Tonight was the actor/designer meet-and-greet. The designers shared their design concepts, we talked about the production, and we ate a ton of greasy pizza. Here is the ensemble (sans one who's romping around Argentina), super smily. They're either excited about starting this amazing adventure together or... happily stuffed full of pizza.
Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, my third production with MBCT; Modern But Classical Theatre, is only six months away! As you may know, I am currently pursuing my MA at NYU in Directing, and I am adapting Three Sisters in conjunction with my graduate thesis.
I am very excited about this project! After a full year re-writing Chekhov’s text, I am currently casting the ensemble and talking with designers. Rehearsals will begin in January for a run in late March, 2011. As story and production start to come together, I am also beginning the written component of my thesis, which looks at adaptations of classic stories through physical theatre. On both the artistic and academic end, Three Sisters is really beginning to take shape!
This extraordinary project comes with increased costs, and I am unable to handle to them alone. I am appealing to you for financial help, and all support is greatly appreciated. Costs for this project include the theatre rental, advertising, design materials such as fabric and set pieces, and, most importantly, financial thank you’s to the actors and designers who help create this project with me. Without outside financial help, MBCT will not be able to fully recognize Three Sisters on the stage. Your aid will also help the show expand from a one to a two-week run.
Your support means so much to me. To thank you, there are several perks included with contributions:
$300 and up:4 complimentary tickets, reserved seats, credit in program and on website, invitation to post-show party
$200-299: 3 complimentary tickets, reserved seats, credit in program and on website, invitation to post-show party
$100-199: 2 complimentary tickets, reserved seats, credit in program and on website
$50-99: 1 complimentary ticket, credit in program and on website
$1-49: credit in program and on website
MBCT; Modern But Classical Theatreis a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a not-for-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of MBCT may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Please go to Fractured Atlas to contribute to MBCT. If you would like to send a written check, please e-mail me at email@example.com for the mailing address.
We're about six months away from the show! Maybe it seems like a long ways-away to you, but to me the clock is ticking with loud, echoing booms. And it's exciting!
Now, being in grad school means this production is both an artistic endeavour as well as an academic one. My brain is full of theory and critique and -isms, and I'm worried it may cease and destroy all the joyful thoughts of design, style, and language bouncing around in there. At night, when all is quiet and hushed, if you creep close enough to me you just may be able to hear the ZING! POW! SPLASH! of thoughts battling it out in my head. The world of academia was never before in such an epic showdown with art.
A letter will be going out soon asking for individual donations towards Three Sisters. Being a not-for-profit, MBCT depends on your generous help to get the play out of my laptop, into a rehearsal room, and finally onto the stage.
MBCT; Modern But Classical Theatre is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a not-for-profit arts service organization. Contributions in behalf of MBCT may be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. Please go to Fractured Atlasto contribute to MBCT.
There's a wonderful humid-less breeze in the air, and it's starting to smell like fall. As MBCT enters the pre-production phase of "Three Sisters," the leaves are beginning to fall and the air is starting to crisp. By night fall a light sweater is wrapped around bare shoulders and feet huddle under the covers. Ah, Fall... nature's stage is ever-changing.
MBCT is currently looking for production help with "Three Sisters". Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in assisting with production, development, marketing, PR, or fundraising. Experience is not necessary, just a love of theatre!
So. I went back. I went back to the farm in the little corner of the middle of the world and made some more art.
Artmill (Horaždovice, Southern Bohemia, Czech Republic) is an amazing place, not just for the beautiful countryside or the crisp blue lake, but for the people who are drawn to it. I was there in June for Big Artmill, a three-week study abroad excursion through NYU for creating art pieces and showing them at a gallery in Prague. But this time, in August, I returned for Little Artmill -- little only in the age of the artists, but humongositious in spirit.
The kids were a pack of energetic, talkative, imaginative, crazy explorers. They took classes (and I with them) in painting, drawing, sculpture building, photography, horse-back riding, swimming, filmmaking, theatre, Spanish, Czech, English, and French. In the mornings, we ran/biked/hiked through trails from the schoolhouse where we slept to the farm. On the way, there was a cherry/plum-fruit-thing tree to pick, and stinging nettle to avoid, and frogs to catch. The horses, kittens (plus two new ones!), chickens, dogs, and goat needed to be played with. The cook liked company in the kitchen and help with picking vegetables from the garden each day. When it rained, we barely noticed. We always smelled like campfire, animals, food, lake water, and we barely noticed. Stories were told, secrets were whispered, jokes were announced at inappropriate times, and always there was someone to give you a hug and hold your hand and remind you to look up at the stars at night and breathe.
