Friday, March 13, 2015

Day Two Clark


Lindsay and I were fortunate to see the play a second time. The nuance worked of the students really was noticeable. I realized that the cast list from Clark hasn't been posted.

Pete - Colby Hinson
Amber - Lillian Schley
Becky - Charlotte Maxwell
Trevor - Will Doughty
Conner - David Bertoldi
Brianna - Maya Davis
Kate - Clare Tassinari
Meg - Caraline Connor

Lindsay and I were able to meet with the cast before the performance and talk about the overall experience of the project. It was really interesting to hear what they had to say about the project and the value that they took from it. There was a strong appreciation for being able to play characters their age and like them. Lillian, who played Amber, shared that it was nice to see their stories being valued even if it doesn't seem like people their age are doing something extraordinary they have important stories. Clare, who played Kate, spoke about the value of being in an ensemble of people their own age.

Maya, who played Amber, is also a playwright and valued the importance of working with Lindsay, a female playwright, and seeing her process. And all of them seem to appreciate the open dialogue and that the writer and director weren't there just to provide answers but that they all contributed. I particularly found it interesting to hear Caraline, who plays Meg, articulating the experience that was one of Lindsay's inspirations for the project. The relationship of social media and major news events in the world.

Each of the cast members really had wonderful things to say about the value of the process and I may share some of those videos as the show heads to a close on Saturday.  Each of these trips were incredibly valuable to Lindsay and I. The production teams contributed a ton, each of the stage managers were amazing, and the faculty invested in the play. Also, the two of us got concentrated time together to talk about the play and ask each other questions about the script. There is another draft coming and we look forward to sharing that with all of you.

After Taylee, who played Becky at Centre College, read the post from the first performance at Clark, she sent me a message that summed up the experience perfectly.

"Wow! I can't believe all of the choices they made! That is so cool! It seems to me that you and Lindsay have seen three very different performances of the play and that is what this collaboration is all about! I'm so glad to hear that it went well! And can't wait to hear more! "

We look forward to sharing more. For now, to the cast at Clark:

Congratulations on a wonderful run!

Talk with you soon.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Day One at Clark


Lindsay and I are up at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts to see the third and final production of the College Collaboration Project. We started our day meeting with Gino Dilorio's advanced playwriting class. There are eight very good students writing interesting plays, some of which will be part of the New Play Festival next academic year. It was great to see and be reminded of Clark and Gino's commitment to new work.

Each of the productions in the College Collaboration have been unique. Last night's production at Clark was like an art installation. The production, directed Ray Munro, was housed in the student theater. A small black box. I was curious how the play would fit in this space. I had been a guest director here years ago and stage Scott Hudson's Sweet Storm there. A much smaller an intimate piece. When we walked in the setting of the play took up the width of the room. Kitchen, dining room table, living room seating area complete with linoleum floor. There were four floor lamps and two hanging lights.

The play was performed with a great sense of realism. All of the productions were performed realistically, however, this one had a sense of intimacy, as if we were peeking into the house. Lindsay's play has a great rhythm to it, and the stakes are high, and there is humor. All of that was still in the play...but what became apparent in this production was the intimacy of the situation and this group of friends. This intimacy remained throughout. However, when the third character entered the experience shift...Becky entered not holding balloons. But there were four projected video along the back wall of her holding balloons and then Pete carrying them and setting them in the corner. All things that were dealing with the outside - and balloons were done with video.

Whenever the actors went 'outside' they utilized different parts of the set, the couch, bench by the kitchen, etc to act as the porch and the walls were treated as cyclorama to project the video of the outdoor scene on. This lifted production out of a slice of life reality and the video aspect also grounded it in the realism of the scenario at the same time. The pay off the video is the final release of the balloons. The actors stood, each saying their line one at a time, pretending to hold a balloon and releasing it to honor their friend. Simultaneously on the back wall of the theater a video of the ritual played. The final moment was of the dark balloons floating away into the dark sky - very reminiscent of the film America Beauty's plastic bag. Something satisfying to see the balloons drift fully away out of sight. I will get a clip of the video of this to share tomorrow. Also, I hope to get a shot of dance moment at the end of Act One - which culminated in Conner and Amber dancing on the kitchen table with their shirts off, hilarious and honest for the moment. 

