“Telling a story is one of the best ways we have of coming up with new ideas, and also of learning about each other and our world."
Listened to This American Life this morning, left feeling a resounding sense of melancholy and loss for our country and the world. Is this who we are? Is this the story we are choosing to write? I choose kindness. Everyday.
While my blog is typically not a place I plan on advertising my work, I am sending out a little "shout out" for my Thesis Production. It has been such a profound pleasure working on this show with these particular people. The cast is truly magical, my designers did a wonderful job, and I had a marvelous SM/ASM/AD team who made this show what is is today. There are no words big enough to express what is in my heart. If you are free on any of the following dates, come on out to see it!
WHERE: Taylor Theatre, UNCG
WHEN: Dates listed below...
Tuesday, March 22 at 9:30 am
Wednesday, March 23 at 9:30 am
Thursday, March 24 at 9:30 am and 12 noon
TICKETS: $18 for adults and $12 for children/seniors/groups of 10 + on weekend performance dates and $8 for UNCG Students and Groups of 10+ on weekday morning/noon matinees.
I have been doing quite a bit of research on "storytelling" and what happens in our brain when we hear/read a story. For instance, how does our imagination really work? Does our brain actually process those feelings as real feelings when are, say, reading an intense book? See an intense scene in a play?
...As I create my TVY piece, and my process drama work, I have been doing more and more research on this topic. This is some of my findings that I've found intriguing.
(to read full article) Laura Moss:
“Stories create genuine emotions, presence (the sense of being somewhere), and behavioral responses,” writes psychologist Pamela B. Rutledge.
In fact, reading a story causes heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex. The neurons in this region are associated with tricking the mind into thinking the body is doing something it’s not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition.
"The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist," neuroscientist Gregory Berns, lead author of the Emory University study said. "We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically."
I am currently in the process of creating a TVY piece. What is that, you ask? As if explaining to people what TYA is wasn't hard enough, I had to go and discover a new field of unfamiliar interest. C'est la vie, at least for the artist life I have chosen to lead.
TVY = Theatre for the VERY Young.
Definition: Ages 0-5
Characteristics that I have gathered:
"Theatre for the Very Young engages both parents and their pre-school children in creative experiences. The fourth wall is dissolved as young ones willingly become a part of the experience."
—Rosemary Newcott, director (The Kathy & Ken Bernhardt Theatre for the Very Young)
That being said, I wanted to share this journey with you.
Here is one of my original research/inspirational images.
I like to start my process out with a a pictorial journal- and then go from there!
Throughout our process working on the Global Play Project we worked hand-in-hand with five composers. This collaboration process meant musicians were in and out of the rehearsal room early on in the process tweaking their original soundscapes to further the action of the story. Here are some short clips from some of the early rehearsal work.
(Pictured below, a clip of Madeleine's War by Jeton Neziraj. (Composer Evan Campfield)
Pictured below: The Sound of Cracking Bones by Suzanne Lebeau. (Composer Andrew Beach)
Pictured below: Louise: the Bears/ Louise Les Ours by Karin Serres (composer Greg Snakard)
My dear friend Jennifer Mann took some amazing photographs for my show. This first poster is a product of those photos. I am always so blessed to collaborate with such talented artists like her.
Nothing excites me more than some artistic collaboration. Yesterday I met with some musicians from the music dept. and my heart skipped a beat! What a joy it was to discuss these plays with them. I laugh just typing these words because, once a music major myself, I felt my harp fingers itching to play with them...I wanted to be in the ensemble and join in the compositional fun. That's my problem half the time, I can only do so much! BUT I am thrilled to see what they crank out.
This show is turning into a beautiful piece of art.
“Whether he likes it or not, a writer for the stage must face the fact that the making of a play is, finally, a collaborative venture, and plays have rarely achieved a full-scale success without being in some manner raised about their manuscript level by brilliant gifts of actors, directors, designers, and frequently even the seasoned theatrical instincts of their producers.” (Tennessee Williams)
The question is frequently raised, “what is true collaboration?” And similarly, in the theater, who makes up this “collaborating team” this “dream team”? I mean, is it really necessary for a successful production? Let us begin with vision,
--> a production process has to start with a vision. Melissa Silverstein says, “Keep fighting for your vision...your voice counts. Your vision matters.” (Something I have to remind myself of every time I go into a design meeting. Sometimes just validating yourself is the KEY move!) It is important to initially set the stage with a clear vision and purpose for how you plan to tell the story. Once this is established, communication can start to flow. This is where the playwright, director, and designers can begin effectively collaborating. If it is not purpose driven, it is simply like drawing circles in the sandbox!
