These last three days have brought us a much needed shift in how we work. As we approach the presentation of our work, the lovely freedom we’ve had to enjoy the process has crashed into the reality that we need to have some semblance of a finished product by Saturday at two o’clock. Surprisingly, this has been a very very good thing.
The process indicative of this workshop has been, before Wednesday, marathon discussions. We talked about what we thought characters would and would not do. We talked about how imagery while avoiding creating specifics. We talked about theme. We talked about what the audience would think. We talked about the merits of making it a comedy. We talked and talked and talked like the Phidippides of theatre! Ideas (mine and other people’s) weren’t shot down so much as they’re quickly picked apart (by me as well as other people’s); picked and discarded many potential concepts before they had a chance to ripen. As a group we have a penchant for finding ways to spin in the mud. What is the balance between supporting each other and following tangents?
The personal effect of this type of process was exhaustion. Despite usually going to bed optimistically, I sometimes woke up dreading the day.
These past three days have seen a breakthrough from that. We’ve moved forward. Since Wednesday, we’ve gone back and forth between two types of processes:
The first, more familiar to Iris, (process A) was to create theatrical moments. After spending too many days in discussion that seemed to drag us backwards, we still were able to put together beautiful, insightful and moving theatrical moments of dance and song minutes. We let go of our heads and began creating with necessary recklessness. Creating without thinking allowed dreamtime and magical realism to seeping into the play. At one point, Electra is instructed to sing a song. Dreamtime starts as she steps away from he microphone as her voice continues to sing. She acts out a realization and then, as dreamtimes comes to a close, she returns to her microphone, mournfully finishing her song. In less than a half hour each, we staged a series of these moments: Childhood friends being reunited, an earthquake, a leader crawling from his cocoon, a pack of wolves disarms a criminal, the Greek chorus even appears at one point.
The other process we’ve used in these past three days, process B, was how we wrote the script. We sit around a table or in the living room or in a coffee shop or in a park or anywhere with internet. Jenny gives us assignments, scenes to write. Then she plugs them into the script. Later we modified it, so that the script was on a google doc that we all had access too. Each of us agreed to let anyone go in and edit their work.
Perhaps I’m the only one with an ego so susceptible to bruising, but this process frees me from the much of the destructive attachment to what I write. I still have the joy of playing with the characters, creating their voices and actions and imagining their stakes. But I am freed from fearing that I’m the one dragging down the overall quality of the piece, as well as the pressure of feeling I’ve been instrumental to its success. Even the scenes that I started are edited by at least one other member of the group. We had 10 hands working out the kinks on one script, trusting each other’s knowledge in the overall vision enough to tend to each moment and make it as good as it can be.
We’ve gone back and forth between processes A and process B.
1:00 to 6:00 – process B
7:00 to 9:30 – process A (with Miriam White, who is amazing.)
12:00 to 3:00 – process B
3:00 to 5:30 – script reading (we had SOMETHING… but we needed a lot more)
10:30 to 7:00 – process B (and some more in the evening)
Okay, so we did more process B, but that’s because we need a script. But give me a break. We discovered process A earlier and we have a reading tomorrow. Which reminds me…
We have a reading tomorrow?!!?!
The optimist in me thinks we have a concept with great potential, but lacked the time to make it complete. The pessimist in me worries that character driven drama simply can’t be build by consensus. For the moment, I’m leaning toward optimist. I’d sooner believe I’m in capable of doing something than accepting that it can’t be done. That and our ideas are good. Expressing them has been a challenge.
In the meantime, I’m reminding my worries that failure is the greatest teacher. We have the courage to show up. We’ve created moments of beauty and ideas of merit. We’ve created a world with care to detail and thought to our message. No matter how the script looks, these past weeks we’ve come together and done something. It has been a rare and pure opportunity for which I am already grateful.
These past few days turned out to be a sequence of ups and downs. We kept working on the Cassandra idea developing, talking, debating, brainstorming, questioning, outlining, and doing a little bit of improv along the way. But each time we came up with a great idea we would question it a great deal and keep back tracking a little.
On Thursday we decided to step outside and head to the park to do some work in the great outdoors, and get a fresh perspective. We went through some improvisations between the characters, who we believe, live in this world. This helped us find some really interesting dynamics within the world and more importantly between the characters.
