I'm too sad to tell you

directed by Jonathan Berger and Cathia Pagotto


set design: Jonathan Berger, Cathia Pagotto, Amy Keith and the student collective


costume design: Jonathan Berger and Barbara Mason


lighting design: Ana Cappelluto


sound design: John Wilson


video design: ​El Graff


art historian consultant: Kirsi Peltomaki


art faculty supervisor: Julie Green


performers: Gieselle Blair, Calvin Brownell, Jason Craig, Alexis Cross, Amy Edwards, El Graff, Tracey Johnson, Tyler Mackie, Joseph Nicola, Marion Rossi, Alan Sadro, Kim Smith, John Whitaker, Erin Winters and Tae Hoon Yoo



 I’m Too Sad To Tell You was a collaborative live theatre event opening at Oregon State University’s Main stage Theatre, February 24th, 2005. It was co-directed by OSU theatre's Cathia Pagotto and long-time collaborator and New York-based artist and director Jonathan Berger, and brings together professional artists from Montreal, New York, and Los Angeles, as well as talented OSU students in this new work to be developed through workshops in the rehearsal stage. This is a devised piece regarded as a 5-week workshop for the initial phase of a longer-term project. __________________ When Bas Jan Ader disappeared in 1975, his artistic career and life-both of which have been described by many as being defined by “the journey”- came to a halt. This journey may have begun with his birth in 1942 in Winschoten, Holland. This journey may have begun in 1956, when Ader was fourteen and left his parent’s home to avoid his inevitable future of becoming a pastor as his father did, and leading a puritanical life. The journey may have started in 1959 when Ader took himself to Amsterdam to study at the Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs and encountered the Dutch fluxus artists Wim T. Schellevis and Ger van Elk. The journey may have started in 1963 when he boarded an Englishman’s yacht as a deck hand in Morocco and sailed for eleven months before landing in Southern California. The journey may have started in Los Angeles when he walked into the lecture hall at Immaculate Heart College and heard John Cage speak. The journey may have begun some night in 1974 when he set out to wander the streets of Los Angeles, armed with a flashlight and a camera. The journey may have really begun on July 9, 1975 when Ader boarded a twelve foot six inch day sailer in Stage Harbor, Chatham, Cape Cod and set sail for Falmouth, England. There were many points of departure in Bas Jan Ader’s life and career as an artist, and each new place he landed always seemed to find him concerned with moving forward. But for Ader the demand to move forward meant that he was always leaving and always failing. The genius of Bas Jan Ader was his ability to build an incredibly successful art making formula out of leaving and failing. In Ader’s work there is “a simultaneous moment of breakdown and breakthrough,” writes critic Jan Tumlir. Ader understands and utilizes the need for these two elements to co-exist in his work. Tumlir adds, “Failure need not impede the message or swallow it up, as Ader has shown, because for dramatic purposes, it is so much more poignant, so much more successful, than success could ever be.” The moment when the viewer invests and gives him or herself over to the work based on that failure, is also the moment when Ader’s next challenge presents itself.  It is the point where Ader and the viewer both succeed - that there is a genuine moment of magic. Ader’s work hinges on that moment, be it in a performance, photograph, film, installation, or postcard. He is as close to an alchemist as art will take us, combining sadness, irony, humor, awe, and adventure in each of his projects to yield gold. It is his redefining of gold as tarnish, which wins the viewer based on its loyalty to the truth of the human experience. The life and works of Bas Jan Ader are the starting point for the themes and aesthetics in “Honest Failure.” Through interviews with participating students, conducted by the show’s designers and directors, a series of narratives about different journeys will be generated. These journeys will complement the biographical information about Ader. Woven together, these journeys and the epic nature of Ader’s career will build a theatrical progression through actual and historical time. We will also extensively explore the complementary battle between the minimal conceptual and the melodramatic romantic (a relationship which defined who Ader was) through both the student’s personal experiences and Ader’s life itself. We have chosen to turn the theatre into a 360-degree panorama. Through the coverage of every inch of wall space in white Tyvek, and the application of sprawling Dutch landscapes on the material, we intend to surround the audience with the locations in which our story is set. The show will be viewed in-the-round, with the audience looking outward instead of inward. Action will occur throughout the theatre, using the Tyvek “wallpaper” as a means of transport through the major events in Ader’s life. The stage will be a modular, topographical landscape constructed from ordinary found tables, all at different heights jammed together in the center of the stage, spanning to it’s edge. There will be chairs around this massive hybrid “table” for the performers to sit and engage from the side-lines as well as wait and watch.  These tables will also be stacked up vertically in parts of the landscape making mountains, towers, and elevations. The costumes themselves will continue the venture into landscape and topography, utilizing color and pattern to create garments that exist simultaneously as documents, maps, blueprints, and scenery. We will make and dye the garments by hand, using old Dutch patterns and classical Dutch colors. The patterns will be designed from displaced sections of landscape paintings and silk screen printed in dense repetition onto the garments. The music will be continuous. The song, which will last the duration of the show, will be scored to Bas Jan Ader’s life. The composer will approach the song as Ader’s life lived in musical time, and not life time, yet appropriating the idea that life doesn’t stop until it’s over. Wilson will mix prerecorded samples from antique theater soundtrack records, or “story music,” with live modification of recorded sound and compositions for a live orchestra. A practicum class will be held for multidisciplinary students. The professional artists will also function as supervisors for the students – providing them with a real, working atelier experience. 



OSU, 2004

​​​​Cathia Pagotto