Working in the Theatre: Under Construction


[intro music] [electronic music] [phone chatter] So I’m here at the Park Avenue Armory where I’ve been given a studio for a year to make performances. The Under Construction series is a curated artist-in-residence program here at the Armory. They have a couple of curators that select artists that are working in
New York City and invite them to the armory for a year to make a new work. So I’m able to use this as a design studio or as a rehearsal hall. However I want. When we have rehearsal we just push everything out of the way and we use the room as a
dance studio and then when the performers leaves, oftentimes I bring
everything back and I spend a couple of days working on the design aspects of
the show and we turn to sort of a design studio. My process is sort of a big mad mass in a way. I mean physically it’s very messy. Oftentimes the room is a huge disaster. Also in my brain there are all these things happening. There tends to be a lot of people in the
room with me design assistance, as well as performers,
as well as production people. That’s just how I work. I don’t write a play and figure out how to produce it. I write the play as I’m producing it, as
I’m designing it, as I’m directing it. So it all just happens at the same time Right now I’m just building the piece. At the end of this month we will have a public presentation for invited guests only at The
Kitchen, which is a performance space in Chelsea. All of these are small cells
that I’ve been working on in the Armory studio, this catalogue of movement sketches and this catalog if ideas. I’ll be able to take to The Kitchen and start putting
them together and figure out how they work together and if they work together. I’m working on this new play ELIJAH GREEN. That is the name of one of my
closest friends oldest child. He’s about 11 years old now. He’s just sort of
becoming a man now. He’s asking his bigger questions about life and
existence and at the same time I was thinking of making this play which was
about life and existence. I was talking about it one day and I was just
like I should just name the play after this kid, ELIJAH GREEN, so I did. Before the prologue happens there’s a pre-show moment where everything’s in
silence and we have this voice over. We have a sound test of it. All of these voices from all the performers are laid on top of each other
saying the same text so it sounds like this kind of non voice but yet every
voice. I don’t know if we’ll keep it. We go to blackness and then the voice over happens and it basically establishes that there’s this God about
to come to Earth and then we see this light turned on. Basically god says “I’m
coming to Earth now.” My work tends to involve some kind of
transient person or spirit that transcends its own time and place. That’s an idea that I’ve kind of been returning to unconsciously. The story of Elijah Green is very loosely inspired by [August] Strindberg’s A Dream Play. There’s this spirit who lives in heaven wondering why humans complained so much. In order to answer that question this God
comes down and makes herself manifest in human form, has an experience, and then
goes back to the heavens. That’s Strindberg’s version but I haven’t read that
play. I have a dramaturg friend that knows me really well and she basically
gives me an outline of A Dream Play and then she inserts in her outline
particularly images that I can latch onto. That’s enough for me to go and
began to write a piece of text or begin to create a piece of movement or create
a tableau with a performer. I feel like reading the whole text beginning to end obligates me to have this faithful adaptation. So in my version we have these eight principal performers that
are all on stage at the same time. This is the audience now seated on all
four sides. They are kind of looking down at the space. Their risers are 6 feet high
off the ground. Then on stage are the performers. They’re all
holding stuff or they’re doing stuff. There’s not a lot of big heavy set pieces.
