We’re off to our first day of Tech at the Barbican in London! Glasgow was excellent – all sold out runs full of really excited university students who felt that our work was really speaking to what they want to be making in the art world. It was so much fun to be back with our friends at the National Theatre of Scotland and at the Arches!
In London we are staying in the hippest loft and apartments imaginable in a rad neighborhood called Hoxton, right in the middle of everything, and a 15 minute walk from the theater. And the theater . . . wow. It is just beautiful and staffed by wonderful people. It truly felt like we were part of the theater community here when Libby and Frank recognized the man who works the Stage Door Desk as a performer who had put up a Scratch of one of his plays the same night that we first presented a Scratch of Architecting!
what? the orchard project. a residency in the catskills where the TEAM got to work on the script of THE AMERICAN CAPITALISM PROJECT all day long in a red barn. all meals were provided, and wine at night. we slept in a brown house by a creek that turned into a raging root beer river when it rained. evenings were spent falling in love with the rude mechs, playing games, dancing, and making merriment.
who? jake margolin, rachel, matty, tater, libby, kristen, brian, and i were the TEAM members able to go. it was amazing to have sir brian hastert back the room after a several year absense caused by his attendence at the yale school of drama. frank boyd was on a journey across the country and jess, nick, jake h, and songbird heather christian were unable to attend. although i missed them all dearly, it was interesting and beneficial to work on a new script without some of the performers. in a collaborative process, i’m always thinking about the ego. my ego, and those dozen others in the room. it’s been a beautiful struggle over the years to balance the importance of the play as the whole, the experience of the audience, and a bunch of actor egos who want to play challenging amazing roles. because we were missing two key performers, the focus was strongly on making the play as a whole. we always write for all characters, but this week we also traded parts freely and did a reading where jake played heather, brian played frank, and i played jessie. i felt more like a playwright than i ever have, and it was a good feeling.
also falling under the question mark of WHO is the other people at the OP that week. is that a sentence? it is to me! the TEAM met dean for the first time, and he did not forget the tequila. we were happy and warm fuzzied to see ari, jake, and andrew again. we met this year’s core company- a team of apprentices in or fresh out of college. micheline was our rehearsal assistant and she was oh so valuable. she can also shake it on the dance floor. one night, the core company put on the most amazing cabaret i will ever see. i was genuinely moved by their sheer joy of performing, and fearlessness. i want to bottle that fearlessness and chug it.
the TEAM was lucky enough to be at the OP the same week as the Rude Mechanicals outta austin, texas. we had met some of them before, and had in fact been in Galway, Ireland at the same time, but never spent quiality time. well, people, it was love at first sight. our energies were so on the same page. the minute kirk spoon fed me some family meal that looked like it was going to be black beans and rice but was in fact some kind of wheatberry apple brown betty cold stuff, i knew it was ON. we played wiffle ball with mixed teams our first night, and the trash talking was truly creative. their spirit was infectious and delicious mixed with ours. it was really eye opening and exciting for me to see that people are making good work, and recognized good work OUT of new york. this city is wearing on me. the rude mechs have been around for 15 years and they are still going strong – and they have houses and stuff. that is so cool. i want that. we agreed to trade me for thomas in a semi joke that i hope will come true. micheline and andrew thought it was true and almost changed my bus ticket. i do want to work with you, thomas, so we will have to come up with a solution to that. maybe the trading just doesn’t happen at the same time.
work? we got about twenty pages of AMCAP written, which was RAD and totally necessary, since we are off to London in two weeks. We have development time at the Almeida, and showings at the end of this time. the vibe does not seem to be casual showing, and we are working with a choreographer there and so it was important for us to have some script to bring over. we got to listen to and participate in two readings – Leila and Louis’s – playwrights up at the OP. we saw some songs and dance from the rude mech’s piece I’ve Never Been So Happy. we did a reading of our script and got some good feedback.
games we played: euchre, wiffle ball, capture the flag, settlers of catan, and mafia.
there was also a prom. and we danced a lot.
and we made a bonfire and ate smores.
dear mom and dad i love summer camp please send me back next year i will get lots of work done and play very hard. i miss everyone so much already! there were fireflies and it was magical and i loved it. i loved it!
I almost spelled the name of the location correctly without looking (this title is correct – at least, from an Irish woman!)
