The Forgotten Columbia Exposition

Created by Phoebe Brooks

This show was my 2nd Year Materials Project, a class in which Directing students are encouraged to create a piece of theater from the materials that make up our lives and identities. In my case, I'm fascinated by our shared construct of "the past." We think we know so much about it but, at the same time, it is a completely foreign land to which we can never travel. In an attempt to explore history through storytelling and theater, my production team worked to devise a speculative event ("The Columbia Exposition of 1921") around which our show was centered. However, beyond the event itself, I was even more curious about how the narrative of our historical event would have shifted over time. What would it be like to peek in at the lifetime of an event over the course of 100 years? Using a devising method called Fictional Archeology, which I've been developing with Dana O'Brien for the past ten years, I worked with an incredible team of volunteers in a series of "Generative Workshops." Together we simulated planning the event in 1921, rediscovering the same event in 1971 and, finally, reinterpreting the event and its history for all of you, now, in 2021.
Though not factually true, The Forgotten Columbia Exposition was created in an attempt to embrace a structural truth, in the way fictions can occasionally feel more true than life itself. The past, much like the present, is a living organism which demands our active interpretation. There are as many historical narratives as there are people living to tell them. The Forgotten Columbia Exposition is the result of a group hallucination made possible by the imaginations of 40 different collaborators (28 Generative Workshop Participants, 3 Dramaturgs, 2 Actor/Writer/Improvisers, 2 Visual Artists, 1 Composer, 1 Producer, 1 Stage Manager, 1 Director & 1 Ringer)

"Almost exactly 100 years ago, Columbia University was home to a celebratory event similar to a World's Fair (on a much smaller scale). Though surviving records of the original event are sparse, the curators of The Forgotten Columbia Exposition have done their best to bring the past to life by fusing historical information with artistic invention. Come see our exhibit and join us for a guided walking tour of campus (in partnership with Roarin' Strolls™) to learn more about this missing piece of University history."

Click here to access the digital exhibition

PhoebE Brooks (Theater Creature)