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French House Focus: Mark Gibson

Of all the impressive Honors Theses on view at this year’s Undergraduate Research Colloquium, one of the most unique has to be ORIGIN, a performance piece dreamed up by Honors senior Mark Gibson. Mark is a pre-med Theater major and seasoned performer of aerial silks—an act of physical theater that involves choreographed acrobatics performed on bolts of stretchy silk suspended from a high ceiling. Mark’s pursuit of his passion embodies the Honors College principles of leadership and international exploration; his aerial silks practice has afforded him opportunities to travel abroad and to design, direct and perform in his own production. Mark will be discussing his Honors Thesis and ORIGIN at this year’s Honors College Undergraduate Research Colloquium on Thursday, April 25, at 6:25PM in West Laville Library.

 

Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where you’re from, how you ended up at LSU.

I was raised in Birmingham, Alabama. I went to a small private school—we had six people in our graduating class.

Six people?

Yeah, a third of the class was my family [Mark has a twin brother]. I did track and cross country in high school, gymnastics until I was 11. Studied violin. I also did Scouts—I’m an Eagle Scout.

All my extended family is from New Orleans. We’ve been LSU fans our entire life. In Alabama you’re always asked “Alabama or Auburn?” and we [say] “Neither.” People look at us funny! My brother always wanted to go to LSU. When we got scholarships to go to LSU, I didn’t want to split us up. So that’s why I came to LSU.

When you came to LSU did you know you wanted to be in the Honors College?

Yes. I [enrolled] in the Honors College, I lived in the Honors dorm. I lived in West Laville right after it was newly renovated. Living in the dorms was great.

There was a point in my college career where I thought: [Honors] is extra work-- is this really worth it? But I just kept up with it, and I’m really glad I stayed. One of the things I like about the Honors College is the intimate classes. Being in a private school with very small classes, that’s what I was used to, and that’s more conducive to learning, I believe. You can interact with discussions, and hear perspectives from other students you didn’t necessarily think about before. 

Did you plan to be a Theater major?

I started off as a psych major—I wanted to be a psychologist. Then when I got to freshman year, I saw the rock climbing wall and I said “I want to do that!” I did it every day, and there I met a person there who told me about aerial silks. But I didn’t want to try it—I had this connotation that it was “girly.” Silly, silly Mark.

So I schedule the class for the spring semester, and while I was in the class [THTR 2031: Aerial Practice I], my professor [Assistant Professor of Movement Nick Erickson] said “I have an audition this Sunday for a show I’m putting on. You should all come and audition.” And I was like “Eh, I’m not going to audition. Just gonna stick to psychology.” Monday in class he comes up to me and says, “Mark, do you want to be in a show?” So that’s how I ended up—that was my introduction to physical theater.

It was a lot of fun. The show that we did was “Dante: An Aerial Inferno,” which was a physical rendition of Dante’s Inferno with aerial silks. We did the show in the spring, and [brought] it over to Scotland to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was a really fun show, a great experience. During that time [in Scotland] I got to meet so many different artists and wonderful people, and got to see so many different shows—I just absolutely fell in love with it and came back and changed my major.

Tell me about your Honors Thesis—the show that you’re writing.

This show has been taking a lot of different turns—it’s in constant development. We call it ORIGIN, which stands for Operational Rolling Integrated Geometric Interlocking Nodule. The concept we’re taking is to create an entire universe—create our own creatures, how they interact with each other, how they evolve, and the different influences that effect their environment. We raise questions about survivability and adaptability in a strange world. We’re trying to create a universe on stage.

That’s no small task.

Yeah, it’s actually really challenging. It’s based off this structure [see image]. Professor Erickson had the idea to build this structure, and last spring, there was a program called enOvation, which was a collaboration between Music and Dramatic Arts and the College of Engineering. [Professor Erickson] thought this was a great opportunity for me. He said “Mark, you could do this, and I’ve got an idea already.”  I said, “Ooh, this sounds interesting. And I can incorporate it with my thesis.”

So we had our idea of what we wanted, and we went to the meeting [with] Joshua Brown, who’s a senior in Civil Engineering. He came up with a design and this is what we’ve got. We wrote up the grant for it, and we got three thousand dollars fro the enOvation program to build this structure. At the beginning it was a lot of trying to find fabricators and [figuring out] how to actually build it. There was a lot of redesigning. The building of it was done at Custom Metalworks, a local company that donated a lot of their time. It’s made out of aluminum and steel.

So what do you do with the structure in the show?

Right now it works as a static structure and as a dynamic structure. We do a lot of movement on it, inside of it. For example, there’s a sequence where it’s on the ground, we’re all inside, it’s covered by silk, and there’s a light underneath. It’s shining through and we’re all wiggling around and the shadows cast up on the outside of the silk. I get in the [aerial] silks and I grab the structure and I’m holding it in midair.

What kind of silk is it wrapped in?

The aerial silks are made out of a synthetic plastic or polyester that’s really strong. And that’s what’s draped over the structure.

I also was awarded a scholarship from the Honors College [the Tiger Atheltic Foundation-Honors College Thesis Research Scholarship] for costume production. The costume idea is very simple. It’s going to have two parts: a leotard and a shawl made out of milliskin, which is a four-way stretch material that does not become translucent when it is stretched. We use that to wrap ourselves and to create creatures which we are calling Origani. It’s a shawl with a bunch of holes and pockets, so you can strap it over your head, bring it around your body. You can someone come it and push out so you can create a two-person creature, or two people can create one creature.

So that’s the direction we’re going in. We have this structure, we are creating movement around that, and it’s becoming more and more concrete. My thesis defense is going to be a performance of the show. I’ll have my Honors Thesis paper and my panel will have read my paper and seen the show.

Do you feel that you’re going to use your research and the stuff that you’ve done for your Honors Thesis after school?

Oh, definitely. After graduation, I’m staying for a year to finish up pre-med—

Wow, you’re still doing that?

Yeah. So staying for a year, doing pre-med, taking my MCAT, and taking as many dance classes as I can. I want to start up my own troupe while I’m here so I can utilize the talent that’s [at LSU]—we have so many talented people. Eventually I want to create my own theater. As well as creating this show, performing the show, I’m also doing the sound for the show in my sound design class, and I’ve also been directing. I’m just getting my hands into every little thing and learning how to create my own productions.

Is there any advice you would give to someone who’s thinking about attending the Honors College?

They won’t let you down. I didn’t turn my paperwork in on time sometimes—so [Honors College staff] did get on to me about that, but they were able to help me through a lot of things—they’re super-helpful. Great people.

 

Story by Liz Billet, lbillet@lsu.edu

For more information about the 2014 Honors College Undergraduate Research Colloquium, and for a detailed schedule of presentations, please visit our website at:http://www.honors.lsu.edu/events/undergraduate-research-colloquium-viii.

Workshop performances of ORIGIN will be running Friday, April 25 through Sunday April 28, at 7:30PM in the Movement Studio (Music & Dramatic Arts Building, Room 166). ORIGIN will also be performed over the summer at LSU’s Shaver Theatre. For more information on future performances, visit the College of Music & Dramatic Arts event calendar at http://wp.cmda.lsu.edu/calendar/