Museum Theater at National Museum of Women in the Arts


Last evening I was fortunate enough to see a performance of museum theater at the National Museum of Women in the Arts along with other members of the DC Emerging Museum Professionals network. The evening consisted of three short plays, each focusing on a different piece in the Trove: The Collection in Depth exhibit, with intermissions in between in which the audience could explore the exhibition.

Trove Trilogy: Three Artists, Three Acts, written by Jodi Kanter, directed by Brent Stansell, and brought to fruition by NMWA’s Elizabeth Keaney, provides a glimpse into the minds of three artists who created three pieces in the exhibit.

The first, “Merian’s Metamorphoses,” tells of the journey Maria Sybilla Merian took, literally and figuratively, to create her many engravings of plants and insects in the rainforest. Four different actors portray the artist.

Next, “Before the Sitting” shows a conversation between artist (Berenice Abbott) and subject (Coco Chanel). They play a card game they refer to as Dada Go Fish, which involves asking each other probing questions in the form of “Do you have any ____?” The scene lets the audience learn more about both women and also invites viewers to look closely at one of the smallest pieces in the exhibit.

Alison Saar's Sweeping Beauty at National Museum of Women in the Arts

My favorite was the last in the trilogy, “Before the Opening,” in which artist Alison Saar converses with Sweeping Beauty, her own artistic creation, a woman with a broom for hair. Just as it fascinates me to hear authors talk about their relationships with their fictional characters, I loved hearing this imagined conversation between Saar and Sweeping Beauty. Sweeping Beauty is initially scared and upset when she finds out what Saar wants from her but agrees as she listens to Saar’s artistic vision. Saar also talks about wanting her own art to be accessible. She wishes gallery visitors to look at her art, but more than that, she wants them to touch it.

I appreciated the format that alternated plays and intermissions. Sometimes I have gone to special programs at museums and, despite being there for an hour or two, I felt like I only saw one thing and had not really seen the museum. This event allowed us to consider a piece closely while watching the performance, and then wander the floor and look at the rest of the exhibit.

There was no performance centered on this bundle of wonder, but I kind of want to write one:

Viriato by Joana Vasconcelos at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. My favorite piece in the Trove exhibit

In case anyone is wondering: no, I did not break a museum rule; I got permission to take flashless photographs of the Trove exhibit. (Given how often I remind visitors of museum rules at the Newseum, it would be quite hypocritical of me to go breaking rules at other museums!)

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About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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