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Feb 2, 2010 2:16 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Artifacts at Watermill Center come to life in an action tale from a writer in residence

Feb 2, 2010 2:16 PM

Artifacts in the Watermill Center’s collection recently sprang to life and into action in a young adult novel-in-progress. The fantasy tale, “Watermill Grimoire,” was conceived and written while its author, Judah Mahay, was taking advantage of a January residency at the art, design and performance laboratory in Water Mill.

On Saturday, the public was invited to meet the artifacts that inspired Mr. Mahay. The fictitious characters based on them were also introduced, along with other objects that may appear as the novel progresses toward completion.

The presentation was part introduction, part show-and-tell and part reading of the fantasy tale in progress. Tabletop statues, figurative pottery, totem poles and a stone gargoyle are just some of the items that were recently transformed into fictional characters thrown together in a thrilling adventure. The event kicked off the spring 2010 artist-in-residency program at the international avant garde theater lab.

Residencies run from one to four weeks. Artists-in-residence live at the Watermill Center and explore ideas as they develop new projects. Each residency culminates with a public presentation of the work-in-progress and an explanation of its origins and the artist’s intention. Launched in 2006, the program has accepted 55 groups so far.

Residencies for the current session continue through June. Applications will be accepted through May 31 for the next season, which begins in September.

Mr. Mahay was the first creative writer to win a spot in the residency program, said Watermill Center Program Director Sherry Dobbin. The international board in charge of admissions was intrigued by Mr. Mahay’s proposal to create a series of eight fairy tales inspired by the center’s collection of artifacts.

“We had a desire to see how the collection would directly inform the story,” said Ms. Dobbin. “I think it’s a wonderful use of history and anthropology and, merged with creativity … it does help make the point that the collection is thoroughly alive. We want artists to come and be inspired by the collection and what we have to offer here.”

Once ensconced at the center and given access to the multiple buildings and grounds, Mr. Mahay opted to change his project from a series of eight fairy tales to a young adult novel. The story features a single adventure undertaken by characters living in the center’s archive. The drama is set in motion when a new artifact arrives and an older one casts a curse upon the “Archive’s Overseer.” The various creatures representing far-flung cultures then form an alliance to take on a sinister force that threatens to destroy them all.

Mr. Mahay opened Saturday’s program with a few words about his project and his love of adventure stories, fantasy tales and science fiction. He then introduced the eight artifacts that caught his fancy and morphed into the characters of “Watermill Grimoire.” Afterward, he gave a brief tour of other objects that are still sparking his imagination.

The tour included a few artifacts in an adjoining room, a stone gargoyle mounted outside near the building’s entrance, and a sojourn to the center’s square, where a towering totem occupies a prominent spot. Visitors were also led into the center’s archive room, where objects from ancient and modern cultures across the globe are arrayed in close proximity.

During his residency, Mr. Mahay said he developed the characters, bestowed names, and created a short vignette written from each character’s viewpoint so their voices could develop. Images of some of the objects can be found at www.judahmahay.com.

He also set a goal to write 1,000 words a day on his project, a goal he said he was able to surpass, despite having to research some history on each object and develop each one’s character. His ultimate goal, he said, is to complete the book and see it published this fall. Saturday’s presentation concluded with a reading of the first two chapters. He then answered questions during a reception that followed.

Mr. Mahay received a Strategic Opportunities Stipend (SOS) grant from the East End Arts Council to help pay living expenses while in residence at the center. Currently residing in Port Jefferson, he developed the idea for the residency, he said, after visiting the Watermill Center and wondering about “the type of conversations that would take place” if the artifacts were able to speak.

The next Watermill Center residency presentation is scheduled on Thursday, February 4, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. “The CTown Mysteries” is an open rehearsal of short plays which satirize morality plays. For reservations, visit http://collaborationtown.eventbrite.com. Information on the Watermill Center can be found at www.watermillcenter.org.

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