So I am learning quickly what a glorious thing an artists’ retreat is. Wishing I was a playwright to get to do these more often! Tonight we had left-overs from lunch for dinner and just gathered and talked and of course that is still continuing on in the kitchen. I shared wine with the three “facilitators” (master artist folks) at one end of the table and was lucky enough to just hear stories of these wild pieces unlike anything I have ever encountered in America. I don’t know if that’s going on in the visual art or dance worlds and I just don’t know about it, but these works sound (and look – we got to watch video from this unbelievable archive one of the facilitators has with him) so incredible – simple. Elegant. Talked about Lone Twin. Jerome Bel. Inspiring.
Tomorrow Jess and I begin work on THE AMERICAN CAPITALISM PROJECT – my hope is to get a bunch of writing assignments out to the company in preparation for our upcoming workshop at the BRICLab in April.
In a bus from Dublin, 2 hours to Tyrone Guthrie’s estate, by way of London and New Orleans. Hearing we’ll be jumping another (bloody) hour ahead next week. Sleepstrewn through a highway bus astride cowflecked Irish country patch. Rachel is reading Marx.
The Irish gent across the aisle is speaking about clever insanity in the form of a megalomaniac to make something political happen – anything political can happen – in the wake of the political collapse. He is talking about personal power being transferred to the state and cheap labor and immigrants and whatever might be the next religion.
Last week, in New Orleans, we saw Brad Pitt’s green houses staggerring with sober Easter exhaustion through the still very vacant, and abandoned , now fields, of the lower ninth. We shoveled a back yard of glass shards, concrete bricks, and clay, and removed pigeon shot and complete bird carcasses stripped of meat, ensconced in their own fecal dust, from the walls.
Many people have not painted over the now political graffiti on the pastel dinosaur exteriors of their dying homes: dog food, SPCA, dog in back, 14 09, 0 (bodies), home- this was home.
Historically, I haven’t been much of a reader. Books that I have opened – whether it was to impress a stranger? in the morning by reading Derrida (sort of) on the R train or for high school AP English credits – usually didn’t get much further than the first few dog-eared, heavily notated, coffee stained in-the-wake-of-the-Roman-numeral-prefaced pages. On some level I can subconsciously defend myself by saying, Well, the writer probably took quite a long time mulling over the initiation of this, his or her, masterwork, and choosing the first few words, yadda yadda and etcetera so – soooooo – so shall I, probably.
But then I wouldn’t get quite that much pr any farther. Just the afterbirth of the preface or the baby’s first steps, and then I was done. And with a ten page paper.
Rachel Chavkin gets me reading books. Sometimes. In fact, the first full book I’ve read since I can solemnly remember is Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with Wind (I almost mis-typed it as DONE with the Wind, which would also have been accurate. . . ) We read this book for Architecting and I figured if I was given the honor and the privilege of playing Margaret Mitchell then I should really know it. Needless to say, it is a long book. And it took me, the skimmer and verbal scavanger that I have been, quite a WEE bit of time to do the reading of it.
So I have only read it once.
Then there was the book: Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. By Henry Adams. This was the FIRST book Rachel Chavkin gave me to read, when I was initially going to play Henry Adams. But I jumped a bit and used my old tricks on the Editor’s Note (which comes even BEFORE the preface) and needless to say, I was not methodically playing Sir Henry.
There is a bit in Mr. Adams’ Editor’s Note that I have procrastinated for many months now in sharing (I could say it’s been deliberation but basically I’ve just been slow to blog.) Sadly and also for better if the other option we are given to choose comic strip wise is worse, there is no specified equipment – a kind of bluetoothian dictator – to take my thinking about blogging and make it into a blog post. So – hence the delayment – so.
The Editor, he speaks about Henry Adams’ analysis of the Middle Ages as an “epoch. . . that must be considered en bloc, as a period of consistent unity as highly emphasized as was its dynamic force.”
