Notes from week 5

We did just over three hours of pitches this morning for Show One. Thirty eight pitches, 19 made it to the final cut. Jamie attended, as did our lighting designer, SM and ASM from the production class. Pitch day ran quite smoothly, though it was a hell of a marathon. For the most part, I was impressed and pleasantly surprised with a lot of the work. Just about everyone had one or two surprise pitches, and these pieces were quite strong. The work had presence; everyone was closely connected and committed to their material.

There were definitely flops and duds in the mix – bits and pieces that people had just pulled off the board and presented as is, without additional work or thought – but I think this had to do with it being the first pitch day, and perhaps people were not entirely clear on what constitutes a pitch and what doesn’t. The Show 1 ADs deliberated on the pitches for two hours before presenting their selections and first draft of an order. There seems to be a good mix of work. There’s a lot of text stuff, all coming from pretty varied sources, so it will be a big challenge for the ADs to bring it all together and find some cohesion. There is a loose theme that has been outlined; it is “the frailty of an individual existence” which seems appropriate. Watching the pitches, I had written almost those exact words in my notebook: the fragility of nature and humanity. The pitches are varied in terms of the number of performers in each, but the solo and the individual and the monologue are the recurring performance tropes. The show is now in the hands of B and R, while my co-AD and I do our best to also keep hold of the threads for Show 2 and 4 during the next two weeks.

And now back to Thursday and Friday, which were the days when D and I led rehearsal. We approached the group with our pitch for Show 4, but did so with the advice of Jamie, who told us to give them the idea gently, not mentioning the source material immediately but starting with the structural and thematic choices we were thinking of, connecting them to work that has already been created by the group. This was good counsel…we announced our idea and then moved right into an open discussion. The ensemble hit most of the points we had in our own visioning work, and they were really excited about our design idea to make a huge blanket fort in the Studio T (which will have no audience seating). They were anxious to have something thematic to ground it – a word, a source – and we vaguely mentioned having material, which we would bring in once it was confirmed. There is a desire within the group to give it a one-word theme. Arg, the one word theme! It is so dangerous and so vague! I really want to try and avoid it, because it generalizes the material so much, limiting its potential depths of meaning because all it needs to hit is this one word theme. We definitely need to outline the themes we want to explore, and provide everyone with the source material (which I hope to do this week) but I don’t want the show to be easily encapsulated into one word.

On Thursday, I realized that I need another strategy for getting the ensemble to a place of real togetherness. The schedule just does not allow for consistent time to be spent on training/improvisation/physical exploration in the way I’m used to it. With these two-week timelines, the emphasis really turns to building products, rather than finding products through a continuous process …or, at least not long-term process. In the next week, we’ll be allotted a few hours here and there to work the other shows, and with this kind of schedule, an hour-long session is viewed as a luxury rather than a necessity. D is of the opinion that we need to work with what we’ve got rather than bring more stuff in or find more moments through training or viewpoints work, whereas I see it differently. I think that to get the work to grow and to get the ensemble to really come together, we need this kind of work. But there just isn’t time. So, I need a new tactic, and more quick exercises/games/proposals that allow the ensemble to build connections as well as beginnings of work. The “What does the space need?’ game is one version of this. They need to be activities that are short, that you can easily enter into and exit from.

I’m planning to spend more time developing and directing group pitches from the material we have already created. I’ve started to do this with a couple moments, and the material is evolving and the ensemble is able to expand it further. I just wish there was more time to play and explore, without having to nail down every single thing into a product.

On Friday, we invited Barbara in to work on a song she had written from one of the “Defining Moment” verbatim texts, and this was a huge success. Where Thursday saw me frustrated at not having ways into work as an ensemble, on Friday I discovered that singing is at least one. The “Sleep Song” is brilliant, and Barbara created four different parts with simple harmonies and varying rhythms. None of us have prodigious musical talent but we can all sing pretty well, and this song brings our voices together in a way that is unique and fun. Everyone loved learning the song. It’s a definite piece of material for Show 4, and we will learn it as both a solo and a group number. She’s going to do another song for us from different verbatim material. Her style fits really nicely with what we’re imagining for show 4. I think that having her as a guest collaborator and an outside eye will bring the work up a notch…musically and otherwise. I’m especially enjoying the opportunity to collaborate with a fellow MFA-er in the context of this class.

This week we move into intensive rehearsals for Show 1. Thirteen days straight with no dark days until after the run of Show 1 and Show 2 pitch day. Here. we. go.