Making a new play can happen in more ways than you can imagine. Because of our ensemble, our time, our interests, and the time frame we're working in to make Sans Everything, our unbeatable costume and sets designer got us a full day at the John St Studio on Brown University campus with a bunch of materials and helpers and machines. Check out the process here, but come to the show to see the glorious results.
Hey, everyone! Thanks for all the support and assists and conversations. I'm excited to be heading back to Rhode Island for to finish this Sans Everything...that is the title of the show. If any Alaskans will be back East in March, we will be in lovely Providence March 3-6 at AS220 and in Boston at the Charlestown Working Theatre March 10-12. Even though my gps is saying this photo was taken in 'Inner Mongolia', I'm pretty sure it is just the international cloudspace outside the Alaska Airlines window on the way to Seattle.
And thanks to the great State of Alaska for helping pay to get me on this flight and create new performances. I get my own tag line in the program, too: "Roblin Gray Davis is supported, in part, by a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts."
We've spent a good deal of time revisiting material and inventing new stuff. Even though we know a lot about what happens in this play, we really haven't figured out how it happens. The "how" of theatre is actually the part that makes it a play and not a novel or a synopsis. A few days ago we decided to write down all the things we know about the space ship before and after it encounters As You Like It. Here's what that looks like:
Here's just what we know about the ship before:
Here's what we think happens after:
Today we move into the ever-exciting notecard (Strange Attractor language) or paper plate (Lightning Rod Special language) stage. This means we'll start turning our bits into sequences, thus specifying all these ideas into something a little more cohesive.
Someone once called devising "ruthlessly inefficient." Certainly one writer might be able to sort all this out in a more efficient way than a room of actor-creators, but is that really the point? Is art at its best efficient?
Please enjoy this slice of life from our day off in Philadelphia.
Jed: Here we go. We're at Nam Son. No. Wait. Are we at Tram Son?
Mason: I think this place has a different name. There's a really nice one [Vietnamese restaurant] in the same complex with Nam Phuong and they have live frogs and lobsters and all sorts of fish -- eels in a styrofoam box with a metal grate on top.
Jed: Have you ever bought any live things to eat?
Mason: Oh yeah. Here's a good story. Have you heard this one before? For Go Long Big Softie we created all these trials and one was a trial of courage and we were like, what should happen in this one. And -- do you remember the part when Scott drank the blood of his ancestors? It was just a silly moment. But I think there was something where maybe at first Scott thought we should kill a live chicken on stage during that part. We have a friend named Matt Lowe who has a farm and he kills chickens all the time and has killing cones --
Jed: Killing cones! Yeah. One time I killed a turkey.
Mason: Yeah, they take the chicken and put them upside down in these cones and they're constricted and upside down and you cut their necks. If you do it correctly they die very quickly because they bleed out because they're upside down. What we were told is that they still thrash around and freak out and then projectile poop. It's not a pretty thing. We went so far as to talk with Matt about it and actually meet with someone in the Italian market near to where we were rehearsing where they sell live chickens and rabbit and duck. Charlotte Ford [the show's director] was really excited about the idea and I was like, "we can't do this." Not because I'm morally opposed to killing an animal or even killing an animal in live performance. I was just like, then the whole show will be about that and our show wasn't really unpacking what that meant. You can't just, as an extra thing, kill an animal.
Jed: Like a special effect. All anyone would want to talk about is that chicken moment when the piece is about way more than that, and you would be like, "All anyone wants to talk about is the chicken."
Mason: Right. We were like, Oh we'll kill the chicken and then send it to this other farmer friend who will pluck it and we'll eat it and I was like, "Fine. I don't feel bad about that, but I do feel bad about putting that in a performance piece and then not thinking about it."
Jed: Are you from New York?
Mason: I'm originally from Chicago. From Skokie, Illinois actually. I was born in Chicago, but when I was very young my parents moved to the suburbs to Skokie, which is North of the city. And then I moved to New York for college. For NYU.
Jed: Did you do plays as a child?
Mason: I did. My mom had a friend, Sue Pector. And Becky Pector was in these community theatre play things and my mom would bring me to see Becky Pector when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade to see these plays. I saw Alice in Wonderland, I remember seeing that. I really liked it and apparently -- I recently asked my parents about this. I was like, "Did you sign me up for drama stuff?" And they insisted that I asked to be in these drama production things after I saw Becky in them. We didn't do faithful productions. Even then they were weird adaptations. I remember being a weird kind of Wizard in The Wizard of Oz. I remember being a Heffalump in a production of Winnie the Pooh, but I was a hip hop Heffalump. So I started doing theatre early, and my mom started taking me to commercial auditions.
Jed: Was that your decision?
Mason: I think it was my mom's. She had a photographer friend who took pictures of me. I think it was very exciting for my mom. But I enjoyed it too. I was a funny-looking kid. I had glasses and was adorably nerdy. I remember auditioning multiple times to play Rick Moranis' son. I was almost the lead character in Freaks and Geeks. I've never watched that show.
Mason: Yeah, I met with the producers and the directors and stuff like that. I think I was among, like five people who were in consideration. They did a lot of casting and producing in Chicago.
Jed: Did you book any commercial stuff?
Mason: I did some print things. And I was the understudy for all the kids' roles in a production at the Goodman Theatre called Randy Newman's Faust. The music was by Randy Newman and the book was by David Mamet. And later I went on to study with Mamet. They hired me knowing I'd have to go on a bunch of times and it was really intense because I had to go on for all the kids' roles. In that play they show Lucifer and God as children so there was a kid Lucifer and a kid God role and I understudied both of those. I don't remember exactly how old I was. Maybe 5th grade. Later I went to a public high school that had a really great arts program, but when I was younger I went to a private Jewish day school that was half in Hebrew and half in English.
Jed: Can you speak Hebrew now?
Mason: I can. [speaks Hebrew] I speak Hebrew, but it's not so great because I don't speak it actively. I did a Birthright trip and I was like, "This is so great. It's all coming back to me." I feel like if I spent a good year living in Israel it would all come back to me because I have an innate sense of the grammar from studying it as a real young kid, but in high school I studied Spanish. So, I went from a Jewish day school to a public high school with an amazing arts program. We put on tons of productions and had a directing class and advanced scene study class. I did Kabuki with a living national treasure of Japan who was my theatre director's teacher. It was a really big deal. He did Kabuki MacBeth and Kabuki Medea, along with Fiddler on the Roof. But we also did, like, Zoo Story.
Jed: Earlier, full disclosure, we went to a boxing gym, and I took a class with Mason.
Mason: What was that like?
Jed: It was fun. I feel like the initial learning experience with any kind of physical discipline for me is always tied up with my difficulty in processing names or numbers or sequences and my dyslexia and frustration with those things. But then my enjoyment with any movement things get me excited just to move in the end. There was just enough repetition that I was able to have some fun. But I was curious now, you'd said you'd done all kinds of martial arts. Did you ever try Krav Maga?
