Sunday, September 19, 2010

Forward Movement and Problem Solving

In my head, and occasionally with in range of other human ears, I'm calling this Fieldwork session "Desert Fathers, Phase One." What I'm really doing is seeing if the crazy notions in my head will translate into reality.

I've a small group working with me for three sessions now. I'm encouraged. I think there are possibilities that what's in my head might find expression on a stage. The people who have shown up for this are willing to do some odd things and they seem not at all phased by it. Movement, sounds, really exaggerated line readings . . . they're playing along beautifully.

That's not to say there aren't problems to solve. This is almost like a sketch comedy show (except not everything is comedy) where every few minutes we're in a new scene, and everyone is playing a different character. How do I simply, effectively, QUICKLY denote that the not-so-bright character in one scene and the centered, peaceful, wise character in the next scene are, indeed, different characters even though they're played by the same actor? I have some ideas, but I've yet to start practically solving that.

And this phase one isn't really about solving all those technical things. There are stories from the Desert Fathers that I've adapted but are prop heavy. I don' think this Fieldwork session is props. That's at the very least a phase two problem to solve, but it's in the back of my mind. I've cobbled together a short script that we'll perform for the Showcase in November. No props in this one.

Because, really, the big part of what I have to solve at this first stage is how to make transitions between the scenes. Some scenes are very short---as quick as two lines---others are longer. I feel in me a rhythm for these transitions that I think is going to be rather hard to put on the stage. I'm working on a device that is either going to cue the audience that we're changing scenes again, or is going to drive them absolutely crazy by evening's end. I think the answer to this problem is in the rhythm, the timing of the transitions. And if I end up doing small costume changes between scenes to denote change of character, the rhythm becomes even more difficult.

This probably makes no sense at all, and I'm not ready to explain it. I'm ruminating in public. I'm simply finding this to be a great deal of fun while noting some struggles ahead.

But, you know, if art was easy, everyone would be doing it.

I'll just repeat: I'm encouraged by what's happening so far and leave it at that.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

First Fieldwork with the Desert Fathers

Let me first just say, I'm a doofus. And I owe my cast this enormous crazy big apology. So I asked them if they could be at the first Fieldwork session a little early, to go over the bit we were showing. Well, they could, but obviously I couldn't. I'd forgotten how far it is from my apartment to Barnevelder, especially by bus. Also, I've not met this facilitator before. I always intend to make better first impressions and never quite manage.

This first snippet of the project is one of the funnier stories from the Fathers. Two monks who have lived in peace together for years attempt to have an argument and fail. In my adaptation, I have two of us (the two men, in fact) cross the stage in a ridiculous, cartoonish argument. The two monks are played by two women.

The feedback I received was both encouraging and troubling and I plow ahead with the hope that the larger context that will grow around this snippet will ease some of the troubling feedback. I also didn't give any background or information about what we were doing, we just got up and did it. Even so, I'm not sure a program or show publicity will completely erase what I don't want to convey.

Here's the thing. I think it was Balanchine, in talking about his abstract ballets, who said, "You put a man and a woman on a stage and you have a story." (Or something like that---maybe one of my readers will know the exact quote and correct me if it wasn't Balanchine.) I got a lot of feedback about gender roles, gender traits, that sort of thing. The two men arguing were displaying masculinity and abundant testosterone, the women were being woman who are more peaceful. I actually hadn't considered all of that, but I had considered that if I had a man and a woman arguing, that's a whole other rack of luggage to unpack. And a man and a woman living in peace together for decades leads us to another type of relationship. So I went with the same gender pairs (using, by the way, the people who came to play---I didn't cast these looking for any particular sex to play any role), thinking we'd at least keep away ideas about comparing marriages. I didn't completely---people still spoke of both pairs as "couples," which is its own sort of progress. And I wonder if we'd had the women arguing and the men living in peace together, if we would have had the "male=calm rational thinking, female=irrational emotion" dichotomy (cf Herman Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund).

So, I'm left with no good solution with a mixed sex cast. And, well, we control what we can, we must let go what we can't.

It does cause me to reflect on the fact of humans having sexed bodies. I really don't want that to matter, but I'm always confronted with it. Whether it's on a stage where a man and a woman on stage creates a story, no matter how abstract the material presented or whether it's in real life where I meet people for whom having the correctly sexed body is worth surgeries and prescriptions to have some peace of mind. "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." My desire is to focus on the Imago Dei, but the male and female of it keeps causing me troubles. Which, of course, means the Imago Dei causes me troubles. And really, depending upon the person in the audience, personal histories, other "texts" (to use the deconstructionist term) will influence what is seen anyway. Any two bearers of the Image of God on a stage creates stories that the storyteller can't control.

The work before me is going to be challenging. And worth doing.

On a lighter note, I remain crazy happy with the people I have working with me on this. One of the familiar Fielders asked me, "where did you find these people?" I said, "I posted some things on an internet site and they showed up." Which is a long way of answering, "Grace."

Sunday, September 05, 2010

And So it Begins . . .

Just home from my first rehearsal for my Desert Fathers performance piece.

Could I be happier? I don't know how.

After posting for actors/movers on various websites and bulletin boards, there were five of us gathered in a room at my church. We moved around, we made loud, interesting noises, we laughed, we got a really good start on the style I'm going for in this production.

Sometimes, you don't know what you're looking for, but the right people show up.

Well, I'll probably post more about them as the process progresses. But the energy and openness to exploring some of my odder notions . . . it was all so welcome and surprising. One woman ended the evening with telling me I wasn't all that weird after all, that I could get weirder.

Nothing like encouragement. Or was that a challenge?

I'm approaching this thing a bit as a workshop, a bit as a rehearsal. The first half of the evening, I took us through some movement and vocal exercises. I noted my influences, I noted a few of my theological thoughts about them. I admitted where I took someone's practice, baptized it, and think if it as "practicing resurrection." No one seemed to think that was weird.

This makes me very happy, very encouraged that the right people have shown up to let me get some ideas out of my head and into practice.

Anything can happen. That includes bad disappointing things, I suppose, but tonight I feel like the "anything" is wide open and exciting and full of exploration and discovery.

After playing around physically and vocally, we looked at one piece of the script I'm developing. It was awesome. I gave direction, they took to it with ease. They had ideas and everything became better.

This may be the best I've felt all year.

It's only one rehearsal. But I'm crazy encouraged. And maybe a little inarticulate. I don't know if I'm saying anything. I'm just trying to record how I feel right now after one rehearsal. It'll be something to look back at when/if we hit a snag in the development of this thing I'm creating. We're creating.

More another time. It's a ridiculously crazy week and I have other responsibilities pressing. I'm just spilling here. I'll come back another time with more about the process. I think I want to record the process of this thing.