Monthly Archives: February 2005

excavating the unsound body

This weekend, took a workshop with Djalma Primordial Science, a pair of artists who create butoh-based improvisational movement/sound performances (that right?). It was both intense and intensive (6 hours each day, though I left half-way through Sunday because Ben is taking the Bar this week–Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (if my parents thought loving a lawyer would encourage me to be one, they were oh, oh so wrong)–and I knew if I didn’t have the afternoon and evening to do things like dishes and grocery shopping, the night–and the week–would be lost to me–Ephia, the teacher, looked quite askance at that, I know I should surrender the exigencies (anyone know how to pronounce that word? I love it but don’t know how) of daily life when working like that but I saw the looming Tuesday night in my mind’s eye and it looked ugly).

So. The workshop was excellent, just terrifically exhausting. It’s been a long time since I’ve submitted myself to any performance training.

While Ephia was a great facilitator, the training focused on two quite familiar approaches to physical performance training:

1. Increasing the flexibility of the physical instrument through defamiliarization: Our bodies get used to certain patterns of movement as we go about our days–there’s a pretty finite number of things that we have to physically get used to dealing with, so our bodies fall into habits. Thus we must force ourselves to physically, vocally, and mentally, to move, make sound, and think in images outside our ken, in ways both unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable, etc., to break through those habits. (*Boal starts with defamiliarization in his Theater Games for Actors and Non-Actors
and has great techniques to use with across all skill levels).

2. Practicing placing images in the body. Another mode of both flexibility and focus, though harder to communicate with language–you want to increase your body’s ability to react to, assume qualities of, or be in concert of, your (post-verbal) imagination. So you learn to place specific images in specific parts of your body–to connect your mind’s eye with your body. This “gets you out of your head,” or rather, makes you very present in your body. And a lot of times, the best way to access parts of yourself as a performer is to work from a physical impulse into the emotional or spiritual material. Maybe this all sounds fruity, but swear to God, it works. Acting technique, folks.

So yes, it was delicious and edifying to practice these parts of myself. Has left me feeling good, even a day and change later.


Re: day job. Picked one, the day job which provides me a steady 40 hours per two weeks in the City. So that will provide me a steady base income–past that, I might have to occasionally spackle the cracks in some way, but if I don’t, I’ll be fine. Next week I have to work pretty full-time, but after that–no more! Yee-haw! The people at this place are pretty neat, and it’s near two dance studios and a yoga studio that I want to go to.

Re: making stuff. I am so hungry to get my days back. I have grant proposals to write, weird performances to create, and plays to do. And stories to write. And I’ll tell you about ’em as I do ’em.

Re: my birthday. It’s my birthday! Thank you to those who remembered! Doug, what’s your address? Douglas, do I have your new address?

More soon later.

my favorite ladies

Medora is pretty much where it wants to be right now–I distributed it widely and am waiting for my friends to give me feedback.

So I’m jumping into another “chapter”: Narroway Productions, “The Broadway of Christian Entertainment,” in South Carolina. On the former grounds of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s PTL ministry, oh yes.

What remains remarkable about my experience at Narroway isn’t the play. Not even the bizarre, picturesquely rotting grounds of the former Christian Disneyworld, Heritage U.S.A. What sticks is my encounter with Rebecca Martin and Yvonne “Birdie” Clark, Director and Musical Director of Narroway, and our conversation, sitting late into the night into the empty amphitheater where they do their Passion Plays.

We talked about art and theater and our backgrounds, and we just–clicked. Spiritually, we met each other and connected. It sounds odd, cheesy or dramatic or something, when I try to describe it, how powerful it was–but it’s true. I was ringing like a bell for three days after our meeting.

So tonight I’ve been reviewing the transcription of our talk, and came across one of the best things Rebecca says, which was possibly one of the best things anyone has ever said to me about performing; the moment when I knew I wouldn’t have the safe cushion of a liberal snicker,that these women were truly special.

I think the reasons actors respond to [doing theater]–I really have a philosophy on that, and that is: I think what you and I do in real life is acting–you know, with you being a reporter or someone who’s going to write a story, I’m acting a little bit in front of you and I can’t let my guard down, you can’t let your guard down in front of me, you’re acting, and we do that, we have to do that, there are certain expectations you have of me, I know that, and so I try and fulfill those expectations.

