This month, in our continuing coverage of the Louisville Free Public Library’s artist-in-residence program “Collider,” Insider spoke with October artist Melinda Beck, an actor, divisor and arts educator.
Though born in Washington, D.C., Beck moved to Louisville with her family at the age of 7 and considers herself a Louisvillian. Beck fell in love with theater as a kid, attending the Commonwealth Theatre Center’s Walden Conservatory.
“It was really awesome — it gave me an outlet I didn’t really find at school,” she said. “I was fairly insular and pretty nerdy. Being able to go there after school was really, really nice.”
Beck followed her passion to Seattle, majoring in acting at Cornish College of the Arts. She also planned on staying in the Emerald City after graduation to be a part of the vibrant scene. Things were going great, but then the recession hit. Rents rose, work dried up and, like many artists in the mid- to late 2000s, it caused Beck to move back home.
“What that taught me, once I returned, is how deeply I appreciate being here and the character of Louisville as a city, realizing, ‘Wow, I had something great all along and I didn’t even realize it,’” she said.
Since returning in 2011, Beck has worked as an artist educator with Commonwealth Theatre Center and Kentucky Shakespeare, and she’ll bring that experience to the workshops she’ll offer as part of the “Collider” program, which will focusing on teaching improv skills to school-age children.
“There is something kind of different and magical when you see children ‘get it’ for the first time,” she said. “To see kids working together and listening to each other and playing and really investing themselves in something imaginative and totally different and out-of-the-box.”
It’s worth noting that one workshop is for kids at heart, the “Adult Preschool: Halloween Party” on Friday, Oct. 26.
While offering workshops to kids is a pretty straightforward way to interact with the public, Beck wants to do more with the library patrons, which she sees as the whole purpose of the residency.
“You’re there to offer an active and engaging experience with people,” she added.
To engage, Beck will draw on her experience as a divisor, a theater artist who uses an active process to generate new work.
In Louisville, she’s performed her own devised work with her one-person show “Agatha,” as well as “Camerado, I Give You My Hand,” which was created and performed at the Commonwealth Theatre Center by their Alumni Company.
In the past, Beck’s devised work has either been completely original or based on poetry or other existing literature. For her work at “Collider,” she’ll be pulling from interactions with library users.
“My thought was: ‘How cool would it be to create a generative piece that is directly taken from stories from the library, people there? How can I have my work influenced by the stories of others?’ ”
While she hopes to pull from stories and experiences from patrons, Beck already has a broader theme she wants to address, one that intersects with the library’s changes over the years.
“My show is about how the digital age has affected us as people,” she explained. “I’m going to be exploring relationships, different stories, different themes that are all related to how we interact with technology. When you go to the library, usually nowadays you see everyone wind up at the computers. So I think I’ll be able to elicit something pertinent and interesting.”
According to Beck, using library patrons to devise work will create a unique piece of theater, but the idea comes with various issues.
“My challenge at the moment is figuring out the best way to invite responses without being pushy, because when you go to the library, it’s a quiet place. People kind of want to be left alone, it’s a private experience in public, which is interesting by itself.”
She has some ideas, but she’s still generating new thoughts on how to balance friendliness with respect for personal space.
“I have a feeling it’s going to take some trial and error,” Beck said.
She’s hoping to create a way for people to share stories both face to face and anonymously. In a move that would follow her theme on a functional level, she’s hoping to use the library computers and work with librarians to incorporate those computers into process.
That story-gathering process will start with questions and prompts.
“Things that are as simple as what’s the most used app on your phone, all the way to what’s a time that you recall being cyber bullied, have you ever had a bad dating experience … Things you wouldn’t go straight into talking about with a stranger,” she said.
While the library’s resident artists don’t have an official schedule, Beck plans to be at the library from 5 to 9 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.
Beck’s workshops include “Acting and Improv Games for Kids” on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 1-2 p.m.; “Acting and Improv Games for Kids” on Saturday, Oct. 20, from 12:30-1:30 p.m.; and the aforementioned “Adult Preschool: Halloween Party” on Friday, Oct. 26, from 6:30-9 p.m.