The one thing you are guaranteed with anything that Built on Stilts director Abby Bender cooks up is the unexpected. This year’s fall offering is “Granger Things,” an immersive theater and dance experience where, as the promotional material says, “Worlds collide, and legends remain uncertain.”
The undertaking is an intricate collaboration with Circuit Arts’ theater and live events director Brooke Ditchfield and the cast. As the title suggests, it will take place at the iconic Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Like all of Bender’s live, site-specific pieces, you can expect to move around through the entire space to experience it in a new way. “The first time I walked through with Brooke, I knew the most unusual way to travel through the space, which helped me imagine the show,” Bender says.
Bender wants to share only the barest of information about the narrative, to keep everything fresh for the audience. But, appropriately for the season, she explains, “You are going to be meeting the ghosts of Grange Hall. However, I make up a lot of history. One thing I like to do is to make sure there is a surprise around every corner. I don’t want anyone to have any idea what’s coming next. I think people will be delighted.”
Bender conceived the storyline, developed the script, wrangled the performers, and did a lot of the choreography, along with that added by guest choreographer Jesse Jason. Danielle Mulcahy is contributing still video imagery, and Jordan Bullinger, along with Bender, is responsible for the costumes.
Bender is also working with Molly Purves and Katherine Reid on the theater aspect. “They each are consummate actors, who are leading up one of the different casting groups, and are going to help me script those sections. I have one voice, and this is a great opportunity to hear from these amazing other talents and see what happens,” Bender says. The first time the actors and dancers come together will be the week before the show. “I’ve never done this before, and it’s absolutely terrifying, but super-thrilling,” Bender admits.
The cast, in addition to Bender, Purves, and Reid, includes Hannah Burbidge, Scott Crawford, Lucy Grinnan, Laura Sargent Hall, Sheila McHugh Hazell, Emily Hewson, J.P. Hitesman, Jason Jarrell, Scarlet Johnson, Roberta Kirn, David Mintz, Katie Federowicz Perez, Xavier Powers, Sydney Emerson, Jessica Seeman, and Lagan Love. Bender says, “Every single cast member, by the time this is done, is part of the collaboration.”
Ditchfield describes her role: “I’m a co-conspirator and producer to get the show off the ground, and to provide a fertile and welcoming ground for Abby to be the magical unicorn that she is. I’m the presence for Circuit Arts, and I’ll be coming in a little later for the direction, to be those outside eyes.
“Collaboration is nuanced. There’s a lot of energy and time that goes into making the space for that collaboration. But if you do, magical things occur. Nothing happens without risk, and you don’t provide a new paradigm to witness the world through if you don’t all jump together with these amazing people.”
She also emphasizes that the Vineyard Preservation Trust is an important partner in the undertaking. “They own the building where Circuit Arts has a long-term lease, and provide the home for Built on Stilts at Union Chapel. Abby and I are really grateful to them for saying, ‘Yeah, do this. Let’s show the community this building through this lens.’”
In terms of the tenor of “Granger Things,” Bender emphasizes, “It’s going to be a blast. Really campy.” Both she and Ditchfield were eager to do something lighthearted, having tackled serious issues in their recent artistic endeavors. “There’s been a lot of tough stuff in the past three years,” Ditchfield says. “We talked about this need in the world and in the community to really just have fun, and for us as artists to do so, too.”
Asked what she wants the audience to get from the show, Ditchfield shares, “I hope they walk away with a sense of community, of play, joy, and a little bit deeper love for the Grange Hall.” “Even though we are all playing, it’s all coming from this place of love for dance, love for acting, for the spirit of Halloween, and for being together in a beautiful space,” Reid says.
For Bender, “What is unusual, I think, is that all the adults are pretty much acting like children. We’re playing dress-up. It’s super-playful and silly. I want people to get on board and join us in disappearing into our inner children for about an hour.”
“Granger Things,” sponsored by Vineyard Preservation Trust, will take place at Grange Hall on Oct. 26, 27, 28, and 29, and Nov. 2 and 3. The family-friendly shows (suggested for ages 8 and above) are at 6:30 pm and 8:30 pm. Pay-what-you-want tickets are required, and available at circuitarts.org/grangerthings.