Mason: I've never tried Krav Maga. I know a little bit about it, but I never took intense self-defense martial arts classes. As a very little kid I took Taekwondo at the Skokie Park District. I took judo with my dad and brother for a while for a couple years. Not very long, but my dad wanted a practice -- something to do with me. A lot of it was that my vision is so bad and it wasn't so bad as a kid. But like, I thought I was really bad at sports because the sports you play as a kid are like, baseball or like, soccer or tennis or all these things that require hand-eye coordination. All these things to track these balls and I'm like, "clearly I'm a nerd and inept with my body." But then I started doing theatre and gymnastics as a kid, and martial arts and I realized, no I like moving. I even like competitive sports. I just can't do these more common sports because I have really bad vision. That's part of why I got into martial arts. My dad had always been into it as well. I was also obsessed with Star Wars as a kid. My brother and I were written up in the local paper for our Star Wars toy collection. My mom pulled me from school the day the Star Wars movies were rereleased in the theatre. I became obsessed with being a Jedi. My dad was a philosophy major and he'd read all these Eastern spiritual and philosophy texts on Zen Buddhism and all that. So at a young age I read like, Zen and the Art of Archery and all these spiritual texts and was obsessed with being a Jedi. Meanwhile I was going to Jewish day school and I was like, not into that.
Jed: Where does theatre fit in with martial arts?
Mason: I think it fits in in a big way. I became interested in it as a spiritual practice. We had this directing class in high school and on our first day of class we had this assignment to write the definition of art. And everyone writes these smart, interesting things and I was like, "I think everything is art. Art is a verb or an action. It's a thing you do. It's a lens." Would it be good to consider certain things art? Probably not, but you could. I was being influenced at that point in time by all my very Zen readings. Things are so shaped by how you look at them and your experience of the world is constructed and an illusion. Even in high school. And the teacher wanted us to come to a group agreement because we were supposed to be making these plays together in this group directing class and I would not concede. I was like, "Respectfully, I don't think I agree with any of these definitions." This assignment that was supposed to be a day went into the whole week until eventually we decided to just move on. People were a little bit frustrated with me. They were like, "It needs an audience." and I was like, "I don't think it does." So that was intense. I was already thinking about art and theatre as a way of exploring these mysteries.
Jed: How does the high school Mason Jedi decide to do NYU Atlantic theatre school?
Mason: I was pretty sure I was going to go to my state school, University of Illinois, which has a great theatre program and would have been ridiculously cheap in comparison. A high school friend at the time was really excited about NYU and I went to this college thing at the Hilton Hotel where all the colleges show up and you audition for all of them. On a whim, I made the appointment because they were there. I did my NYU audition for Rosemary Quinn, who at the time was the head of ETW, the Experimental Theatre Wing, and she had asked me what studio did I want to be in. And I was like, I want to be in the Experimental Theatre Wing because I already knew I was interested in working with theatre in these different ways and I wasn't interested in commercial theatre. I wanted to make my own stuff. I had this great interview with her and she said I'd be a great fit. And so I was surprised when I got my letter of acceptance -- I didn't think I'd get accepted at all, but when I got accepted and was put in Atlantic I was a little bit puzzled. My parents said, "This is great. We're really proud of you. You can't go. There's no way we can afford this." We had a family meeting and they were like, "We looked at our money situation and we can't afford it, but let's have another meeting next month." And then we'd have another meeting. I think we had three or four meetings where they were like, "I'm sorry. We tried to figure it out, but it's just not possible." And after four of those meetings they were like, "Okay. Student loan rates are really low. You can take out all these loans in your name and we'll take out a couple." They said I could go. But I was already pretty much not pushing for it. I was pretty set on U of I. They really surprised me, but my parents have always been very supportive. Anyway, I ended up at Atlantic and I just loved Atlantic so much. They had very strict script analysis and heavy intellectual scene study -- which I also really love, thinking of theatre as a craft. But the voice and movement teachers were very strong and really experimental in their approach. I met Rosemary Quinn when I was there and she remembered me by name -- which is an amazing thing about this woman -- and I asked her why I ended up in Atlantic and she was like, "I don't know. I thought I put you in ETW." But I stayed because I liked it a lot. And then I taught there, which is where I met Katie Bull, my voice teacher, who was the daughter of Richard Bull who was big in the Judson Church dance movement. He had coined this term Structured Dance Improvisation. He was a jazz pianist and he would play in jazz classes and thought, what if dancers could improvise around a tune the same way jazz musicians could? He started working with dancers and through Katie I met George Russell who was a movement teacher at the Atlantic who I hadn't studied with, but met when I just started teaching there. He sort of took me on as a mentor, which I am very grateful for. I don't think many people have mentors, especially men. Having another man as a mentor, that's not a thing that happens. That changed my life. George is an amazing teacher and very close friend. They threw me into teaching, and thought that having watched some of these master teachers I would know how to teach, and I had no idea how to teach. George taught me how to teach. Even though they invited me to teach acting technique and script analysis, I was really learning more how to teach movement and voice through Katie and George. I became more interested in that and less interested in script-based actor-training. George eventually introduced me to David Brick who was a student of his and ran Headlong along with Amy Smith and Andrew Simonet. David offered me this position as a teaching fellow at Headlong where I would teach and also study. And that's what caused me to move to Philly. George does dance improvisation, but for him it's a very personal and spiritual practice. George does improvisational dance as a way to investigate who you are as a person.
Jed: What are you looking for now? What's your quest at the moment?
Jed: I read a book by his wife.
Mason: Right. He was also a drunk and having sex with all these women.
Jed: And taking acid. He's a fascinating dude.
Mason: I read a chapter in his book in college with this Buddhist teacher and performer and I was like, "This describes something I've felt my entire life and never had language for." It's interesting to think about in the context of Sans Everything and melancholy and Jacques [from As You Like It] and everything. It's about how the practice of being human is actually a revealing of your heart. It's allowing your heart to be exposed and for everything to touch you. The genuine heart of sadness is so sad, not because it's been mistreated but because it's so tender. It's so open to the world and that state is a state of sadness. The kind that comes with being receptive to the world. I thought that was amazing because I was always a sad child. Not unhappy, but like, sad. Like a tender little thing.
Jed: Do you think that's where Jacques is at? Or do you think he's pushing it?
