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
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts: Producing Partner/Presenter


A re-discovered 1951 sociological study titled One Boy’s Day is the focus of Mikel Rouse’s most ambitious performance to date, a 13-hour durational music, media and participatory installation that will premiere at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Fall 2020.

On April 26, 1949, eight observers, led by social scientists Roger Barker and Herbert Wright from the Midwest Psychological Field Station, painstakingly documented every word and movement of Raymond Birch, a seven-year-old boy from rural Kansas. Heralded as a sociological milestone, their 435-page report aimed to describe “how children actually behave in real-life situations” and offer insight into what makes an “ideal” American community. Divided into seven parts and structured as scenes from a play, the study is a meticulously timed minute-by-minute transcription of Raymond’s every activity from getting up and eating breakfast to playing with his friends, and from studying English and participating in music class to eating dinner and going to bed.

Over the next two years, director and composer Mikel Rouse together with video and set designers Jim Findlay and Jeff Sugg, lighting designer Hideaki Tsutsui, sound designer Christopher Ericson, music arranger Matthew Gandolfo and producer FuturePerfect Productions will transform Barker and Wright’s text into a multi-media playground and music concert precisely following the day-long observations made by Barker and his associates. Students and teachers from each venue’s local community will be invited onstage to occupy mimetic models of the boy’s home, school, playground and town courthouse.

In Illinois, for example, participating schools will represent diverse communities from within the cities of Urbana and Champaign, and from surrounding rural towns and villages. School types will range from Spanish-English dual-language public schools, to private schools and homeschooling families. Students and teachers will receive instructions on how to inhabit these theatrical spaces and perform continuations of their everyday lives (e.g. participating in a classroom lesson, playing with classmates, eating dinner, etc.). Rouse’s musical score will accompany their activities and movements combining ambient electronics, a string quartet, and sung and spoken libretto derived from the text. The score will offer opportunities for invited local musicians to follow along and improvise in their own musical styles, evoking the townspeople of the original study. Audiences will experience the work as a living exhibition, a tightly scored ensemble performance and a playful re-presentation of everyday life. During the day, the work will be available to children, teachers and families and then will continue into the evening with a presentation that is directed toward adult viewing and interaction.

Just as Barker and Wright problematized their own methodologies of observation, questioning the degree to which their presence interfered with the ability to objectively record and notate Raymond’s life, Rouse will deploy contemporary technologies of observation to complicate his own relationship to the audience and participants on the stage. In a symbolic move that inverts the power dynamics of observer and observed described in the original study, Rouse will give over the technologies of surveillance at various intervals to select members of the audience and local participants inviting them to create their own video vignettes from the activities on stage.

     For as one of the townspeople in the original study remarked to the researchers
“you’ll be watching us, but don’t forget: we’ll be watching you.”

Videographers will combine this footage in real time with pre-recorded images of contemporary life, projected onto two video cubes, creating a profound tableau of humanity orchestrated by music and light.

Seeking the extraordinary in the mundane, Rouse’s staging of One Boy’s Day will serve as a site for occupying the past, reflecting upon the present, and organizing our futures. The work will open up the textual account of one white boy from a largely homogenous middle-class 1949 midwestern town to the tensions and multiplicities of a diverse present day America. As Americans’ perceptions of race relations have become more troublesome and as the rural/urban divide intensifies and becomes greatly politicized, One Boy’s Day will question the ideal that Barker put forth, asking audiences of other races and classes to inhabit the text and perform alternative versions and counter-images of community and childhood.

Presentations of One Boy’s Day will take place in performing arts facilities that can accommodate long­form installations and music, including museums, theaters and alternative spaces. It will premiere at Krannert’s Colwell Playhouse, a 641 seat continental style theater with a 38 x 30 stage and will be modular and scalable to accommodate various venues.

FuturePerfect is seeking partners and co-commissioners for One Boy’s Day.