I’m not really sure. Barrelling through 13 and my Sugar House workshop and holding down all my jobs, I guess.
I blinked and here we are.
June is calling. I taught my last classroom workshop yesterdayat PS3 with Michael Wiggins. About the Butterfly Garden. To kindergarteners and 1st graders. Can’t think of a better way to go out. I hadn’t realized that was the last thing I had booked until I taught it and then was like, “Damn. I guess that’s it.” I’m a little sad. They remind me of what is most beautiful about this theater thing that we do. That it is about play and imagination.
I will have to remember that as I continue to slave over the current play and dream about the new one. I am chomping at the bit to get started on the new thing, but I know that I have to be patient, and I can’t race ahead like I usually do, because that will certainly make a mess. There’s a lot of research to be done first. Patience. Trying to learn patience.
There are 5 readings to plan for 2g and a big rewrite to sink my teeth into and my fellowship at Teacher & Writers to finish out, but first, so I have enough gas to get through this next stretch, I think I have to go off the grid for two days. Like off. No 100 emails, no phone calls, no text messages, just…silence.
I have never done this before, and I am not sure I will be wholly successful, but I have to try. So I can recharge the battery and have enough left. T-minus 4 hours and twenty minutes to “off.” I’m excited.
Why haven’t you been blogging, Carla? I have been learning how to make a theater company run. Grants? Rehearsal schedules? Booking space? Talking to artists? Finding designers? Holy. Cow. I already had five jobs. Now I have a sixth that is actually a 6th,7th, 8th, 9th and 10th. But it is exciting. So exciting. I’m working on my first program for 2g–it’s called 13: Instant Vaudeville. You should really come see it. There will be clowns and puppets and a dude with a guitar. And an improv and a couple of new songs and a couple of new plays and a lot of surprises like spontaneous interpretations of Ed Lin’s “Snakes Can’t Run” and special guest Kelly Tsai. Full lineup will be out soon. But 35 artists in total have donated their time and talent to collaborate on feats of wonder and magic. Please come. And tickets are selling out fast. But, you should also really see Rescue Me which will surprise and delight. David Greenspan, as our trickster goddess storyteller marvels as Artemis and Julian Barnett breaks the heart as Orestes and Jennifer Ikeda is one tough chick. And there’s Paco Tolson. And if Paco’s in it, it’s gonna be good.
Kia has woven some wondrous things, I think. And Will Harper mesmerizes as the man with water running through his fingers.
In other news, I was a guest in Michael Wiggins’ Dramatic Activities in the HS Classroom class at NYU on Monday. It was kind of a brilliant exercise in that he got his class into groups and had guest TAs join them and then together we tried to plan a residency. I wish someone had done this with me 10 years ago! It did confirm for me the beauty of the Lincoln Center Institute planning methodology which has been so useful to me and which I peppered in along the way in our group planning. It really does work, get everyone on the same page, and it’s wildly efficient. But, it was a case again, where I got to learn from colleagues and future colleagues, while at play. I felt lucky to be learning.
This is actually from late December. I apparently forgot to click “publish.” Oops.
I was thinking to myself today, walking to the last day of a residency around Fela! at a school in the Bronx, that I am am so lucky. It was 7:25 in the morning and I had woken up at 5:45 am to get there in time, it was about 15 degrees outside with the wind chill factor. But, I got to watch Fela! with an entire theater full of NYC Public School students and it was one of the most joyous theatrical experiences I’ve ever been a part of. I looked down the row about 15 minutes into the show and saw faces filled with wonder. During the Q&A, Sahr, who played Fela, told the audience that they were the very best audience they had ever had. I had seen this in his eyes when at the top of the show, he says to the crowd, “Everybody say, ‘Yea, yea” and hundreds of high school students thundered back, “YEA, YEA!” He had to turn away, smiling at the wonder of all those voices who wanted to go on this journey with him.
