Rescue Me, A Cool Dip on the Barren Saharan Crick and 13

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.

And of course, there’s  a Cool Dip on the Barren Saharan Crick.

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.

Getting to the Good Stuff: The Myopia, Lear & Goodbye Cruel World

There seems to be an embarrassment of riches out there right now.  I got a chance to see Plays and The Myopia from the wonderful folks at the Foundry.  I would describe it, except that you have to see David Greenspan work his magic.  Plays is an essay on reading plays by Gertrude Stein, which Greenspan goes to riff on in The Myopia.  When David Cote called him a “one man cabinet of wonders, ” he wasn’t kidding.  This slight man, with nothing but a chair and bottle of water takes you on an epic, sweeping journey.

The, you should really run to see Goodbye, Cruel World before it closes this weekend.  Robert Ross Parker adaptation of Erdman’s The Suicide dazzles and delights as he orchestrates a cyclone of serious fun with Cindy Cheung, Will Harper and Paco Tolson as  Semyon Semyonovich, the man who tries to kill himself.  See Zinoman’s thoughts on it here.

And then there is Young Jean Lee’s Lear.

And here is an interview with her that illuminates her process/inspiration for the play:

I haven’t been as moved by a piece of theater in some time and I admire the ambitious nature of her storytelling.   About 2/3 of the way through, the ceiling became the floor.  Run to see it.  It’s sold out, but there are wait list tickets, I believe.

In a week, I got to witness three pretty inspiring shows, all radically different.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Carla’s a teaching artist.  She’s a playwright.  How does she have money for theater tickets.”  In these hard economic times, I appreciate that so many theatermakers are going to great lengths to get people like us in the doors.  I got Lear through the Soho Rep 99cent Sundays deal.   Goodbye, Cruel World had a half-price matinee ticket.  And Melanie Joseph at the Foundry put out the work to people in theater that she was going to offer the Plays/The Myopia double bill for $20 to folks who bought tickets for the first week in advance.  Now, the question is, how can Off-Broadway and Broadway houses take a cue from their downtown counterparts and get young folks, artists, and people who most desperately need to see theater, in the doors.

Knock knock.  Who’s listening?

Hanging On and Letting Go

It is my opinion that often a playwright doesn’t get to hang on to the complete vision of their play enough.  They get butchered, bastardized and taken away from their original intention because so many people are pulling at it.  And you end up with a hodge podge mess of a thing.

Here’s a letter from JD Salinger describing why he will never let Catcher in the Rye be made into a film.  What I admire perhaps, is his strength of conviction but it seems like at the end of the day, he doesn’t trust actors.

The most interesting pieces I’ve seen lately seem to have a complete  vision are Once and For All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are, So Shut Up and Listen at the New Victory Theater and Pig Iron’s Chekhov Lizardbrain at Clemente Soto Velez.  In the case of the first, the director got 13 14-18 year olds in a room and devised the piece with them.  In the case of Pig Iron, from what I have read, the piece was group conceived by three of the actors and the director.

So, what I am trying to figure out is where I can belong in a collaborative process like that which yields striking results, where everyone buys in and creates something that is more than the sum of the parts.

I am going to see if I can make the April/May workshop of The Sugar House at the Edge of the Wilderness that kind of experience for all involved.  We’ll see.  We’ll experiment.  We’ll play.  I’m going to try to hang on by letting go, but doing so in a collaborative environment.

I would like to hear about successful collaborative or devised experiences that anyone has heard about.  Anybody?  Colossal failures too.  It is helpful to know what doesn’t work.

But, for now, have a look.

Fela! and Student Performances

This is actually from late December.  I apparently forgot to click “publish.”  Oops.

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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 rehearsed.

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.

Middles

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’ll finish something soon.

I’ll cross a bridge.