September 27, 2008

Etudes 2&3 - practical example

Continuing from where we left off (with some additions) . . .
We enter and get settled. In the womblike darkness, we see ORIXA sitting onstage, absorbed in thought. Clothed completely in white with her face covered by an expressionless white mask, she seems ethereal and spooky, ghostlike. Maybe it's because she sits too still for too long, or the way she almost seems invisible because she does not react to us at all.

Once we are in place, Orixa looks at us and sees us - really sees us. Her gaze is intent, laserlike, not so much just seeing as dissecting. And for a moment we all have a foot in 2 different worlds: our everyday world and the world of the play.

The everyday world fades away.

We are now trees and/or spirits in a spooky forest on a foggy, moonlit night. There is a sense of presence in this place, as if something unseen sees us. Shadowy SHAPES - trees perhaps, or maybe ghosts - move subtly in the background.

A CATERPILLAR slowly and deliberately enters the forest carrying a spinning wheel. It finds a spot with plenty of moonlight then carefully arranges itself and the wheel.

Orixa watches, transfixed.

The caterpillar spins and spins, weaving yards and yards of enchanted "fabric" (more like a silken shawl) of a mystically significant color. Unrushed and methodical, there is a meditative quality to the way the caterpillar goes about its work.

Orixa marvels, drawing closer - but not too close.

As the caterpillar completes the task, it slowly and carefully wraps itself in the cloth. It forms a coccoon around itself, covering its feet, body, and head. It goes perfectly still.

Orixa carefully examines the coccoon. She tries to peek inside, listens at it, taps it.

The coccoon stirs (Orixa retreats), slightly at first but sooni t stretches the fabric until it starts to split.

Orixa waits for the thing inside.

The coccoon unravels. A FAIRY emerges. A creature of dark glamor that resembles a blood red rose in all its contradictory beauty - soft petal and sharp thorn, red blossom and green stem. She may even have wings like a lunar moth, making her look like a kind of feral angel of forest and roses and moonlight.
That's it for now. I know: cliffhangers are cheap, but this is honestly where I stopped.

Etude 3 - Task

Now that we've explored a bit with activities, let's add another layer of complexity by working with tasks.

I'm defining task here as any physical activity with an inherent goal. The most obvious example, of course, is a chore such as sweeping, cleaning, washing, etc. But there are also things like building, arranging, etc. Fortunately, my vocabulary is a little more extensive this time around:
clean, organize, dress, find
arrange, cut, cook, seek,
wash, pack, guard, examine,
sweep, comb, escape
Although this etude seems like a repeat of the previous one, there is one significant difference: the presence of a clear action or objective. The previous actions could serve as objectives, but in this case the questions are clear. Will the character finish the task? Does anything get in the character's way? How does the character resolve (or attempt to resolve) the problem?

In the next layer, we start to get interactive. But that's for later.

Etude 2 - Activity

In the first etude, we worked with basic physical actions. Now, let's expand that to include ongoing activities.

But first, let's review a bit of Newton's laws of motion. In particular, the law of inertia:
Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.
Newton in mind, let us define an activity as a physical action that continues until it reaches its natural conclusion or is interrupted by another action.

For this exercise and the others similar to it, I won't go into detail for each step like I did before (Go to the first etude to get the overall idea). The only thing that really changes is the word bank. To make everyone's life easier, here are some examples:
read, write, eat, drink, play,
sleep, grow, transform, die
Not the most extensive word bank in the world, but I hope you get the idea.

Naturally, this raises the question: Can't we just use basic movements as activities? In principle, certainly. These exercises aren't rungs on a ladder so much as concentric circles. But to get the most from the exercise, it might help to expand your "movement vocabulary" to include actions that are explicitly activities.

Doing this exercise, what I noticed about activities, as opposed to simple actions, is that they have more innate dramatic material. The Newtonian aspect introduces the possibility of conflict in the form of obstruction or interruption. It's not always the case, and there's no need to deliberately go for it in this exercise (in fact, I know I didn't), but being aware of it sometimes gives you a lovely surprise if it shows up.

I will follow with a practical example after I finish with the next etude.

Someone I must meet: Suzan-Lori Parks

When I was back home in Virginia for a weekend, I caught a show on HBO about Black people. I don't remember the name of it, but there were all kinds of people talking: Chris Rock, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Al Sharpton, Venus Williams, and so on. I liked how different it was from a lot of stuff. It didn't talk about Black people as it had Black people talking about themselves and their relationship to what they're doing.

Anyway, I saw the bit with Suzan-Lori Parks. Having never seen or heard her before, I had to watch. She was riveting. Completely riveting. She's someone I'd love to talk theater with because I get the sense that she'd understand what I'm getting at here. She'd get it without pretending to be colorblind or gender-blind about it. She'd get it. I wouldn't have to explain it. I wouldn't have to justify it. She'd get it. She's the one I'm writing for.