But this is a Love Story, not a summer camp brochure. I was in Lust with Big Artmill, but I fell in LOVE with Little Artmill.
The first time there, I felt immediately at home. The air, the land, the animals, the people, the old mill -- it was like I had finally found my own little corner of the world. But going back and being with kids, I was able to play and laugh and let go. Not having the pressure of an art gallery to prepare for, Artmill was able to seep into my bones and infest me.
What does this have to do with theatre and MBCT? Nothing. Everything. Theatre is storytelling. Theatre is physicalizing and verbalizing imagination. Theatre is traveling to little corners of the world in the middle of nowhere to sit around campfires all night under the starry sky drinking Becherovka and telling stories so you can return home and bring that campfire to life on a stage.
As one camper instructed us about making s'mores: you have to wait until the fire dies down to just embers. You don't want to burn your marshmallow, just slowly wait for it to turn a golden brown. Otherwise, it's all over way too soon.
I've just returned to the States after a month abroad. And, I've just turned 30. And... I just chopped off all my hair after ten years of growing it down my back. Needless to say, a lot of changes are abounding.
My trip abroad profoundly changed how I think about my Three Sisters project. The style of presentation that I have been so gung-ho about for a year -- gone. Living in a country with a recent revolution and upheaval fascinated me. Maybe it isn't the style of acting that I need to worry about, but the political and social structures confining these women. Maybe oppression and revolution are the key to why these women just sit on their butts and drivel on about Moscow and having tea.
Spending my month abroad studying visual arts has, in many ways, taught me more about directing than studying theatre or theory or performance. I was able to go off into my own little corner of the world (an open-air wood shed, to be exact) and work. No collaboration, no talk talk talk, no give-and-take, just me. I used my hands to color, draw, paint, build. The birds were my background music, and a couple of chickens visited me at 3pm everyday on the dot to make sure I was busy at work. I had a dog friend who stomped all over my project with his muddy paws, which gave me the freedom to let go of a project I was struggling over. I fought with the rain and the mud and the occasional bird, I hid from the sun, and I looked forward to hearty meals and dips in the lake. I was the artist, the sole artist. Just me and my imagination.
I learned the most important lesson -- art grows. Art changes. Art has to keep on moving. And if I'm stubborn and hold onto that one little idea and refuse to let the art breathe, then... misery.
Three Sisters has to grow and change and keep on moving. The grandiose ideas I had in the beginning were certainly good ones, but... maybe living abroad and being a visual artist has to show up in this project. Oppression -- imagination forced into a dark corner. Revolution -- ideas running free. If Jan Urban, the Czech dissident, taught me anything, it was to take a deep breath, put on my bicycle shorts, and get ready to go.
We're about 8 months away from the premier of Three Sisters, and it's going to be a good 8 months. There's the writing, rehearsing, producing, designing of the show. Then, of course, I have a thesis to struggle over. And classes. Jobs. Applications for things to do after grad school. More thesis writing. More thesis writing. More thesis writing... but all I can think about is Three Sisters:
Who are these women? Why won't they just move? What is wrong with Andrei, and who is this evil woman he married? Why are they all so stagnant, so desperately horribly stuck in place? And why do I care? Why do I care? Seriously, why do I care? Because we're all stuck in a cycle of oppression and revolution, and sometimes it's nice to just sit down and rot in place, letting the world slide by and take care of itself.
Thank you for all the fish stockings, but I have some news. The set designer for Three Sisters has made an executive decision to call a halt on the Stockings Drive. "The set needs to be grander!" he screamed, "The set needs to be more ominous!" And I agree. So thank you for all your contributions, but we're taking this story to the next level, and unfortunately pantyhose were a bit too flimsy for the Set Designer's new concept.
p.s. he actually said "MORE MONOLITHIC," whatever that means.
Now, I must admit, I am completely biased. Medea was MBCT's last show, so... well, no matter what, I was already in love with the story. I was ready to sit back and let the story envelop me. Oh boy... there was no sitting back last night.
Theater Mitu "methodically experiments with theatrical form" and "investigate[s] the spiritual core of world performance traditions to create original work and re-envision classics." Medea is the story of a woman who gets revenge on her husband by murdering his new wife and father-in-law, then her own children. Add this story to that company and WHAM BAM POW! you have an intense bit o' theatre.