Mason: I think he's pushing it, and they all poke fun at him. But I think there's something there -- that state of being melancholy. The shambala text talks about how a real warrior is tender. A real warrior isn't like, "You hit me I'll hit you back." It's about being open to receiving to what the world is giving you and still being there for it. Fearless is not not having fear. It's going beyond fear. He talks about these two metaphors: that it's like a deer's antlers. When they first appear they're these soft bloody sacks and they must first feel so useless. But over time they become these 30-pointed, hard weapons. I think that has a lot to do with my martial arts practice and is also my quest. Now I'm getting even deeper with it. I'm thinking a lot about forgiveness, especially in the context of things like the church shootings in South Carolina. When that happened the families of the victims came out and forgave the shooter publicly like, immediately in this very Christian way. I thought it was really interesting and also felt the social media response being, "I could never forgive this person. We should never forgive this person." And so I'm thinking a lot about forgiveness and acceptance in the context of privilege and progressive values. What does it mean to forgive and allow? Is there a time that not forgiving is a way of avoiding social change or action?
Jed: Do you like hypothetical questions?
Mason: Oh yeah. I love hypothetical questions.
Jed: If you could give your life to make the world non-violent, would you do it?
Mason: I don't know that I would. Non-violent is a tough one. What does that mean? It seems like it could be bad in a cosmic perspective. Violence is a force. A vital force. Certainly the world is too violent in many ways. . .
Jed: Let me change it. If you could give your life to ease suffering and regret in the world, would you do that?
Mason: Maybe. It sounds like Jesus. I don't know. I'm such a subjective person. I'm often thinking about morality as entirely subjective so it's hard for me to make a big moral decision like that. There's an essay I love that is before the John Patrick Shanley play, Doubt. He says, "Doubt is a more powerful place to be, as opposed to knowing or conviction. From the place of doubt everything creative comes." It's hard for me -- even though I said I like hypothetical questions. I don't know, but I think I probably would sacrifice my life. That sounds like a good thing to do, right?
Jed: Katie Gould. Where are you from?
Katie: I'm from a town just outside Philadelphia. It's part of the Lower Merion Township.
Jed: Were you a "play" kid?
Katie: I was. I definitely did all the plays in elementary and middle school and actually it was when I was in middle school that I started professionally acting. I started auditioning for things at the Walnut and the Arden. I had a manager sending me off for commercial work. I got cast as one of two young women in a professional children's theatre company that performed at, you know, the owner of the Eagle's house or the steps of the Art Museum for a big gala. We would do these mash-up musical theatre numbers. We did a show called Ballad for Americans and it was a historical show for kids to come see. But I was into it. I went to theatre camp and did that whole thing.
Jed: Have you had moments since when you've thought, "I don't want to do theatre right now."
Katie: Not intentionally. I've either stopped because I couldn't afford to perform or because I was committed to a relationship that didn't have space for theatre. I didn't consciously make the decision, but theatre would be the thing that would sometimes fall off. Never for a full year or anything. I moved to NYC to do theatre in 2010. After college after being in Louisville for a year working at Actor's Theatre as an apprentice, and a really successful year of theatre work in Philadelphia, I had this feeling like, maybe I should try it. I should move to NYC. And it was disastrous. I got two fitness jobs and no theatre work. I took a great class with Austin Pendleton and learned so much, but didn't get any work at all. That's when I applied to APT. I was getting filmed, taking meetings, all that stuff, but it was not for me.
Jed: Had you made stuff before APT, or was it all straight theatre and musicals?
Katie: In college I got one of two spots to do SITI Company training and started doing Suzuki with them and Anne Bogart. In the summer and in the school year I was training intensively with them and making pieces with my best friend Adam. In my senior year of college I made my first full piece. I wrote, performed and produced a one-woman show about the disappearances in Argentina, using my Suzuki SITI experience and also my Latin American studies history knowledge, as a theatre and Latin American studies major. Then I made a piece with a bunch of my colleagues about various female artists. It was very avant-garde and very physical theatre-y and just a mash-up of different images. After college I did the apprenticeship in Louisville. They don't really make original work, but I was cast in a show with The Civilians, and, you know, they're creators but it's definitely more script-based. They are into a lot of community-driven work, so I started getting interested in that. I started a theatre company with my friend Jenny Jacobs called Iris and we created a very sweet piece for the Prague International Festival. We built it over eight days in an apartment in Prague before we performed it. All of that was before I went to NYC. Everything was great in Philly! I was doing regional theatre, I started a company, I made a one-woman show called The Girl in the Yellow Dress that was a big hit in the Fringe Festival. I was writing and creating so much stuff and then it all just stopped because of a bad relationship. I spent the next ten months being like, "Why don't I have work? Why is the work I have so lame? Where did everybody go?" The Prague show ended, we all came home, and all the momentum died. That's when I made the decision to go to NYC.
Jed: How did you decide to go to APT?
Katie: I saw my first Pig Iron show when I was 17 -- Gentlemen Volunteers -- and I wanted to work for them ever since. I loved everything about them and everything they did. I'd heard some whispers about them opening a school and I'd been applying to MFA programs for a couple years. I was waiting for the right program and everything about it seemed right. I was also looking for a reason to come home. It was my guiding light getting me out of NYC.
Jed: Were there certain bad experiences in NYC?
Katie: You know, I just didn't know shit about shit. I would go to a meeting in the totally wrong outfit. I would leave Philadelphia after a terrible date with my boyfriend to go to some open call where I'd sit for eight hours and never be seen. I would go to an audition I should have nailed and instead sounded nervous and just knew as soon as I walked out that it wasn't going to happen. It was brutal. It was like getting smacked in the face. It wasn't any one thing. It was the combination of a horrible break-up and also thinking something was going to be so successful and righteous then it just wasn't. But also it was amazing. I made great friends. I biked everywhere. I became a triathlete. I did the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon, which was my first. I went from Alcatraz to San Francisco!
Jed: Was that when you started doing training stuff?
Katie: No, I'd started before then, but that was when I started endurance training myself. I started working as a personal trainer in 2008. I'd come back from Louisville and needed a side job, but I didn't want to be a server. I'd always been an athlete -- I always played every sport. I had a trainer when I was in high school and learned a lot from him. I thought it was something I was intuitively good at. I'm able to look at bodies and see what their strengths and deficiencies are. I was super interested in anatomy and physiology.
Jed: Are there interesting intersections you've found between theatre and training?
Katie: Absolutely. Every time I learn something new -- how I'm tight or open or weak or strong in my own body, it's obviously affecting my tone and my vulnerability or my lack of. I always talk about clown in yoga. I'm like, "Look. I don't think it's your fault that you can't get your arms straight or that you're bad at yoga. It's part of the mask you wear; the armor that you've built. You should embrace it. You've lived a life of protracted and rounded shoulders." It might mean one thing to me in an aesthetic body way, but it can also mean so much more. I'm here to help you understand it and also give you tools to try on a different costume for a while. And maybe it feels good or maybe it feels terrible, but if it feels terrible it might be because you need to go there. It might be a place you've been avoiding and your body and mind have needed to go there for a very very long time. It's really important to understand the body in order to understand people. Looking at people's bodies will tell you a lot about who they are. Having both kinds of training makes me sensitive to that. It also makes me aggressive. It makes me feel like, "Ooo. We can do something with this. This needs to be dealt with. You just need awareness."
