The harrowing history of women and madness reveals a dark and disturbing past of confinement, torture, and misdiagnosis. The term “asylum” is historically bound and has fallen into disuse—recalling images of whitepadded cells, barred windows, lobotomies, electroshock therapy, and other practices that have controversial histories etched into the public imagination.This immersive site-specific devised work transforms the Ice House into a labyrinth of ‘micro-environments’for the audience to journey through at their own pace. Asylum is loosely based on 10 Days in a Madhouse (1887) by Nellie Bly, The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and other historical texts about womenand madness explored through movement, multimedia imagery, and text. 


Asylum is the third installment of a devised performance triptych, The Muse Trilogy that began in 2006 with The Ophelia Project, a poetic portrait of the lives and writing of Virginia Woolf, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath and Memory Room, a durational performance/window installation about women, writing, and memory commissioned by INFLUX 3 in 2013, Scottsdale Public Art. The connective thread that binds all three works in The Muse Trilogy is women and writing, in particular, stitching in themes of mental illness, addiction, memory, and suicide.Asylum is the result of a one-year investigation leading us through diaries, journals, articles, books, images, and films resulting in a 100-page document that served as primary source material for the development of this performance. In 1887, a reporter Elizabeth Cochrane, under the pseudonym Nellie Bly, feigned insanity to be admitted the Blackwell Island Asylum in New York. This resulted in 10 Days in a Mad House, our primary source text, which exposed the horrific treatment of the patients, in particular, women. Her reporting led to a radical reformation of mental institutions in the United States. 


Experience Architects: Rachel Bowditch and Eileen Standley

Devising Team: Julie Rada, Chelsea Pace, Jenny Strickland, Shay Webster, Lauren Breunig, Ashley Baker, Corinne Bocchino, Julie Akerly, Shelby Keefe and Martha Hernandez

Design Team: Dan Fine, Matthew Ragan, Brunella Provvidente, Adam L.Vachon, Stephen Christensen and Anastasia Schneider


This project is supported by a generous Herberger Faculty Research and Creative Activity Grant. 


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