I t began in a flea bag motel, slated for demolition, on Aurora Avenue. Artist, dancer, and quiet impresario dk pan had been living there as the manager, watching the cops, the crackheads, and the prostitutes come and go. He took the job in 2007 and shortly thereafter bought his first gun. (He never fired it.)
Pan knew the Bridge Motel was doomed and agreed to the job with one caveat—that, before it fell to the wrecking ball, he could turn it into a one-night spectacle of installation and performance art: Implied Violence smashed some holes in the wall, Jack Daws lit an indoor campfire under a hole in a ceiling, other artists did other stuff, and hundreds of people came to watch. Since then, Free Sheep Foundation (pan and his collaborator NKO, sometimes copresenting with Seattle School) has held incendiary wakes for doomed buildings across the city: another no-tell motel on Aurora, a condemned apartment building on Capitol Hill, a neglected modernist building in Belltown. Free Sheep roots out forgotten places, their histories and memories, and distills them into potent, one-shot events that leave indelible burns on the city's collective memory. Free Sheep happenings are mayflies on fire.
And Free Sheep has moved up in the world: from Aurora in 2007 to the Moore Theatre in 2009. It has corralled nearly three dozen artists, including four Stranger Genius Award winners, for an "architectural intervention" in Seattle's most venerable—and very much alive—theater, whose memory reaches backward over a century: from the vaudeville circuit to boxing matches to Holy Ghost revivals to concerts by Nirvana and Pearl Jam that the world watched on MTV.
For the first time, Free Sheep has some serious institutional support—4Culture (King County's arts-funding wing) and Seattle Theatre Group (a large nonprofit that owns the Moore) approached Free Sheep with $30,000 to turn the Moore out with performance, installation, street art, music, and more. It's one night only, it's this Saturday, and it's free. A guided tour to some of what you'll see:
• Exit Ramp by Lead Pencil Studio
People will enter the Moore through the alley and walk onto its stage where a large ramp, made of scaffolding and plywood, will invite them for a walk through the air: over the ground-level seats, through the middle of the cavernous theater, to a balcony where they can look through the fire door—a large escape hatch in the theater's side—and see the Space Needle perfectly framed. According to a Moore legend, one of the drinking fountains on the upper level once had a peephole through which a water drinker could look at the Space Needle. It isn't true, but that set off the thoughts that terminated in Exit Ramp.
"We were really interested in the formal, symmetrical, and orthogonal nature of the seating-to-proscenium relationship," says Annie Han of the duo Lead Pencil Studio. As for their fears: "Ugh," Han says. "The eternal fear of structural collapse and bodily injury on any project bigger than a man is tall."
Like their Maryhill Double (a scaffolding copy of the Maryhill Museum in South Central Washington, built to scale and situated across a gorge from its original), Exit Ramp cuts architectural bombast right down the middle. Doubling the Maryhill Museum and splitting the Moore Theatre are ambitious, playful projects—technically sophisticated, austere-looking doubles.
• Dive by Gretchen Bennett
Kurt Cobain is the spectral center of Bennett's more recent work. Colored-pencil drawings from YouTube stills of concert footage, music videos, and Gus Van Sant's Last Days, Bennett's creations are soft and ghostly: memories of grunge glimpsed through the cobwebs of decades. Even when you can't make out the details of his face, you know it's Cobain by the way he's standing or falling, by the way he holds his guitar. The transfer of technology from embodiment (live concert) to disembodiment (video footage) and back to embodiment (pencil drawings) adds to the sense of unreality. The sense that the drawings might just lift off the wall and drift away.
For Moore Inside Out, they will: Bennett will project her drawings of glowing stage lights (taken exclusively from clips of Nirvana concerts at the Moore) onto half-moons of plaster above the box seats. She's also created an accompanying MP3 that people can listen to on their iPods. (Also bring your iPod for a sound installation by Robb Kunz, which you can download ahead of time at www.audiblesemaphore.org.)