Jed: We're making a play about the future. Do you have any dreams or hopes for the future?
Katie: My own or for the future of humanity?
Jed: Let's do your own future. Do you have any artistic dreams?
Katie: It's something to do with confidence and leadership. I have a lot of good ideas, and I have a hard time expressing them. I have a hard time verbalizing what I want to see. I have anxiety about being in charge because when I was growing up I was quick to be in charge and tell people what to do and I ended up in a career where I tell people what to do. It makes me feel like people think I'm bossy or too aggressive. People use the word "intense" when they talk about me and that makes me feel bad. I have a hard time stepping up when I want to because I don't want to be that person. I don't want to be the intense, bossy person.
Jed: I'm the total opposite of that. I'm a just shy person, and I'm starting to embrace it. Maybe you could try embracing that you want to speak up.
Katie: I'm learning about that now. That's why my goal for the future is to learn that I am a good leader and just try to hone my skills as a leader rather than worrying about not being the leader. As a follower I will produce good material, but often it's helping somebody else with their vision, which is really important, but you know, I also have some crazy ideas and I want people to play in my world. Some really fun, exciting things come up in my world, but I have to invite people in in order for that to happen.
Jed: Do you have any specific projects in mind?
Katie: I would like to do a project about things like this -- like militant aggressive fitness.
Jed: We're sitting next to a Cross Fit.
Katie: Yeah, like the addiction and the ferocity that people are now approaching fitness and endurance and masochist work with. People are like, "If I'm going to be fit, I'm going to be a monster." There is no moderate fitness anymore. There's something about killing yourself that's appealing and sexy to people right now. It's very American: Go big or go home. People only understand progress through numbers and expansion and the only way to get better is to do more of it. People also see community. Like, if everyone is doing a marathon then you'll do it too. There isn't a huge community around moderate fitness. I fit into the category of someone who goes big or goes home, but I'm also learning how to counter-act that. I'd like to make a piece that starts there as a way to go in somewhere. I'd like to do something hard with bodies and really push people and be like, "You like that? Let's do it and let's do it and let's do it." I'd like to put someone on a bike for, like seven hours in front of an audience and see what comes up. I find it very emotional.
Jed: I bet Aram would do that.
Katie: Aram would totally do that. I want to rent a gym and lead people through different rooms and see the weird ways people work out together, just see what comes out. It could be very homoerotic. The mirrors and just people staring. . . The things you say to yourself and to each other can be really inspiring and also really demeaning. The words could be very telling, but also the way you work out. Some people go to the gym for four hours but only work out for twenty minutes. They're just walking around, they go out, they come back with a meal. It's a weird culture.
Jed: I'd go see that play. Is there anything else you want to say?
Katie: I'm so glad you guys are here.
Jed: I'm glad we're here too.
Jed: Look at that view! Who's that on top there? Is that Mr. Penn? It's not Benjamin Franklin.
Alice: I don't think so.
Jed: Not everything in this town is. . .
Alice: No. I'm pretty sure that's William Penn. Though to be honest, Scott would know better.
Jed: Where are you from?
Alice: I grew up on the northernmost part of the Jersey shore. Just before you drive off into the ocean, that's where I'm from.
Jed: Did you make plays when you were younger?
Alice: I did. When I was a kid I lived on this little dead end street and all the kids in the neighborhood would make this thing called the Summer Circus. We never did it, but we imagined putting a lion's mane on our younger brother. My friend was going to be the lion tamer and the big finale was that we were gonna have all the kids dressed in white sliding down into a big mud puddle. But we never did it. It was just a lot of planning. My friend and I were always putting on little plays. We put on Spice Girls concerts.
Jed: Which Spice Girl were you?
Alice: I think I was Scary Spice. Because she had a lot of hair and I have a lot of hair.
Jed: Was she --
Alice: The black one? Yes.
Jed: Do you think there's any link between Scary Spice and Candy Scrapple?
Alice: There might be. I've never thought about it until now, but there might be.
Jed: Did you do plays in school?
Alice: Yeah, I was a Hot Box Girl in Guys and Dolls in 8th grade.
Jed: What does that mean?
Alice: Uh. . . It's like being a cabaret dancers. But as an 8th grader it just means you're waving your arms back and forth. I think we wore short-alls. Like overalls that are shorts. But then in high school we did two plays a year and I did all of those. Starting off as a village person in Aladdin where I sold my bread and grapes. And culminating as a senior with the lead role in The Hobbit.
Jed: Yes! Were these insipired by the classic tales? Or were they inspired by the movies?
Alice: No. This was before the movies. So it was non-Disney. We did watch the 70's movie version of The Hobbit. I had to wear stockings covered in hair and big ears and a lot of fat padding. And my best friend was Thorin Oakenshield, so we were two ladies playing Bilbo and Thorin. And then I went to college for theater at Marymount Manhattan.
Jed: After Marymount did you go to Double Edge?
Alice: Well, while I was in college I took a movement class and that's where I was exposed to Lecoq and I was like, "This is perfect. I need to go to this school." And I studied abroad over the summer with a street theater company in Paris who had come from the Lecoq School called Frîches Théâtre Urbain. Actually they're doing a show about Mars right now!
Jed: Everybody loves space right now!
Alice: I know! Come on! But I really loved that method of working -- the physical method. So after I graduated I thought I'd either do weirdo physical theatre or I'd do Shakespeare or Noel Coward for the rest of my life. I thought, "Nobody's going to hire me to do like, normal shows." And then I saw a poster for Double Edge and I just went. It was great. I had a great first experience.
Jed: How long were you there?
Alice: Three months. I did a winter internship and it was the first time I made stuff on my own -- which was scary, but it was transformative. I knew I couldn't go back to NYC and be in shitty plays that like three people come to. But I was also too broke to move back to New York and so instead I moved back home to New Jersey with my mom. I was just padding around, working at a vegan coffee shop with my hands to the sky, ready to receive whatever was coming next. A friend of my mother's had a friend who had spent time at Double Edge and he told me about Pig Iron. I looked on their website and read about the school they were starting and saw that it was exactly what I wanted. But it was too scary to move to Philadelphia for two years and so I just stopped thinking about it. Then three weeks before the application was due, I thought, "I'm crazy!" And I just did it. I had three transformative experiences around theater-making: I studied with this company in Paris, I studied with Double Edge, and then I studied with Pig Iron. Each time I didn't really know anything about them, I just heard about them and did it. I was at APT [Pig Iron's School for Advanced Performance Training] for a little while before I even remembered that what I'd wanted originally was to go to the Lecoq School, and I was doing it.
