimbus production, and all but three have been new works. I never know what I'm going to learn or who we're going to grow as artists, but I always know that both things will happen, and there will always be opportunities to have my mind changed. That might be my favorite part: the conversations and the way the process involves us all.