“So I go back, and there’s nothing in there at this point except her reception desk with a box of photos on it.”
Photo & Supply, part of The Tank’s Flint and Tinder series, is a puppet show telling the story of Phyllis, a woman trying to cope as her photo shop is shut down. Created by Ashur Rayis, Rachel Schapira, and Andy Manjuck, founders of the non-hierarchical theatre company Eat, Drink, Tell Your Friends, Photo & Supply is a timeless response to a modern issue – the abandonment of physical memories in favor of those that can be flicked through, lost, and forgotten easily. When Phyllis’ shop closes, it’s not just her life that’s changing – she holds a thousand lives in her boxes, photos that might be lost forever so her shop can be converted to something corporate and impersonal, a reflection of small businesses closing all over New York City. Those closures, and the creators’ feelings of a loss of community that followed them.
The stage is set simply – a checkout counter holds an old radio and a register, with two windows and a door behind. To the right, a table set with a paper model of the street shows Phyllis’ store and a row of other businesses – Tony’s Hardware, Katy’s Candy Store, and Gesposito & Sons shaded in grey and black ink.
As Phyllis’ shop is closing, the stores around her begin to change. Puppeteer’s hands creep over the buildings, flipping them up into faceless skyscrapers. A cafe’s sign flips into a self-serve yogurt sign, the second on the street, then into another, finally ending up empty, plastered with a FOR RENT sign.
When Phyllis is handed an eviction notice from an ever-inflating balloon-headed real estate menace, her shop begins to protest. Boxes of photos come to life, forcing Phyllis to face the memories held in her shop head on. The show was conceived after Ashur, who had recently moved in with Rachel in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, brought in a roll of photos from his college graduation to be developed at a local Flower-and-Photo Shop that was on the verge of closing. When he went back to pick them up, the woman at the desk couldn’t find them:
Ashur: Then the next day at work I got a voicemail from a number I didn’t know, and it was that same woman, like, almost yelling, that she had found the photos. And she was like “You have to come by tomorrow at five, because we are closing.” And I was like, I think I know what that means. I’m gonna make sure I do that. So I go back, and there’s nothing in there at this point except her reception desk with a box of photos on it. And she saw me and took out the photos, and they were gorgeous, so well developed and balanced, and I was like “Thank you so much, this is awesome. What are you guys doing, are you moving somewhere?”; and she was like “We don’t know.” And a few days later that place was shuttered. But I have this thing. And this person.
Rachel: I had been living in Brooklyn for a year and a half and working in the West Village, and in both of those places I was seeing that a lot. A lot of small businesses closing, and it was really obvious that it was happening so quickly and systematically. And whole blocks would go bah-Boom.
She slams her hands on the table, a city block gone in a gesture.
Ashur: We were excited about media turning into things we can’t touch, and community spaces that aren’t there anymore and what that does, and this idea of like, community memory. And this person acting as sort of a warden for all that. Even for stuff people have decided they don’t care about. This woman’s shop obviously had stuff that was never gonna get picked up, and that is a weird situation for a person to be in, because you don’t know if that’s not important. It’s the idea of the responsibility to these objects.
Even the photos that are used in the show represent the closure of local businesses, and the change of media. Shadow puppetry is used to tell the stories of the photos throughout the show, while physical photographs burst out of boxes, eventually standing up and turning into “Box Monster” at the end of the show.
Rachel: The ones in the Box Monster only appear in the monster. We already knew we wanted to make a monster, and we had the skeleton with the boxes, and we knew we had to have a ton of photos, or make a ton. The space I mentioned earlier, Standard Toykraft, for four or five years was a multi-use art space in a warehouse building. In the course of about two years it was slowly closing down the artists space in that building, which had been around for more than 20 years. Because the building was gonna be sold and developed. And the first space to go was a bunch of artists’ studios and a writing space directly below our space. When all of those people left, they left a ton of stuff. There was just piles of stuff…people’s lives, and their art, that they had left. And one of those things was a giant, giant pile of photographs. For a large chunk of the time we were developing that show, I was going through the experience of losing this space. And seeing what was happening in Williamsburg around us.
Ashur: Box Monster is haunted. Big time.
Photo and Supply has only five characters – Phyllis, a window-washer named Shrinkyhead, an orange, angular woman and her matching dog, Balloon Head, and Box Monster. Phyllis was built off of a simple sketch that Andy did after listening to the voicemail the original photo shop owner had left for Ashur. Rachel built off of the sketch, and eventually built Phyllis’ finished puppet.
Andy: She’s come a long way, she’s really come to life. She’s aggravated when she needs to be, she can be abrupt, she can be funny, and that’s all because the puppet Rachel built is just neutral enough but her lips are tightened just a little bit – she’s got a little ‘tude, but it’s still just neutral enough to allow you to play all these different emotions and have them read. And that’s amazing because it’s just foam, and fabric, and a little bit of wood, and some paint. Two little ping pong balls. And it’s the audience putting it back onto her. And projecting what they think they should feel.
Last edited 3/23/17, 12:54 p.m.