But, I’m getting away from myself. I’ve had to be part of a number of student cumulative performances in the last week or two. Residencies wrapping up, school administrators, parents and teachers often like to see a product, a piece of theater that students make to show what they can do. Now, unlike creating paintings or sculpture or performing songs on musical instruments, theater is a bit tricker to have a final showing. Many students feel extremely naked onstage. And you have to push all you know, all your energy and guts and feeling into this one moment when you perform, instead of showing a painting you’ve been working on for weeks. Or being able to play in a student band with 35 other students.
What I witnessed today was this:
Being an extremely short residency (4 workshops taught by me, 4 by the classroom teacher), there really isn’t time to build a culminating performance.
In this, my fourth session with them, I went in thinking that I would help to take their writing into performance, emphasizing that it was an experiment, a rehearsal, a work in progress. We had 45 minutes, really 30 when most folks had trickled in. It was an impossibly short period of time to make anything, but we had to try.
I scaffolded with them a bit, reminded them of what we did with beats and call and response during our first session with wonderful TA percussionist and hoofer LeeAnet Noble. And I had them look at letters I’d had them generate last time, writing to someone who they would fight for and telling them why, inspired by the songs in Fela! (Everyone who had been in class wrote a letter, even if they showed up to class late, because somehow, everyone wants to tell the people that they love the most, who they would fight for the most, why they are beloved.)
I then put them into groups and asked them to choose their two favorite lines, add percussion, add call and response and create a piece to share. The piece had between 2-5 other students letters represented.
They shared and their pieces were touching and ambitious. Dense, rich, dangerous.
And it reminded me, art can be made. It can be made quickly with decent scaffolding. And most importantly, the best art is made when it comes out of what the young people have to say. This sounds obvious. But I think that we forget this all the time. I have to remember this and make it the root of what I do.
And yeah, I’m lucky because I got to see Fela! twice in order to make this residency happen. But I’m also lucky because everything I learned in that theater and then in the classroom, stays with me. And if I do anything right, it’ll show up in my work.
The middle is always the most difficult thing to characterize.
In theatermaking and in teaching, we often call this “process.”
I spend a lot of time planning in both things. When writing a play, I’ll often spend weeks or months reading, researching, thinking. Thinking while I’m in the shower, eating a cupcake, falling asleep on the subway, in the middle of a conversation with someone, while watching a play. The play is omnipresent.
Teaching is very similar. I build a map, think about where I want to end up with them at the end of 45 minutes, at the end of a 2, 4 or 10 week residency. And I build backwards. What game, activity, set of questions, turn and talk will get us there?
I find a lot of solace in that initial mapping. There is something tangible and concrete I can hold onto and look at. There is a terrain I mean to cover. I just need to wear the right shoes and get enough rest and I should be able to make the journey.
But, on the journey, a torrential downpour will come out of nowhere. The upper of my shoe will separate from the sole. I’ll drop my water bottle in a stream and it’ll float away. I’ll get 15 or so mosquito bites. This is what happens in the middle of a residency when you add the students and daily school drama, absences, classroom teacher burnout. This is what happens on a second and third draft of the play when all the feedback you’ve gotten starts running through your head and you get seduced by strands that take you off entirely in the wrong direction. Then, your characters get angry and start to run amok.
I am in the middle of a lot of things right now. In the middle of a big residency devising a piece of theater with young people. In the middle of a residency around Fela! In the middle of a draft of The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness. In the middle of building the Spring reading series called 2020 Visions at Teachers & Writers. In the middle of writing an article on Philadelphia Young Playwrights for the Spring issue of T&W Magazine.
It makes me feel very messy.
But I am “in process.”
I know I work here, but these are beautiful and a bargain, so, have a look at these. Thought I would share the wealth. The nerdy writer that you love or a teacher that you dig might be eternally grateful. Some of these have saved me in the wee hours looking for lesson plans. I like Poetry Everywhere, The Handbook of Poetic Forms and The Adventures of Dr. Alphabet.