So now we’re quoting here, bear with me for the first sentence: “it is unnecessary to say that Mr. Adams deals with the art of the Middle Ages after this fashion: he is not of those who would determine every element in art from its material antecedents. He realizes very fully that its essential element, the thing that differentiates it from the art that preceded and that which followed, is its spiritual impulse; the manifestation may have been, and probably was, more or less accidental, but that which makes Chartres Cathedral (and some other art . . . paraphrasing here etc) . . great and unique is not their technical mastery nor their fidelity to the enduring laws of all great art, – though these are singular in their perfection – but rather the peculiar spiritual impulse which informed the time, and by its intensity, its penetrating power, and through its dynamic force wrought a rounded and complete civilization and manifested this through a thousand varied channels.”
Thank you, Henry. [emphasis added]
The Civil War. Hurricane Katrina. Secession. Reconstruction. – Forces.
Audience members. – A thousand varied channels.
As we rowed this ship through 6 weeks in January, we met directors from England, families from New Orleans, students from Yale, professors from college, big minds from the New York theatre world and Polans, moms and dads, Southern belles relocated and now up north, businessmen, students. People seemed to hear something.
What is – why now – the particular spiritual impulse?
Maybe as our incarnation of Henry puts in our play, “From a revisionist historian’s perspective – ” – – looking back from here, at the top of March, what can I see that was happening? – –
Maybe we were looking at – How does an American place leave and can it ever come back?
The death of an Old South that the Civil War burned to shreds.
The death of a New Orleans that may or may not be reborn or want to be.
Can we reinstate to the South a sense of dignity here in the North as a kind of reparation for reputation tarnishing.
Can we imagine – through imagination and empathy if not through political alliances – a more whole country if we find love for the sever and are tender with the sutures?
The great movement of hope and change that came to the forefront of our poetic and political vocabularies with President Obama’s campaign emerged after Architecting’s racially rooted reading assignments were assigned. So to with the American Capitalism Project, proposed before Wall Street and Ponzi schemes hit the front pages.
I just relooked up peculiar. Relooked because it has been probably been since the 7th Grade, if I ever have. Of or pertaining to a specific group or odd, unique, distinct.
And an impulse – a motivation, incentive (that word is a hmmm for me for the next piece), inspiration. Usually to do something other than the rational. A force so communicated as to produce motion suddenly. The act of driving onward with sudden force. (I love those last two.)
Something I learn from building with the TEAM is that there is an exploitation of words – an explicit and a very large and concrete nature to inhabiting things that are stated, often very simply, but with consequential reverb. I try not to take those things for granted because the more I understand the word, the bigger the idea we can carry for the audiences . .
When I contemplate where these plays come from or where the next play might go, I am so far – continue to be – and awesomely have been very much amazed at how we tap into some sort of emerging context totally by accident and by default on purpose, and get to be a part of an evolving series of ideas and small but severing fractures of American identification.
The peculiar spiritual impulse that grasps us.
We don’t manufacture the impulse.
I don’t think that is my job, to manufacture the impulse, as a human.
So I think that this is really pretty cool.
However you are given to defining for yourself the word “spiritual.
It could be – and been down – a thousand varied channels.
I always write the name of the show in all caps. This is the way I feel about this amazing crazy journey we have titled ARCHITECTING ( among other things ).
The past few months have been the most exhausting and exciting months of my life, and I dare say, the company’s life ( and in these past few months, there hasn’t been much difference between the two ).
Some select memories:
Setting up our dressing room at The Public. At THE PUBLIC. Looking at Jess and saying out loud WE ARE AT THE PUBLIC. Doing a play we made. That we care about. Does it get much better? For those of you who don’t know, Jessie and I met on the first day of NYU, at The Freshmen Ice Cream Social. Ten years later, here we are. To be cliche and to not, we’re living the dream.
Playing a set with Frank at the LuEsther Lounge late night. A couple years ago, Frank didn’t play guitar. And I haven’t sung for anyone besides my shampoo bottle in ages. One rainy night in Dublin, in a college dormitory room and on tour, fed on frozen lasagne and British beers we watched Neil Young’s Heart of Gold movie. The we had some more beers and started making up songs. Writing songs and singing with Frank has been joy and wonder filled for me. Learning something completely new, and sharing it has been such a huge lesson. Oh there are so many new things I can learn to do! ( to be cliche or not ).
