- COURTESY OF TERRY AND GAIL JOHNSON
- BARN SHOW One of its creators says: “I guess a lot of us have an interest in horror.”
On a recent Saturday afternoon, 17 young theater artists from Blood Ensemble converged on a century-old barn outside Marysville, roughly 35 miles north of Seattle. They were there to rehearse their Barn Show, a five-act fantasia set between 1905 and 2014, inspired by the barn itself, the surrounding acreage, and the families who've lived on that land since it was first cleared and homesteaded in the late 1800s.
A few ensemble members had arrived earlier to help clear trails with machetes and lawn mowers, as well as do their "moments" homework—wandering around the property and finding actions or gestures, which might or might not make it into the show, to share with the rest of the group. On the car ride up to the barn, director Emily Harvey explained that some members of the company had studied this "moment work" in a monthlong intensive with Moisés Kaufman's Tectonic Theater Project—best known for The Laramie Project—a few years ago. Using this method, Blood Ensemble builds its shows on a constellation of moments, then writes the plot to connect the dots between those images. "It's a horizontal structure," Harvey said from the backseat of the car driving up Interstate 5. "Ideally, words, images, sound, design, and even the program all have the same importance." But for this show, the barn itself—built of cedar boards and framed with the alder saplings that sprung up after the land was logged for the first time—is clearly the dominant element.
Blood Ensemble is used to making shows in nontheatrical spaces. Two years ago, they performed Nevermore, a macabre riff on the life and imagination of Edgar Allan Poe, in a small basement room on Capitol Hill with the audience sitting around its perimeter, just an arm's length from the dark—and dimly lit—action. The show had a youthful and occasionally over-the-top energy, but was genuinely frightening, saturating the claustrophobic space with sex, neurosis, and death. "We all have other theatrical projects," Harvey said, "but Blood Ensemble is for the work we feel like we have to make. And I guess a lot of us have an interest in horror."