Friday, January 29, 2010

Bearing the Weight

I saw a performance by the Pilobolus Dance Theatre the other night. As a dance fanatic, I love to see all forms of dance, but I found their particular form more than just amazing, beautiful, graceful, etc. It was profoundly moving. They incorporate what they call "weight bearing" into their pieces. All forms of dance require trust between partners, especially for lifts. But there is something very different about how Pilobolus dancers lift and are lifted. They seem to give themselves over completely to their partners, melting into each other, bearing the weight of each other without effort or strain, cradling each other in creative embrace. Women lift women, men lift men, women and men lift each other. For example, in their men's quartet entitled "Gnomen," there is a moment in which three of the men stand shoulder to shoulder while the fourth man lies at their feet. The three men then lift the fourth with their feet and rock him back and forth. The beauty of it took my breath away. And there were dozens of such moments during the show. While watching this performance, I thought a great deal about my own work as a director. This physical "weight bearing" became a metaphor for how I want my students to think of our productions - as ensemble work in which we carry each other and trust each other implicitly. In fact this can be a metaphor for any artistic collaboration. Because while we don't know what the off-stage relationships between the dancers are like, their on-stage relationships are about making each other look fluid and flawless in grace. One thing I often say to my students is "make each other look good. This show is not about you the individual it is about you the ensemble." And so this summer I plan to show my kids some Pilobilus and hold them up as an example of the trust I want the students to put in each other. To be trusting and trustworthy is what I wish for them.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Trying for Traction

The project: write a play with 30 roles, based on Shakespeare, for 30 middle school students by July, 2010.

The idea: A merging of "Othello" and "Much Ado About Nothing" in which Iago takes Don John under his wing to teach him to be evil. Other characters include Desdemona, the ill-fated wife of Othello, the barbed-tongued Beatrice and Benedick, and an all female watch led by the bumbling Dogberry (also a woman) , and many, many others.

As of today I have about 11 pages written - just the very beginning. I'm having the hardest time gaining traction on the project and making any headway. Life is considerably more complicated now than it was six weeks ago, before a tiny person named Clara came into my life to be my puppet-master. My sleep-deprived brain is having trouble concentrating on anything other than her, and the moments that I am able to write are always interrupted, just as I'm gaining some momentum. I'm hoping that as she starts sleeping through the night and taking longer naps during the day, I will be able to focus on Shakespeare for more than ten minutes a day and actually get this play written before I have 30 young actors looking at me with excited anticipation on the first day of rehearsal in July.

The pages I have written so far contain a lot more of Shakespeare's original language than my previous plays. This will be my fourth year doing this type of work, and though I've always taught my students about the language and certainly explored it a great deal, I have not used it to the extent that I may with this one. "Much Ado" strikes me as particularly accessible to young people and perhaps this would be a good year to see how much true Shakespeare they can handle. One of these years, I hope to direct actual Shakespeare - if not at my current theatre of employment, then perhaps at another. Perhaps if I can demonstrate that young actors can in fact understand it and perform it well, then the opportunity may come up sooner rather than later.

The puppet-master is pulling my strings.