Living through the cough plague that swept the city and the cast. When I get sick, I get it bad. And let me tell you people, opening a show with twenty minutes of singing and then corset coughing is pretty painful. But the TEAM is a family, and there were cough drops of six different sorts hidden all over the set, and six different sets of hands ready to pass you one. I will always remember Carrie Campbell offering Melly a sip of her Makers Mark in the middle of a scene when I had a particularly wretched feather stuck in my throat.
It felt beautifully full circle to have so many NYU students see the show (Thank you Michael Krass!) and to hear their questions and comments. It was stunning to sell out in New York City, sometimes to audiences of total strangers. It was satisfying to share this piece we’ve worked on for well over two years with the friends, family, and peers that have been hearing all about it for ever and ever.
I ate a lot of vegetarian Matzoh Ball soup. Thanks, B+H.
It was great to be back at PS122. It felt like home, and what a feeling. Thank you, Vallejo.
It was magical to stand in the Anspacher, and feel the ghosts of its history, and then get to be part of the incredible list of shows that have opened there. Thank you, Mark.
I cannot thank enough all the crew and volunteers and helpers. Often I’m so distracted and tired I don’t get to thank properly the people who really really deserve it.Thank you. Properly and wholeheartedly.
So today we had the first of our rehearsals to FINALLY finish Architecting. YAY!!! We are chomping at the bit to bring it to NYC audiences as part of the 2009 Under the Radar Festival at the Public, and then a transfer to P.S.122. But actually I have to say this is an incredible part of the TEAM process because so often during the majority of our work we are so busy writing that we almost never get to actually…how do you say…rehearse?
It’s a delight for all of us to sort of sit back in to the disciplines by which most of us define ourselves (director, actor, etc.) and work on the play which – by November 30th will be in what we call “lock-down.” Now as Matt our Sound Designer will tell you with a smirk, this is a lie. But we are getting better and better at switching hats.
Act 1 seems to be in good shape, and I think we’re on the verge with Act 2 of really seeing through the propositions of Act 1. With a project as massive as Architecting this is certainly the major challenge.
This Saturday we jumpstarted our rehearsal process for the newest version of ARCHITECTING, which will make it’s US premiere in NYC this January.
There were two special purposes to this rehearsal ( we start up full time towards the end of November ) : to read the newest script version out loud, and to have a visit from Minister Linda Fabiani – a member of Scottish Parliament and Minister for Europe, External Affairs and Culture.
Rehearsal took place at Montgomery Gardens, our shared rehearsal/storage/office space. It’s a wonderful share with brilliant artists and we like to refer to it as “the office” because it makes us feel very official. There is a coffee maker and everything. There is also half a naked mannequin and bunches of fake flowers and a wall painted with bricks. It is located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where many of us live. I dare guess that it is as far into Brooklyn as most visiting international politicians have ever ventured ( though what do I know ).
Minister Fabiani arrived with colleagues, including some who work for The National Theatre of Scotland. We had doughnuts set out, and apple pie, strawberries, coffee and even tea. I should stop blogging about the TEAM’s bad eating habits before we have to stop eating nachos AND doughnuts. We also eat a lot of spinach, I swear.
Our guests were very well dressed, and totally game to hang out with us in our little basement space. After explaining a bit about the show ( which only some had seen in Edinburgh ), and the characters we played in it, we jumped right into it. By it, I mean we improvised. I mean we jammed. I mean we labbed. I mean we warmed up.
What do I mean?
The TEAM has built something all our own, which we have yet to decide on a formal name for. The dorkiest but most descriptive to me is “jamming”, as if we were musicians with instruments. As they tell you over and over again in drama school, our bodies and voices are our instruments. We jam together improvising scenelets and dance moves – sometimes silently and sometimes vocally. Sometimes it is very abstract, and sometimes linear and realistic. We follow the outlines of Viewpoints subconsciously. Most of the time our jams are a collaboration with at least one of our designers.
We’re starting to build what we are calling the Overture at the beginning of ARCHITECTING. It will be an overture not only of sound, but of theme, flavor and time. So, after months of not formally seeing each other in rehearsal on our feet, we got up in front of these important and generous folk and played pretend.