We ended the night at the Tuesday night Salon hosted by faculty member and amazing photographer Stephen Dirado, who took the photo for the poster.
Also, Lindsay and I were so happy to see Mason Adams, who played Conner in Ashland at the show last night. He came to the production in Kentucky.  He is witnessing the play fully develop over the past seven months. And it has been wonderful to see him talk fully with each of the other Conner's.

Again, the theater was full and the audience enjoyed the play.  I look forward to seeing the play again tonight. Our talk back with the audience and getting to hangout with the cast.

Talk with you soon.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Taking you with us to Clark


Lindsay and I are going up to Clark to see the third production of the In the Event of My Death. Lindsay went up last week for a couple of rehearsals and did a little rewriting. We are both excited the production and to see what we learn about the play.

I read the most recent draft yesterday. It is very good. It has a wonderful flow to it. Any notes are about tiny details, such as maybe a cut here or there, to strengthen an argument. She has answered a lot questions and finessed when and how to share certain information. In this reading, when I came across Brianna's line "Hiding who you really are is never actually the easier choice-just saying." it resonated with me as the theme of the play. It also correlated with a value I am seeing in the project with the engagement of the students throughout the process.

After the first performance at Centre College set an attendance record for a play, I asked the Chandler Garland, a student that was in charge of P.R. for the production, why she thought that happened. Her first answer was, 'it's a new play that was written for us, and everyone knows we helped develop it." I immediately wished that every artistic director that is hesitant about producing new work would hear this statement and see the enthusiasm on campus. I still wish this. However, I realized something else about the 'we helped develop it' part of her statement. Those individual actors not only helped craft the play, but they are in the play. So are the students at Ashland and Clark. 

Part of the College Collaboration Project is engaging the students with the playwright at the beginning of the writer's exploration on the topic. Lindsay was initially curious about the idea of learning about major life events through social media and as well as the idea of secrets. Immediately, she learned from the students that secrets are harder to have in the era of social media. That had an impact on the play. Also, students reached out to her privately to share their personal experience with sexual identity issues in their community. One person's story informed the community of the play's behavior and attitudes toward sexual identity, another actor's input and back story for a character influenced the sexual identity of a character. The play references specific drug use that is relevant to campus life today, as was confirmed by the giant laughter from the audience at the mention of adderall in connection with term papers.

Scott Hudson, who directed the production in Ashland, pointed out that the students are not just helping a playwright craft a story but are putting their voice, their experience, and their need into the world through the characters of the play. It is daring because they are sharing themselves honestly with their own school, and the next, and for the continued the life of the play. The students' investment is deep because they are experiencing a different level of personal investment of what it means to be an artist. The investment of yourself is the value that carries on and resonates within the work.

Also, because they are sharing themselves so fully the play not only is part of their story, it is also the story of their campus. That is why the enthusiasm about the play has reached out beyond the theater department at both of the schools so far. Chandler was right, "It was written for us, and we helped develop it." The 'us' and 'we' are not only the students directly working on the production but the campus as a whole. It is their story. 

The enthusiasm is intensified because through the partnership with the three schools, The Farm Theater, and Lindsay the experience has a much greater reach than their campus. The story will continue to exist and be told outside of their community. 

"Hiding who you really are is never actually the easier choice - just saying." That is the theme for me in the play and the Project. The exciting choice is revealing and sharing who you are. As we go up to Clark we take all of you that have participated in the process with us. Thank you.

Talk with you soon.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Day two at Centre


The two days at Centre were incredible. The shows could not have gone better. Both shows set an attendance record for the department. Both shows received standing ovations. The casts shared a similar love and ownership for their characters as the Ashland cast. Lindsay and I were fortunate to be at Opening on Friday and then closing on Saturday. We both showed our New York Theater mindsets when the play sold out again the second night in thinking 'they should extend.' We want the students to hold on to this experience.

