More training and improvisation – Black Box Week 3

[Written on January 26, 2014]

In week three we finally started to get somewhere with training and improvisations, and the moments and proposals we created together were much richer. Friday through Sunday were semi-intensive rehearsal days, in which D and I led the ensemble through hour-long training and improvisation sessions (an hour is long for this group). These sessions generated a lot of material, and I think the ensemble was pushed in a positive way – they had to work with exhaustion, awareness, with leading themselves, and building things as a group and in partners.

On Friday night I led a training and improvisation with the group. I brought two stage lights into the space, turned the awful overhead fluorescents off, and immediately the studio was transformed. The light was perhaps the most important component of the training; it darkened the room enough to make extraneous stuff disappear, distancing the space from the daily, it energized the group and allowed for really great shadow play. I led the group with a concrete proposal of reaching combined with isolations. We stuck with this for twenty minutes or so before branching off into clusters, and gradually moving into a full-on improv. I brought in fabrics, a few basic costume pieces, and a couple umbrellas and canes. With all these elements in the mix, the group really came alive. The session had its moments of coming together and falling apart (“cake and soup” moments, in D’s words) but energy remained high throughout. The ensemble worked together to build a world and inhabit it, they were playful and engaged and aware of what was around them. For the first time with this group, I saw images and moments that were vaguely reminiscent of work we would create at Double Edge, which was so exciting to me.

We repeated a few moments following the training, and D directed one of them. There was so much that was generated and we only had time for a couple to be revisited, but there were probably twenty pieces that got added to our post-it board of moments.

On Saturday morning, D led a Viewpoints exercise that eventually moved into an improv. The group was exhausted from Friday, so he had a real challenge to get them to a place of work. Things started slowly and without a lot of energy. However, there was a crucial point, about halfway through, when D said, “If you know exactly what you are doing, you are a leader. If you have any doubt about what you are doing, then you are following someone.” This forced people to decide – either committing to their action or working with someone elses’ – and it galvanized the ensemble. They still had to contend with being tired, but mostly they had to know what they were doing. The second half of the session saw the group really come together, identifying actions and building upon them, and moving with them. More material emerged, and following the session it was noted how important that deciding moment had been to everyone.

Then, on Sunday, with an ensemble that was reaching the point of exhausted delirium, I led a training focused on partner work. This one is taken completely from Double Edge, using Stacy and Carlos’ partner stretches and sequences, and it requires a lot of focus from the group. The focus was only partially there today. We moved through the sequences pretty well, but there was a lot of giggling and aimless wandering once we got to the part that required the group to lead themselves. I brought fabrics and a couple objects in to try and lessen this, which helped a bit. The partner work was a concrete foundation to this training, and it did attune the group to balance, support, and awareness of the whole space. There were a few standout moments from the training, and R, who was sick and watching the whole thing from the sidelines, got us to revisit some moments she had seen. She said to me afterwards, “We really should keep doing this, and building upon this.” She observed how the training began stiffly, with people finding their way through awkwardness and discomfort, but gradually had shifted as the ensemble became more comfortable and focused together.

So, while we are finally getting to this place of being able to train and build things together and delve into unknowns, we are also two weeks away from pitch night, and having to hone in on all this stuff we have made and put it into a show. At the end of Sunday’s rehearsal, D announced that this coming week will see us focusing in on each individual show, and taking less time for long improvs. Which is necessary, sure…but it can’t be abandoned completely. I will aim to get at least two or three sessions in a week.

The other thing that we started to do this week was give time for individuals to direct the group to realize an idea. This was really productive, and the work that came out of it was interesting, and had a lot of possibility to be expanded and developed. On Wednesday, ensemble members directed the group in two different movement-based proposals, and B made up a Quizoola-esque game called Confession-Truth-Lie that was fun because it had a bit of danger to it. A couple days later, R taught the group how to make a person-sized cat’s cradle, which was challenging and very cool looking…the image returned later work made by others.

On Saturday, I introduced the concept of the performed response. The ADs chose two moments that had not been revisited yet, got the performers to show them again, and then had everyone to create short, performed responses. People worked alone, in pairs, and in larger groups. There was a good range of material, and we took a moment to talk about what we liked from what we had seen. K mentioned that the pieces that left room for interpretation were the most interesting because there was freedom to project onto them as a viewer, and space for the pieces to hold multiple meanings, creating layers (in my head I was shouting “yes! yes! yes!”).

I’m realizing that this class is a 24 hour thing…I’m not only supposed to be planning, preparing and leading rehearsals, figuring out how to pull all this stuff together into some sort of show, and working on projects for the class itself, I’m also supposed to be making my own proposals to show and put the group into. Leading training with the ensemble is basically one giant proposal from which to make many smaller ones – so it’s important to not forget that. But I also need to be imagining and sketching out more ideas, beyond that. Ooof.

It’s less than two weeks until Show 1 pitch night. Time to really focus in on what we’ve made, and it’s time for me to figure out some pitches for Solo. Until now, I’ve kind of forgotten that I have to perform in this show, so I’d better have some material I can stand behind. Show 4 is beginning to weigh down on D and I, since it still has no theme or concept. We’re going to have to figure that out very soon.