Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends of Mount Auburn A Modern Vision for an Historic Cemetery | Page 18

Playwriting in the Cemetery: Introducing Artist-in-Residence Patrick Gabridge By Anna Moir, Grants & Communications Manager The stories and landscape of Mount Auburn Cemetery have long been a rich source of creative inspiration. Our artist residency program, the first of its kind at a historic cemetery in this country, has been showcasing that creativity across a range of disciplines in recent years, from multimedia exhibitions to music composition. Award-winning playwright Patrick Gabridge of Medford, MA, will bring in a new perspective as the 2018–2019 Artist-in-Residence: the Cemetery as inspiration for theater. During his two-year residency, Patrick will be developing a series of site-specific short plays, written to be produced in carefully-selected locations across Mount Auburn. His plays will portray different stories and themes from people buried here, those who have worked here, and the nature that can be found here. Patrick spent his early months in Winter 2018 in research mode, digging through Mount Auburn’s archives, exploring the landscape for inspiration, and creating strategies for how performances could be staged in different areas. He continues to explore and observe as he writes his early drafts, remaining open to new ideas. Based on his early research, Patrick reports that he has discovered a wide array of potential topics with which to experiment. Highlights include the spotted salamanders of Consecration Dell; how Mount Auburn’s 16 | Sweet Auburn development related to the development of America’s identity; founder Dr. Jacob Bigelow and the design of the Sphinx monument; actors Edwin Booth and Charlotte Cushman (“they’re just too interesting to pass up!”); African-American monuments; the local Armenian com- munity; Joseph Story’s consecration speech in 1831; Mount Auburn’s early superintendents; and many more. The Cemetery also offers unique opportunities for Patrick to experiment artistically in ways he could not try elsewhere, working with the light, vegetation, weather, and visual palette of the landscape at different times of the day and year. As a result, he expects that his final plays will include both traditional narratives and ones that are more poetic or non-linear in nature. Creating plays that can be performed on the grounds goes beyond finding an interesting story to turn into a script, however; it is a complex job that Patrick does not take lightly: “The tricky thing about writing site-specific work is that I have to write plays about people, and those plays need to be set in whatever spot they’re being performed in for a reason: so, not just a random history play.” When he has determined the location for a particular subject, he then needs to make sure it is feasible to stage a performance there. Accessibility, noise, and light are all factors, as is the additional need—unique to an active cemetery—to respect mourners, visitors, and individual monuments. “Even though it seems like it’s a really big place and you could perform anywhere,” he explains, “find- ing the spaces where we can perform successfully, that are tied to an interesting person or place or thing, and that also have room for the audience, is actually more of a tricky puzzle than it seems on the surface.” Luckily, Patrick is no stranger to writing site-specific plays for natural and historic locations. Previously he worked with a theater company that performed in a series of wild spaces and parking lots in Colorado, and his 2017 play “Blood on the Snow,” inspired by the Boston Massacre, was presented at the Old State House. He has come to