Before I go on and get all theatre-y, I have to say this: THE SHOW WAS GREAT, GO SEE IT, IT WAS REALLY GOOD, GO GO GO!!! Ok, now I can go on.
Theater Mitu's Medea is as different from MBCT's MEDEA; a Tragedy of Revenge as different can be, yet... I just kept thinking last night that they were strangely similar. See for yourself:
STYLE MBCT: German Expressionism and Film Noir with songs (4-part harmony all-female acapella) Theater Mitu: influences: Noh, film, Epic forms, Butoh, Legong, and Whole Theater
STORY and SETTING MBCT: I combined Euripides's Greek version with Seneca's Roman version; the chorus mainly from the former, the plot and characters mainly from the latter. King Creon became Princess Creusa, the neighbor Aegeus became the hermit Glauce, songs were added, and off-stage horrors (the fire, the princess's death) were put on stage. There was no set, rather the four chorus women walked the perimeter of the square stage, and the story of Medea took place in the center. As characters passed from center to perimeter, they transformed from German Expressionistic horror to sexy Film Noir. Everything was black-and-white. Theater Mitu: It's from the Greek version by Euripides, adapted by Rubén Polendo, the director. Genders are switched: Medea is played by a man, Jason and Creon by women. The Nurse is called Slave, the chorus is three women in head-to-toe black Chekhovian dresses, King Creon is a Metropolis/Edward Scissorhand-esque tyrant, Aegeus is a voice and the light of a flashlight, and the children are played by a naked man in a glass box. The set is a too-small delapidated sitting room; the walls are falling apart, dust covers everything, doors open and bang shut, the ceiling may collapse. Medea is naked, the chorus women are severely covered, and Jason is half in a chorus woman's dress and half undressing. CHARACTERS MBCT: Medea was nine months pregnant, a vicious sorceress with familial ties to the gods. Jason was desperately torn between Medea and his new wife Creusa. Medea and Jason couldn't keep their hands off each other, their relationship full of physical lust. Creusa, the princess, was sixteen and devestatingly naive. Medea's Nurse was slow and careful, religious, and an oracle; she is abused by her Mistress and through sorcery forced to play out Medea's evil plans. The hermit, Glauce, refused to help Medea and was consequently punished by being the sole survivor of the city's fire. The chorus women were beautiful, stoic Film Noir ladies, singing ballads about the gods, love, battle, nature, men, and Medea's fate. Theater Mitu: Medea is played by a naked man, so devestated by her husband's betrayal she can barely move. Jason, played by a half-dressed woman, is proud and stoic. But as Medea takes her revenge -- murdering the princess, King, and her two little boys -- she becomes tall and calm as Jason melts into a puddle of convulsions and shrieks. The Slave, horribly bent over and covered in inky black, tells Medea's woes and is tricked into playing out her evil plans. Jason, though subltle in movements, has a young and carefree voice. He flippantly explains his actions to a Medea covered in crusty white -- a Medea who moves and looks as concretely stuck in her misery as a Greek statue does in its place.
So there are all these intensely different differences, and yet...
... and yet it was the same story, the same themes, the same painful twists and turns.
Medea always makes the decision to kill the Princess and King. This is not very nice. But then... then she decides to kill her own little boys, and the chorus always begs her not to. This is devestating and terrifying and just... Just. Jason always comes onstage at the last moment to beg her not to do it, and she always does. Sometimes she kills them in front of him, sometimes she does it off-stage, and in some versions she drags onstage the first dead body and kills the second one in front of him. And always -- no matter the style or interpretation or translation or even if it's the Greek or Roman version -- always Medea weaves in and out of being the cause and being the effect. Jason always crumples at the end. And always the chorus sees it all.
See this production. It's extremely well done. The acting ain't bad. And the story is as this story always is:
Throughout this past year, also known as My First Year of Grad School, I've been digging deep into the mountain that is theatre theory. I've thought about the delicate border between the visual and performing arts, I've examined private performance in public spaces, I've analyzed theatre's role in contemporary society, I've studied the history of directing and design, I've intensely explored the relationship between text and venue, I've pondered the meaning of art and the definition of theatre, and I've directed, acted, designed, written, assisted, taught, learned, debated...
... and now I'm tired out.
Because in the end, my friends, theatre is a completely definable, undefinable, interchangeable, interdisciplinary, crazily simple yet complicated branch of the fine arts. Meaning: it is one of those things grad students will debate over for eternity.
So. Let's change the subject.
