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the peculiar spiritual impulse

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.

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.

So far.

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.

However.

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.

Closing ARCHITECTING in New York

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.

jill

Rehearsals BEGIN! Under the Radar and P.S.122 here we come…

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.

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Special Visitors OR Pastries with the Minister

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 “.

Cultural Diplomacy

Hi,

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.

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Campaiging for Obama

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!

-Rachel

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Diplomacy / Diplomas

Today we had a TEAM meeting with one member via speakerphone and some members in absentia. We talked about theatre as a form of diplomacy. I want to write an article about us for a theatre publication to answer a literary request about why people make international art. Rachel informed us that an article based on a very large TCG / theatre conference has already been written very much about this.

When I make theatre I think about the Greeks. I think about ritual lately* (*in the past 5 years to present, espeically 2 years to present) and I think about the ancients. And I try to connect to the idea that human beings have gotten in front of other human beings and acted things out for them for quite a long time. This is nothing new and the concepts are pretty simple. We initiate each other. We witness. We take each other through things. Mystical tour guides. Symbols. Ciphers. However you like to slice your potatoes.
Continue reading →

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Honeys….? We’re home.

OK sooooooooooooooooooooooooo that was fast. And totally beautiful. Wow the weather in Brooklyn here right now is aMAzing. And it’s not pishing down rain as they say in Scotland either. Sun! It’s crAZY!

We had a brillant 5 days and 4 weeks and an excellent and super safe flight home. I have been thinking about the phrase, “Home is where the heart is” and how I always assumed it meant, You heart is always found in the home that you grew up in OR the place that you live in, currently, now, the most. But – what I learned while being away, in many foriegn rooms, hotels, and theatres, with LOTS os strangers, is that wherever your heart is, there is home for that moment, for that day.

And so it totally flipped my perspectual gaze on that easily misapprehended clicho.

My heart was definitely in Scotland. And the Traverse theatre. And in my throat watching people cue up for tickets to our show hours in advance. And throughout the course of our play, my heart was in New Orleans. And deep seeking into my imagination for empathy and understanding. Thinking about my grandparents and their grandparents and how people build their lives here in America. And what gives those lives meaning.

I am feeling very lucky to be a working part of this creative machine.

And now back to the sofa where I despite the sun might sleep (avec my favorite accessory of le temps – a Virgin Atlantic red sunshade eye mask, which I wore EVERY single night in Scotland) while my kind subletter finishes his August with us upstairs.

It’s way too early for me to be awake and dealing with anything like impending jet lag, which I fear can hit you with Olympic Judic hijack quality stealth if you do not achieve a sufficient quantity of horizontal REM and maybe feel yourself and your heart, in whatever is it’s home, getting a little comatose.

x JA

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A blog from Margolin

It’s the last day of the Festival and we are all about to go to the theater to do our last show and then load out.  Most of the set and props are staying here in the UK to be here for future touring of Architecting so it looks like we won’t be as much of a clown car of luggage heading back to the States as we were coming out here. 

The run has exceeded expectations on all fronts.  We won the Total Theater Award for best young company a few days ago to add to our three Fringe Firsts, and Dublin award.  Even after the reviews came out people have continued writing about the show, in the culture pages of papers, on blogs . . . we even sat with a young woman who will be using Architecting as a source for her Masters Thesis.  I have been blown away by the number of people who have written about the TEAM for their dissertations.

Looking back over the last month, one of the things I am most struck by is that we are being treated like a mature company – by the press; by our audiences; by our cololeagues.  When we came in 2006 much was made of our youth – how astonishing it was that such a young group of people were working with such excellence.  This time around, our youth is rarely mentioned (maybe we’re just getting old . . .) Rather, we are treated like adults, and the company is talked about as a mature entity with a legitimate ouvre and a coherent, unique artistic vision.  It feels like an arrival.

I am excited to continue working on Architecting when we get back to the states, getting it ready for our US premier!

What a ride! – Jake Margolin

BABIES!

Hi guysies

so the internet has been down at our (fly-ridden) house so apologies for spaces between blogs. we are in final race to the finish line, getting as many presenters and producers into the house as possible.  Joe Melillo from BAM was in last night which was SUCH SUCH an exciting and crazy step – the audience was of course the quietest we’ve had for the whole run so I was nervous as hell, but so it goes.  It’s always impossible to know how it’s going out there from where I’ve been watching in the booth.  And people are still enthusiastic afterwards – other than perhaps the group of British private high school students, who I don’t think had much of a context for the themes of the work.  The americana of this show has been intensely striking as we present to international audiences, but I think people are still latching on to the greater themes of nation building, if not some of the more emotional stuff about what a wreck the country is in today.

And on our day off this Monday we went to visit Davey Anderson’s new baby!  Davey is our associate director on the piece, and he and his partner Clem have a GORGEOUS 17-day (as of Monday) old baby.  some photos!

-rachel

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