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Beth Corning marks 10 years of CorningWorks with the waiting room

The piece is inspired by the Jewish religious ritual of Shemira — the watching over the body of a deceased person from the time of death until burial

Steve Sucato Sep 5, 2018 6:00 AM
Photo: Frank Walsh
Jacob Goodman as Samuel

After 40 years making art for a living, churning out a prolific output and receiving more than 80 national and international grants and awards, some might call it a career and retire to a beach chair. Thankfully for fans of critically-acclaimed dancer/choreographer Beth Corning, she is still passionately driven to create and perform quality, thoughtful, and thought-provoking dance-theater pieces unlike any in the region. 

Opening the 10th anniversary season of her dance company CorningWorks is the waiting room, September 5-9 at North Side’s New Hazlett Theater. The piece takes its inspiration from a NPR show about funereal customs from around the world. Corning says she was struck by the Jewish religious ritual of Shemira — watching over the body of a deceased person from the time of death until burial. More specifically, Corning says she was intrigued by the practice of hiring a guardian called a shomer (if male) or a shomeret (if female) to sit with the body when the family is not present. What does somebody do for hours alone in a room with a casket? While the catalyst for the hour-long work was about exploring that very question, Corning says the work isn’t necessarily about death but rather life.  

The 14th production in Corning’s the Glue Factory Project series in Pittsburgh, the waiting room, is a multi-disciplinary and somewhat surreal dance-theater piece steeped in metaphor (as are many of Corning’s works). It is set to an eclectic score featuring classical, contemporary, and Klezmer music. Corning — along with input from fellow cast members, actor Jacob Goodman, visual and performing artist John Carson, and Cleveland-based dancer/choreographer Catherine Meredith — created a script that tells the story of Samuel the shomer (played by Goodman), who, through a series of events, reveals some of the stories that shaped him into the man he is. One of those stories is a childhood memory of “The Naked Lady” portrayed by Meredith. 

“I am embodying her reality — a woman sleepwalking through life, disenchanted, despondent, and stuck in this mundane world,” says Meredith. “She believes her life has largely gone unnoticed, but still there exists a man [Samuel] who credits her with having a profound impact on his own journey.”

Stephanie Mayer Stanley's symbolic set design, along with video projections of nature scenes by Jakob Marisco and Jessica Medenbach help bring Samuel's story to life. 

“We are all dealing with a concurrence of nature which death is a part,” says Corning. “How do we acknowledge that elephant in the room and what’s the story we tell?” 

CorningWorks performs the waiting room, 7 p.m., Wed, Sept. 5, 8 p.m., Thu., Sept. 6 – Saturday, September 8 and 2 p.m., Sunday, September 9. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, Northside. $25-30. 412-320-4610 or corningworks.org

Follow featured contributor Steve Sucato on Twitter @ssucato.