We were tumbleweeds swimming, and pageant contestants, patriots and horses. It felt brilliant and exciting and a productive way to start work on the beginning. Afterwards, we chatted with our visitors about what they had seen, and it was wonderful to hear that it had been exciting to watch. Minister Fabiani was so articulate and interested, and gave us the most lovely compliment to the tune of ( paraphrased ) “I felt like I was in Eastern Europe”. This was a huge compliment to us, and Rachel talked beautifully about our relationship with the National Theatre of Scotland as a “miracle”, and our experience with cultural diplomacy. I request her to repeat her thoughts on this cultural diplomacy here on our blog – my paraphrase would not be nearly as good.
I felt a glow of importance around what we are doing, and the relationships we have made, especially in the UK. I’ve learned so much simply by getting to spend hunks of time in another country and having incredible conversations about art and politics with its residents. It was such an honor to have Minister Fabiani join us for a morning, and I thank her for her interest and intelligence. The visit motivated me to keep on with what we have started, which is no small feat as we all grow older and yearn for health insurance and steady income. As Jess put it, ” I have faith that this is important enough that it will all work out “.
Sorry it’s been a while. The TEAM just was lucky enough to host the Scottish Minister of Culture last Saturday to our glamorous rehearsal space in Brooklyn. It was pretty awesome – we did a warm up preparing to construct the new “Overture” we’re making for Architecting and then discussed both process and company. And one of the things that I talked about was something that I keep bringing up in company meetings, and Jess urged me to blog about it.
I cannot stop thinking about this past June’s TCG conference (which I sadly could not be in attendance for but which I read about extensively in American Theater) and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s keynote speech. He said “Theater is foreign policy” and spoke about the necessity for artists to consider themselves cultural diplomats in the global community. I keep turning this thought over and over in my mind, and have realized that the TEAM has ended up doing this without really meaning to. We first went to Edinburgh in 2005 because we believed we could get reviews there in a way the New York press all but ignores companies working at the level we were at at the time. But since that time our international touring has grown and grown, and in 2009 we will hopefully be leaving the English speaking world for the first time.
After every performance we invite our audiences to come with us to the theater’s restaurant/bar (or if we’re in America where for some reason few theaters are constructed with public gathering spots, a neighborhood joint) and talk with us about the themes of the play, ask questions or pose challenges. And again and again we are told when abroad, “I am so relieved to know that there are Americans thinking critically about their country.” Not in the negative sense, just asking questions.
I am not sure I have anything to add to this discussion…I think the next administration should take Kwei-Armah’s words to heart and subsidize exchange between America and countries/communities around the world. Theater has to be a part of the process of restoring our nation’s broken image across the globe because by it’s nature it is local and personal.
This is not exactly about the TEAM, but for a company called “The Theatre of the Emerging American Moment” I do think it speaks to the forces that motivate us.
David and me and Frankie at the offices
Just a note to say that Frank Boyd (performer) and I went down to South Philly yesterday to volunteer for the Obama campaign and it was a truly phenomenal experience. The offices down there – and I’m sure across the country – need all the help we can give, financially and in terms of time. This is a massive grassroots effort, and yesterday Frank and I (and Frank’s pal David!) got to do it all: we registered voters on South Street, we canvassed a neighborhood that can only properly be described as the projects and had extraordinary conversations with people, and we made phone calls to try to get more volunteers. It was cool, and fun and definitely tangibly useful.
What I think is most fearsome to most volunteers, we really grafted to, which was talking frankly and positively and strongly to a VERY poor black neighborhood. The necessity of as many people registering as possible before the deadline on October 6th, and then getting them to vote cannot be overstated. I talked with a 19-year old girl yesterday who was not registered and had been taught all her life NOT to vote because the system was so corrupt anyway that “one African American doesn’t equal one vote” (her words). Anyway, we talked for about 10 minutes, and at the end I got her to register. And to pass a registration form on to her mom. Who knows if she will vote, but I think it was a very important encounter.
Anyway, the time they can MOST use volunteers is weekend days, but also 4pm-9pm every day of the week. There’s a MONSTER PUSH to register before October 6th, but then a monster push to get people persuaded and out. Pennsylvania canNOT be lost. It’s about $13 each way if you take NJ transit to PA public transport just down to Philly, and then I’m sure a cab to this office. OR easy to split between a group a zipcar or car rental. Less than 2 hours to get down there, so you really can go for a day.
I just thought it was amazing, so I urge you to consider doing. I am definitely planning on going back down, so let me know when you might be able to go!