Thursday, December 11, 2014

There is definitely a piece in here

Not that I wish the onerous reading/watching of this on anyone...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Generative Feedback

I really enjoyed the feedback/workshop process led by Ben Francome during Saturday's auditions at CIIS for the University of Chichester / CIIS Performance-Making MFA.

The four auditionees each performed a short piece of about 2 to 4 minutes, very informally/casually in a dire windowless classroom with drop ceilings, flourescent lighting, and unweildy writing desks. The pieces were assumed to be unfinished. After each piece we were encouraged to write down any impressions, descriptions, etc that would help us recall the piece later on.

After all the audition pieces were performed, Ben gave us tasks that incorporated both feedback and creating more performance. I found it very useful to reveal how others received the work. We were working quickly, so we weren't able to dig deep into each piece or say all there was to say about anything, but given those constraints I found it more illuminating than many a twenty-minute meandering conversation.

These tasks also began the process of refining and distilling the rough work that we had been asked to present. Ben is very big on "distillation," and I think I agree. From a process standpoint, if you are constantly engaged in a project of distilling, you are likely to do some very important things:

  1. Articulate (or at least decide on) the essence of what your piece is actually about. Lordy, but this is often missing in new devised work.
  2. Get rid of things that don't belong. No matter how pretty, how cool, how much it seemed like a good idea at the time, if the piece has gone in a different direction or this material just isn't serving the piece any longer, get rid of it. For the love of God, people. (Emphasis mine.)
  3. Points one and two completed, you are well on your way to winnowing your material down to a manageable chunk or three.
  4. Simplify.
  5. Clarify.

Here's the process Ben led:

In pairs, we were first asked to each describe one moment of the other's piece. We were asked to identify just one moment precisely; it could be very brief or small.

Next, we each worked for 5 minutes on our own to create a new piece exploring that moment -- in other words, to make a spin-off piece based on that moment. It could be considered a new piece. We showed these pieces to the group, again taking notes after each showing.

Redux One: microphone, breath, gesture, encouraging wordsThe moment that Angela described to me was from the conversation: I said "it was my fault" very quickly before moving on to phrases like "it's okay now." She thought that revealed the depths of the pain that the rest of the conversation was trying to hide. With my trusty smartphone I recorded phrases that I'd heard a lot in relation to that event. These were all phrases that friends and strangers said in the hopes of encouraging me during a difficult time. I and played them back as I stood at a microphone, occasionally repeating "it's my fault" along with a couple of gestures suggested by my chat with Angela. I felt the mic put me "on the spot" and (obviously, but also metaphorically) amplified the "it's my fault" over the litany of encouraging words. It also picked up my breath; along with the gestures this was both expressive and purposefully awkward, meant to be incongruous with the microphone's insistence on polish.

Our second task, with a new partner, was to identify a moment from this new piece.

This time, instead of exploring our own moments, we were to perform the moment of the other's piece for that person.

Noelle described my breath in the microphone as particularly striking.

The third task, with the last partner, was to outline the structural sections of the original piece. Ben asked us to "agree" on this outline; so I described what I thought Cecilia's outline was, and she mine, and together we refined our idea of the start/end of each section and gave them titles. Ben asked for three acts, and both our pieces fit within that structure; I list the acts in my recipe.

With the outline in hand, we were each given five minutes to write about each section. Ben asked us both to describe and interpret, so that we were giving our partners our interpretation, section by section, of their piece.

Finally, we were each asked to use this piece of writing, by someone else about our piece, as the script for a re-envisioning of the original performance.

Redux Two: structural reinterpretation Again, I had an intro featuring slips of paper, a conversation (this time with a microphone), and a phone call that interrupted the conversation. It was certainly more distilled, though not necessarily more interesting; but Cecilia's script showed me where and how I could improve mine by revealing what were, for her, the most striking ideas of the piece.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fault Lines

I auditioned for the University of Chichester / CIIS MFA in Performance Making on Saturday. We were given a prompt and asked to create a 2-4 minute piece around a one-word prompt. We weren't told much else except that the pieces would be assumed to be unfinished and that we would work on and with them during the audition. This is a record of what I did.

Prompt: "Faultlines"

Act One: The Setup
I mention that my work is about connections, so I'd rather have a conversation than perform a piece.
I hand out lined paper labelled "faults" at the top. I invite the audience to write down any faults they see/hear/witness (open to interpretation) as such reflections will make the event more "performative." I check to see that my phone has been turned off.

Act Two: The Conversation
I sit in a chair (noting that it also lends to performativity) and mention my costume: slightly dressier than usual, as befits an audition, though likely more conservative than a Master of Fine Art, anyway helps with the idea this is a performance, although really I'm just going to talk a bit about myself, things that are on my mind, in the hopes of some connection.

I talk about these things:
Window Washer Falls 11 Stories
My current marital status
My possible move away from San Francisco
A friend I haven't seen in a long while who is ill

During my conversation about each topic, I reassure the audience that everything is fine / all is for the best / things will be okay. The window washer was, at the time of the conversation, at SF General.* Things that are hard become easier, despite the upheaval of change. My friend is in treatment. Etc.

Act Three: The Call
My phone rings, and I tell the audience "I have to take this."** For the phone call, I have a script; at the end of the script I say "I'm sorry" to the audience, and exit. This is the (approximate) script:

*He is still "fighting for his life"
**In fact, I had set a timer on my phone in Act One. In actual fact, the timer didn't go off in the audition; I rushed through the conversation and found myself with nothing further to say and 12 seconds remaining.

Was it successful? Did I convey what I was trying to convey? On Saturday morning, both yes and no, as evidenced by the feedback I received. I really enjoyed the mode of feedback, so that will be the subject of my next post. But what was I trying to say?

I wanted to demonstrate that our crises are often kept private, and the privacy of our catastrophes makes them similar to fault lines: running beneath the surface, likely to erupt in both spectacular and small ways, largely ignored or denied by others and often ourselves. "Everything will be okay." And to highlight the tendency of people like me to apologize for things that aren't our faults, while ignoring the things that might be. And to feel the futility of saying "I'm sorry" to someone else's catastrophe. I wanted the audience to feel a personal connection to me as I revealed faults (metaphorical and literal) as a reminder that these faultlines lie in each of us, and that acknowledging them in others is an act of empathy.

By chance, as I was preparing earlier in the morning, I came across this interview with StyleLikeU founders Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandelbaum, and Tallulah Willis. Note Willis' use of "faultlines," and the What's Underneath Project's use of personal stories to promote empathy and connection.

(to be continued...)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Artistic Inspiration Week - Nov 2014

D.I.Y. by Rob Daniels, Skywatchers at Tenderloin National Forest (sadly, missed it - I picked up this postcard after the fact) and Infinite City by Rebecca Solnit.

Update 11/25/14:

I added the links above.

I've also been reading Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.

And here's some more info on the process of creating Skywatchers.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday - 2013 SF OMPF

Playwrights' Foundation is hosting their fifth One-Minute Play Festival benefit. I was delighted to see they chose photos of two of the plays I helmed for last year's festival for this graphic:


Working on both pieces was a highlight of my November-December 2013 -- particularly these two, by A-Lan Holt and Madeline Mahrer, that called for some lovely and tender theatrical moments. Both playwrights were also able to attend rehearsals along the way, which is always fantastic.

Joan Howard and Nkechi in In-to-me-see by A-Lan Holt. Photo by Jim Norrena.

Marlene Yarosh and Soren Santos in Summer by Madeline Mahrer. Photo by Jim Norrena.