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From Chaos To Order

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A member of the Arkansas Artist’s Laboratory Theatre participates in the group’s exploration of “Bombs, Babes & Bingo.” The artists will perform the play at 8 p.m. today through Sunday at 2183 N. College Ave. Suite 1 in Fayetteville, behind Foghorn’s restaurant and next to Clockwork Tattoo. (PHOTO: COURTESY OF ELLEN GREGORY)

Lab Distills Art Into Applied ‘Technology’ For ‘Bombs’

By Richard Davis

Erika Wilhite is counting on disorder to work in her favor for “Bombs, Babes & Bingo.”

“The chaos is going to be part of the energy of the show, and I’m counting on it being kind of a good thing instead of a bad thing,” said Wilhite, artistic director for the Artist’s Laboratory Theatre in Fayetteville.

“Bombs, Babes & Bingo” is about … no, let’s go back to the beginning.

The story really starts in the laboratory for the ensemble-based company.

“We take a lot of time before we approach a script,” Wilhite said. “With the themes, the characters, the nuances, all the little things that make up the story, we take them, we deconstruct them, we turn them inside out and make sure that we really understand the thing and then we do the show.”

Although several people were involved in the experimentation phase of the laboratory, only four actors will take the stage for the production of “Bombs, Babes & Bingo” at 8 p.m. today through Sunday at the Lab’s temporary home at 2183 N. College Ave. Suite 1 in Fayetteville. While the 66-seat space has the semblance of a theater now, during the lab phase, Wilhite said the walls were inscribed with graffiti — a chalkboard of artistic analysis.

“What you don’t see is the amount of time we take experimenting with things,” she said. “We only have not even two weeks to put the show up, but we’ve been living with the show all summer. This lab was about six weeks long.”

The research and experimentation were key components for “Bombs,” a story about an explosives scientist afflicted with an ambiguous form of dementia. To aid in portraying the disjointed mind of the scientist, the play is performed in random order with each scene determined by drawing a Bingo ball.

“He’s suffering from some kind of memory distortion, and the order of his life is in chaos right now and he’s trying to put it back together,” Wilhite said. “And these are the scenes — maybe the key scenes — of his life.”

The muddled arrangement presents a challenge for the performers.

“For the actors, it means we need to be so physically and mentally ready,” Wilhite said. “Once you’re in a scene, you’re in a scene, but you follow beats in a play. You enter a scene smacking of what just happened to me, so I am resonating with that. And that is going to be different every night. So as an actor, I have to let go of any idea of how it should be and really live in the moment, and that’s a big, hard thing for an actor to do.”

Fortunately, the crucible of the experimentation phase helped prepare the actors.

“We did all of the brain research, all of the memory research, all of the math,” she said. “The play is almost like an appendage of the lab. We spent all of this time, and now it’s almost like applying all of this technology we developed in the laboratory.”

And while this is the first production for Artist’s Lab Theatre, Wilhite said the company has many ideas it wants to pursue, even as it pursues become a fully funded, nonprofit entity. In fact, she said the company has purchased an insurance policy to cover a year’s worth of performances here and around the country.

“What my goal is as artistic director is to become a thing that is funded, that is in the community and is serving the community and being with the community besides just performing,” Wilhite said.

Tickets, $10, can be purchased at the door or at the company’s website: www.artlabtheatre.com.

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