Rosamond Casey's "blessed distance"

Since she first conceived the “visual fiction” project in the late 1990s, local multimedia artist Rosamond Casey has curated a series of projects that have all fallen under the banner of “Mapping the Dark: A Museum of Ambient Disorders.” First it was a 2003 installation at McGuffey Art Center. Then it was a mixed-media art class there. Then it became a limited-edition box collecting the artifacts from the exhibit. Then its contents were distributed among a group of writers—including Deborah Eisenberg, novelist Darcey Steinky and Jane Barnes—who wrote stories based on the exhibit’s 10 characters.

Rosamond Casey (right) ceded control of the world she created in “Mapping the Dark: A Museum of Ambient Disorders” to director Fran Smith, whose production opens April 8.

“My involvement started when I was at a Christmas party,” says Fran Smith, a Live Arts co-founder and director. “The party wasn’t so great, so I brought my drink into the corner and saw this beautiful leather box.” She spent hours looking at the box, a collection of books that separately detailed each character in Casey’s original exhibit. A cup of coffee later, Casey and Smith embarked on a project that would take Casey’s original exhibit, combine it with the works of fiction they inspired, and turn it all into a new play. It opens April 8 at Live Arts’ smaller UpStage Theater.

Mapping the Dark, the play, is a series of 10 short dramatic works, tied together by the museum’s bizarre curator—based on Casey herself. Each story extends from a creative process she developed that starts with what she calls “an abrasion on the psyche that’s a memory or an obsession of some kind.” In one piece, a claustrophobic New York man is stuck on a stopped subway for three hours; in an attempt to scale down his world, he covers his New York Times in manic doodles. In another work, a character approaching deafness captures songs in bottles. In yet another, a woman obsessed with bar codes suffers from an eating disorder. (In Casey’s original exhibit, it was the newspapers, bottles and barcodes that were on display.)

With 10 distinct stories, Smith says that the set is versatile, made from moveable shelves covered in scrim and lit from behind. Like Casey’s original exhibit, the show emphasizes expression in various media; there are movement studies, film projection, and pieces of Casey’s work. “It’s a massive collaboration in a small space. There’s close to 50 people involved in the play,” says Smith.

There are so many people involved, in fact, that it’s starting to look like Casey is no longer the curator at her own museum. “I felt a tremendous ownership of these characters, and in spite of the fact that little is revealed about who they are, I know exactly who they are,” says Casey. “I’m sort of blessedly detached from it at this point. I went to the first production meeting, and I didn’t say a word, and all these people were jabbering away. I remember thinking, ‘Ah, this is great.’”

Says Smith, “That’s one of the things that’s so fascinating about this show, and why the end results will be interesting. Now what I’m doing as director is sifting through and trying to take the jewels out of it.” Smith also says that mass collaboration and using multimedia will help push Live Arts into the future. “In some ways I think Live Arts needs to come into the 21st century with technology,” she says.

Does Casey still feel like it’s her project? “I’m not jealously guarding it anymore. I just love the fact that it’s been ceded to all these different people…Everybody takes a piece of it and goes away, and solves the problem,” she says. 

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