Sarah and Ryan Conarro in rehearsal in the Rockwell Ballroom where they will be performing for four nights beginning March 20.
Sarah and Ryan Conarro generating stage images for their performance, "Keep coming back because..."
Sarah Conarro discusses a challenging dance move with choreographer Ricci Adan.
Story last updated at 3/20/2013 - 11:05 am
There wasn't a scratch on Ryan's face, or a clump of hair missing from Sarah's head this past week, which was a fairly decent barometer that the joint project on which the two siblings are working together must be progressing rather smoothly.
The Conarro siblings are two of five. They were raised mostly in northern Georgia.
"We were army brats," Ryan said.
They are both artists. Ryan works in various capacities in the theater world, Sarah is a visual artist. Their other siblings are artistically-inclined as well. Ryan speculates the shared thread of creativity has roots in their home-grown play time as children.
"We weren't provided a ton of fancy gadgets, bells and whistles," Ryan said. "So I think that led us to become adults that are interested in creating our own fun, whether that be getting outside or creating our own art.
The family would spend weekends down in the basement with toys, laundry and any item they thought might be useful in the family's quest to entertain themselves. Ryan said that reflecting upon this time he can see the seeds of his interest in directing theater.
"There was a transition from, 'Let's play,' to 'Lets make up a story and tell it,'" Ryan said, explaining his thought process at the time was, "Now that we've created a story, lets refine and craft it more tightly. Let's have you enter from this stair case or from that door way, and then we'd perform it for our family."
Though Ryan and Sarah came from a close-knit family and have both relocated, independently, to Juneau, they are four years apart, a big difference once high school and college come into focus, and they are involved with different art worlds. With the exception of arts education work, in which they both actively engage, they haven't spent much time working together.
"At some point recently we were discussing the fact that as adults we haven't devised something new together without it being an education project," Ryan said.
They decided to twist things up, combine mediums; have Sarah bring her talents with visual art to the table and include Ryan in that process, and vice versa, and have it culminate in a performance. How that would happen was an organic process.
"I signed up for it," Sarah said. "But I'm realizing it's actually a very different realm than what I'm used to. That's been one of our artistic missions: to have a better understanding of each other's medium."
What she didn't expect was how much she'd learn, how much more deeply she'd come to know her brother through creating this installment.
"It's a whole other ball game, to devise an original piece," Ryan said. "And it scratches different itches than taking on a more conventional acting or directing gig."
During brainstorming sessions the duo decided on a few things. They wanted to explore their own stories with each other, how those stories were interpreted differently by each of them, to let the stories exist on their own and to do what they now call "cross-pollinate" mediums. This means that Sarah and Ryan will both be performing, designing, dancing, singing and painting.
"We didn't want to be too concerned about making a linear plot-based production," Ryan said. "It could be a collage of different stories that live in isolation from each other, and we decided we would call it a performance installation. We didn't want to say 'It's a play,' and convey an expectation, or say, 'It's a gallery show,' and convey something else."
The Conarros will be performing in the Rockwell ballroom, a wide-open space. Sarah came up with the idea of incorporating two large Plexiglas panels on wheels that are the center of the show's design, providing dimensionality to the visual images they will be making.
The format of the installation includes storytelling integrated into performance and visual art. Ryan said that the audience should expect some strong images, some visual, some physical, some created from body movements and both funny and harsh stories.
"They are memories," Ryan said. "The delightful and rich conversations we've been having. Are memories true? We want to invite the audience into that discussion."
That discussion, he said, will be formed with what the siblings call "snap" moments in their lives, moments when something had a powerful effect, a realization, a reaction, a discovery, something that caused one of them to change perceptions, of each other, their reality, or both. Some of these moments are shared, some occurred to only one of them.
"We started to feel like this project can reflect a process which is brother-and-sister-working-together, which comes with pleasure and pain," Ryan said.
Each of the four performances will open with a specific moment.
"One of our biggest moments of conflicts as adults," Ryan said. "It's a study of that moment in song and dance."
Sarah thinks the performance will portray their memories in a way the audience can relate to and find accessible.
"We've been really pushing to investigate something we know really well, finding out how different our perspectives are, whether it's an emotion or occurrence, and using our creative approaches to present it to an audience," she said.
"We do aspire to a really specific and particular portrayal of those moments," he said. "We also hope there is a sense of familiarity. Uniqueness."
Ryan said a performance such as this requires more than just the performers. Sound design and music composition was delegated to Ellen Reid of Los Angeles. Lighting design is credited to Jonathan "J" Bradley, who will be coming in from Sitka for the performances. Katie Basile, originally from Nome but now a New York resident, has been working on the digital projections for the installment. Giselle Stone of Juneau is the costume designer. The Conarros have also recruited Kevin Riordan, a dramaturge from Abu Dhabi, Juneau local Kristin Garot as a stage manager, choreography help from Ricci Adan and Flordelino Lagundino, a strong presence in the local theatrical scene, who had been acting as a director for the installment.
"I hope that the images, whether they're visual art, words or physical, will stick with the audience," Ryan said. "Like ripples that reverberate, insight some sense of recognition. Or reflection."
Sarah said she was excited for the performance.
"We had someone watch a pretty raw run through, and she was getting it," Sarah said. "That was gratifying for us. We didn't necessary know what the outcome would be.
The performance installation, "Keep coming back because..." will open Wed., March 20 with a 7 p.m. performance at the Rockwell Ball room. The Conarros will perform at 7 p.m. through Saturday night, the 23. The event is estimated to take between 45 minutes and an hour. Tickets are available at Hearthside Books, the Juneau Arts and Culture Center and online, at www.jahc.org.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer for Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.