It's funny, it's clever, it's intellectual. It's Bob, a one-man tour de force that deconstructs the life and times of visual/theatre artist Robert Wilson, puts the pieces into a Mixmaster, and recreates a slice of life that imitates art. Created and performed by Will Bond, with conception/direction by Anne Bogart for the Saratoga International Theatre Institute (SITI), Bob was first seen at the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts at Ohio University, then at New York Theatre Workshop in Manhattan. It juxtaposes a rich text with a minimalist production, just like Wilson himself might have done it. In fact, Bob is full of Wilsonesque gestures, poses, and grimaces, all of which are familiar to Wilson's fans.
The minimalist setting for Bob combines the work of set designer Neil Patel and lighting designer Mimi Jordan Sherin. A small production budget offered limited options for Patel, who contributed the design of a small table and chair that are, in effect, the set. Cleverly enough, Bond moves them around the stage during his monologues so that they end up exactly where they began, in the upper corner of stage right. The black floor is divided into squares which light up in various formations to help redefine the space during the performance.
The real co-star of Bob is the lighting. "The rehearsal space was long and narrow," says Sherin, who used large banks of lights to create side walls and define the limits of the playing area. "Bob was first done at the Wexner Center in a very asymmetrical space which I needed to make symmetrical. I call it Bob-in-a-Box." Sherin's intention was to show an artist onstage with the tools he needs to make his creations, and describes the process this way: "Anne Bogart, who knows Bob Wilson's work very well, did Anne Bogart does Bob Wilson; Mimi Sherin did Anne who's doing Bob."
Far-cyc lights on the floor outline the perimeter of the "box" and light up the booms. "I very intentionally lit the lighting instruments," Sherin says. She used the same blank back wall at New York Theatre Workshop as at the Wexner Center. The floor grid (originally created with tape) reflects various planes of light that Sherin needed for the style and staging of the show. Her lighting choices are bold, from stark white milk lit in contrast to Bond's black suit to acid yellow light washing over the back wall.
The lighting rig for Bob includes 38 three-cell far-cycs, three Robert Juliat 336 HMI ellipsoidals, 52 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals, 39 Arri 1kW fresnels, four Arri 5kW fresnels, one Pani BP 18" low-voltage projector, 18 PAR-64s, and two Linnebach projectors, while the color palette ranges from L242, R312, R17, GAM 880, R88, R91, and R55 to no-color and lens-less instruments. The control console is an ETC Express 250. The lighting package was rented through Production Arts.
"I can't express enough that my work is instinctual," says Sherin. "I come to a show with my best guess at its structure and color, and then I react to the others. In the SITI company, sound designer Darron West informs much of what I do. And when you have a performer like Will Bond, who uses everything you give him, he makes me look good."
As any fan of Robert Wilson knows, light is of ultimate importance in his productions. Was Sherin influenced by Wilson's own use of light? "Bob Wilson's work is a modern influence to any designer of this age, or should be," says Sherin, "whether you like his work or not."