Jed: And now we're here in South Philly staring at the skyline.
Alice: With Billy.
Jed: Billy Penn. So, are you a candy person?
Alice: Oh yes! I'm a dessert person. Not gummy candies because my teeth are too sensitive. I can do like two gummy bears. Sometimes hot cheese makes my teeth hurt. I feel it go down to the roots of my teeth.
Jed: I feel like a lot of people have that.
Alice: Well, I told my dentist about it once and she checked and was like, "You have deep grooves." And I was like, "Yeah I do. I'm in a funk band."
Jed: Oh yeah! So that was a project [Red 40 and the Last Groovement, the funk band Alice dance's with] out of school, right?
Alice: Yeah. It started at APT. It was Martha's [Stuckey, Red 40's front-woman] final project.
Jed: Was she like, "You're going to be a squirrel-based dancer."
Alice: No! We'd been doing some improvs around back-up singers and back-up dancers. Martha's prompt from the teachers for her final project had been, "The tail wags the dog." And so she was thinking about behind-the-scenes stars. Eventually she wanted to make a band, but I'm not a great singer and I don't play any instruments. Originally me and Melissa Krodman were a duo of dancers and everything was synchronized, but then Mel couldn't keep doing these gigs and so she dropped away and I couldn't keep doing the same moves by myself. That would have been even weirder than what I do now.
Jed: But were you already crazy?
Alice: Yeah, I think so. But Candy Scrapple [Alice's character] opened a crazy box. And she is crazier than most of the things I do. I don't have a lot of sweet moves so I just dance really hard.
Jed: In watching you, I feel like Candy Scrapple is the secret star of the band.
Alice: Candy Scrapple definitely feels that way. She's like, "This is my back-up lead singer."
Jed: What are the performance things you wish you could do more of?
Alice: The next piece LRS is going to make is something we started at APT. It's called Fetus Chorus. I get nervous talking about it because it's really offensive and it's designed to be that way. It's a grotesque, so that's the point, but still. I'm really excited about it. I love the work that gives you permission to be totally not appropriate. I have lots of rules for myself about what you should and shouldn't do in my real life -- not like I'm restricted, but it's so liberating to be so terrible. It's real fun. And then I just want to make more. . . I love being in a making room. Doing stuff.
Jed: Have you done much straight theatre since college? Alice: When I graduated from college I only did straight theater and I was doing the worst straight theater in NYC. I once was in a show I knew was really bad and I asked a woman who runs a successful Shakespeare company what to do about the show, and she was like, "don't put that on your resume." The company was notoriously bad. It was a genuinely rough experience. We did one performance where no one came, but the director still made us do it while he sat in the booth. When I left NYC my major goal was to do a show with a stage manager working on it. All of the shows I did were so scrappy and not scrappy in a good way. They were mostly companies that had been around for awhile but there was still no money and just poor quality. It was a little bit like, "Well, we got a URL so we better keep doing stuff." But in Philly I've done a couple straight plays and they were great. The last last show I did in NYC was a piece of dance theater and that was actually pretty exciting. It was the first thing that made me feel like, "Oh, these are maybe people who will introduce me to the right people for me."
Jed: Did you ever think about going back to NYC after APT?
Alice: Not really. Staying in Philly just made sense. I had no ties in New York and no work waiting for me. Way more was available and exciting for me here.
Jed: Do you ever get mistaken for anyone?
Jenn: I was told I look like Keith David. A boxer who's now dead -- Floyd Patterson. It was the former editor of Vibe Magazine who told me I look like Keith David, which I sort of understand.
Jed: What movies did Keith David do?
Jenn: I don't know. Uhhh. . . (looks up and recites Keith David's IMDB page)
Jed: A lot of stuff.
Jenn: Yeah. Anyway. Floyd Patterson threw me for a loop and so I looked him up and I was like, "I kind of understand." Sometime people have to say stuff. Do they say stuff to you?
Jed: No. People don't talk to me. I go invisible.
Jed: Unless someone's pan-handling. Or if I'm in a good mood. People don't seem to perceive me as someone they can talk to, which is a shame because I love to give directions!
Jenn: I think if I saw you on the street I'd assume you were thinking about loftier things.
Jed: (Talks about himself for a while) Wait. Is this about me? I'm going to ask you some questions now. Where are you from?
Jenn: I grew up in Baltimore. In a neighborhood called Pig Town. It's between the B&O Station or Round House and the Stadium -- Camden Yards and also the Inner Harbor. Downtown Baltimore.
Jed: What's the history of Pig Town? Is it like Fish Town?
Jenn: Yeah. Which is where I live now.
Jed: Oh really? Pig Town to Fish Town.
Jenn: The Jenn Kidwell Story.
Jed: Is there a story to that name -- Pig Town?
Jenn: Yeah. It's where there used to be slaughterhouses. They would run the pigs through the streets. And the pigs -- or the meat -- would be on the trains. Now it's a cool identity. There's banners. It was not cool when I was growing up. I liked it, but there were parts that were really rough. My neighbohood is super old. It's like an 18th century structure that had fallen into disrepair and people could buy buildings really cheap and then you could design the interior of the house. And my parents made their place really '80's. When I go into houses that are really '80's I can hear the music -- Luther and the Al Jarreau. Stevie Wonder. Chaka Kahn maybe. I grew up playing violin and my dad really loves classical music. He plays the clarinet, the oboe, and the basoon. But then my mom has really terrible taste in music and also no interest. My parents do not dance. They are not physically expressive at all. My dad had polio (giggles) which is not funny at all, but for someone like me who likes to move and dance, my parents are the antithesis. When I was in elementary school I'd get my hands on instruments and just try to bleet things out. Like, for a week I would play the trumpet. The flute. The glockenspiel. No! Not the glockenspiel. "Excuse me mother. I'm trying to culture myself." (laughs)
Jed: So you played music. Did you perform when you were younger?
Jenn: I did. I think my first play was A Christmas Carol in the 4th grade. I played Mrs. Cratchit. I had a lovely time. And then in 5th grade I was in Robin Hood. I was the narrator. Then I changed schools and after that I did every play. I loved being on stage, but I also thought it must be the thing that everyone wanted to do, and so I didn't think I could really do it for a job. I had an impulse to be a garbage person because nobody ever wanted to do that. This was also the age of, "Nobody ever says they wants to be a junkie when they grow up." And I just thought, "Man, some professions get such a bum rap."
Jenn: I mean, I knew a junkie wasn't a profession! I always wanted to be a performer, but I tried to quell it. I thought, no I'll be a saxophonist, a photographer, and then a stand-up comedian. I thought I was funny as hell! (laughs)
Jed: Did you ever do any stand-up?
Jenn: Well, not until Donelle. And that was not my own. While in character once I did a stand-upish thing in drag with my cohort Jes Conda. Maybe we should do it in New Orleans! Wanna be my stand-up coach?