“What we do in real life is acting…and people are tired of that pressure. And when our cast comes in, what we try and tell them to do, is be yourself—people think you’re acting. Be yourself, be everything you’ve ever wanted to be, do all the things you ever wanted to have the authority and the freedom to do, and just imagine yourself in that character, imagine yourself back in that time, and just—you know–

“If you’re singing and you want to raise your hands, or if you want to do something, then, it is an empowering thing, you can be really who you are, because people think you’re acting.”

presents! presents!

Jessie and Steve, send me your address. You are the recipients of the Maya Gurantz Award for Posting the First Comment ever on TenRedHen, which will include a big fat prize.

As incentive: the next three different people to post a comment on this blog will also receive prizes.

More about: Saturn Returns.

Friday, I’ll be guest teaching for Jill Miller’s New Genres II class at the San Francisco Art Institute. Basically, it’s going to be sort of an introduction to live performance, which is kind of funny in a New Genres class, given that live performance is the oldest, most elemental genre around.

Jill and her lovely friend Margaret also expressed some concern that the students might be put off by my “Theater” background, that they’ll automatically shut down and check out because of assumptions they bring about the form, or like, I’m going to come in and spring advanced Stanislavski acting technique on them and get them to play actions and develop characters and shit within 10 minutes. Girl, please.

I’m not too worried, considering that: a) I haven’t done a play in an actual theater since, oh…2002; b) I haven’t directed what might be considered a traditional “play” since, oh, gosh…2000; c) I haven’t worked with trained actors since, Jesus…um, let’s not get into it. Anyway–I just want to give these students a good romp through performance, introduce them to that tool, get ’em to think about it a little bit.

Jill and I have cooked up a pretty hot little class plan. I’ll post here what we had them do and how it goes. Honestly? I’m excited to be back in a classroom.

how did I never find this site?

E-Podunk. The site for all your information needs about small towns in America.

I am so excited.

because I’m bored.

First, this marvelous photo from Australia:

I am listening to ridiculous amounts of Elvis Costello again, and that’s a good thing.

Also, I didn’t mention–I went to see Richard Thompson’s 1000 years of pop music show, and even though I felt like the youngest person there and his arrangements occasionally wavered into smooth-jazzy and he possesses almost unbearable confidence in his own schtick, it was a totally friggin’ rad show, leaving me with utter confidence in his own schtick. Judith Owens, the chanteuse whom he troops around for this tour, performed a gorgeously dark, bittery smooth “Cry Me A River.”

doing the day-job two-step boogie

Will let you know how it shakes down, with possible further discussion of day jobs, their meaning, and the particular crises the pursuit of such employment can trigger, especially in the face of imminent Saturn Returns.

recent stupid epiphanies ending in confession.

So then, the heart of the matter:

(2) For a long time, I’ve thought that making theater requires a dual desire: the desire to make great art, and the desire to make theater itself, as a form and an artistic proposition, work.

That’s why I documented Outdoor Dramas, I was looking for why those plays manage to cater to audiences of over 1000 people a night for three months, when most regional theaters in major cities have problems filling out a theater of 300. That’s why I wanted to work for Cornerstone Theater Company, because their form of community-based theater clearly results in some beautiful art that at the same time manages to serve and be relevant to specific communities. That’s why I did community-based work in Mississippi. That’s why I went to grad school, so they could pay me to write about this stuff, and help me settle down after 3 years on the road.

Anyway–if I’ve had any epiphanies of late, it’s that I’ve been so absorbed in the big questions of how theater, and whence theater, and what’s up with theater in America, and why it’s so screwed up, in what precise fashion, that I haven’t been thinking like an artist.

It’s been a very long time (years) since I’ve asked myself what I want to do–what might delight me–what tortures me–hell, what play might I want to direct. It’s been a long time since I’ve followed my impulses, or even owned my impulses. Maybe I never have, or only have in moments, or under certain controlled conditions.

And I realized that I’ve become scared of those questions, scared of taking those risks.

I wouldn’t take back the past few years of inquiry. I can’t, first of all. And a lot of it wasn’t done out of fear, but in good faith. I need to simply trust that everything I’ve learned about the Big Questions will serve me, and to stop thinking about them so much. And just make things. Even shitty things. Even little things no one will ever see.

That’s the road. Everything else is a detour.