earthquake sequence

A show about an earthquake needs to feature an earthquake, and yet, this was perhaps the biggest challenge we set for ourselves. We thought of endless ways to create an earthquake onstage, including highly technical means like low bass sounds and subwoofers and creating some system of putting smells into the air to make the audience sense the things that someone living through an earthquake might experience. We experimented with a variety of stories that would feature the earthquake, debated having multiple earthquakes, conceived of ways to begin the show with the earthquake, and on and on. As with most parts of this project, we never lacked for ideas.

In the end, though, the technical stuff seemed out of sync with a lot of the rest of the production and always to somewhat pale in comparison to a real earthquake. There were several earthquakes in Anchorage during our rehearsal period, and they always were always very visceral. It's difficult in a theatre to effectively replicate gargantuan continental plates slipping against one another.

Instead, our movement director Shelley Virginia offered a different solution: a style of movement exploration called Viewpoints. In a series of experiments we first tried to use viewpoints to come up with content for the earthquake sequence; eventually what we found most compelling was watching the performers improvise during the open exploration sessions. We did have a loose structure for what was to happen, but no performer was expected to directly replicate what they'd done before. In other words, we didn't choreograph the movement. This encouraged the performers to listen and reinterpret their movements each time they performed the sequence; it was literally different every night.

The story of Dan Kendall, who told us about his experience living through the earthquake and tsunami as a boy in Valdez, offered us some text to overlay in the sequence, as did the life of Blanche Clarke (who we did not speak to directly), the woman who became pinned in her car under a section of the outer wall of the collapsed JCPenney building in downtown Anchorage.

Performer Taran Haynes reads from sections of Dan Kendall's account of the earthquake and tsunami in Valdez.

Performers during the earthquake sequence, responding to visual, verbal, and physical stimuli.

The aftermath of the quake.

Performer Taran Haynes reads from sections of Dan Kendall's account of the earthquake and tsunami in Valdez.