Friday, October 5, 2012

The Sun Palace hits the ground running

So the first residency week has come and gone, and gone well, thanks to the amazing powers of Jane Rigler and the Sun Palace team. I didn't get the Jerome grant to turn the show into a film so will just have to do it anyway for free.

We can get some cool props from Theatreworks that will suggest everyday life in the San: antique wheelchair, Victrola, exam table...

A hideous chair from Goodwill provides the perfect  support for my version of the Solar Therapeutic Laryngoscope; a device invented by Frank Verba at Cragmor in the 1920 to shoot healing sun rays into the diseased larynx. All it does it warm the teeth as far as I can tell.

Fred and Ginger first appeared together in Flying Down to Rio, doing the Carioca. Music by Cragmor resident Vincent Youmans. Here we are trying to recreate a bit of that forehead-touching dance that surely would have transmitted bacteria between friends.

The white sheeted performers here go out for a stroll on the mesa and get a little sun worshipping in (actually around my windharps). Video of this may end up in the film version...

Friday, August 10, 2012


One aspect of the performance is the idea that the spirits of former TB patients have risen from their beds, dragging their white linen sheets with them about the space. Bandaging material was also around for when brain or throat operations were necessary. Combine the effect here and you see their identities half hidden, but strangely expressive in a Cragmor Kabuki kind of way. You just need needlework hoops, rubber bands, stretchy fabric (wife beaters are awesome). And a sheet.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Where the Columbines Grow

In 1915 the new Colorado State Song was officially adopted, Where the Columbines Grow. It seems fitting that the Cragmor inmates would have sung it and helped popularize the tune (although it never caught on and was superseded by John Denver's Rocky Mountain High in 1972.

Here is the real anthem arranged in Sanatorium style, as though for their Cragmor Follies entertainments, when they let their hair down a bit. This is a mock up of the full version, with recorded track and live instruments approximated. These include:
• Swigging and hooting from medicine bottles as microtonal whistles
• Deflating balloon larynxes (for those who had TB of the throat)
• Tongue-depressor kazoo chorus
• Audience participation: shakers of pill bottles

This started as a Lab Symphony with repurposed medical apparatus but ended up as the climax to the Cragmor Talent Show portion of the evening. It will provide a bathetic high just before going into the Germ Requiem.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A TB Slideshow

So after culling the internets for images relating to TB, consumption, sanatoriums, former residents at Cragmor, public health campaigns, and medical images of pneumothorax, I have posted a slideshow. This might be shown in the Waiting Room as the audience enters for the Sun Palace performance to give an idea of the forgotten world of TB sufferers.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


During the liver performance there will be a chance for brief poetry readings, songs, and skits written by patients of the day; as if it were a mini talent show for residents. Three texts below will be recited by members of the cast. There will also be a short musical performance using medical equipment: pill bottles, medicine bottles, syringes, balloons, etc.


A sonnet to Russell Cheney
By Phelps Putnam, 1927

Christ never rose again, but you arose,
My ribald saint, out of a deathly bed
To snatch my insubstantial life from those
Despairs and poisons which had made me dead.

How dark and delicate you are, and yet
How full of blood, and I am only caught
In irony, a nervous vulgar net.
We were a sturdy differential fraught

With an unlikely mirth, and hand in glove
Between strange-sorted friends and gay disdain;
But all the time, beyond my scope of love,
Lonely you prowled the inward vaults of pain,

Seeking, beyond harsh loyalty, some rest
From bearing the vague misery of quest.

Nursery Rhyme of Colorado Springs
By Charlotte Vimont Arnold

[chorus] Carlotta, Carlotta, where have you been?
[solo] I’ve been to the Doctor to see why I’m thin!
Carlotta, Carlotta, what did you there?
I took off my garments and sat on a chair!

Carlotta, Carlotta, what happened then?
The story’s too lurid for my modest pen:
They hammered and thumped me and measured my lines,
And listened with scopes while I shrieked “99s.”

They prodded and pounded and counted my bones,
And laid out my back in blue penciled zones!
Then next they X-rayed me to see what they’d missed,
While a student assistant wrote out a list.

Then the chief, with a smile engaging to see,
With courteous manner this high-brow on germs

Since I Had’m
By Ralph Stubbs, 1922

Since I have had’m I have eaten 2500 eggs, in every shape, form, and manner, except raw;
Drunk 3700 glasses of milk, and consumed 600 loaves of bread fixed up as milk toast.
I have had my temperature taken over 2600 times, and broke three temp sticks. Have spilled three hot-water jugs on my feet, worn out ten rubber hot-water bottles and a dozen rubber rings.
Have slept on one side all the time, with a tender spot on the ear on that side, and another close by.
My pulse has been filed over 2600 times, two teeth have been pulled, and five gallons of salve have been rubbed on my ‘ploorisy.’
I have been under the X-ray ten times and under the stethoscope 50 times. I have had 30 accidents that require the nurse, her hypo, and the bag of ice for my chest. Number of ice-bags for my head—no record.
Consumed over 1200 cups made by Stone & Forsythe, Boston.
Used 200 pounds of paper napkins and 3500 No.4 Sacks.
Flirtations with nurses—too dangerous.
Cursed doctors—same.
I have put on my clothes 4000 times. Taken them off—ditto.
Pronounced a Goner four times.
I have taken over 3000 baths and ten gallons of American Oil. Used 1500 quarts mouth wash, 10 quarts of Chlorotone Inhalent, and swallowed 3000 soda mints.
Fifteen men have sat on my chest, listened, and thumped. They have tweaked my ears, poked down into my throat, and lifted my nose.
I have whispered 1-2-3, and gone through the “in and out” stunts.
Have had tonsillitis and three good rounds of the Flu.
Have been broke and lost a home.
Am doing nothing but—
Figure it up, and see what I have been doing, and how long I have been at it.
Doing a come-back at 29.
I thank you.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pikes Peak Timelapse

With thanks to Ines and neighbor Don the new timelapse camera is mounted on the deck at dad's house taking pictures every 5 minutes between now and November. This view of Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods is more or less identical to that watched by every resident of Cragmor who had plenty of time to notice the sky, sun, and contemplate the view (and mortality).

