You know how I said I would do daily write-ups of my experiences at Director’s Lab West? There’s something about 12-hour days that makes that easy to punk out on.
Anyway, here’s the roundup, based on my notes taken in a notebook provided by DLW. Swag! We got swag for the 15th anniversary. Yeah!
On Sunday morning, we had bagels and coffee sponsored by the Stage Directors’ and Choreographers’ Union. We talked about contracts. I think, for a second day when we didn’t really know each other, it was an intimidating discussion, but ultimately valuable. We talked later about the lack of discussion, early on, about really small theatre – the fringes, blackboxes, less than 99 seaters, which most of us work in. A type of art that many of us love and want to become more professional, but which is difficult to write contracts for.
Still, it gave me a sense that contracts should be the norm, whether you’re getting paid or not.
We then heard from Pasadena Playhouse artistic director Sheldon Epps, and associate artistic director Seema Sueko. I think we all fell in love with Seema – Mr. Epps is very idealistic and has done a lot to build a new audience for the Playhouse, Ms. Sueko talked about her move to consensus organizing, a dramaturgical approach to social justice on the stage. Her ideals permeated the rest of the lab.
We went to the final matinee showing of “Letters from Zora,” based on the life of Zora Neale Hurston. It was a fantastic show – a wonderful biography fed the story and led the lead to genuinely speak with the audience.
We then went over to Schkapf, where we talked with Diane Rodriguez from the Theatre Communications Group who said, “The theatre is moving from the transactional to the relational.” She also talked a lot about what it means to be a global artist.
We watched some of Christopher Sivertsen‘s devised theatre work on film as part of Schkapf’s regular Kino Kabinet showing. Movement based theatre is always lovely, and while I’d like to do more of it, I always wonder how well it can really tell a story. Perhaps one has to be steeped in that form of storytelling, as Eastern Europe currently is.
After the show, a group of us headed over to Circus Disco, a nearby strip club a small group had stumbled over, and which was hosting the World Pole Dancing Championship. I was reluctant, because I wanted to get some sleep and do this day’s write-up, but I got swept up in the excitement. Look, everyone, DLW2014 was amazing, but the World Pole Dancing Championship was the most amazing thing I saw the whole 8 days.
A late night, about 4.5 hours of sleep, and then:
Monday, meeting in a different theatre space for another magical, mesmerizing part of DLW: a staged reading from CCAP (Classic and Contemporary American Plays) of “Extraordinary Chambers.” It was not a full production, of course, but it didn’t need to be – after the reading, blocking felt like so much superficial special effects that distracted from the dialogue, genuinely felt and heard between all the characters, which we experienced in a visceral way. It was perfect. It is a heart-breaking show.
We discussed racism in theatre and the culture at large afterward, and how that related to why the play had not been produced more in-depth. We also talked about actors getting good, paid work, which is a sad subject for everyone there. We all want to pay everyone what they’re worth, but we don’t live in a meritocracy.
Then, a great talk about “Your International Identity,” which mainly consisted of Bari Hochwald telling us about how she came to live primarily in Italy and work in multiple countries. We all dreamed while she spoke.
She had us read an article and discuss the politics amongst ourselves. There was a presentation involved. I don’t remember details because, while I like my fellow Labbies, the group work was not the valuable part of the presentation for me.
I took off after that without seeing Worldly Wise with Jessica Kubzansky or Projecting Hamlet by Chil Kong. I don’t feel like I missed much from not seeing a social media/multimedia filmed/Skyped/Tweeted reinterpretation of Hamlet. I’m tired of Hamlet. But I wish I’d gleaned some of the theatre games from Ms. Kubzansky. I got a few of them later from people that had stayed.
Movement workshops began today. Prumsodun Ok talked to us about traditional Khmer dance, which he has long studied and is innovating in Los Angeles. He’s also a TED Fellow! While I have great respect for any traditional art and often find them beautiful, I have a much deeper appreciation for the potential of innovation, creativity, and its impact on storytelling in all arts.
Foreign Affairs, Roundtable #1: we all have entrenched ideas about racism and how it shows up in our theatre, so I don’t think this discussion did anything to change my mind. But there are 40 of us 2014 Labbie Graduates, and I heard a lot of perspectives on how to handle shows like “The King and I,” as well as our base text for the Lab, “Rashomon.”
We moved into a workshop on Kyogen and Noh. I’ve had the opportunity to take a (text-based, not movement-based) class about the history of Japanese theatre, so I had some appreciation for these artforms coming in. I left with an appreciation for the University of Hawaii. Julie Iezzi is a wonderful professor and has clearly studied the form thoroughly, as well as translated it into a curriculum for Americans to understand the complexity of the art.
We also did some Kabuki voice. It was fun. I’m terrible at it, but it was fun.
That night, the show was “The Tallest Tree,” a musical one-man show about Paul Robeson. While a fascinating biography was the basis of the show, I left feeling “Meh.” The production value was so high, and yet the performance was not as entrancing as “Zora.”
We opened the day with a Laban workshop – intense but instinctive movement based on a set of “qualities” of movement that the actor (or director) explores thoroughly. Anastasia Coon gave us a great head-first dive into the style with her musical choices. I look forward to employing this technique in my own rehearsals, to my own text, and perhaps to getting more training.
We then went to a Directors’ Panel discussing why one should take one’s work on on the road. There was no one satisfactory answer to the question, and left me with a renewed wanderlust that, much like a chronic illness, has been with me for as long as I can remember and flares up from time to time.
