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Loneliness is what’s bringing together artists at Philadelphia-based Earlie Bird Productions. “There’s a difference between loneliness and being alone,” said Earlie Bird founder Lauren Earline Leonard, who conceived the idea for The Loneliness Project, a new piece of devised theater at Philly Performing Arts Center for Kids (PACK). “It’s not an experience that’s only felt when you’re alone, and that’s an important thing.”
A soundtrack for loneliness
At once a universal experience and a solitary one, there’s something about loneliness that makes it a peculiar human emotion. It can be accepted as part of life or rejected. It can go away, only to return. It can be lifelong. However it’s personally defined, Leonard and her collaborators feel it’s something worth exploring. And, notably, The Loneliness Project is a group project—not a solo show.
Light on dialogue, the 45-minute production is a series of vignettes. Dance, movement, music, and monologue combine to explore such subjects as our relationship with technology, the physical toll loneliness takes on the body, and what it could mean to acknowledge loneliness as a part of the human experience.
Bringing the piece together musically is Todd Ögren, keyboardist for the Grammy-nominated rock band Rival Sons, who composed a cinematic score for the production. After landing on five repeating notes while tinkering on the keyboard, Ögren played an early sample of the score over the phone for Leonard. The musical theme is both haunting and hopeful, and will serve as a familiar throughline for audiences.
“We all have our own soundtrack in our minds when we have loneliness,” said Ögren, who called working on The Loneliness Project a cathartic experience.
How loneliness takes shape
The Loneliness Project is an artistic response to living through the coronavirus pandemic. But it is also an invitation to reflect on loneliness as a whole—something Leonard found herself doing after unearthing a copy of poet David Whyte’s Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words in a South Philadelphia Little Free Library box.
This past January, inspired by the book, Leonard began conversations with a group of artists, asking, “What does loneliness look like and where does it live in your body?”
Their discussions considered the different ways loneliness can take shape, from an enervating feeling to an active problem to solve. Exercises in improvised movement saw loneliness expressed with hunched posture as well as outreached arms. This movement of loneliness will be projected on stage, too, in production designer and photographer Joanna Nowak’s backdrops featuring Loneliness Project artists photographed in long exposure settings.
“It lives in so many different spaces within your body that there’s no way that it doesn’t change shape and form moment to moment,” said Nowak, who also choreographed a vignette in collaboration with Elise Ritzel Miller. That dance piece is a response to Nowak’s own experience with a loved one living with dementia and memory loss, and the solitude that comes with being a patient or caregiver. “There’s loneliness in isolation but also loneliness in existing together,” Nowak said.
And while loneliness is an emotional, thorny subject, the production will have moments of levity—and, importantly, hope. “This is part of the human experience,” Leonard said. “And it may not feel great, but it’s okay.”
What, When, Where
The Loneliness Project, directed by Lauren Earline Leonard. Music by Todd Ögren. Earlie Bird Productions. $20. May 19-21, 2022, at Philly PACK, 233 Federal Street, Philadelphia. earliebirdproductions.com.
Proof of vaccination is required. Masks are required during the performance and when garage doors are closed.
The entrance/exit to PACK is accessible, though bathrooms are not.
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