06 June 2007

But Mom, I've Got, Like, a Gagillion Hours of Homework...

Keeping with the theme of assignments (see 6/4/07), today I write to you, most dear reader, about some of the behind-the-scenes work of creating a show from scratch. This, I realize, imperils my ratings (kicking people in the head and complaining about irrepressible sexual urges, for some unfathomable reason, gets more readership) but it is more in keeping with the purpose of this here 'blog and so I heedlessly hurry onward.

The thing about (okay: only one of the many things about) creating one's own work in a theatrical context is that--at least at the no-to-low-paying level--the creator has to do a lot of work outside the collaborative setting of a kind he or she wouldn't otherwise be doing. I mean, if I'm working on, say, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (a totally random example, and not at all a play I am performing voodoo rituals in the hope of being cast in), I will do plenty of work outside of rehearsal. There's the simple line memorization, reading up on the backgrounds of Stoppard, Hamlet, late-1960s theatre, Denmark, absurdism, determinism, Shakespeare, etc., working on any tricks or skills the director may want included, dialect training . . . it goes on and on. A good actor becomes obsessed with his or her role and the world of the play for the time he or she is working on it, and does it all to more thoroughly incorporate his or her self into it all. (Man, but I hate the standing rule about not using "them" or "they" to refer to male or female hypothetical persons. He's got the right idea over at xkcd.)

(Parenthetically, [this is the most parenthetical parenthetical ever {my boss insists on doing this in her letters: saying "Parenthetically," at the start of something in parentheses, no matter how many times I point out it's redundant, and I deserve a medal or ribbon or something for not throwing my keyboard at her head}] I have a giant tape X on my lumbar region today, applied by my physical therapist to remind me to sit up straight and bend--if I absolutely must--from the hips. I consider this some kind of oblique revenge by Anton Chekhov from beyond the grave for this post. Plus it's a sign that my body will actually explode this Saturday when I turn thirty. Parenthetically.)

When you are responsible for building the show from the ground up, however, homework takes on all-new, mammoth proportions. The best example of this I have, to date, is the period of weeks leading up to Zuppa del Giorno's debut of Silent Lives. Friend Grey was directing, and we were all pretty obsessed with the subject matter--silent film characters and actors--so it didn't take much to motivate us to spend all our time building that one. Yet somehow Grey managed to motivate us to spend literally every waking hour working on the show. I mean, we just never stopped. Sleep was watching silent films. Eating was learning the bread dance from Arbuckle cum Chaplin cum Downey Jr. and Depp (Brits: Please don't censor me for my use of "cum" in this context). It was, to borrow a term, ridonkulous.
As Far As We Know is not that bad. In fact, we often eat and drink during our table sessions, so it's like the opposite. Except for the assignments, which are hard and just keep getting harder. I have written about these on past occasion (see 2/28/07-3/1/07) and this last, due by early Saturday, is no exception. The assignment, as comprehended by me, is as follows:
We've been given a bunch of material. Using this material (act one of three and numerous transcripts of interviews with people from Matt's hometown and people of related significance), 1) rewrite or create a new scene far act one, or 2) create a stage "moment" with a piece of text from the interviews, or 3) present your character in an impossible situation, or 4) all of the above.
Now, this kind of assignment is how a great deal of the play got created in the first place, with even less to go on. Sometimes these assignments would be assigned in rehearsal, with ten minutes provided for a group to pull something together. I like working this way. Parameters are fun for me (I like the crunching noise they make as I break them, to paraphrase Douglas Adams). Yet somehow I always stress about these Joint Stock/unCommon Cause assignments. One I stayed up until two in the morning working on one, blasting Damien Rice (like that's a bad thing) and practicing punching holes in paper with my finger. It's a measure, I believe, of how high an esteem I hold my fellow collaborators in. They're all such skilled and talented actors and writers and directors that I feel a need to rise to their level, and that feeling is most poignant the night before a presentation.

This one's going in a funny direction for me so far, possibly because it lacks some of the specific parameters the prior ones have featured. I had an initial idea: to explore the similarities between my character (the captured soldier) and Sara Bakker's (the casualty assistance officer who ministers to his family). But I didn't then set to an examination of their particular scenes, or even rumination on their respective characteristics. Instead, I got fascinated with this idea of rewriting a scene that we already had. I began to wonder how the play would read if I had been writing it by myself all along. (The answer, it seems to me, is that it wouldn't read, at least not particularly well. I couldn't have gotten more than few steps with this material by myself, and don't excel at writing naturalistic dialogue.) So what I started doing, quite unintentionally at first, was underlining any dialogue that--out of context--directly addressed the experience of the captured soldier or his family and town.

I have NO idea what I'm going to do with this yet. I have some vague notions involving gathering all these fragments together, finding appropriate music (always my favorite element of the assignments) and perhaps drawing more connections between Sara's character and my own. And that's about it. Tonight, I will sit quietly and let my mind stretch and wander over the raw material, and see what happens. Laundry will be done as well, and packing for Italy. Somehow mundane chores always help with idea flow.

And hopefully, by 2:00 AM, I'll be making props out of defunct coat hangers and leftover moving boxes. This, in the mind of a "creactor," is the image of a perfect sort of evening. I'm looking forward to it.


Davey said...

It's thursday afternoon and you know what that means
2 and a wake up brother.

I gues the most dissapointing thing about reading your blog and getting in a car to cum see you (censor me all you want to Brits) is that I wont get to really see you. Act I mean. I loved Silent Lives in PA when we came to see it, and as much as I enjoy hanging with you I want to see you on stage again.

I think I'm going to have to seduce Jen away from her current boy and live with her in Philly. At least then I'd be closer.

Jeff Wills said...

You're the coolest friend ever, Mr. Cruz. Seduce! Seduce!