We did get some great information about groups to work with if we should choose to go international with our work. It seems like every Labby has had some experience with finding an unusual group to fund or co-create with, so we had some interesting discussions amongst ourselves.
And then, the director’s workshop: three directors rehearsed a piece from Rashomon, and the rest of us got to wander. Loved it. Always useful to see other directors work, but as directors we don’t think about that very often – we aren’t as often as actors or playwrights encouraged to go to classes with each other and learn more.
I skipped “Porgy and Bess,” and from all reports about the offensive abusive love, the cultural appropriation, the blatant racism, and the inexplicable and half-baked updated music and script, I’m glad I missed it.
While Lebanese dance (dabke!) did not inform my rehearsal process, it was a lot of fun and I would absolutely do it again.
We then had lunch and a Skype session with Moises Kauffman. As the director and co-writer of “Tallest Tree,” as well as the genius behind the group that made The Laramie Project, it was interesting to hear his thoughts on his process and what he chose to include or not in the Paul Robeson project. As we Labbies were mostly women, we did criticize his portrayal of Robeson’s wife and their relationship.
We had some time afterward before the next event, so we talked about Porgy and Bess. I listened. I suggested that perhaps interpreting the script presented many of the same problems as interpreting “The Taming of the Shrew,” a show rarely seen due to its final monologue. Does this make it less worthwhile? Or does it simply require a reinterpretation that better reflects our ideals back at us? Should we use these texts to raise political questions, or should we let them be the effervescent joys we think they were to their original audience?
And then, the Designers Panel! Four designers – Trefoni Rizzi (scenic), Steven Young (lights), Martin Carrio (sound), and Alex Jager (costumes) – let groups of us grill them on how they would like to be approached as artists by directors. I didn’t think I’d get a lot out of it – I either work with designers doing more than one thing, or I do the design part myself (poorly) – but it was actually great.
The show that night was “Beijing Spring,” a revived, locally produced work about Tiananmen Square. As a group, we left either “Meh” or infuriated by the post-show discussion, which was hyperfocused on the artists’ self-involvement and dismissive of the actual people – especially the women – that made up the events leading up to the Massacre. It felt superficial, blaming Communists and lauding Democracy without any nuance that a stage production can bring. However, the show was produced by a group that unilaterally saw the destruction of their home country as the result of Communist despotism, and the denial of real Democracy as the ultimate tragedy. That said, neither the script nor the music successfully explored those feelings, either.
We are beginning to feel the end. Rickerby Hinds’s beautiful, lively, yet emotionally deep Hip Hop Theatre workshop reminded us all that, when we go out to make our art, we gotta dig deep into the classics but trust our creativity. Also, I exchanged business cards with Mr. Hinds, and he actually emailed me, which I am rather giddy about.
More importantly, though, I’d like to see his work and I am very glad he does this kind of theatre. I have a million new perspectives on my own work, and I am so grateful.
A performance of “Papales” was also incredibly insightful. The 15 minute show is part of Miami’s “microtheatre” movement, and focused on fear – specifically, the visceral but real and guilt-riddled fear of being in a customs office, waiting to come into the US. The show was a blast of what real terror can be, that losing sight of one’s self can haunt one forever.
After two moving events, we talked about ourselves. Many were teary-eyed. I got cut off. I’m not sure what I’d really want to say about myself anyway. If I hadn’t had a conversation with a Labby, I don’t think I could communicate who I am and what inspires me.
I did not go see that evening’s production of Tartuffe. Here’s why: my alma mater, the University of South Carolina, managed, through the politics and self-involved professors, to pull off an amazing, hilarious production of Moliere’s classic about hypocrisy (maybe not such a shock, considering the reference material?) and I don’t ever want to ruin that image ever. Ever.
And it got “Meh” reviews from the Labbies anyway. So I’m glad I didn’t spoil my perfect vision.
It’s the last day. I feel bittersweet. I wonder if this will be the highlight of my professional director career. I seem to have made more of an impression on my fellow Labbies as a dramaturg. I’m not sure what to make of that, but I am mostly flattered.
While we all initially bit our nails and felt the vapors at the title of the panel, Appropriate Appropriation, in the wake of our First Roundtable, it didn’t seem that shocking or difficult. Larissa Fasthorse was a wonderful speaker and I am deeply curious about both her plays and sitting in, like a fly on the wall, on her process. The other panelists were great, too, but we had been talking about the topic of racism and social justice for the whole week, so it fell flat for me.
Vincent Patterson – responsible for Madonna’s Vogue, among many other choreographed genius moments, by the way – talked to us about his work directing “Cabaret” in Berlin. He was a true delight, and put a name to a feeling I consistently get after my part of the work is over: director’s post-partum depression. It’s true!
Louis Fantasia talked about Shakespeare and his physical approach to theatre. Not like trained physical, but corporeal – he comes from a film background and is focused on the reality of the words in the characters’ actions and reactions. He was wonderfully entertaining, but I’d hate to be his stage manager.
Our final panel, “Go and Take On the World” allowed us to talk about how glad we were to meet, what projects we had coming up, who had crash space.
“Give people sugar and liquor, they love the show, but you gotta end it at 90 minutes or they crash.”
And then we drank. And hung out. And said goodbyes. And I want to go back to LA and work (so, er, hire me? Please? I will dramaturg and direct all your things!)
DLW has a policy that you can’t do DLW again once you’ve done it. I get it, but I want it all the time.
And now I have to take responsibility for everything I’ve learned there.