The Fifth Wall

by Tammy Ryan

in National Conference

Post image for The Fifth Wall

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich.)

“Bricolage,” a term coined by Levi-Strauss means “making artful use with what’s at hand.” It’s also part of the mission, mantra and heartbeat of Bricolage Production Company located in downtown Pittsburgh. Bricolage, headed by co artistic producing director Tami Dixon, has been making artful use of Pittsburgh’s artistic communities for over a decade, and from the beginning has been firmly rooted in the entire community’s issues and the difficult conversations it needs to have with itself. Not only as outreach or afterthought when a grant is available, this interaction with the community is part of its fabric, whether they are producing plays, radio shows or immersive theater experiences like Strata which was profiled by American Theater Magazine in July 2013.

To this end, Bricolage has created a program they named, The Fifth Wall, designed to knock down the “fourth wall” between audience and performer, using art as the crowbar and then colliding performance, film, visual art, installation, video (or whatever art that’s at hand) with a panel discussion of artists and experts meant to crack open a dialogue with the audience.    The Fifth Wall began with a Belarus Free Theater event in 2011, and continued ad hoc until the run of Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman in Spring 2012.  After every performance of Baraka’s one-act play, the audience was invited onto the subway train set for the second act and a frank talk about race they called “Between the Lines”. 

Since then The Fifth Wall has targeted other difficult issues for Pittsburghers, such as transit, fracking, the use of drones and on March 8, which also happened to be International Woman’s Day, the topic was sexual assault in the military, just one day after the U.S. Senate shot down the Military Justice Improvement Act.  For the artistic portion of the event which lasted about forty minutes, excerpted clips from Kirby Dick’s documentary The Invisible War were juxtaposed with scenes from my play Soldiers Heart about an Iraq war veteran who is assaulted by her commanding officer.  Cast members from the original 2013 Pittsburgh Playhouse production performed in between the undeniable reality of the documentary.  Afterwards, the panel made up of military, civilian, artist and activist, which included myself, First Sergeant William Jenkins, Joyce Wagner, development director for Iraq Veterans Against the War and Ginny Hildebrand, director of SSAM (Stop Sexual Assault in the Military) faced a fired up audience, with questions, comments and the necessity for action. Afterwards we addressed  postcards to the dissenting senators and planned future “street action demonstrations” as well as future screenings of the documentary in the Pittsburgh area throughout the month designed to educate Pittsburghers about the issue.

In this city of bridges, The Fifth Wall is an important link connecting artist, activists, citizens, neighbors, and audience members in a conversation that hopefully won’t end at the theater’s door.  For more information about Bricolage and The Fifth Wall go to:  bricolagePGH.org.


TAMMY RYAN’s plays have been performed across the United States and internationally at such theaters as The Alliance Theater Company, Florida Stage,  Dorset Theater Festival, Playwrights Theater of New Jersey, the Pittsburgh Playhouse, Bricolage Production Company and others. In 2012 she won the Francesca Primus Prize from the American Theater Critics Association for her play Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods.  Soldier’s Heart, her play about sexual assault in the military will be produced at Premiere Stages in July.  For more information:  www.tammyryan.net