Ensemble Associate Kala Granger and Ensemble Director Rachel Grossman reflects on the eight-month process of creating and performing DISCOVERED! The Amazing Untold Stories of Catenarians at the National Building Museum: 

KALA: When the National Building Museum reached out to us to create a performance based on architectural principles, I couldn’t imagine what that would look like! I was even more mystified after the first meeting when we sat down with the education staff from the museum to look at the plans of a structure made out of tubes–Hive–and learned what an amazing auditory experience this could be for people to explore. As a Deaf person, this left me to wonder how the structure could be enjoyed without any auditory experience.

Sonotubes that construct Hive.

RACHEL: For our second summer working with the NBM and our first as “Creatives-In-Residence,” we wanted to ensure we were extending and enhancing the summer installation’s vision and goals. Studio Gang’s concept documents for Hive reminded me of Deaf Space architecture as well as the work of sound artist Christine Sun Kim. Once the NBM gave us a few logistical directives–they wanted one, repeatable interactive experience that was family friendly–we got to work.

Hive concept drawing by Studio Gang

KALA: Then through the magic of devising, Catenaria was born. There were a number of creative meetings between me, Rachel, Ringleader Ivania Stack, and Conspirator Colin K. Bills. We analyzed the way built environments shape our lives, experiences, and cultures–specifically environments containing catenary arches. This arch is a special design that involves every block supporting each other equally to hold up all the weight.

RACHEL: We had no idea what catenary arches were before this. Well, Colin knew. Now we know all sorts of examples of structures across the world that include them.

KALA: It wasn’t long after that point, through the magic of devising, that Catenaria was born. Rehearsals involved a lot of play, building physical representations of architecture with our bodies. I wasn’t sure how it would all connect during rehearsals, because we were working backwards and forwards and jumping in at all angles, but eventually it all pieced together!

The cast of DISCOVERED! showing a “catenoid” shape.

RACHEL: Ivania shared a number of creation stories with me to inspire the structure of the story of Catenaria and it’s two “great arches.”

KALA: With the foundation of a creation story and using our bodies and props as tools to paint a 3-D picture of the imaginary world, we discovered what life was like in Catenaria for Catenarians. Watching the first performance was incredible, the first time seeing the story in the space it made so much sense. The look of joy and wonder on the audience’s faces–especially our young audience members–was priceless. The post-show activity was a lot of fun for both adults and children alike, gaining new perspectives and asking new questions about our society and the way our world is built. Exploring Catenaria is like a way of seeing what the world could be!

RACHEL: A cast member of Beertown in D.C. distilled the show into the simple phrase “fake stuff, real feelings.” I might distill DISCOVERED! The Untold Stories of Catenarians as “real stuff, fake place.” At its core the experience did what dog & pony dc does best–invite people to make believe in imaginary worlds.

Selfie Moment!


featured image by C. Stanley Photograph