THEATER | “Chimera”: Workhaus Collective to join the genes of performers and audience


Workhaus Collective‘s next presentation isn’t so much a performance as it is an open rehearsal—or a “live brainstorm,” as the press release calls it. Each night that the audience views Chimera, which runs June 4-12 at the Playwrights’ Center, they’ll be observing a rehearsal of the play in the process of creation. No night will be the same, as the collaborative team creating the show will incorporate feedback from the audiences as the run progresses.

Playwright Deborah Stein, whose recent plays include God Save Gertrude (which Workhaus produced last year) and Heist (which just premiered at the Humana Festival in Louisville, Kentucky) said the author credit for Chimera is open. “It’s more like co-creating,” she said.

Stein said this collaborative way of working is a return to her beginnings as a playwright, when she was a directing intern at the Pig Iron Company in Philadelphia, a company that creates plays collaboratively. “Every one in the room,” she said, “designers, actors, directors, are creating the play together.” At the time, Stein’s job was to take notes on the actors’ improvisations and write them up. Stein said she is returning to that way of working with Chimera, where actress Suli Holum will do a lot of improvisation that will end up being part of the show.

Stein said she got the idea for the play from an episode on MPR’s Radio Lab about a woman in her 40s who needed a kidney transplant. When the woman and her family got DNA testing, she found out she wasn’t genetically related to her three sons, though they were related to her husband. Eventually the woman’s doctors found out that her body had absorbed her twin when she was in the womb, so some of her sister’s genetic material was inside her body. “She discovers that she is her own twin,” Stein said.

Stein said she and her collaborator also have been researching other cases of chimerism, where one body contains the genes of two individuals. She and Holum are looking at creating the piece over a three-year development process. “We want to learn as much about the show as we can,” she said.

They will be doing a residency at HERE in New York City. However, during the process Stein intends to remain in the Twin Cities, where she moved in 2006 because she received a Jerome Fellowship at the Playwrights’ Center. The residency will therefore be a collaborative process between the two centers: HERE and Workhaus.

Stein said she hopes to stay in Minneapolis, though she is originally from NYC. She said top innovative artists choose to live here because the standard of living is so high. “I just love it here,” she said. “It’s so livable and supportive of artists.”