On Friday we had a truly fantastic breakthrough day. We sat down and outlined the entire cast of characters and decided what each character wanted, what they needed to know, what they needed to experience and what they needed to find out from others. It was so invigorating. We were all astounded at the end of the day to find out that we had spent the entire time sitting around one table tossing out ideas and creating the skeleton for a show!
Then came Saturday - this was a special day in a new space, with new people, we invited two fantastic theatre artists, Sarah Doherty and Chris Braak to join us for the day. They helped us improvise some scenes to learn more about the characters, their relationships, and the world of the play!
Sunday we did some more basic planning and catching up and then it was time for Monday.
Monday, Monday, can't trust that day.
This was the day in which we sat around in the stuffy, humid house, and tried to think of more things to add to the show. Ways to flesh out the outline. But it was so hard. We hit a major wall, and by the end of the day it was so hard to think of anything new - we had to debate whether or not it would be a good idea to take a break and do something totally creatively different before actually taking a break to do something creatively different. By the end of the day, I will admit, I was done!
I kept looking at my computer screen at the outline we spent 6 hours working on thinking - oh no. We have nothing! This is nothing - we have nothing to show for our 9 days of work! I was totally freaking out!!!! My brain was so fried and I was so lost in the story and the questions and the details and the myth and the play and the improvs and the doubts and the fears and the little voice in my head saying, "no one will like this." That I just starred at the computer moving the pages up and down hoping that some kind of answer would come to me.
No answer came to me, instead the brilliance of these dedicated Iris company members pulled me out of my abyss of doubt and fear. We pushed through the freak out and finished the outline. It was still pretty bad, and I'm pretty sure half of the ending was written in a complete state of ridiculous delirium, but it was worth it. When I went to bed I felt myself thinking, "well at least we finished something, we stuck with it and we finished it, and it was hard, but really fun, and now we get to see what happens tomorrow!"
more to come....
On Tuesday, we pushed on with our conversation. We remained within our world of dystopian steam-punk, but we branched off some in our brainstorming. Sometimes we veered too far from our concept, and at other points our tangents inspired us to expand how we thought of our story. We continued to speak about who Cassandra is and what kind of power she has. Some thought she should be able to predict most any future event, while others felt it was important she be limited in the number of visions she was able to see. We explored the rules of the world the play was going to live in. How subversive is the meeting Cassandra is attending? How does she get people to come, and what kind of event are they expecting? What does the crowd they think of her and her eccentricities? Later in the day, we began to explore the possibility that the meeting was actually not some kind of subversive underground meeting, but a scheduled radio broadcast. This was a significant departure from what we’d been working on, but the group decided to go with it. The meeting became a group gathered to listen to an entertainment radio program that began with a portion of propaganda. We talked about how, instead of being the organizer of a meeting, Cassandra might be a technician who attempts to fix the radio when the scheduled broadcast cuts out. She ends up taking the opportunity provided by the malfunction to speak about her message of moving up to the surface, or perhaps she causes the radio to cut out in order to speak to the audience. This option seemed more dynamic and interesting to us, so we abandoned our previous idea and pushed ahead with this new one.
On Wednesday morning, we continued to expand on the idea that this meeting is actually a radio broadcast. Early in the day, we were given a challenge during which we were asked to write what might occur during the broadcast from different perspectives. Some wrote from Cassandra’s perspective, and others wrote from the crowd’s. We created an array of stylistically different material that helped us to bring to life what we’d been discussing. We performed what we created for each other and offered up the ideas the material inspired in us. We then began to ask, “who makes up the audience?” Should we focus exclusively on the relationship between Cassandra and “the crowd”, or shall we explore the individual characters that make up the crowd? We decided to individuate the crowd, and our conversation began to focus on who these people might be. We made the choice to stay within Cassandra’s story and to include characters she has some kind of relationship with. After discussing possible options for a bit, Jenny asked us to do an improv as characters she chose for us. Our improv began at the start of the radio broadcast and continued as the broadcast is interrupted. The performance was hardly polished, but it allowed us to get an initial glimpse of how these characters might be brought to life and to relate with each other. Afterwards, we spoke about some of the potential relationship dynamics that the improv inspired us to think about. By the end of the day, it seemed that this new direction had really been building some momentum.