Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Catching up with the Director's Lab 3

So, today is day 5, and I'm just getting around to posting highlights from day 3.  That's ok.  It's all about keeping things in balance.

The top of day 3 featured a panel of designers who work regularly in LA and beyond: Sybil Wickersheimer (scenic), Cricket Myers (sound), Holly Poe Durbin (costume), and Christian Epps (lighting).  This was a really enlightening talk about the practical side of collaboration between directors and designers.  All of these designers had strong ideas about what helps make a process work.  The biggest emphasis was on communication.  There is a value in taking time at the start of the process to learn one another's language and terminology.  Some additional thoughts:
  • Feed your image bank by taking the time to see the world around you. 
  • As freelance artists, we tend to create a world for ourselves within which we're working all of the time, but it's important to make space for personal interests, for play, and to just go outside sometimes.
  • During the beginning of tech, designers like to get their work roughed in, and advise directors not to worry about the fine details right away.  Give the designers time throughout the tech to continue to finesse everything.
  • Throughout the rehearsal process, directors should remember to keep their designers updated on any new discoveries made.
  • "Realism is the playground of the mediocre mind."  (Holly Poe Durbin)

Next up was a session with Michael John Garces, artistic director of Cornerstone Theater Company.  Having taken Bill Rauch's class at UCI, I was already very familiar with this company's methodology for creating community based theatre.  In a nutshell, this company creates partnerships with particular communities, learns about the communities, then creates original productions with, about, and for the community.  It's really fantastic work, and as someone in the lab pointed out, very common in some Latin American countries, but only starting to catch on here in the US.  Michael led the lab participants through some cultural mapping exercises - everyone splits themselves into smaller groups based on a given critieria (such as birth order), then work quickly to identify additional things all the members of a group have in common.  I really like this activity and use it often in my rehearsal process.  It works not only as an ice breaker to get people talking to each other, but can be a nice way into getting a group talking about bigger topics.

Following Cornerstone were the co-artistic directors of the Boston Court Theatre, Jesica Kubzansky and Michael Michetti.  This discussion began with an examination of the balancing act between two artists sharing the role of leading this company.  As the session continued, much of the talk revolved around the state of theatre in LA today.  Some memorable points:
  • Boston Court's work in particular aims to use the magic of theatricality in such a way that audiences never forget they are in the theatre.
  • Parents need to take their children to the theatre, and theatre artists also need to think about how to nurture the future generations of theatre goers.
  • We need to recognize the theatre critics as members of the team and valuable to our work.
  • More discussion needs to continue on how to change the culture in LA so that people consider theatre as an option of something to do for fun.
The last session of the day was a conversation with Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, composer and lyricist, respectively, of Leap of Faith, previewing this weekend at the Ahmanson.  If you don't already know, Alan Menken has composed many successful shows and movies, a few of which are The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Sister Act.  He and Glenn Slater have collaborated on quite a few projects.  The evening was mainly a lot of biographical details and anecdotes about both men's work.  They talked a bit, also, about the difficulty of balancing family life with such a demanding career.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Director's Lab West - Day 2

I already got behind on my posts!  We had a little incident with our car being towed from an improperly marked space - grrr.  It will be contested.  Anyway, it was a late night, and early morning, and another 12 hour day.  But I had breakfast at The Pantry in downtown LA for the first time :D

I should mention that this year's lab has an overarching theme of "balance."  I haven't explicitly pointed out how each session pertains to the theme, but I'll illuminate the connection for some of them.

The first session on day 2 of the lab was a fight choreography workshop led by Edgar Landa.  This was all review for me.  Edgar did his training at Shakespeare & Co. at the same time that I was there as a little teenage Young Company member.  I learned these same techniques while I was there.  We had only 2 hours, so after a physical warm-up, we were led through some basic hand to hand stage combat: punches and slaps.  I initially wasn't sure how much I'd be able to participate in fight work at 7 months pregnant, but this was all within my ability.  The other directors were very amused to see a pregnant lady taking slaps and throwing punches.

 The next session was a discussion with O-Lan Jones, who started Overtone Industries to create new operas and musicals based in mythology and folklore, that speak to a contemporary audience.  She discussed the lengthy creation process of her show, Songs and Dances of Imaginary Lands.  She spent over 7 years developing this particular work, collaborating with numerous writers, composers, and performers.  The piece included enormous art installations through which audiences see the indigenous dances of 21 fantastical lands.  The event was staged in an old car manufacturing warehouse, and those who saw the production described an extraordinary and magical performance.

The discussion was followed by a session which looked at the balance between physical performance and text on stage.  Anastasia Coon performed an excerpt from Gracie and Rose, a piece she is writing and developing.  The work looks at the relationship between two women in a 1950s rural western life.  Anastasia has been writing the piece with the guidance of Che'Rae Adams, who teaches play writing and helps to develop and coach one-person shows as the Producing Artistic Director for the Los Angeles Writers Center.  A few memorable points from the discussion with Anastasia and Che'Rae:
  • Have others read the work out loud for you, rather than reading it yourself--it will let you know if the writing works.
  • "IV" the play.  In other words, give just enough information to keep the play alive, but not so much information that you kill it.
These are long days.  Lots of sessions.  Phew.

The evening session was a conversation with Vincent Paterson, the writer and director of the new Cirque du Soleil show, Viva Elvis.  This was fascinating to hear what the process is like to create an all-new work together with Cirque du Soleil.  Vincent spoke for 2 1/2 hours and told many amazing stories, so I will just hit a few highlights.
  • Some of Vincent's challenges going into this project were how to bring heart to a Cirque show, and how to create a show that would speak to and excite both Cirque fans and Elvis fans.
  • He pushed for more ethnic diversity in casting Viva Elvis than you typically see in a Cirque show, to make the work, as an "American" show more reflective of our culture.
  • He originally included acting scenes and monologues to ground the spectacle in something real (these were cut by Cirque by opening).
  • He was the first American to direct a Cirque show.
  • He was the only Cirque director to ever attend rehearsals and training sessions, and to know all the performers by name.
  • He required the acrobats to take improv & buffoonery classes, as well as to do character work (write character bios, etc.), to teach them to be full performers and not only athletes on stage.
  • Vincent only takes jobs that frighten and challenge him.
  • 80% of what you have to do as a director is bullshit and politics, and if you're lucky, the other 20% is creative work.
  • In his approach, research is imperative.  He always compiles books of visual inspirations.
  • By the way, he has also created stage shows for Madonna and Michael Jackson.
 More to up: day 3.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Director's Lab West 2010 - continued

The second event of day 1 was a panel discussing how to balance their careers as educators with their roles as artists.  The panel featured: Luis Alfaro, Andy Barnicle, Michael Hackett, and Velina Hasu Houston.  Some valuable points that arose from the discussion centered on the need for mentorship in the professional theatre.  A number of the panelists said they would like to see the older generation taking responsibility for mentoring young artists.

Additional thoughts:

  • People need to get over their rigid ideas of what the theatrical experience is supposed to be, and we need to expand the notion of what theatre is.
  • Artists do not need to worry about being competitive with one another because what each artist is doing is so personal and specific.
  • In LA right now, there is a vacuum of leadership; new leaders need to emerge.

Director's Lab West 2010

I got through the first day of the Director's Lab West, hosted by Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown, and thought I'd post a recap of some of the talks & events of the day.  These will be just brief notes, to remember the essence of the events.

The first guest artist to speak with us was Jose Luis Valenzuela.  Jose is the Artistic Director of the Latino Theatre Company, as well as a professor at UCLA.  One topic that came up was the need to hold onto one's integrity as a director.  He told a story about quitting his job at the Taper after directing a production of Bandito, because he felt that the influence of all of the producers pushed him to make changes that led to a product he was unhappy with.  This theme of artistic freedom and the way the theatre organizations can curb it reoccurred through out the day.

Jose also said that the one lesson he hoped every director learned was the importance of figuring out the spine of the play.  This is why you're doing this work, why now, and where you are in your life and/or your career that makes this work you're doing important.

Some other memorable points:

  • Stage the story, stage the action, don't stage the text.
  • The director should be in search of the truth in the play.
  • New York may have made the theatre of the 20th century, but Los Angeles is making the theatre of the 21st century.
  • By allowing people to voice many opinions in the rehearsal process, what you lose in power, you gain in creativity.
  • Regional theatres are no longer serving their communities.
  • At LATC, they are trying to create a new model for building audiences, connecting with smaller companies and finding ways to cross-pollinate and help each other.

"We create magic, onstage, sometimes with nothing."