They’re all hand-held modular props. Just a series of things
that have shaped its recognizable like this Neo-classic bust or even this like
cheap little vase right here. It still have some kind of like classic form to it. All of these set pieces are from our contemporary life but they reference something timeless. So this is the starting point for this whole visual
world, so you can see that it’s much like a Where’s Waldo painting where you have
no idea what to focus on until…. Andrew’s vision is so precise. He thinks on a very big scale for the types of venues and the resources that we have. So it’s about how to make his vision fit because he’s not just the director, he’s
also the writer, he’s the designer. He works a lot in fashion so he has a very
clear sense of how he wants things to look. This is a real strong … visual connection to what I’m
working on. You can see we’re inventing our own work based on the Brueghl
paintings and sometimes we’re actually. This is an explicit reference where
replicating of Brueghl painting to a certain degree. This is a Brueghl as well. I always start with something very
visual something very concrete. It usually is a piece of artwork of some
sort and usually not a piece of contemporary art work. performance on these heater elder
paintings there was a painter who departed from
the traditional subjects of aristocracy or royalty he was one of the first
painters that painted what they call John paintings which is people doing
everyday things we have a painting called children’s games and it just
illustrates people playing games there’s a painting called the Netherlandish
proverbs and it just illustrates the different problems of the day it seems
like a very simple thing but at the time it was a great departure from what was
happening in art history to turn your attention from someone they could be
paying your bills to turn your attention to the person who searching for me a
little time in making my performance really wanted to find some sort of
beauty and poetry and the Monday nature of our lives things but there are just a bunch of
Flemish white people and I love the idea of them but I wanted to my performance
too of course reflect my reality so I wanted to populate the stage much like a
population has campuses I want to populate with the stage with my
contemporaries and see what kind of relationship can emerge different people from different
performance backgrounds combining an opera singer with a Broadway dancer and
everyday people into the performance as well known local priest at my church in
brooklyn is gonna be in the play as well and he’s not a performer he’s just
priest my mom is coming in from national and she’s going to be in the play so she
might iron a shirt for 20 minutes and then she might go to a prayer for 15
minutes and then she might go peel potatoes for 15 minutes it’s much like
going to a city building and everyone is related to that building but no one’s
related to each other or going to a subway station and everyone’s related
somehow because you’re going to Subway but you really have no connection to
each other and he asked me to be his play and ever
since we have been collaborating I’m a writer Andrew to me and said he
bought it with me and talked about the possibility of rising roll for me I said
that hundred and that’s how about it being this very strange collaborators based on the alchemy that
he wants in the room having as diverse group of possible not just in terms of
ethnicities and cultures but also in terms of age it’s kind of a beautiful
thing to watch this world of so many different energies colliding so right
now I’m in a musical called it an American in Paris on Broadway and so
I’ve been working here pretty much 10 to six and go and do my show at night and
that’s really hard but I love process I’m very curious about how everyone
makes things that we all do that so it’s really it is very rewarding to have this
very full explorative rehearsal period right before my show because it’s
actually made the show better like I feel more inspired to do my show boundaries are very clear when you’re
doing a musical but with something like this it’s not which is very exciting to
me personally I really love the core of the play so for me being a part of
something like this I love that it pulls from a lot of different sort of genres
are inspirations like everyone’s coming from really different places my
character comes in at the end of the prologue she’s the only one thats pulled
in on she’s kind of fancy he is very professional he calls me mom but he
treats me like everyone else not being an actress not being a professional
person I am amazed that he would even let me in his play so when he asks of
course I’m honored and literary wondering what what does he really won’t
you know that I’m kind of a drama queen I say yes a dance artists who basically makes my
own work and have pretty much spent my entire career doing that I’ve never
actually collaborated inside a theater project yeah keep up with the ball I wasn’t really
sure what to expect and one thing that I was also really clear within this is
what I do and I’m not actually sure I know how to do this and that was
actually part of the appeal I have very little experience working with people
who have different kinds of physical training and particularly have very
little experience working with actors who may or may not have certain kinds of
spatial awareness skills or rhythmic skills or guilt about time so it’s been
interesting and also really challenging process to try and figure out well like
how do I make something that I’m interested in that they’re also capable
of doing my theory is very different from a lot of other theaters happening
in New York you got onto Broadway you might see a realistic drama you might
see a beautiful revival of an author Miller play starring in the movie star
and in my work I’m not interested in that I am interested in working with
contemporary performers and really building a performance around their
specific how it so far schedule for the day we’re gonna pick up where we left
off which is this moment coming out of fruit cocktail into being go into Edgar
scene I’m going to cut the bingo so we’re just gonna go straight from the
fruit cocktail to a moment John and I have sort of the gun to figure out what
the end result will be so kind of set that picture and then we’ll back step
and figure out how we get there from like Mike doing the hula hoop across to
mom doing the curls with the rocks so let’s do that let’s set up a cocktail
and we’ll see how that goes from there R you can ask the group as well as you
like some fruit cocktail and then everyone can say yes and then go and
