YCBA explores performance art in gallery exhibition

The Yale Center for British Art will integrate performance art into its galleries this week with the a new work by the British playwright Tim Crouch. England, the first show in the World Performance Project fall season, explores themes of art, medicine and wealth in an unconventional two-man show, the first half of which invites audience members to stand in the YCBA’s famous J.M.W. Turner collection as the actors respond to the art on the walls.

The play’s first act features the actors as docents, guiding the audience through the museum space while discussing the art on view and an upcoming heart transplant. The second act restores the traditional actor-audience relationship as the viewers watch the story unfold from the comfort of their seats in the gallery theater.

One of the unique aspects of the show is the intimacy afforded by the unconventional location. In the Turner Bay gallery, the first act will form a conversation with the artistic masterpieces, said Jane Nowosadko, YCBA program director.

“The Turners are signature pieces here at the center, so it’s really fabulous to highlight those as well as the space itself,” said Nowosadko. Curator Angus Trumbull had several conversations with the playwright about how best to incorporate the galleries unique art and architecture into the script, she said.

Crouch, who re-writes portions of the show to correspond to each new venue, said he was captivated by the location and the history of its architect, Louis Kahn. He said the designer’s immigrant past and personal philosophy resonated strongly with England’s themes of transplantation and implantation. These ideas, he said, have been particularly relevant in the past months as the show toured across America, a country famous for its immigrants.

One down side to the intimate venue is decreased ticket availability — the four Tuesday and Thursday night shows were sold out weeks in advance, with audiences capped at 30 to abide by gallery regulations. Rehearsal time was also a challenge. The cast and crew had only one marathon day of rehearsal to adjust to the new space when the gallery was closed on Monday.

WPP artistic director Emily Coates invited the show to Yale after seeing it premier at the 2007 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. After reading about the must-see show in local papers and hearing rave reviews, Coates said she waited outside for an hour hoping to get into the sold-out performance. Even for a seasoned theater-goer like herself, England stuck out.

“It’s a very moving experience watching the performance,” Coates said. “I see so many performances, things can hit me and bounce off, but this was one I was deeply impacted by. I found it really remarkable and could see immediately connections to different interests and constituents on campus.”

Besides the YCBA, the WPP has also partnered with both undergraduate and Yale School of Drama playwriting classes to set up workshops with Crouch, the playwright and lead actor. A medical school group, The Program for Humanities in Medicine at Yale, will also be making a special trip to see the show, which compares and interweaves discussion of the international art market with the international industry in organ trafficking, Coates said.

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