Jed: Sometimes I think I'll do stand-up. I think I'd be so bad, but in an interesting way. Like, I think people would just feel bad for me.
Jenn: I'll laugh for you. My laugh is good enough for like five laughs.
Jed: What were the circumstances of doing Donelle?
Jenn: I answered an ad in Actors Access. It had to have been in '08. Early '08, right? I get so confused. It was an ad for a performer, an African-American woman where you play this role where. . . I can't remember exactly what it said, but it was paid. I get this call and talked to Joe [Scanlon, the artist] on the phone. He explained the project and I said, "No thank you. I don't want to be a part of this post-colonial bullshit." And he was like, "No no no! It's not like that!" And he spoke more about the project and his interests, and I was like, "At some point can you envision that anyone can play Donelle?" And he said "Absolutely." And so I said, "Okay let's have an audition." And so I had an audition and I got the gig. One gig. It was just performing as Donelle at an art opening for really good money. I wore my own clothes -- this dress I'd never worn. And the money was so good that I thought why not. And I decided,"I'm going to play a character that's really far from me." She spoke really low and was a close-talker and really intellectual and had no sense of humor. If anyone said anything funny I'd be like, "Oh. Uh-huh." It was really alienating. It was kind of fun and cool and then all these other opportunities started opening up. It started becoming more of a collaboration. We were talking about how Donelle was so awkward and I was like, "She needs conversation starters written down." And so I wrote down ideas on index cards -- like jokes. If conversation floundered I'd pull out these very safe conversation prompts. People would just halt and try to get away.
Jed: Did people know you were pretending?
Jenn: Some people did and some people didn't. The very first time the head of the Brooklyn Museum came up to me he was like, "Wonderful work." And other people that night had also talked to me like I was Donelle, but they seemed to know. Like they were trying to test me. But the head of the museum didn't know. Then later there was an opportunity to go to London and so this other woman Abigail went as Donelle. The two of us traveled as Donelle. I ended up going to the Whitney and seeing Dan Graham and I got really excited about him and then the collaboration between Joe and me just kept getting more exciting and we were building on each other --
Jed: At this point are you enrolled at the Pig Iron School (for Advanced Performance Training)?
Jenn: No, I was still in NYC when we came up with the idea for Richard Pryor, but it was right before I went to Pig Iron. I was doing Richard Pryor while I was in school and had to miss a little because I went to Prelude, which is in the fall. Then I did it at Yale, then I did it in Paris. Then she got invited to the Biennial. Then all hell broke loose. The Whitney didn't want Donelle to be in it and then they did. We had the tour laid out and then the venues fell through because they didn't want to pay me. They didn't realize what the project was and they decided they didn't want to be involved. Then we went to Oakland and this Berkeley professor decried my performance. I'd just come off stage, I got some water, and sat down to do the talkback. He immediately stood up and said, "I knew Richard, this is blasphemous. Who do you think you are? You're a bad performer. What are you, a lesbian just walking around in men's clothes?" It was the worst. Like, an actor's nightmare. And then I wrote something for Hyperallergic. Then we had a meeting over the summer, but what -- it's 2015? I haven't done any Donelle stuff in a while. There's this thing on the table to go to the Congo, but schedules have been hard.
Jed: How did you feel when that guy stood up and yelled at you?
Jenn: I felt terrible. With the whole thing I am constantly like, "Is this okay?" It's always good to do stuff that makes you wonder if it's okay, but . . . You don't want to be the kind of person who's not at all porous to what people have to say, but at the same time you have to be behind what you're doing. What's the balance of feedback? Accepting validity and also knowing it's just their feeling and it doesn't have to stop you. In the moment, I was shocked and then another man jumped up and defended me. He said he was an activist on the street, but came in here to be entertained, and that's what I did. It's classic for what I get myself involved in: super divisive. Sometimes I wish I could just do something really nice.
Jed: It's funny. Even when I think I'm being provocative people are like, "Yayyy!" I wonder about people who like being in that provocative space. How do you deal with what comes from it?
Jenn: In the last leg of the tour, YAMS just happened and I was getting coded messages from people or strange friend requests. I started feeling really paranoid. And then I felt pissed because I realized people didn't want to talk to me, they just wanted to look at me. It was just about Joe. At this talkback in Minneapolis -- not at the Walker, but the curatorial staff from the Walker tried to vilify Joe. They spread themselves out around the room and then they tried to give Joe the business -- a bunch of white dudes. And this one came up to me and told me that I had no agency. "You are not in charge of yourself." They accused me of not knowing the history of performance art. And I was like, "Do you think that I don't know that? This is a statement you're making to me under the guise that what this man [Joe Scanlon] is doing is wrong, racist, and exploitative. But then you look at me in my fucking face and can tell me some shit?" I felt really alienated. There was this woman who had protested in LA and then this shit happened in Oakland. I did a bad show in Chicago. Detroit was fine. That's the one that's online. Minneapolis was crazy. Nebraska was kind of the best show, even though there was only seven people. Joe and I just drove for hours and hours and spring was coming to America and we just talked about everything. Then we pulled up at like three in the afternoon to Lincoln, NE. Our venue in Omaha had pulled out and so Joe had booked us into an Irish pub. We get there at like 3pm and our contact isn't there. And I'm like, "I'm doing a contentious drag show in Lincoln, NE." We went to the hotel that was part SRO -- it was just a whole thing. But finally things came together and we met this beautiful comedian who was warm and warmed up the crowd and he did a great job and it was the best. Then we went to the last show. It was in St. Louis and I was like, "I can't wait for this fucking thing to be over." The last thing that happened before I took the mustache off for the last time, was this couple stopped me on my way to the bathroom after the show. This black couple stopped me and they said, "Hey. We loved it. The only problem was it was too short. We loved it." And I said, "Oh that's so nice. You know, it's been really hard because it's so controversial." And they were like, "Why?" And I explained the whole thing about how I am playing this artist who doesn't exist who's playing Richard Pryor and it's all these levels of artifice created and people don't like it was all created by a white guy. And they were like, "Why? Isn't art supposed to be like that?" And I almost started crying. I think that's the thing you're always supposed to remember. Are you doing the thing to please the people or to stir the people?
Jed: Was that a good experience?
Jenn: What. Donelle?
Jed: Yeah. No regrets?
Jenn: Oh! Yeah, no regrets. I would say answering that ad. . . Changed everything. It's been really positive. I mean, I still have questions. It's complicated.
Strange Attractor is collaborating with Lightning Rod Special, on our newest piece, Sans Everything. Jed is interviewing members of the cast in order to introduce you to the new faces. . . Meet Scott.
Jed: Where are you from?