we’re there to see to another think martin luther kin or something like that
Stewart soon as you turn in darkness now I don’t know what he sees things clear
out this character has my name on that but it’s him I love his rising I think
he is just give it a fascinating ride my character is named at seems like his own he likes to hold people’s hands seems very perplexed by the play and he
seems to be with the prospect is she I don’t know whether it’s Andrew’s
perception of me I don’t think so I think Andrew through all the characters
is just trying to express certain aspects of being human it’s a little bit
odd it’s the first time I’ve had this experience where I’m not playing someone
else nor am I playing myself but it is my name that I respond to on stage my character like all of the characters
and display loves fear anger is human she is healthy and she’s also you and
she’s me too and you said to me I’d love for you to be in this piece and I love
working with performers who I can music off of I think that with every single
one of us he found a way in to something that we don’t necessarily know about
ourselves or a thing that we don’t often reveal making progress I thought I don’t
even have a simple that we’re all playing a heightened
version of ourselves in the show I’m tiniest author unknown but dark of my
stories very different from my own personal one I try being sick I try being this
glamour girl wearing this very extravagant wig and then finally I
turned myself into a table is a table has no slippery emotions and so there’s
no conflict and I punctuated the end line by saying I went to Harvard
University in an extremely obnoxious way and that is one of the aspects of my
story like they did go to Harvard University with a poking fun at myself
and Andrew pokes fun at himself about the art of theatre making the resources
that we have to make this work is kind of ridiculous and I was gonna wear it is
making a bunch of single pieces that I like should try to rest on someone actually
today some other fabrics early and painted in some of them are African
prints when he becomes like a car bomber
becomes a community service or something like that just like just be found in the 6400
working with this organization called the ethical fashion initiative and it’s
a small organization that’s a subsidiary of the United Nations and what they do
is they take artisans from developing countries and the pair them with knots
market fashion and so it really empowers women they got jobs they get money it’s
not a charity and so what I’m interested in is collecting items that these women
produce small over the world and then we’ll piece them together in different
ways to create these costumes so it is kind of this route collaborative effort
even though these people don’t know me and they’re from all different parts of
the world feeling yesterday by the way when he
does the strength is like way too much activity energy over the tradition stuff that’s what we’re seeing now we
did all of this and less than two minutes the other day and then we eat remember let’s just say so at the end of
her guard down and turned to make sure we’re moving forward and not just like
WoW and I would describe my efforts as something other than the chaos that
exists right now but whatever they do you think Andrew works much quicker and
much more like place the fear that their oh I’m going to change this will take
this out moving over here and immediately my sense is calculating the
myriad of different rippling effects will move out front that kind of a
really quick change you know so it’s akin to like if you’re really used to
working with sandpaper as kind of your tool and very finely like shaving off
late things and then you get in a collaborator who really likes to work
with a chainsaw so the tricky part is to find the space where that difference of
viewpoint and different skill set becomes an asset rather than just
stumbling block where you’re constantly fighting we just had a run through a dress
rehearsal and now are about to have a showing I’m a bit nervous but excited I have butterflies in my stomach have to
go to the bathroom all of those things that indicate a person is not relaxed I don’t like to show work in progress
I’m really someone who likes the finished piece and then once I know what
it is when I know what I like that I can put it in front of an audience and then
go from there I’m really not someone usually prefers
to have a process of public showings throughout the creative process but in
this particular instance it just made sense logistically I’m practically for
that to happen audience gentle audience is usually
theatergoers who is there and they can give not this critical feedback the just
general observations and what they saw and where their attention went oftentimes I find that my attention is
focused here but then the audience something across the stage I hope that
for the audience that it looks effortless but we are really really
really paying attention and every detail every movement is carefully
choreographed need a lot of energy a lot of physical
energy and a lot of emotional energy for this work I sing a song in the piece called
viciousness is mercy she says that one day that she was
walking in the street and she saw two snails calculating she stepped on them
they were headed for danger danger to making love were headed toward
however the play really holds a space in its chaos and in its order for us to
have the experience of things that sometimes we keep hidden like our
cruelty because about me to play started out as
one thing involving a group of people and over the course of a few months evolved to just be about me and my life
and so at some point it made sense for me to actually enter the peace and then
it made more sense that someone that I had orchestrated to be there murder me there’s an audience there and
they’re expecting your performance to a certain extent even though this morning
I changed multiple things so it’s kind of a little bit of an arbitrary point to
enter the process but it is necessary the peace will premiere until March so I
have between now and March to flush out the design work to revise the tax return
to the rehearsal room see how that evolves and also to fundraise Newark
this is the first time I’ve done this sort of intense monthlong workshop
process and after each one I learn something else and I always go back to
the drawing board and rewrite and rethink and I recast to bring in
completely new people and some instances I’m so between now and March when we
premiere look or feel very different than it does now and that’s the nature
of making art

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