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On October 2, Nashville’s Pipeline-Collective will offer a world-premiere free broadcast theatrical event unlike any other on NECAT, Nashville’s Education, Community and Arts Television Network. The performance will also be available to a global audience via livestream. Over twelve hours, one performer will experience one story dozens of times over with dozens of different performers. In Claudia Barnett’s world-premiere Outside of Here, Pipeline-Collective poses the question: What does it mean to return to the world when every day has been the same as the one before?

Barnett’s story is deceptively simple. A woman receives an unexpected guest. When the woman refuses to leave her home, the guest entices her with poignant and joyful visions of the world outside. The departure of one guest leads to the arrival of another – and the scene repeats, with near-imperceptible shifts in text and tone. Yet the play’s ritualistic twelve-hour running time demands a rethinking of what it means to belong to a world that is both dangerous and spectacular.

Inspiration for Outside of Here came from unexpected places. Says Pipeline- Collective Producing Artistic Director David Ian Lee (who co-directs the production with Melinda Sewak), “I’m fascinated by long-form performance artists like Marina Abramovic or The Hypocrites, but the real jumping off place was the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. I’ve read a bunch of articles that compare the experience of the last year and a half to being in a time loop; you’re stuck in one place and every day is the same and nothing you do seems to matter. That’s something we wanted to explore.”

At the same time, Pipeline-Collective wanted to build on relationships and virtual storytelling techniques developed via the company’s new works program, The Salon. Says Producing Artistic Director Karen Sternberg, “The past year and a half focused on local and national community-building with playwrights, directors, and actors. It’s this community of more than 300 people that inspires us, that pushes us creatively, and that provides us more support than we can ever return. Being able to realize this massive yet safe project with dozens of local performers and technicians after so much time physically apart is deeply gratifying. And working with Claudia Barnett, who’s one of the most poetic playwrights we know, has been the perfect fit for this project.

Barnett reminisces about how this all began. “Karen and David called me in late April and told me they had an idea for a show — a 12-hour show — and they asked me to write it. I was immediately intrigued by the impossibilities, and of course I said yes. The two plays that stayed in my head the whole time I was writing are Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, with its characters seemingly trapped at the end of the world [and which includes the line ‘Outside of here it’s death’], and Eugène Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano, with its incessant, nonsensical repetitions.

“And while there are many plays in which one actor plays multiple characters, who ever heard of multiple actors playing one character? That’s essentially what we have here. One role, ‘Her,’ will be played by Karen Sternberg, but the other is a (r)evolving role written for 32 actors. One-character plays are eminently practical. This project is exactly the opposite, which is another reason it appealed to me.”

Another key collaborator is Co-Director Melinda Sewak, who joins Outside of Here after appearing in Pipeline-Collective’s production of Mac Rogers’ God of Obsidian. Says Sewak, “This piece is a nod to community. It’s an acknowledgement of the loss of togetherness we’ve all experienced in various forms in the recent past, but also a celebration of the life and love that has persisted. With this project, we hope audiences see themselves – and in so doing, feel joy in the diversity of story and experience that theatre, at its best, uplifts.”

And – perhaps most bold, and certainly unique to this 12-hour production – the actors will never rehearse together. The first time they’ll share the space will be during the performance on October 2.

Sternberg says, “That’s part of the magic, the unpredictable element. That’s where planning and inspiration collide and create something compelling.”

Continues Lee, “Innovation is key to the work we do. We believe in theatrical magic on a shoestring budget, and Outside of Here is stretching us in many ways. We’re a theatre company. We’ve never produced something that’s one-part theatre, one-part endurance art, one-part multicamera live television event. This is going to be wild.”

Having not produced a live theatrical offering since their 2019 holiday benefit performance of A Very Special Live Staged Reading of the Star Wars Holiday Special: Live, On Stage… And Special! Sternberg and Lee are aware that this production carries special significance, both for Pipeline-Collective and for the community they hope to serve. Says Sternberg, “Anything we make has meaning beyond the text, because it’s in conversation with the moment. And that’s part of what we hope will be powerful about Outside of Here. The play features over thirty actors playing the role of Them, most of whom come from the professional theatre, and so they’ve not been on stage in over a year and a half. Part of the challenge of this piece has been finding ways to innovate ethically.”

From the outset of the pandemic, Pipeline-Collective has taken careful stock of the latest safety guidelines issued by the CDC, Metro Nashville, and the performing artists’ unions. Everyone working on Outside of Here will be fully vaccinated. Every person in the building will be masked for the duration of the 12-hour performance unless they’re on camera. There will be no live studio audience; Pipeline is limiting access to the space and minimizing the number of people who will be in the space at any given time.

Outside of Here will be produced in collaboration with Cameron McCasland, who serves as the Director of Content and Member Relations for NECAT (Nashville Education, Community, and Arts Television). Sternberg says, “We’re so thrilled to partner with Cameron on this project. He has an unwavering enthusiasm for unorthodox work, and we’re eager to branch out beyond conventional theatrical spaces. The PEG Studio at NECAT is literally the only place where we could make what we’re trying to make. We consider ourselves so fortunate to have found such a great creative partner.”

