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The Artist’s Journey – Without Walls (WoW) Festival Series: David Jacobi & Sarah Wansley of CORNERSTONE - La Jolla Playhouse Blog

The Artist’s Journey – Without Walls (WoW) Festival Series: David Jacobi & Sarah Wansley of CORNERSTONE

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Welcome back to The Artist’s Journey – WoW Festival Series! We hope you’ve been enjoying the illuminating and inspirational narratives coming directly from the creative folks behind the productions being launched at the WoW Festival, which kicks off in exactly one week, on Thursday, October 3!

On deck today: playwright David Jacobi and director Sarah Wansley, the team behind Cornerstone, a short play in which the audience becomes engineers working at The Central Facilities Plant located at the Center of Civilization. Supplying the world’s heat, water, electricity, and breathable air is a difficult job, so one shouldn’t be distracted by those three workers having a heated discussion on their lunch break about labor, sandwich construction and metaphysics.

For Cornerstone tickets and info, click here.

BY GUEST BLOGGERS DAVID JACOBI and SARAH WANSLEY
of Cornerstone at Without Walls (WoW) Festival

From the Playwright, David Jacobi:

The people that intrigue me the most, more than dictators or debutantes or rock icons, are people who earnestly love their jobs. Job satisfaction isn’t solely for top earners (or pie tasters) and is rarely tied to salary or level of physical or mental exertion. As someone who comes from a union family, I learned that paychecks, job security, and benefits, while extremely important, can’t compare to contentment.

When researching Cornerstone, I had the privilege of meeting engineers at UCSD’s Central Utilities Plant. There’s an electricity in the air when you’re standing next to people who are proud of the work they do. They work with the most incredibly elaborate machinery I’ve ever seen. And while what they manufacture (heat, energy) isn’t as concrete as, well…concrete, they are undeniably building something.

There’s a universality in creation. It’s a job we’ve all been tasked to do. Strike down the structures that are crumbling, and put something stronger in its place. Construction workers and teachers and parents and scientists and poets and retirees. I think we’re all architects; a city skyline is our autobiography. We see the buildings we’ve created to outlast us, and we remember what parts of ourselves we secretly tucked away inside the walls.

From the Director, Sarah Wansley:

When David pitched the idea of Cornerstone to me, what most excited me was the possibility of creating theater somewhere ugly. I find that as artists, our instincts are often to create beautiful, magical worlds, and site-specific theater is not immune from that trend. We do Shakespeare in Central Park or Aristophanes on La Jolla Shores, but how often do we actively set out to create theater in that industrial power plant we walk by every day?

You can imagine my surprise then, when David and I went for our first site visit inside the Central Utilities Plant and found a space that was colorful, quirky and full of surprises. From the thundering green water that cools the plant, to the pile of discarded magenta and azure valve wheels rusting ever so artistically, to the strange geometry of ladders and handrails, we were startled by the plant’s unintentional beauty. So we ditched our original idea of a gritty play about labor politics, and embraced instead the quirky humor of the plant and its engineers. For me, Cornerstone is about taking pride in your work, finding joy in the quotidian (like really good sandwiches!) and about the unpredictability of our world.

To achieve this, our scenic & props designer Jenna Carino and our costume designer Rosie Byrne are pulling their inspiration from the site itself. We started by taking a ton of pictures of the site, which helped us create a color palette for the piece and find the textures we want to re-create. In addition to some really epic sandwiches, we have one very special prop – the cornerstone box that Lyle, Cole and Pilk fill with offerings. We want it to look like it comes from the world of the plant, so Jenna is headed to thrift stores and garage sales to find a metal box, that she’ll paint and treat to look just a little bit rusty. Rosie’s off to uniform stores around San Diego hoping to track down something similar to what the UCSD engineers wear and meanwhile, David and I are mapping out the journey of the audience through the space. We were surprised and delighted by our trip to the Central Utilities Plant and we want to re-create that experience for our audience. Cornerstone in its current incarnation is very different from the initial idea we had six months ago, but that (to us) is what theater without walls is all about.

Playwright David Jacobi is a UCSD M.F.A. candidate whose plays have been produced throughout the U.S. and in Beijing, China. He is the co-founder of Monster Down! Theatre Company, a collaborative theatre group in Beijing, China. Director Sarah Wansley is currently pursuing her M.F.A. in directing at UCSD. Upcoming projects include Ex Machina by David Jacobi at FringeNYC and Drums in the Night at UCSD.

An image from the site of CORNERSTONE: UC San Diego's Central Facilities Plant. Photo by Jim Carmody.