I was struck by the temporal experience of a production. A play exists in the period of time that it is being performed. Here is a photo of the theater at half-hour and then one just a few hours later as the stage is cleared and the department prepares for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to begin rehearsals.
after strike
What I appreciated about talking with the students on Saturday before the show were the things of permanence that this experience was creating. Emily, who played Briana, articulated what a lot of the cast members felt about their contribution to the characters in the play. In this video, she talks about how the make up of the character will remain forever, and the importance of that for her.

And again all of the students spoke about the value of being part of a developing a play that will be published. Something that Indie Theater Now offers many playwrights. It is a tremendous resource for others to be able to find our plays but the students, and again Emily, captured one of the great values of being published. It is tangible evidence and documentation of what we've created to share with the world. It is validating. Thank you Martin and Rochelle from everyone involved in The Farm Theater's College Collaboration - and I am sure the playwright's on Indie Theater Now feel the same. The documentation of the art and process that you offer is greatly appreciated.

The students talk about the value of the relationships they formed with Lindsay and I. One of the primary goals of the program is to connect early career artists with younger artists in order to form mentoring relationships - if not formal mentors, at least contact with someone who is a little further ahead. I was thrilled and grateful to hear Seth, who played Peter, talk about this as one of the values he appreciates the most from this project.

Lindsay has a play opening this week in Brooklyn. Then she will focus on rewrites for Clark. That production will go up in a month. The process keeps moving forward. Today I am grateful for the things that are taking root and will remain from this process for a very long time.

Thank you Centre College for an excellent production and an incredible few days.
Thank you all for being a part of this process.

Talk with you soon.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Centre College - Day one


The first day on the campus of Centre College could not have been better. The obvious thing to share is that the theater department set an attendance record with the play. The auditorium seats 365 and they had about 15 people standing and sitting in the aisles. This is also a record number people to see a play by Lindsay Joy at any one time. That was very exciting. The entire audience including the President of the college were very engaged in the production. Everyone immediately stood at the end. That was very satisfying and gratifying.

However, the best part of the day was that every conversation about the project, over lunch, at senior colloquium, dinner, pre-show, and post show was about the value of the process. Centre really appreciated the value of the process. In the half way point of this process the students got a major re-write. The rewrites added new information about characters, relationships, and given circumstances. It was a big shift for the student actors. I wrote in an earlier post about the value that each of the collaborators brought to the development of the script. However, today's conversation was about the value for the students to experience the process. To realize that things don't come out 'finished' and that with each question begs the next question. I understood the value of asking the next question because it deepens and clarifies the emotional life and points of view of a play. Making the world of the play specific deepens the audience in the personal journey of the characters. 

Matt Hallock, the Department chair and set designer, put the value in of this process in a different context for me. Outside of just theater. I was grateful for this because my goal with this process was not to develop a play but to develop artists. Matt highlighted for me that one of his primary educational goals was to highlight the value of creativity and having students get comfortable with remaining in the unknown for a longer period time. I asked him a bunch of questions that all amounted to "Why?". He talked about how there is a tremendous amount of access to knowledge about how to do something (I'm not sure if he said or I inferred that he was referencing  tools such as Google, youtube, etc) has made our learning process very practical. Instead of creative and investigative. The value of sitting in the unknown was summed up in that it makes us better thinkers. As we strengthen our ability to think we are able to come up with new answers and ask questions we wouldn't otherwise ask. We learn better because we become better thinkers.

When I hear the enthusiasm from the student artists involved in the process at Ashland or Centre College, I believe the value of spending time in the unknown is clear.  The process of exploration and discovery in bringing a new play to life seems to engage them through finding answers for the first time. There isn't a guide to how this play has been done before. Or even a definitive answer about the world of the play - because each question allows for the possible change of the world. 

After lunch we went to senior colloquium and were greeted with the question of what is art? A simple question. At first I wasn't sure how this huge question related to our project but as the hour long conversation unfolded it became clear that we were talking about what it takes to bring a new play to life. The absolute personal investment of the character along with the exploration of the shifting world (and script) in partnership with the practical craft of knowing your lines, having the technique and control over your 'instrument' to deliver what was technically required for the role. The process of bringing a new play to life was engaging all aspects of their artistry and it was thrilling to watch them discover for themselves the need to bring both a technical knowledge and individual creative investment to this, and all, projects. 

