Bonus Material

'The Lydian Gale Parr' Experiment: And these are not so ancient things

Guest Essays

April 18, 2024

Andrea Hiebler

Andrea Hiebler is an arts administrator and dramaturg who worked at The Lark for over fifteen years, most recently as Director of Scouting and Submissions, where she managed multiple play submission and fellowship selection processes as well as facilitated a variety of play development programs, workshops, and writers’ groups. A New York native, Andrea graduated from The College of Wooster in Ohio with a B.A. in Theater and English. She has collaborated with playwrights in affiliation with New Dramatists, New York Stage and Film, Ma-Yi, MTC, Atlantic Theater, Denver Center, Second Stage, Hedgebrook, Play on Shakespeare, NYU Tisch School of the Arts and never tires of reading stage directions. Away from the theater, you can find her rooting for the Mets at Citi Field or at a local bar.

Maybe because it was my first real exposure to the fantasy genre, but as a kid, I was mesmerized by a pair of made-for-TV-movies, The Ewok Adventures, the 80s-tastic visuals of which are emblazoned in my memory.  One of those images is of young Cindel, her blonde ringlets spilling out of an aerobics gear-inspired headband, who befriends the cuddly Ewok Wicket when her family’s spaceship crash lands into the forest moon of Endor.  She wears a futuristic life indicator bracelet (aka an early Apple Watch prototype) with a different color light tracking each member of her family.  (Spoiler alert: by the end of the two movies, her light is the only one that remains.  It was not such a fun adventure for her poor parents and annoying older brother).

This magical bracelet is the first image that flashed to mind during the opening sequence of The Lydian Gale Parr, a self-described “surreal and poetic chamber oratorio with ballet,” when a lone dancer with a glowing cloth tied to one wrist enters the Target Margin space that has been encased by a white tent adorned with upcycled instruments.  As they move to the music played by a small orchestra arranged on a raised platform against the fourth wall of the thrust stage, their upward stretching hand gestures signal the repurposed bells above to ring in a colorful rhythmic sequence.

cove barton, Jay Beardsley, Arzu Salman, and MJ Markovitz in The Tank's 2024 production of THE LYDIAN GALE PARR. Photo credit: Mari Eimas-Dietrich

My immediate connection to this outlier of the Star Wars franchise wasn’t entirely random.  The mythical story on display centers on a child emissary who is sent on an “infinite errand” to deliver a letter from a city under siege.  Unlike a classic fairy tale or even an intergalactic space opera with multiple prequels and sequels, neither the child nor the ancient city has a fixed name or location in time or space.  All is fluid and ever-shifting in repetitive cycles that accrue meaning musically, narratively, and choreographically by enclosing you in an expanding spiral rather than unfolding before you.  

At first, I found myself trying to closely follow the spoken-sung text projected on the screen behind the musicians.  I soon abandoned that frantic effort to catch every word, and was ultimately rewarded by letting the individual elements connect and converge more organically as patterns were established and the piece gathered momentum.  Composer Alaina Ferris, librettist Karinne Keithley Syers, and choreographer Katy Pyle, under the direction of Meghan Finn, have collaboratively woven together an effective tapestry of multi-layered theatrical languages.  

Chad Goodridge and Gelsey Bell in The Tank's 2024 production of THE LYDIAN GALE PARR. Photo credit: Mari Eimas-Dietrich

The interdisciplinary form that invites and highlights interplay echoes the content, since we never learn what these letters being endlessly carried contain.  I was surprisingly undaunted by that mystery as the focus instead is on the slippery variations of the shape and perception of the journey itself in overlapping loops of liminality.  We’re not necessarily going through the looking glass for this tale, but continually tilting the mirror to refract findings through kaleidoscopic prisms.  Even when things seem topsy-turvy or at odds, there is an environmental intelligence at work here that taps into naturally occurring correlations.  I was reminded of those side-by-side outlines of tree branches and human lungs that illustrate alignment, or how adrienne maree brown’s book Emergent Strategy discusses fractal awareness in relation to radical social change.  

Aviva Jaye and Alaina Ferris in The Tank's 2024 production of THE LYDIAN GALE PARR. Photo credit: Mari Eimas-Dietrich

There is one particularly striking reoriented frame of reference provided that I keep turning over in my mind like a rolling pin in the buttery laminations of this ambitious theatrical dough.  Instead of conceiving of this ancient city wall as something built from the ground up, we are told that a hole was dug to contain it and then an entire valley underneath, so that the wall actually sits below sea level.  That reimagining feels like an offering of an escape hatch from our own limited modes of linear, binary thinking that close us off from transcendent possibilities.  Sometimes a tree can grow vertically downward, a letter can be flown as a flag and a lone light on a fictional bracelet can keep the boundless adventure alive.      

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