The Wilder Papers

On June 4th 2014, Derrick Belcham (La Blogotheque,  A Story Told Well) and Emily Terndrup (Sleep No More) staged a production of The Wilder Papers, an original narrative which lead an audience of 200 through 9 sections of the Knockdown Center, a 60,000 square foot repurposed factory space in Maspeth, Queens.

The audience was lead to large ensemble sections of dance and performance by the musicians and then allowed to freely explore individual vignettes in 9 sections of the Center in two sections before all traveling as a group to the ruin beside the Center for the finale.

The narrative explores the imagined history of a composer (Julian Wilder) and a dancer (Dorienne Lee) who married in 1949 and took over the building to conduct experiments in motion capture and data-driven composition. The piece centers its focus on the period the two spent at the center and drifted apart into disillusionment and eventually madness.

Directed by Derrick Belcham & Emily Terndrup
Written by Derrick Belcham, Emily Terndrup and Helen Terndrup

After a marketing campaign utilizing a teaser website and an invite-only, word-of-mouth RSVP list, 200 attendees arrived at the Knockdown Center on the evening of June 4th with a sense of mystery about what they were walking into.

The gallery space they entered into was dressed as a full-scale museum complete with placards and supporting documentation, which rewarded the audience member who wanted to walk deeper into the experiential design, and provided a superficial legitimacy to the casual observer.

A video then played which depicted Julian Wilder in his prime, a radio star. Porcelain Raft appeared and played an original score of prepared improve on an open faced Steinway piano and a modular synthesizer, an embodiment of the experimentation of our protagonist. The audience surrounded the action, and when Mauro finished his set, they received instructions on how to navigate the proceedings via the voice of an historian in the projection.

The audience was then lead by our dancers and ushers down a line of boulders (a Richard Nonas sculptural installation) to a section of the building that had been fogged and lit during the initial performance. The mystery again building for what was to come.

The audience then amassed in a semi-circle around our two lead dancers lying prone on the floor covered in powder. Julianna Barwick and Hannah Epperson performed the overture they had written specifically for the piece as our dancers performed a duet themed around the dusting off of the archives.

Following that piece, the dancers all broke off from the scene and began to activate 9 separate experiences in separate rooms throughout the space. For 15 minutes, the audience was free to explore any of the separate vignettes that all explored a specific time/event within our imagined history of the couple.

The dancers then closed down their stations in character and proceeded to the main hall for an ensemble dance piece with Noveller performing her score, spotlighted and completely surrounded by our audience. The content of the dance overviewed the beginnings of disconnection between our protagonists and impending splits of their psyches.

Following this performance, the audience was again set free to explore aspects of the narrative or simply individual performers that interested them. We provided this second breakout to allow for a complete journey or to review the vignettes with greater understanding based on the previous performances.

The audience was then lead to our design for Julian’s lab, where Skyler Skjelset of the Fleet Foxes played a score developed between himself and Mariel Lugosch-Ecker, another Sleep No More dancer who performed as our embodiment of Dorienne Lee in the grips of her madness. The lighting set up was sound reactive and featured functional elements of sound analysis from the 1950s.

As the piece closed, the lights went down and behind the audience, a circle of the dancers who had receded from the final moments of the final solo encircled Hannah Epperson, who played a solo violin composition and lead the audience out the back door to the ruined building adjacent for our finale.

Through windows and doorways leading into the ruin, the audience watched as our lead dancers emerged for one last duet to the special lament written by Hannah Epperson for the finale.

The piece ended as the pair receded back into the secret room, lights were struck, and the director appeared to offer a final word of memorial and invite the audience back into the museum for a toast to Julian Wilder and Dorienne Lee.