If the playwright is a part of this collaborative process, as Tennessee Williams wrote, “he will listen, he will consider; he will give receptive attention to any creative mind that he has the good fortune to work with. His own mind and it’s tastes, with open like the gates of a city no longer under siege.” Ok, I know you are quite possibly laughing at this quote thinking “Abigail, you have never met a playwright before, if you believe that!” I'll give you, some playwrights can be contrary individuals when coming to others tweaking and prodding the inner workings of their masterpieces. The same goes for musicians/composers and original works. But hey, wouldn't you be that way? However, If the baseline of trust has been established in the room; a simple two-way communication system set into place that the playwright can feel a safety in the created group.
After vision, questions such as, “How does that tell the story?” and “Does that fit the vision?” Then the actors become involved. If the actors are not on the same page in rehearsals, and are holding back ideas or lack in the shared vision, they become obstacles. Obstacles are what stop communication, and communication has to happen in collaboration. This does not mean “everyone agrees all the time!” It means people are wrestling with ideas and tackling the story from different angles and verbalizing them. This means the actors are in the scenes with each other, and when they are not on stage they are watching, thinking, grappling and discussing with the director ideas about how to draw the audience into their world. This is true collaboration. It involves conflict, and disagreements, talking and listening which are all essential for creating value. “Theatre is a communal art, “ as Mamet said, “it’s for all.” We must simply, “Trust the collaborative process as art.”
Elinor: And now, Dad, she's not only seeing things, she's hearing voices as well! They talk to her, apparently, and she listens! How can you say everything's fine, and think all we have to do is let her ... We have to get her some help, Dad and fast before we have to lock her up*
in the ...
Ian: * All I'm saying is that for her, these polar bears ...
Ian: If you say so ...
Elinor: She says so!
Ian: It doesn't matter, Elinor, what I'm saying is they're real to Louise. Why is it always the majority *that decides.....
This quirky little play about see-thru polar bears set in Alberta, had my head reeling the first time I read it. Not knowing what to think, I set it aside for a few days. Karin, asked a lot of questions in this short piece, but left a many unanswered, thus the impact was there for me, I just wasn't entirely sure what I was feeling.
A few days later I picked up the pages again and taking a deep breath, I read it again. This time I fell in love with its strangeness, it's clever beauty, charm, childhood vs adolescence, and subtleties in visual themes vs largeness in imagery.
Each time I read it, the play becomes lovelier, quirkier, and more poignant.
As I put together the Global Play Project, I have been privileged and honored to speak with all of the playwrights to receive permission to us excerpts from their pieces.
When I spoke with Karin, she said she woke up in the night and was inspired to write about “bears,” and started writing.
“...From a hidden place inside me I don’t know nothing of, as I
don’t like especially bears, nor have met lots of them for real.
(This is the usual way I like to write : listening to the story
growing inside me, not knowing where it comes from.)”
Then I asked her about the Native American references and she said that came later, after she realized she had placed it in Canada:
“Then I noticed, the story was set in Canada, where I had not
even been. But lucky me, in the middle of the playwriting, I’ve
been invited by the Banff playRite colony for the translation of
another play of mine (Light) and I met for real Louise’s hometown !
There, I read lots of native american folktales, and I chose
Little Mink/Keechee Keechee Manitou from them. But
something did not worked with this scene when Louise tells
about the old native man, and it took me 10 years and a trip to
Washington where, thanks to Deirdre Lavrakas, the director, I
found the right names and bear tales : Mammakkoonih and
Wakan Tanka. Now I feel I’ve finally achieved my play.”
I followed up with the question: Is this play regional to Alberta specifically?
"As I just spent 15 days of my life at Banff, I couldn’t say I’m able to write a play in this regional way. Although lots of real details impressed me and entered my play (without me noticing the half of them). That’s the reason why I like to work elsewhere from my homecity : as soon as you’re not in your usual environment, your antennas get higher, as much as your intuition and your listening to the world. It’s as if there were stories waiting for playwrights or writers at any place, do you follow me ? It’s the echo or the spark between you, as a writer, and a precise place, anywhere, that provokes or launches your fire/your story.
Then, to me, the more regional or precisely located you are, the more international your story gets. Precise details open to globally shared emotions. The right city of Banff gave me its mountains surrounding the street where red hands signs tell not to cross the roads, but this preciseness helps french audience to think to the city of Grenoble, for example, which is also surrounded by mountains. And people who have never been there get images they’re building from different real details from their life they add together."
I am so thankful to Karin for speaking with me, she is so generous and talented. I am extremely excited to include this excerpt in my production.