The Women's Project is a great organization that I was proud to be a part of for a short time this spring, helping to develop and performing in Corporate Carnival. (I also managed to accidentally lampoon their ideals while performing for them, which just goes to show that I am a consummate method actor. While playing a rather right-wing-inspired character, I complained of "sounding like a girl." THE CHARACTER complained of it, I should say. Yes. The character...) It was something of a unique experience, however. I entered a process with which I was ostensibly very familiar -- collaborating to create original material based on a few clear themes, using improvisation and incorporating circus and other "physical theatre" skills -- only to be surprised by how different my experience was from working with Zuppa del Giorno, Kirkos or Cirque Boom.
The first strangeness was getting the gig at all. I auditioned for Corporate Carnival way back in February, I think, when I was still unemployed. (Part of the reason I'm so crazy busy these weeks is my panic to book any and every bit of work I could find during that period.) I assumed that train had sailed, yet I heard back from them months later about my being a part of their "temp" squad. Judging by the email that offered me this slightly dubious-sounding position, that initial audition was intended to see if I suited their needs for the main cast, and they just kept me in mind for the sort of filler/choral needs fulfilled by the temps. Judging by my having performed in nine shows last week, I think we can safely say that I accepted their offer.
The greater strangeness came from becoming involved with the show at a later stage of its development, and being asked to contribute (in a limited way) to its further development. It felt strange to be included at this point because I had to play catch-up on the ideas that were feeding into the show's concept. Yet no one was actually talking about "the concept," because half of the people there were so familiar with the dialogue already that they didn't perceive a need for it. At least, that was my interpretation. I also found myself immediately confronted with this approach to play-building: "Okay. We need a commercial for a pharmaceutical drug that cures the 'Mundays'. Go outside the space, build one, and then come back and present it." This is much the way As Far As We Know gathered material, so I had to pause to remind myself that this was not, in fact, the same show. It's a good technique in a group with an established rapport, the members of which can enjoy and contribute freely to the work. It's a little, well, weird when you're a group of strangers who have little-to-no concept of what you're aiming for in terms of mood, idiom, etc. Still, we did all right, I think. It felt a little bit like the kids' table at Thanksgiving, our temp crew. But that was fun in its own way, too.
The ultimate strangeness, however, was how different it was to build what was ostensibly a circus-themed show with people who were predominantly concerned with the theatre. ( I believe -- and I could be grossly mistaken here -- that I and Richard Saudek were the only ones in the cast with previous circus performance experience.) I've gotten quite accustomed to running up to my fellow performers and shouting, "Hey! Let's see if I can throw you over this wall!" The accustomed response is, "Okay!" Now I tried on for size, "You mean, like, representing throwing me over the wall, in a clever pantomime?" Richard actually suggested a bad-ass assisted flip that he could do, that we demonstrated on the first try, yet it never made it into the show. I did get my little acro-influences in here and there. Some weight-sharing, a shoulder-sit. The rest of the actors also really incorporated new skills onto the bottom of their resumes, too. Just about all of them are way better at juggling now than I am (not hard, but still). It wasn't a lack of skill or eagerness to learn; just a whole different perspective on things.
The experience was good, however. Great, intelligent and talented people. Probably a little bit more intelligent and talented than the particular idiom in which they were performing, but what can you do? Work is work. It does compel me further to get organized and make my own circus/theatre show and/or troupe. God's winding up with a 2x4 on that one. I've gotta get in that . . .
Update, May 28: Friend Sara has posted an encyclopedic range of photos from the Carnival! Peruse!