Scott: I was born in Stratford, NJ and lived there for two weeks. Then I moved to Philadelphia and lived there for three years before moving to central PA, where I lived most of my life.
Jed: What did you study in school?
Scott: English literature. Painting and drawing. I knew I loved drawing, but I had no idea what I was doing when I went to college. I chose a liberal arts college because I had no idea what I wanted. Performance wasn't in the cards, so I chose a school without a performance program.
Jed: Were there pageants or school plays you did as a kid?
Scott: There were. There were these one-act plays I was in every year called Drama Night. It was a competition among the four grades. I also did a little improv -- I started an improv group and a film group. But I was in sports so I didn't do any plays. I played basketball and golf. I had a little bit of a Rushmore-like quality. I wanted to be in all the clubs. I started all the clubs.
Jed: Were you in every yearbook picture?
Scott: A little bit. The improv club was called Nine Asterisks because there were nine of us.
Jed: I won't dwell too much on this, but. . . What were you watching that made you want to do improv?
Scott: My girlfriend at the time went to Moore College of Art in Philadelphia and I used to visit her and we'd go see a lot of improv on South Street, which at the time seemed like the best. We'd go back to high school and try to emulate it. That was high school. College was the same kind of thing. I'd perform in little things here and there -- I played Jack the Rapist in a Three Penny Opera. I did a little improv, a little stand-up. I'd try to write. I was obsessed with writing short stories and drawing and painting. That was serious. The other stuff was just weekend play time.
Jed: What was the focus of the writing?
Scott: I was all over the place. My stories were all kind of playful-funny-but-dark. I aspired to be something like George Saunders. I never did, but that's where I thought I was pointed. I hoped after school I'd be a serious writer, but I started to observe I was terrible as a creator alone. I liked talking with people and collaborating. The solitude of writing was anathema to me. The actual process of writing was grueling. Although I was often writing, I was often avoiding writing.
Jed: What was the moment you made the transition toward performance?
Scott: It happened in a very funny way. I lived in France the year after I graduated, teaching English and that's where I thought I'd become a serious writer. I had all this time and I think I wrote three stories when I was hoping to write a novel. It became obvious that I was not good at the practice of writing. I needed to be on my feet running around. I was looking for a job for when I returned -- was I going to be a journalist? was I going to work for a nonprofit? I applied to the Arden Theater apprenticeship. It was attractive because it paid you money and I thought, "I like theater." I didn't think of it as any different than going to France -- it would be another thing I could do for a year while I was just looking for interesting things to do to survive. I kind of got reintroduced to the world of theater, and after it was over I thought, "This is definitely not for me." After that year I did a funny job where I was hired by a Friends school to catalog the second-largest sheet music collection in the United States.
Scott: I don't know why I'm going into this detail.
Jed: I like it. I mean, I'm listening.
Scott: Well the Friends school needed someone to appraise this collection that had been donated to them, but they couldn't have it appraised until it was catalogued. We would just go to the scanning room with this big pile of sheet music and then scan and then enter it into a database. It took about a year, though I only did it for 100 days or whatever. While there I ended up meeting people who worked at the school and I thought, "Maybe I want to be a teacher." And I filled in for someone on maternity leave and then they decided to hire me full time. Teaching English. It was while I was doing that that some of my friends from college who were actually obsessed with theater wanted to make original plays. The first one we did. . . I loved it. It was like everything I'd been looking for. I could write, I could be on my feet, I had to show up to rehearsal, so I didn't have the problem of knowing when to make work. Ironically the three friends that I made those first shows with -- now one is a doctor, one is in business school, and one is a lawyer. I'm the only one still making theater.
Jed: That was Groundswell Players?
Scott: That was Groundswell Players.
Jed: That's amazing. Here we are. I had no idea. That's 17 minutes. I'm suddenly like, "I don't know how to interview anyone. What am I going to do with this?"
Jed: Podcast. (It's not a podcast. Rebecca typed this.) Well, let me ask. . . Are there things you haven't said in other interviews that you want to say?
Scott: This is an interesting time because I'm trying to figure out how can I make this actually stable? I have a lot of theater work now through the end of the year, but I still work at a restaurant. I like to go out to eat and I like to have a nice place to live, so it's scary to rely on theater for my sole income. I'm trying to figure out my next steps. . . Teaching and creating? Working with a larger company? I need to figure out that balance.
Jed: What's the ideal version of the next few years?
Scott: Having the work we make be so successful it supports some people on payroll. Or maybe being a part of a teaching institution that supports my ability to make new work.
Jed: So you'd like to still have the ability to go tour or travel for theater and be an actor and make new work.
Scott: Yeah. Mostly I just want to make new work that's really good.
Jed: Do you have any rituals before you see a show?
Scott: Not a strict one. I see lots of art and so it's less pristine or romantic. I just kind of go from one thing and hope I'm not late. I like to get a drink after a show and talk about it. I hate the post-show actor-feeling-awkward conversation. It's a tense overwhelming exchange and so I try to extract myself from it and meet with people who can actually talk about it. It's a shame when you can't process work.
Jed: You like to dig in.
Scott: Yeah. I like to dig in.
Jed: What's your favorite food to make when you're sad? Scott: Penang curry. Ideally I roast a whole chicken, make the curry and the rice, shred the chicken, mix it in the curry, mix it in the rice, and then you're good to go. Little fish sauce, little palm sugar, little thai basil. I take pretty decent base-level penag and then upgrade it severely.
Jed: Do you have a specific goal for every project you do?
Scott: I try to figure out what it is that makes this project the most exciting to me and to the people who will be watching it. I hold on to that and then infuse that part with the most energy and then make that the thing that expands. I look for the genetic material. One project it might be to make people cry. Another might be to make it as epic as possible. Whatever the heart of the piece is the thing. The finding of that thing requires intuition. If it's too quickly nameable it's probably not interesting. Or at least not interesting for theater. Theater pushes buttons in us that are not exclusively intellectual. It makes us wrestle with things we can't quite pin down.
Jed: What's the best theater you've ever seen?
Scott: Romeo Castellucci's Concept of the Face of Loving God or whatever it was called. . . It was one of those pieces that punched me in the gut in the most amazing way. It was both intellectual and emotional in both modes. Do you want me to talk about it?
Jed: Yeah, sure.
Scott: DESCRIBES THE SHOW IN GREAT DETAIL, BUT YOU CAN JUST READ ABOUT IT HERE.
Jed: We're making a play about the future. What are your biggest hopes about the future of the world?
Scott: I don't know. . . I hope we don't destroy ourselves too soon. . . I don't frame the future in terms of hope because I see human obsolescence on the horizon. Humans are just one step in an unfathomable process. To keep it a little more near future. . . There's going to be a sad moment when we are eclipsed by faster and bigger intelligence. Those consciousnesses will see us as dogs or plants or bi-products. We will quickly not be the top of the food chain. I think it will be nice to not become obsolete because of nuclear war, but because of something we invent.
