A tiny revolution has been going on for a couple of years in the Northeast DC’s Stronghold neighborhood. A patch of alley space was transformed into a thoughtful, self-contained community of minimal proportions, with three tiny houses. With the help of architects and others, Brian Levy, Lee Pera, Jay Austin reformed the Evarts Street alleyway into Boneyard Studios. The name was inspired by the nearby Glenwood Cemetery.
So how tiny is tiny? The Matchbox is 140 square feet. Total.
The graveyard has also served to inspire another set of tiny constructs associated with Boneyard and Pinky Swear Productions: tiny plays.
Starting September 27 and continuing for two additional weekends, Pinky Swear will put on The Tiny House Plays in and around the tiny houses on Evarts Street, NE.
To find out more about The Tiny House Plays and minimal space area they will use for a stage, DC Theatre Scene’s Jeffrey Walker spoke to Boneyard Studios co-founder Jay Austin and Pinky Swear member Jessica Aimone, the director of The Tiny House Plays.
Jeffrey Walker: For you, Jay – Since these plays are being performed in the tiny house community you help found, can you talk a little bit about the mission of Boneyard Studios and how this production falls into the mission?
Jay Austin: When we arrived at the lot on Evarts Street, it was an abandoned alley with crumbling concrete. It was nothing that anyone would ever want to spend an evening on. We wanted to create a space that would be welcoming to others, and where people would want to come see events and to be the artists.
Essentially this is what we were looking to achieve upfront was, in addition to creating the tiny houses, showcasing urban infill.
Walker: Infill development being the process of reforming under-used parcels within existing urban areas. This alley way in the Stronghold neighborhood was one such area. With the new landscaping and a garden also came these tiny houses. What else was part of the thinking in this development?
Austin: One thing that we have tried to do is to provide a third place, somewhere away from home and work that’s accessible to everybody.
Something we really try to do at the houses rather than just be architectural showcases. We really try to make Boneyard Studios into a very communal art space. And we’re not strangers to having the houses used for the arts. There is a regular tiny house concert series. We’re used to inviting artists into the houses and see what happens. So the idea of doing that with theatre was very appealing to us.
Pinky Square reached out to our whole community about six months ago or so and we were all equally interested and supportive of the idea.
Walker: Jessica – how did the idea to perform at Boneyard come about?
Jessica Aimone: At a meeting with other Pinky Swear members, someone mentioned plays that were being performed in cars, two audience members at a time, all happening together. Thinking that idea was artistically appealing we wondered how it would work logistically. We knew we couldn’t do a series of car plays. We’d have to get at least 12 cars, the insurance, how would we get people there, parking – all of those questions came up.
A few months later, I became aware of the tiny house community, Boneyard Studios in DC. It was amazing; I didn’t even know we had this here, especially knowing how housing is so incredibly expensive. I wondered if we could do the same thing they did with the car plays only we could do it with these tiny houses. We would get people to move from space to space to space and we would commission playwrights to write plays, rehearse them and put them on.
Walker: After they agreed on the proposal, what came next?
Aimone: We found six local playwrights: five women and one male (one writer has a brother she always teams with). We took all the playwrights to the site, did a tour, and learned all about the houses. You can’t just write plays about what’s great about tiny houses, there has to be something else that goes along with it. We talked about what effect the community has, how people would feel about their neighbors. And how do we build these stories so that they are interwoven but separate.
Walker: The writers went off and wrote their plays separately or did they confer?
Aimone: For about four weeks, we would come together, all the playwrights, and we would read the plays aloud. Interestingly enough, with that cemetery being there, death became a large part of the discussion and it features prominently in the plays. Not in a depressing way, but definitely in a way that you live near a cemetery that’s going to be a part of how you think. Someone joked that the mausoleums you can see behind Boneyard Studios are really the tiniest of houses and the last tiny that you spend time in.
Walker: Do the plays share a common theme?
Aimone: Partially because the playwrights were together when they were writing them, I think a lot of the plays talk about the things that are important in your life, what really matters. What kind of way do you want to live your life? And because all the people in these plays have chosen to live in these tiny houses, what does that choice mean? There’s a lot about death (there are even a few ghosts) and life, the choices that you make and how they affect other people.