The next MBCT; Modern But Classical Theatre show is officially being announced! Ready?
In 10.5 months, something amazing is crashing through traditional theatre walls and landing splat! in an old dusty black box in grimy NYC. Full of angst, laziness, desperation, exhaustion, paralysis, and good old fashioned whininess, it's the story of a family, once young and glamorous, who sit on their butts whining about the good old days... and just sort of rot in place.
Anton's Chekhov's THREE SISTERS
** For this project, I'm collecting stockings/tights/pantyhose/nylons in any condition.
If you can contribute, please e-mail email@example.com. **
I guess that above statement is pretty self-explanatory.
And yet... it's so easy to get them mixed up.
Currently, I'm in rehearsals for a show* in which I am not only an actor, but playing many different roles. And there's something liberating, and horrifying, about this. On the freedom end, acting allows me to stop thinking about the larger picture and to concentrate on what I need to do right now. I need to learn my lines, true. And I need to learn my blocking, also true. But there are physical and vocal choices to be made, I must remember who needs the focus on stage, and how to never ever upstage a scene partner while always making myself shine. It feels wonderfully freeing to just be in the moment in the story and not think about all the other scenes that are coming. As a director, I sometimes pull out my hair with those worries.
But on the horrifying front, acting can make you feel small. Sometimes I wonder if anyone really cares if I'm physically invested in a scene, or really what's the big deal if I choose this vocal register over that one. And do you, the audience, even notice that I've worked my butt off to get this hip roll just so or that intake of breath so perfect? Nope, in the end it all feels so... empty.
But then every once in a while you catch someone looking at you when you thought no one else was, and you realize that all that hard work has actually captivated someone. That for a split second a real person was drawn in by your character, and your character is just really you.
Being an actor reminds me that nothing is easy, and being a lazy bum will never help my characters spring to life. But it's different than being a director, because it's all about me . Which sometimes can feel pretty nice.
*Remember last semester when I was the Assistant Director for Gallatin's The Trial? Well, the play is going to Prague for spring break, and one of the actors was unable to go, and so I am the understudy! That's right, I'm off to Prague in two weeks.
According to many of the heavy-hitter theoreticians of the 20th century, theatre is created by the act of being witnessed. Peter Brook famously states, "I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged”.
At the MoMA, I set up a scavenger hunt for two invited "audience members" (players). They arrived at the museum and were given a set of clues to follow; meanwhile two actors closely followed behind them: one humming aloud, and the other asking members of the public to read signs aloud to her. The last clue was to find an actor, dressed all in black, standing in front of a Monet painting of pastel water lilies.
In this scenario, the spectators became the performers (or players of the hunt), the general public became unaware participators (interacting with the actors and creating the backdrop of the “scene”), and the actors became both performers (altering the museum-going experience through sound and staging) and spectators (following and watching the players). I made up a fourth category of spectator -- I was the only party completely aware of all the elements at play and was free to witness the entire spectacle as it played out in front of me.
What is theatre? Brook tells us we simply need a witness, so in this case the MoMA project was definitely theatre. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica defines theatre as interactive, live, and multi-dimensional: "Though the word theatre is derived from the Greek theaomai, “to see,” the performance itself may appeal either to the ear or to the eye, as is suggested by the interchangeability of the terms spectator (which derives from words meaning “to view”) and audience (which derives from words meaning “to hear”)”. So the participation of the audience becomes as important as the act of witnessing, even as important as the performing itself.
To get at a more specific definition, I informally surveyed six friends with various theatre experiences: a director, a painter, a former actor, two graduate students, and a self-professed cynic. I asked them:
1) What is theatre? 2) Is someone wearing a black outfit in front of a pastel painting theatre? 3) Why (not)?
Given the wide range of backgrounds, their answers were surprisingly similar.
The two practicing artists, the director and the painter, insist there must be an “intention” or “purpose” for the person in black’s position to be considered theatre. “If meant for some audience,” says the director, “then yes.” “It can be,” the painter replies, “but isn’t necessarily theatre”.
The former actor adds that theatre is “Story Telling in action,” and the person in black must be “part of a story being told”. Otherwise, “he is installation”.
The longest responses came from the two non-theatre academics. The student in library studies agrees that theatre is “active” and “must also involve some sort of determined intent,” but adds “as well as some sort of formal presentation.” She contrasts theatre’s “dynamic format” with that of “stagnant, non-performing expressions such as paintings ….” The other academic, a student of creative writing, interestingly defines theatre “like John Cage defines music, he says that music is created, controlled, or manipulated sound, I think that theatre is created, controlled, or manipulated performance [sic]". Both agree that theatre must have a determined structure and must be “artistically intentional”.
