TEXT BY LINNE HALPERN ('18), STAFF WRITER
IMAGES COURTESY OF CLARA PINSKY ('16), CONTRIBUTOR
On the afternoon of Wednesday, March 23rd, Usdan existed as usual: hungry lunch-goers and tired coffee-grabbers. The only difference was the massive wooden structure tucked into the cove of the staircase. Murmurs filled the room as "Miracle Machine" by Graham Reynolds and the Golden Arm Trio started blasting and five men from Physical Plant walked onto the stage to introduce themselves and the project: BUILD: A Series of Dances Featuring Physical Plant Employees. Flyers on the tables informed us that BUILD was created by Clara Pinsky ’16 in collaboration with Dean Canalia, Tom Macri, Joe Marino, Paul Martin, and Tim Rogers in fulfillment of a 2016 senior Dance thesis project “that showcases the everyday work of Physical Plant employees.”
Expecting there to be dancers accompanying the Physical Plant workers, we were surprised when the men were actually the dancers themselves. As the men started about building the space, it became clear that their day-to-day movements utilized for building were creating the choreography for the dance—highlighting the physicality, fluidity, and movement involved in the typical work of Physical Plant employees. Audience members turned to each other in amazement when the dancers’ movement’s actually started to create a new environment, installing a heating system utilizing power tools. The soundtrack included The Miracle Machine, "Chili Wa Man" by John Tropea," Caravan" by Graham Reynolds and the Golden Arm Trio; but more important, featured voiceovers of the men speaking about their own experiences working for Physical Plant. The piece progressed from the construction of the heating system into the placement of an actual, fully functioning sink, window, and door as students enjoyed both watching and listening to these men’s experiences. Clapping and excitement from the audience was palpable as many students gained a completely new understanding of and appreciation for different types of work.
Though students’ interactions with Physical Plant workers are often reduced to a note left on a door confirming that they were here and fixed our problem, BUILD brought us into their environment and asked us to see more from them than what we are accustomed to. Each man had his own moment to showcase his specialty—be it from plumbing to HVAC installation. The physical construction of the stage brings the performance and spectacle aspects of the piece to the forefront of the viewers’ experience. Through the process of bringing to light these typically invisible stories, is it possible that we are exploiting these very workers, these very stories by creating the spectacle? Yet, isn’t that exactly the point? It feels necessary to create the spectacle in order for students to listen and to see, eyes open—and maybe that is the issue. There is a specific power and validation that comes from creating that stage and forcing viewership upon important stories. I believe that if students left the performance having a newfound respect and acknowledgement for work they would not have otherwise considered, then the piece is a successful community art project.
Though we, students, live here for four years of our lives and do everything we can to create a sense of home here through our physical spaces and our communities, these employees have been here—many for over twenty years—taking care of the needs of students and creating their own community. They are the revolving door and we are simply the passerby. With BUILD, each man was given the time and space to showcase the work they have spent decades of their lives performing with little recognition. This pride for their work and excitement towards student engagement came through in their movements. BUILD’s intent was to showcase the movement involved in the everyday work of building; meanwhile, it ended up building its own bridge between the student audience and the Physical Plant employees creating an appreciation and understanding not previously acknowledged. As Dean, Tom, Joe, Paul, and Tim took their final bow to the tune of Working Man by Rush (as per request from Dean Canalia), they each beamed with joy looking out over the community that they have built.