Jed: In a Her way. Which you love.
Scott: Yes. I love it. Leave it to the real kings of evolution.
Yesterday Jed and Rebecca spoke on the final day of the Alliance of Artist Communitiesannual conference. We were asked by RISCA to speak or present about our work for six minutes as a part of a collection of Rhode Island artists selected to represent the wide range of people working here. We are incredibly honored to be asked and were in very good company. These kinds of small talks can be difficult for us because we like showing our work more than talking about it and our work is always very specific to the city, room, and moment we are performing it in. Figuring out what we were going to do caused great distress between Jed and Rebecca for several days leading up to the big day. To make matters feel even more pressurized, we were asked to speak last, following Senator David Cicilline, NEA Chairperson Jane Chu, and award-winning playwright Ifa Bayeza.
We decided to start with a small mediation for the audience (which in part just helped us get centered) and then did a slideshow covering three of our shows with images from each development period, illustrating how one show grows over time. We weren't sure exactly how to end, but thought, well, could we ask the audience to do something? What do we need right now? What could we ask these people to do that would work with this venue and audience?
Here's what happened:
As you can see, lots of bigwigs think we're worth giving money to. Hopefully you'll join them with this effort.
See the Indie Gogo progress HERE.
REHEARSALS START TUESDAY!!!! YESSSSSS!!!!!
A few days ago Jed sent out his fundraising plea to his individual list. It alone is such an impressive piece of writing, we decided to share it on the blog. There are many many links, but because I copied and pasted this from email into blog the links don't appear the way I'd most like them to. Just hover over the text and you'll see where to go. Enjoy.
Family, friends, well wishers and loved ones all,
In a matter of weeks, the entire SANS EVERYTHING team is going to be in town. In south Philadelphia, I am readying quarters for the arrival Alaskan member Roblin Davis. I have not decided whether he will stay in the anything-can-happen Tiger Room or the snug yet worldly Map Room. The proper pairing is critical to our success.
We've done videos before on what we dream about when we're not in rehearsal. Sans Everything actor-creator Clara Weishahn sent me this today. I think it's pretty great. Makes me want to ask all the actors to figure out what they're dreaming of. . . Where space and the future tempt them to wander. . .
There seems to be a set coming together. . . My goodness but it's satisfying to make a house look like a Christmas theater in July. . .
What an incredible Sunday. Strange Attractor's creative life is bursting at the seams. It's the end of our first week of building Idle in Newport. In six days we reconfigured the entire show with a new frame, three new dance numbers, a new actor, built a few new scenes and made huge strides in uncovering how we put it in a house. Then tonight we met with the majority of the crew of Sans Everything and touched base about logistics for that massive undertaking, which starts in the fall. I mean. . . look at this hang out window! Roblin is in Sitka, Clara's in Providence, Jed and I are in Newport, and Jenn, Mason, Katie, and Aram are in Philly.
With so little time to actually talk to each other, this hang out was full of planning how to get money and how to get time; where to rehearse and who to invite. Next time I vow we'll do more than just brainstorm ways to find rehearsal space. As the director of the piece I feel like I should give them an assignment. . . Like maybe even a writing assignment? . . . Or a viewing and a writing assignment? There's time.
Oh my goodness, but are we enjoying diving back into this world. Tonight -- after four days of rehearsal -- we created a proposal for the entire show and then did a crazy improv-thru of the whole thing. I love Jed and Casey (and Clara!) so much and this video is a perfect example of why. As they improvise their way through a half-baked proposal I find myself remembering that my greatest joy is watching actors who just love to play.
We had rehearsal for Idle tonight. We first worked on this piece in February 2014 and performed it as a part of a residency designed by Erik Ehn at the Mathewson Street Theater. After our March 1 performance we had all kinds of dreams about working on it again, taking what we'd learned in that first enthusiastic process and building a play, but life sort of got in the way and we wondered if it would even make sense to pick it up later. Thank goodness that little voice told us to yes, do it, make a joyful and weird experience. Jumping back into rehearsal felt fantastic. So much of the material we'd made before will be useful compost for the play moving forward, and for sure the creative team is a joy. However, the stroke of genius that makes it REALLY fun to work on Idle right now belongs to Jed, who months ago proposed we take it out of the theater setting.
It all brings home a true true fact. The best thing about life intervening on art: returning to art.
Our friends from Lightning Rod Special in Philly arrived Sunday night. Ever since, we've been working fast and furious on a show we might love, but have yet to get to spend significant time with. The short story is, a year ago we worked for a week on the piece. There's a lot we can do in a week, but we cannot make an entire play. We had a wonderful showing and went our separate ways, dreaming of space ships far into the future.
Life got in the way and now it's one year later. Thanks to RISCA, Roger Williams University, and Trinity Rep we've been able to enter the studio to work on Sans Everything again. Again, only for a week. How odd to work for one week a year on a play. Certainly not efficient, but you know, still fun. . . And amazingly we actually are getting things done. (I know they look like they're napping, but they're practicing choral text. That's legit.)
I can't wait until we figure out how to be together even longer. . . We're working on it.
I remember just after college I took a workshop with the incomparable Mary Overlie. At the time I was really nervous about whether or not I would still be an artist; whether or not I'd ever perform again or be in rehearsal again or if I'd just be an office drone for the rest of my days. In the workshop Mary explained that in the life of her career she'd had several periods where she'd stopped making art for long periods of time -- seven years, ten years. And then she'd return. The reasons were varied and the return was a rebirth. In that moment I realized that sometimes not making art was a significant part of being an artist. Members of Strange Attractor are confronting some personal and life-changing moments right now, forcing us to take a break from art-making. We think it'll be for the rest of the year, but really, these kinds of moments are not ones that you should try to plan an end date for. Truth be told, we're not positive when we'll come back or what we'll do when we come back, but we can say, if Mary Overlie has anything to teach us, we will come back, and it will be a rebirth.
At first I wasn't going to say anything, but I hated our blog being so inaccurate and I hated the thought that you might come here and think we just had stopped for no good reason. I hope this explanation will suffice. I hope we see you when we're back. I hope in the interim you see and make really good art. Or that you take a really good break, wherever you're at.
Rebecca (+ Jed, Roblin, & Aram)
On Monday March 10 Strange Attractor PVD and Strange Attractor JNU participated in a cross-country reading of As You Like It as a part of Juneau's very first Bard-a-thon. It for sure gave us lots of great ideas about the ways Shakespeare and technology interact, as well as the amazingness of reading Shakespeare over a speaker phone with a multi-generational audience. Here's some of what we experienced. Here's where they were in Juneau:
Here's where we were in Providence:
And here are the remnants of the Barbie recap the Juneau folks created to summarize the play before the reading: