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.
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.