One of the three projection screens in the show will have this as a loop, collapsing time and creating rhythmic cycles of light, dark, and moving colors of clouds. The middle screen will be for the main action, and the third will have something equally minimal but super slow (performers dancing on the mesa with white sheets set free by the wind).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Germ Requiem

The Germ Requiem is the ecstatic emotional core of the Sun Palace, and is intended to accompany archival movies about TB and various gruesome medical procedures. Perhaps the entire cast will be asked to sing in harmony with what they hear, in long overlapping length-of-breath tones, ahhh. That will illustrate the idea of breathing, respiration, and infinite vs constricted lung capacity. People will float out of the show, deeply oxygenated.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Lungers

Ever wondered what the doc hears when putting a stethoscope to your lungs? Here is a mostly-untreated audio collage of sick people (and one healthy breather) breathing. Some of them are saying 99, some 1,2,3. Interestingly if those numbers are intelligible through the stethoscope that means there is a solid mass or tumor in the body; if muffled, then everything is still fleshy and hunk dory. The less sense you make the better in this case. You also don't want to hear wheezing, crackling, or rattling (rales).

As the audience enters the space they will hear this. Some of them will have impromptu tests, perhaps amplified (with contact mics) into the mix, or a chorus of aaaahhhhs and numbers. Those arbitrarily selected to be sick will get a bell to wear around their neck for the duration of the performance.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Solar Laryngoscope by night

The Solar Therapeutic Laryngoscope was invented at Cragmor. It took the form of two concave mirrors that could be attached to the back of a chair. When a patient with TB of the larynx (such as several vocal stars of Broadway in the 1920s) sat reversed in the chair, with the sun behind her, light was directed into the back of the mouth for those healing UV sun rays to reach where they otherwise never could.

Here the device appears as a constellation or aurora over a night time long exposure shot of early Cragmor, over its roof, where so much heliotherapy took place.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sousa and the Cragmor Vision

There were several unbuilt Cragmors arising from Dr. Solly's dream. Each plan was scaled back by the architects to fit the available budget. Here is the original, poised on the hill to catch the healing sunrays, while the John Philip Sousa Orchestra (which played for san residents at least in Saskatoon) raises the spirits for a hypothetical opening ceremony on the future lawn.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Audio: Macleish

HERE is a short segment that may end up in the piece somehow. It is the voice of poet Archibald Macleish whose sister Ishbel was at Cragmor in the bungalow Village around 1924. It describes the creative process, something that many of the artistic residents had plenty of time to consider as they developed their own poems, photos, paintings, and writings.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Garden of the Gods

Uncle Russell's painting of the Garden of the Gods (1918) with a photo (mirrored) from the same spot and a sunbathing boy from a public health campaign poster. Heliotherapy meets flying naked angels with clean lungs.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Audio segments

HERE is a link to some of the musical elements in progress that may end up in the production of the Sun Palace. Some will have action, live music, dance or video associated with them

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Uncle Russell self portrait with nerves

Russell Cheney, self portrait with added (1896) woodcuts of bronchial nerve trees. Interior and exterior at work again, the skull beneath the skin... Even the alveoli look like bunches of delicious grapes.

Hope he wasn't coughing too much in France in the 1920s when he presumably painted this.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Sun Palace: Hyperopera Tribute to Cragmor TB Sanatorium

Here begins some blogging about the giant work in progress celebrating the peculiar history of a tuberculosis sanatorium in Colorado Springs about 1905-1940ish. It was where the 1% went to chase the cure or die in the process. My great, great Uncle Russell Cheney was there and the building eventually became the campus of UCCS where my dad taught English for 35 years.

The main cures were sunbathing (heliotherapy, ironically the only thing they happened to get right since vitamin D does help the immune system), fresh air, and food (28 raw egg yolks a day and gallons of milk). Drug treatments were poppers (nitrite of amyl), heroin, codeine, tobacco, creosote, and chalk. Confined to bed or deck chairs for months or years they had plenty of time to look at the view of Pikes Peak, read, paint, take photographs, write poetry, compose, or just go 'cousining' on the roof if they felt equal to it. Thus, long before 'Art Therapy' became a term in the 1940s, the rich consumptives of Cragmor were producing artworks. The patients who recovered often stayed in the town, endowed institutions, and led to its dramatic rise in population. This is the story of how a germ built a city.

The Sun Palace will be a multi-media performance event with UCCS students, faculty, and community members in November 2012. It will also have a life as a standalone experimental video. As I develop the various components of the work I will post samples.

Here are some remixes of artwork and media from those times, all related to TB patients — "Lungers" — and their inner (and outer) lives; facing uncertain medical outcomes (50:50 at best).

You will see my montaged reworkings of pieces that relate to Russell Cheney (painter), Laura Gilpin (photographer), Dorothy Smoller (dancer with Anna Pavlova, model), Vincent Youmans (composer), Henry Varnum Poor (painter), and Ruth Draper (monologuist). There will eventually be parallel treatments in audio and video form...