Surprisingly, it is the cynic who poignantly draws together everyone's thoughts. She says theatre is “the art of entertaining… for a live audience” and “usually on a stage". She does not believe the person in black’s presence qualifies as theatre unless he “move[s] around and interact[s] to form a relationship with the painting and audience”. Without this, she agrees with the former actor that the person could be considered “part of a sculpture.”
They agree upon three main points: theatre occurs live, requires an audience, and must have a conscious purpose. Without one of these essential elements, it is either seen as a different art form or as a pedestrian occurrence.
Because my actor in black was purposely standing in front of the Monet painting for the sake of an audience, my MoMA project is defined as a piece of theatre. But how is that different than a "performance" or a "constructed situation"? TheGuggenheim Museumcurrently has an exhibit that challenges this very question. Tino Sehgal "constructs situations" similar to my MoMA project, though he comes from the visual arts world, opposed to the theatrical. "Relying exclusively on the human voice, bodily movement, and social interaction, Sehgal’s works nevertheless fulfill all the parameters of a traditional artwork with the exception of its inanimate materiality.... He considers visual art to be a microcosm of our economic reality, as both center on identical conditions: the production of goods and their subsequent circulation. Sehgal seeks to reconfigure these conditions by producing meaning and value through a transformation of actions rather than solid materials".
At the Guggenheim, I learned a very important, yet very simple, lesson. Theatre is everywhere; it doesn't have one defining element. Ever-changing, always adjusting, it is a performative art that continually redefines itself to new cultural/technological/social/historical/geographical/political/religious/artistic/and personal influences. Tino Sehgal offers a visual art that uses moving and talking bodies; I offer a performance that uses bodies as installation pieces. As long as there's a witness, maybe it's all the same thing.
There's something happening in the art world, in the whole wide world, actually... categories are mushing, borders are bending, titles are breaking down, and vocabulary is struggling to keep up. Technology and media are pushing and pulling and exploding whole new artforms. So the question becomes:
JUST WHAT IS THEATRE, ANYWAY?
Last semester, I decided to answer this harrowing question. In a directing class, I was dared to stage some sort of private performance in a public arena... specifically, in the MoMA. This piece of "theatre" was to address issues of venue and the audience's role in live performance. However, it became bigger and more nerve-wracking than that -- it became a slight moment of crisis. As a theatre artist, as an actor trained in the most traditional of ways, as a student studying the big old 20th century theorists and reading the classic plays of the Greeks and Brits, as a little girl who sat in red velvet chairs waiting for red velvet curtains to part, as someone who has devoted her entire life to staging on a stage ...
... it all came crashing down!
I've avoided using "avant-garde" and "experimental" to describe my work, because it somehow doesn't seem to fit. I always start with a story, a fairy tale, an age-old fable -- not a concept or design element. Each director, each artist, has his/her own way of creating, and it's always a very personal way that sometimes defies explanation. For me, it is the story that begins and ends; design and concept are there to support and foster. To be avant-garde or experimental, I feel I need to be asking questions and providing possible answers with my art. I need to be working off of a point. Of course, everything says something, this isn't at the forefront for me.
I am a storyteller; the stage is my book, the designs are my pages, the actors are my words.
So what happened at the MoMA? Why was it such an internal shock? Why did I feel the need to battle my own preconceptions of theatre and art?
As MBCT's next show is just over a year out, it can understandably be a cold and lonely theatre world in the meantime. Here are some wonderful shows to go see in NYC right now. They'll keep your imagination occupied while MBCT slumps over the laptop furiously rewriting the next classic play*.
Tino Sehgal Go straight to the Guggenheim, don't ask questions, don't stop to think, don't pass go.
And don't forget that MBCT is holding a STOCKINGS DRIVE! For the next year, all donations of old, worn, torn stockings are welcome! Snagged your pantyhose and got a run? Do not fret, MBCT is here! Hundreds and hundreds of legs are required for this very awesome design feature of the next show, so short/long/nude/dark... MBCT will take them all!
* Even the Greats get it wrong. Shakespeare? Too many lovers and not enough clowns. Euripides and Seneca? Too much off-stage yelling and not enough on-stage horror. This next Big Great Classic Playwright? He just couldn't condense a story and punch out the angst. Too much talking, not enough whining. But that's a tale for another day...