One of the things I value most from the schools in this process is that they agree to invest in the producing a play that everyone is aware is in process, or is simply said is unfinished, when it is shared with the public. The audience's response to the work is truly the greatest learning tool for the development of the play. 

As I mentioned earlier, they were engaged. They were entertained. They stood. They stayed for a talk back with the team. The first person's questions were about process: how was the experience at each school informing the experience at the next? How were we documenting the experience of the playwright? How could we repeat this process in the future and improve upon it? And then all of the questions were about the process. The process for the student actors, the playwright, the director, etc. No questions about specific things in the text. Those comments came afterward in casual conversation. But the half hour conversation in the auditorium was all about the creative and development process. The audience was invested, were happy to be part of the process, and immediately saw the value of experience for the play, the students, and the community.

Also one of the great joys of the evening was that Mason, who played Conner at Ashland, made a six hour drive to see the play. We had a wonderful conversation about the rewrites and the difference in productions. Mostly, I appreciated his love for the play and project - and the opportunity to connect him and Josh who is playing Conner at Centre.

There is much more to share. I am looking forward to our second performance. Thank you to everyone for sharing this experience with us.

Talk with you soon.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Next Question


I am glad that Lindsay was able to be in residence at Centre College for three days of rehearsal. According to everyone it was very productive. As she shared in her blog post the immediacy of being in front of the cast created a demand for showing up with new pages. And pages worth their time and talent. The other exciting part is that it got everyone in the same room and they were able to fully benefit from the collaboration.

Centre College Ensemble

Lindsay went down with a rewritten first act that successfully addressed some unanswered questions from the last draft. Things like, how and when did Freddy's sister get his laptop. Did Pete's dad retire or leave for an illness? These answers grounded the play in a stronger reality. It may have been real for the cast before but addressing these questions will allow the audience to remain fully engaged. The exciting thing about answering each question a play asks is that it prompts another. And another. Facing the larger questions of a play head on is what makes a play go from good to possibly great.

Jordan, Centre College's Assistant Stage Manager shared that "Seeing her and Patrick (the director) hash out ideas that have been giving both of them trouble was helpful for everyone and provided an experience most people don't get to have."

I like that Jordan points out that the writer and director were hashing things out. Also, that it was valuable for the students to witness that. Most students don't get to see a playwright and director collaborate on a new script which is one of the goals of this program.  However, another goal is for the actors to recognize that they are an incredibly valuable part of the 'hashing out'. As Lindsay mentioned in her post, she was struggling with the character of Brianna and was happy to borrow from the actress, Emily, playing the role. The back story Emily created helped answer a lot of questions about Brianna prior to the play as well as her stakes in being at the event of the play. Each question, answer, artistic choice, and quiet observation helps to shape the work.

While hearing about the process of those three days I was struck by the sense of ownership that the students have over their particular roles. And the play. I remember when we were leaving Ashland that cast all spoke about how much they loved their characters. They were protective of them. They wanted to see what the next actor would do with them, hoping that they took great care of them. I know from what I have seen and read about the rehearsals that the cast at Centre is taking wonderful care and approaching these characters with great love, appreciation, and intelligence.

I am glad for all of their input, care, and ownership. I am also grateful for their appreciation that the play is changing and evolving as Lindsay is learning more about the play. It is hard to let go of choices already made. It is also hard to let go of a desire an actor might have for their character's journey. Patrick, the director, sent me an email about the work with Lindsay in the room and at the end of it he shared an astute observation from a 17 year old who was a guest at a run thru. Patrick recognized it's potential value and ended our email with " a thought not offered into the conversation by anyone at this point, and I don't if Lindsay would want someone to air it. I will ask her this week."

Everyone's input is valuable. All ideas are important. And ultimately, the script is the responsibility of the writer.  I love this collaboration.

Talk with you soon.