Rhode Island’s theater group Strange Attractor has a new pageant planned. The audience for the show? The moon and the sea.
This August, Strange Attractor has a new pageant planned that includes gathering 100 singers on Easton’s Beach in Newport for a choral performance. Their audience? The sea itself. The occasion? A rather remarkable solar eclipse. The pageant begins as the moon begins its creep between the Earth and the sun, and the performance continues for the duration of the eclipse, about two hours.
Those of us in New England will only see a partial eclipse on August 21, but it’s the first total eclipse since 1918 that will stretch across the entire United States. The sun’s rays will be totally blocked from central Oregon to South Carolina. If it’s not too cloudy, the whole sky will be sunset-colored, even in the Northeast.
Pageant rehearsals have just begun, and most details are still being ironed out, but Strange Attractor organizers Rebecca Noon and Jed Hancock-Brainerd have some guidelines for what the event will be. “The only criteria for performers is that people have feelings about the ocean,” Hancock-Brainerd says, “since the audience is the ocean.” Adds Noon, “We only want things that the ocean wants. No confetti, no plastic, and no stepping on the dune grass.”
Hancock-Brainerd originally conceived the sea pageant, explaining that 100 participants seemed like a good number for the event. “It’s more reasonable than a thousand,” he says.
Noon and Hancock-Brainerd are half of Strange Attractor, a company that’s split between Rhode Island, Philadelphia and Juneau. The four Americans met in graduate school in London, and each member uses the Strange Attractor moniker for projects that involve one or more of the other members.
“Usually Jed dreams up an idea that’s totally crazy,” explains Noon, who handles directing and producing duties, “and I say, ‘No, I’m not going to do that.’ And then some time goes by and we start to develop it.” This is the fourth show in seven years that the two have conceived in this way.
The pair are currently wrapping up a year-long residency at the Providence Athenaeum, where they researched the complicated historical relationship between Rhode Islanders and the ocean. They’ve also been learning more about the ocean itself and about remarkable eclipses.
Strange Attractor’s most recent piece, Sans Everything, was performed in Providence and Boston before showing this February at Philadelphia’s FringeArts. Conceived by Aram Aghazarian–Strange Attractor’s Philly member–and directed by Noon, the show imagines a post-human future where artificial intelligence units are compelled by outside forces to perform Shakespeare as they travel through space.
That’s actually one of the group’s more traditional offerings. Their Rhode Island events have included a gothic Christmas pageant staged in the middle of July at the home that Hancock-Brainerd and Noon share. Another performance required audience members to wear sweatpants and sing on the street. Entitled Before We Begin, that show included a lengthy introduction after which the duo put paper bags over their heads, allowing uncomfortable audience members to leave without being seen.
The sea pageant is a one-time event, but a reprisal may be possible: it’s only seven years before the next total solar eclipse.