Says Lee, “We’re coming out of the last year and a half – or, at least, we’re stepping into something new – and to do that all of us will need to change in some way by letting go of whoever we thought we were before. There’s a line in the song ‘Upside Down & Inside Out’ by OK Go that goes, ‘So when you met the new you/ Were you scared, were you cold, were you kind…? Did someone die inside?’ In Outside of Here, the character of Her meets the new her, and she’s not always brave or kind, because she knows she’ll need to change if she’s to leave what’s become familiar. And that’s the story of us all.”

Outside of Here will broadcast live on NECAT’s public access channel (Comcast channel 9, ATT U-verse channel 100) from 10am to 10pm CST on October 2. Nationally, viewers can access the livestream via Pipeline-Collective’s Facebook page or NECAT’s livestream. The performance is free to watch, though donations will be shared among the artists working on the piece.

PIPELINE-COLLECTIVE creates guerilla-style theatre, with emphasis on the craft of the actor, dynamic storytelling, and theatrical magic on a shoestring budget. We cultivate relationships and collaborations across state lines and into non-arts realms. Through innovative programming such as the Playground Series – which seeks to make theatre “dark nights” a thing of the past – and theatrical benefits that call attention to the work of charitable organizations, Pipeline-Collective extends the reach of the arts, empowering theatremakers to tell their stories.

DAVID IAN LEE has directed plays, operas, films, and political campaign videos across the country. In 2019, David simultaneously directed plays in two separate states, placing his work at the forefront of what would become the Zoom-theatre movement. In response to the historical pandemic of 2020, David became a champion of virtual theatre, directing, producing, and shepherding content that is both innovative and ethical. He has served as a director or assistant director in New York for the Pearl Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Source, Flux Theatre Ensemble, and Boomerang Theatre Company. As a playwright, his works include mass, Liberty & Joe DiMaggio, Sleeper and The Curing Room, which has seen multiple international productions, having been translated into French, Greek, and Afrikaans. As an actor, he has performed internationally and with theatres including Utah Shakespeare, Sedona Shakespeare, New York Classical Theatre, The Actors Theatre of Louisville, Arizona Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, and Nashville Repertory Theatre. David received his BFA in Acting and Directing from the University of Arizona and his MFA in Directing from Illinois State University. David is a proud graduate of New York’s William Esper Studio and is a current cohort with the La Mama International Virtual Directors’ Symposium. David serves on the faculty of the Theatre & Dance Program in the Department of Communications at Tennessee State University. He is a founding member of and Producing Artistic Director for Pipeline-Collective. Favorite credit: Father to Beckett Harrison Lee, on which he collaborated with his wife, Karen.

CLAUDIA BARNETT writes experimental plays about women and history and science. Her scripts have been developed and performed at the Great Plains Theatre Conference, the Ingram New Works Lab, the Kennedy Center Page-to-Stage Festival, the Tennessee Playwrights Studio, Venus Theatre, and the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. She won the Andaluz Award Jury Prize from Fusion Theatre. A professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University, she coordinates In Process: A Creative Writing Event Series. Her plays are published by Carnegie Mellon University Press.

MELINDA SEWAK is a Nashville-based actor and singer, having appeared locally with Nashville Repertory Theatre, Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Street Theatre Company, Actors Bridge Ensemble, and Pipeline-Collective. Melinda was raised by Haitian immigrant parents in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She attended Yale University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Studies. The day after she graduated, she started fire academy, working as a firefighter and research coordinator in Maryland and DC. After a year, she began medical school at Meharry Medical College. She completed two years of instruction then two years of critical care research at Vanderbilt University before realizing she was more excited about healing through storytelling than medicine. She left medicine to return to acting in 2017, and has since been seen on numerous Nashville stages. In addition to stage acting, Melinda can be heard narrating Chip Gaines’ audiobook Capital Gaines, and as the voice of Myra Hanover in the audio drama podcast Boom. She can also be seen as Morwana in the independent film Day 7 as well as in various commercials and industrials. Melinda is additionally a board member for Verge Theater Company, Heirloom School of the Arts, and Tennessee Theatre Association. She is a certified personal trainer, a professional tutor, and an educator. She lives in Nashville with her husband Justin, her daughter Ripley, their dog Bella, and their cats Pixie and Spooky.

KAREN STERNBERG is a Nashville-based performer and producer. She last appeared on stage as Blanche in the Nashville Repertory Theatre’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire, which was named Best Stage Performance by the Nashville Scene. Other credits include shows with Studio Tenn and the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, as well as performances at the Jean Cocteau Rep and the Cherry Lane Theatre in New York. In 2021, Karen appeared in a short horror film, a comedy pilot, and a German opera. Karen is a Producing Artistic Director at Pipeline-Collective, where she manages programs like The Salon and the Playground Series that aim to empower theatremakers to tell their stories. Karen is a proud AEA and SAG-AFTRA member and most enjoys time with her husband and tween son.