When The Ground Hits Back: Rubber Floors in The Monument
At first, it appears to be simply a painted floor, part of the decor in the Side Project's storefront black-box auditorium, but playgoers entering Idle Muse Theatre's production of The Monument may suddenly find themselves walking on a springy surface, not unlike that of a mattress. Closer inspection reveals it to be a thick layer of shredded tires, called "rubber mulch" and more commonly used in playgrounds. What is it doing in a play about citizens traumatized—and brutalized—by civil wars?
"The notion of 'The Land' is an ongoing motif throughout the play," observes director Evan Jackson, "The survivors of these nationalistic conflicts continue to be bound to the ground that they recently fought over. The characters talk about what happened to the land, and how they can make something of it in the aftermath. A synthetic cover creates a natural, sort of granular, effect—but at the same time, a dirty industrial feel, like a healthy environment damaged by man-made devastation."
Scenic Designer Dennis Mae concurs, "I've used rubber mulch before to express a peasant's connection to the land—and in this play, it enables us to render business like plowing and digging literally. We needed 150 cubic feet—about eighty 20-pound bags—to cover the entire floor to a depth of 2-3 inches, but since this is an outdoor product, it doesn't require much maintenance. After each performance, we use push-brooms to smooth it out for that nice 'full' look—and you can hose it down or spray it with disinfectants. For a short run like this, though, there's few of the sanitizing problems you'd get with an organic compound like actual soil."
The material is not only spongy, but scattered loose over the floor—did the actors have trouble adjusting? Jackson shrugs, "After an initial period of getting used to new footing and balance, it hasn't been difficult. I imagine it's like a sailor acquiring his 'sea legs'."
How about the spectators? "I'll admit to pushing the Artaud envelope," Mae confesses, "Forcing the audience to cope with the journey's terrain physically, as well as psychologically, was part of our aesthetic all along." Adds Jackson, "A bigger problem is that it gets in everything—hair, costumes, pockets..."
The play features a lot of extreme hand-to-hand violence. Does the rubber act like a gymnasium-mat to cushion the actors' falls? "I think they find landings easier than they would on the [Side Project's] hardwood floor," says Jackson, "but in this play, the physical obstacle that it presents heightens the emotional impact of the characters locked in a struggle with each other and this barren patch of dirt."
What will become of this expensive substance when the show finishes its run? Can it be recycled? Jackson laughs, "We've had conversations with the residents of the apartments above the theater. They want it for their back yard!"
Idle Muse Theatre Company's The Monument runs at The Side Project through August 26.
Mary Shen Barnidge
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