Walker: Going back to the real tiny houses, Jay, what are the spaces being used for the plays?
Austin: There are three houses on the lot, two associated with Boneyard Studios – the Matchbox, which is my house, and Lee Pera’s, called Pera House. The third house that will be hosting a play, the Minim House, is not affiliated with Boneyard any more. That one is Brian Levy’s. There will be a fourth play in the patio area and a fifth play in the Studio Shed.
Walker: Jessica – what kind of physical space are you working with for the plays?
Aimone: The houses range in size but most of them are 120 square feet, depending on whether or not you count the lofted areas. They are fully equipped, depending on the unit. They have toilets, they have showers, they have recycling, ways to gather rain water – it’s just a really amazing, tiny way to live.
Walker: And the actors get to experience these spaces right alongside the audience members, correct? How are they handling this experience?
Aimone: All the actors have been utterly excited about the whole project. They won’t just do their play one time but five times in the course of an hour, so it’s really like a marathon; and we do it four times a day, which means they will do each play 20 times each day. Some of the playwrights have worked in slight variations, we call them rotations and each rotation is slightly different.
Walker: The tiny spaces will also affect the audience’s experience compared to a typical live theatre event.
Aimone: Logistically, it will be quite different. Because of the limited space of the tiny houses, people who come to the plays in large groups may not be able to travel together. I think we max out at eight or nine people per group. The characters in each play sometimes refer to other characters and someone might not fully understand what they are talking about. Then later they move on and are hit with ‘Oh, that’s what they were talking about!’ A really fun and interesting experience.
Walker: What else can they expect?
Aimone: I’m trying to find the right word. I think it’s experiential and it’s interactive. You aren’t so much an audience member as you are a participant in the community. And you’re going to be moving.
I think it will build a bonding experience. There’s no fourth wall separating the actors and audience. As an audience member, you don’t get to hide in the dark when the lights go down.
Walker: And what do you feel as the director of this tiny play experience?
Aimone: I really love theatre that engages and interacts with people. I love theatre that is messy and loose and allows for the energy of the moment to happen. I expect things to happen. I expect neighbors to come in; I expect rain will happen. We have to figure those things out and I think it’s going to be a really exciting experience for both the audience members and also for the actors and the production team.
Walker: Jay – any last thoughts?
Austin: We’re excited to see the plays and I am personally excited to see my house turned into a stage for three weeks. I think it will be a really interesting to see how the local playwrights use the houses and the Stronghold Community that we are near.
Walker: And, Jessica, if you could sum up this experience in just one word, what would it be?
Aimone: I guess the word would be generous. Everyone has been so generous – the Stronghold community, Boneyard Studios. We don’t have a huge budget and the actors have been so generous with their time. Our playwrights have been generous. It’s always great when someone says, ‘Yes, I will support you when you make art.’
The Tiny House Plays written by Thembi Duncan, Ann Fraistat, Shawn Fraistat, Danielle Mohlman, Donna Rachelle, and Laura Zam . Conceived and Directed by Jessica Aimone . Featuring: Nathan Alston, Clarissa Barton, Christian Campbell, Alexis Graves, Dexter Hamlett, Allyson Harkey, Melissa Hmelnicky, Georgia May Lively, Kevin O’Reilly, Lilian Oben, Stephanie Svec, Gray West, and Kimberlee Wolfson.
Produced by Pinky Swear Productions
Location: 21 Evarts Street NE, Washington, DC
Performances: Saturdays and Sundays, September 27-October 12, 2014
1, 3, 6, and 8 pm
Tickets: $20 – ADVANCED PURCHASE ONLY; no door tickets.
Click here to purchase
Due to the unusual nature of The Tiny House Plays:
All tickets must be purchased in advance. Patrons are encouraged to arrive no earlier than 15 minutes before their performance time. Seating is not guaranteed and some plays are standing room only. Parties may be split up to attend the plays.
The location is outdoors and not wheelchair accessible. If you have mobility, allergy, or other concerns, please contact Pinky Swear before purchasing your ticket.