• Each by Ezra Dickinson
Dancer Ezra Dickinson will take a slow, three-hour walk down a hallway. The facing wall will have a projection of him walking in the opposite direction—toward himself. The performance ends when they run into each other.
• Analemmanomenon by "Awesome"
The seven-piece band called "Awesome" will perch up in the dizzying second balcony (formerly the segregation seats), playing an atmospheric, 10-minute composition over and over again, letting it drift and mutate. "Our plan," says composer John Osebold, "is a soundscape of old, mutated records, a few horns, some lonely vocals, some electronic sounds, light percussion, and maybe a harmonica thrown in." Analemmanomenon is part of a larger project "Awesome" will perform at On the Boards next year called West. (It's about the West.)
• The Bathroom by Megan Mertaugh
Dancer Megan Mertaugh will fill three backstage bathrooms at the Moore with 300 watermelons and a projected video of herself eating, rearranging, and throwing the melons. While making The Bathroom, Mertaugh wrote in an e-mail, she thought about the millions of gallons of water used to wash away a cliff to flatten downtown, and about how we use and waste natural resources—from the farm to the grocery store to splatters on the bathroom floor.
• Mo' Theater by Joshua Lindenmayer
I don't know anything about Joshua Lindenmayer except that he is only 11 years old and his artist's statement says, "To me, art-making is like love without the heartbreak." (Did you even know how to use the word "heartbreak" in a sentence when you were 11 years old?) Lindenmayer will make two posters to be shown in the Plexiglas boxes in front of the theater.
• Post-Rave Massive by Scratchmaster Joe
The bar at the Moore feels hidden, subterranean, a little bit infernal. Local DJ Scratchmaster Joe will provide the soundtrack to hell by playing the same six-minute set over and over for four hours—his set for the upcoming DMC World DJ Championships. DMC Championships sets are insanely complicated and tricky. (One year, a DJ hoisted himself onto his turntable in a one-arm b-boy lift and spun on the deck like a human record, with the actual record playing beneath his hand.)
• Box by Beliz Brother
While digging around the Moore's many nooks and storage areas, artist Beliz Brother found piles of old interior ornaments, made of horsehair and plaster, that used to embellish the Moore's 22 seating boxes. (Only a few boxes remain.) She'll lash together the ornaments with pipe and rope, creating a 20-foot-tall structure in the center of the Moore's lobby, stretching upward toward the chandelier.
• Urania Returns: A Non-Ostracization Process, Reinstallation, and Estrogen-Fueled Live Video Game for the Moore Theatre's Missing Muse by Seattle School
In small alcoves, high up in the Moore's lobby, stand statues of the nine Greek muses—minus one. In his interior design, E.W. Houghton edited out Urania, the muse of astronomy and astrology, since she didn't have anything to do with arts. Seattle School will reinstate Urania for a night with nine actors playing the nine muses—including the powerful, captivating Marya Sea Kaminski as the missing one—in a game of human Pac-Man. "Urania = Pac-Man," Korby Sears (of Seattle School) wrote in an e-mail. "Eight muses = four ghosts." The eight muses hunt Urania through the Moore Theatre and, when they find her, lead her back to her platform. The muse who returns Urania is rewarded with a glass of wine. Play again. "I suppose it's less a video game," Sears wrote, "than it is a female drinking game."
• The Neglected Soul of the Moore by the Moore
The steep, vertiginous top balcony of the theater used to be lined with pews for African Americans, Jews, and poor people. Up the concrete staircase from the "colored entrance" is an oddly shaped room of angles, pipes, a chair, an ancient sign that reads "coffee shoppe," and inches of wooly dust. "Check this out," says NKO, swinging open the door. "We tried to think of something to do in here, but it's so raw, so perfect, we decided to leave it alone." Pan nods. "It's the heart of the project—the neglected soul of the Moore."