Carroll Cloar's painting Gibson Bayou Anthology was inspired by Spoon River Anthology, Edgar Lee Masters' collection of monologue poems that collectively describe the life of a fictional small town. Cloar borrowed the concept and used characters from his own church cemetery to make it visual.
"The painting shows his church graveyard with a bunch of former parishioners standing alongside their own graves," says Bob Arnold, founding director of Chatterbox Audio Theater. Chatterbox has been working with Brooks curator Stanton Thomas to create audio theater versions of all 244 Spoon River poems to complement the museum's Cloar retrospective, and Thursday, August 29th, the Chatterbox cast will perform a selection of the work at an event built around the Gibson Bayou piece.
"We started recording Spoon River poems for Chatterbox a few years ago without really knowing what we were going to do with them," Arnold says. "We're only about 50 poems in, so we have a long way to go," says Arnold, who plans to launch a website for the Spoon River project in the next few months. "What I love about the project is that it lets us focus deeply on the words," Arnold adds. "Normally, our shows are full of dialogue, sound effects, and music. But these recordings are stripped down to the bone. The poems themselves are brief and lean. Masters tells hugely affecting stories with just a few words.
"We're mostly working with stage actors, and I think they're enjoying scaling down their performances. Normally, they've got to fill a theater, but we're basically asking them to whisper in somebody's ear."
"Voices from the Grave with Chatterbox Audio Theater" at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Thursday, August 29th, 7 p.m. $5. Info: 544-6200