Brown Bags and Paper Clips
Pamela Howard’s Manhattan Skyline
Pamela Howard is a Director and Scenographer working primarily in opera and contemporary music theatre. Her practice encompasses large and small scale productions, in major opera houses and unloved and forgotten spaces. As part of the Chichester in Bernstein Festival she directed and co-created ‘Sing God a Simple Song’ with Carl Davis. Here she tells how she created the Manhattan skyline for the production.
“In 2006 I received the honour of becoming Artist in Residence at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA. On the Ground Floor of my apartment block was a Whole Foods supermarket, and I was never out of it. At the end of my 3 months residency I returned home with 56 Brown Paper Carrier bags and 5 packets x 100 bags brown paper lunch bags. I have used these in many different ways for productions over the years and I love them. When "Sing God a Simple Song’ came into reality in the wonderful space of the Chapel of the Ascension I knew I would need to invent an overall metaphor for the world of Lennie Bernstein. Inspired by the photo on the Bernstein Chichester brochure where he is in fact conducting, I had a vision of him speaking directly to God in heaven floating from the top of a sky scraper. When one cannot actually make a sky scraper in real size, experience tells me to do the opposite… and my eyes spied a packet of brown paper lunch bags in my studio.
I opened the packet and painted little windows on one surface, stuffed it with small bits of old bubble wrap (I never throw anything away in my studio) and stuck it onto one of hundreds of bit of brown cardboard I have saved for some future occasion. I found some bits of blue tissue paper and stuck it on the top to make the sky… and then realised that to make them look big I would need to make very small people and quick. A box of coloured paper clips next to my computer and a pair of pliers gave me a solution, making tiny people makes a small skyscraper look big. Within 20 minutes I had built a corner of Manhattan – a paper bag city – some paper stars and the large head of Lenni B. on top of the skyscraper and I had a Simple metaphor for a Simple Song. I was happily joined for three days by a volunteer theatre maker from Brighton who said ;Stuffing brown paper bags is just my thing’ and setting ourselves a time limit of not longer than 20 minutes per unit we made the Manhattan Skyline you see today!
(from the programme notes of Sing God a Simple Song)