Below and Beyond


A new play about natural gas extraction, urban camouflage, immortal jellyfish, and an underground creek-turned-sewer

BELOW and BEYOND is a performance directed by Donna Sellinger (of The Missoula Oblongata), and created by Beth Nixon (of Ramshackle Enterprises) and Sarah Lowry (also of The Missoula Oblongata), with Matthew Schreiber on accordion and a million other instruments. Inspired by the long-submerged Mill Creek of West Philadelphia, as well as current debate about fracking in Pennsylvania, this original play explores the complications of what lies beneath our feet. Using puppets, pulleys, movement, maps, and the imagination, the performance examines the intricacies of extraction and recognizes a waterway that continues to resurface. Tree house, houseboat and bunker dwellers unite amidst an invasion of urban water buffalo. All this, plus a one-man band!

The show was inspired by interviews with Mill Creek elders and the West Philly “landscape literacy” research of Anne Whiston Spirn as well as by the work of Protecting Our Waters- a grassroots alliance committed to protecting Pennsylvania from unconventional gas drilling.

Lowry and Sellinger’s experimental theatre company, The Missoula Oblongata, is dedicated to creating and touring original work. Their lights, sound, and sets are all homemade, transportable, and operated by the performers themselves. As Ramshackle Enterprises, Nixon creates clown and puppet performances and facilitates the creation of community parades and pageants with collaborators of all ages, abilities and persuasions. Matthew Schreiber is a Portland, ME based accordionist who specializes in Eastern European musical styles. He composed an original musical score for this production.

Some Vimeo clips:
Ruth Nibbons, MFA: Finding Flow with the Triage Fannypack
and Victor talking trophies and camo.

After a run of sold-out shows in Philadelphia and a successful east coast tour, here’s some things people said about BELOW and BEYOND:

“Nixon and Lowry manage a bit of scaffolding, scores of puppets and props and their own boundless energies to create a sprawling mythic journey. At turns surprising, hilarious, and earnest the piece is one that makes you stop and wonder about the workings of the city around (and below) you.” -Adrienne Mackey, Artistic Director of Swim Pony Performing Arts

“…ingenious, poignant, crucial visionary work about complex topics, all the while never taking themselves too seriously. [They] are doing the people’s work, bringing to light the issues that we need to understand, and presenting them with absurdity, laughter, and vulnerability.” -Gina Renzi, Director of The Rotunda

“This show is awesome!” -Calamity Rose, 6th grader

“The cast of characters is hilarious and complex, a darkly absurd survey of the personalities we form and the survival strategies we cultivate in a world on the brink of collapse. Beth and Sarah have managed to craft an epic tale of humans struggling to flourish in a world on the brink of structural failures, chemical contamination, and devastating exploitation of the land… at the same time, it is a poetic, comedic celebration of imagination, and even the imaginative power of the water and land itself.” -Amy Walsh, Artist

By way of water buffaloes, rare jellyfish, and an impressive amount of costume changes, Beth Nixon and Sarah Lowry bleed together comedic sketches with fantastical puppet theater in a world of cardboard that not-so-oddly resembles our own. I loved the show! -Adelaide Winsome, Queer Fabulist

“Cunning displays of camouflage…all around, underneath and on top of a rickety yellow scaffold festooned with inventive scenery!” –Andrew Oesch, Arts Education Enthusiast

“It’s a show that pulls you into a fantastic world that has its own logic, with warm relationships and flashes of real insight amidst the hilarious situations and ridiculous dialogue. Matt’s music was perfect, providing a circus atmosphere and gentle humor and unifying the whole play.” –Penny Hall, Beth’s mom

Our tour hit these hot spots:

(5/3) Pittsburgh, PA- Kelly-Stayhorn, Alloy Studios
(5/4) Athens, OH- ARTS/West
(5/5) Baltimore, MD- At the Whole Gallery
(5/7) Philly, PA-  Wolf Building, Underground Arts
(5/8) Philly, PA- The Beaumont Warehouse
(5/9) Brooklyn, NY- The Magic Future Box
(5/10) North Hampton, MA - Greenfield Community College and The Blue Barn
(5/11) Providence, RI- Empire Black Box
(5/12) Portland, ME- SPACE Gallery
(5/13) Bar Harbor, ME- Gates Auditorium, College of The Atlantic

Our show lasts about an hour and a half and is geared toward adult audiences and kids ages 10 and up. We are working on planning our next tour of Below and Beyond, focusing on the Upstate New York region in late fall 2012. Please be in touch with contacts or questions. Thanks!

Photo credit: Bill Kelly