One Boy’s Day

Based on the book ONE BOY’S DAY, A Specimen Record of Behavior
By Roger G. Barker and Herbert F. Wright

Conceived, written and directed by Mikel Rouse
Set and Production design by Jim Findlay
Set & Projection design by Jeffery Sugg
Sound design by Christopher Ericson
Lighting design by Hideaki Tsutsui
Musical direction by Matthew Gandolfo


On April 26, 1949, eight observers from Roger Barker and Herbert Wright’s Midwest Psychological Field Station, armed with timers and clipboards, working in half-hour shifts, assembled a minute-by-minute account of an ordinary day in the life of an ordinary boy in rural Kansas. Harper and Row published the report in 1951 as One Boy’s Day. In writing about One Boy’s Day, the New York Times enthusiastically reported how the Midwest team “brought child psychology out of the laboratory to study children in their natural habitat, much as a botanist goes into the fields to study flowers.” The citizens of Oskaloosa, KS gave the researchers near unlimited access to their lives. The authors write in the preface to One Boy’s Day that the book “marks… a milestone in the degree of participation of a whole community in a scientific undertaking.”

The book contains many references to the theater. The town is described as “a stage upon which Raymond Birch (all names in the record are fictitious) played his roles”. The parts of Raymond’s day are listed as “scenes” and the family, neighbors and friends are itemized as if in a playbill program. In addition, in the introduction, the authors suggest that along with social scientists, “artists and laymen who are interested in the contemporary scene also may find [the record] of value”.

It is with this thought in mind that I plan to create a time accurate music/media installation based around the structure of One Boy’s Day. One of the fascinating aspects of the book is that the record of the observers are marked in one minute increments lending themselves to modern ‘time-code’ based technologies. The entire record lasts for 13 hours and 33 minutes and utilizing this ‘time base’, I plan a retrograde approach to both the music form and the depiction of the scenes wherein what’s past is present and what’s present is prologue. In other words, though the piece will musically mirror the actual time scale of One Boy’s Day, the film imagery and live performance will depict multiple scenes that occur through the morning, afternoon and evening.

Instrumental forces will include electronic and sequenced material precisely formatted to the time-code of the 13 hour 33 minute installation accompanied by live string quartet and singers. Musical performers will mirror the original eight observers and switch positions in tag-team fashion every half-hour. Libretto and sung/spoken material will be derived from the actual text of the observers.

Live performance will be mirrored by four distinct films either capturing or simulating the same 13-hour experience depicted in One Boy’s Day. There is a wonderful universality that the book captures in depicting a young American boy growing up in 1949. It will be interesting to contrast this with images from the world of today, hopefully using both urban and non-urban settings. A virtual “mini-film set” will be created using photos and diagrams from the book. Within this setting, class field trips will be encouraged and local parents, teachers and schools will collaborate with the artists to create a ‘real-time’ multi-media playground. In this participatory collaboration, the piece will echo the community involvement of Oskaloosa, KS.

Presentation will take place in those rare performing arts facilities that feature long-form installation as well as museums and alternative spaces. As with previous installations, the piece will be modular and scalable in order to accommodate a variety of performance venues.

Krannert Center for the Performing Arts: Producing Partner/Presenter
Chad Herzog: Producing Partner