And bell hooks is on my list too.

September 25, 2008

Etude 1 - Practical example (opening scene)

Applying the previous exercise to my current work, here is the opening of the play:
We enter and get settled. In the womblike darkness, we see ORIXA sitting onstage, absorbed in thought. Clothed completely in white with her face covered by an expressionless white mask, she seems ethereal and spooky, ghostlike. Maybe it's because she sits too still for too long, or the way she almost seems invisible because she does not react to us at all.

Once we are in place, Orixa looks at us and sees us - really sees us. Her gaze is intent, laserlike, not so much just seeing as dissecting. And for a moment we all have a foot in 2 different worlds: our everyday world and the world of the play.

The everyday world fades away.

September 24, 2008

Etude 1 - Basic Movement

"All physical action is a rich source of dance movement." - Stuart Hodes, "A Map of Making Dance"

"Engineers don't have to reinvent the wheel, but in dance it's done all the time. A walk is basic but can be done in infinitely many ways, with original variations constantly being found." - Stuart Hodes, "A Map of Making Dance"

"Qualities can lead directly to movement . . . [M]ovement has both inner and outer attributes. When walking, for instance, you place one foot after the other - the outer attribute. But a walk can be bold, hesitant, serene, fidgety, or have numberless other inner attributes. We call the inner attributes qualities. Dance is sublimely equipped to communicate the subtlest qualities, and it is impossible to dance without projecting a quality of some kind." - Stuart Hodes, "A Map of Making Dance"

This exercise is about getting used to speaking in terms of basic physical movement. The exercise itself is pretty simple, but I'm presenting it in this linear step-by-step mode to get the idea across.

1. Make a list of simple physical actions. Do not spend more than about 5 minutes on this. Here's mine (feel free to use it):
breathe, climb, walk, run, jump,
swim, fall, catch, throw, cut,
hold, fly, choke, strike, stroke,
bite, scratch, touch, kiss, stab,
clap, cry, laugh, smash
2. Create or choose a character. Don't feel limited to people. The character can be an inanimate object or force of nature. Consider a crowd that acts as a single entity as well.
I'll use the bitabohs as my character.

(WTF are bitabohs? Malevolent West African tree spirits that attack humans that come into their territory. They are usually allies or servants of witches.)
3. Have that character do one or more actions.
Let's have the bitabohs walk.
4. Describe 3 to 5 attributes and/or qualities for each action. Each attribute/quality can be a phrase, but it should only describe only one aspect of the movement. And they don't need to be logical either. Find a way to make the movement "wrong" or "off" somehow if you're so inclined.
What do I want to say about the bitabohs' walk?
  • uproot then reroot themselves to walk
  • zombielike gait - creepy, slow
  • strange cadence to their steps
5. Describe the character in more detail if you want. But remember to keep that short too.
What can I say about the bitabohs?
  • eerily humanoid - including faces frozen in rage or terror
  • could have wind chimes made of human bones in their branches
Putting it all together:
BITABOHS emerge. They are eerily humanoid figures with gnarled limbs and vaguely human faces contorted in expressions of rage and horror. They may even have wind chimes made of human bones tied to their branches. They "walk" by uprooting and rerooting themselves. There is a creepy cadence to their lumbering, zombielike gait.
Of course, you can make it hard for yourself and write a scene with 2 or more characters with this exercise. It's harder than it looks and easier than you think.

What you may find is that it challenges - or at least blurs - the dogma of not being able to act in feelings. Of course, it's nigh impossible to act something like: Character feels sad. After all, how would Character show that? But in the absence of spoken dialogue, how do we convey sadness if we're unable to say there should be a sad quality to it? This is not to get you to start saying, "Character walks sadly" all the time, but to get you to think about how to include the emotional dimension in the absence of something as direct as "Character feels sad."

On Writing a Movement-Oriented Piece

One of the central dilemmas of creating a movement-oriented piece is how to 'speak" without words.

Naturally, I turned to dance (particularly ballet) to find a means of creating a narrative without the need for spoken dialogue. Of course, actual dance scripts (that is, story without choreography) are hard to come by. The closest I've come is a scenario for "A Streetcar Named Desire" that I found online. Even looking at that, I got confused because it simply read as extended stage directions.

Here is where I'm glad I'm in New York: New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Let all of us bookworms release an infatuated sigh.

Now that the little hearts have stopped floating around my head, let's get back to the business at hand.

As a writer, I like looking at creating my pieces from the performer's angle. They are, ultimately, the ones who have to make sense of the things I put on paper. They are the ones turning text into performance. So, it behooves me to understand what they're looking for and to give them something to do. My intuition says that actors will love the freedom a movement piece gives them to co-create (rather than interpret) the characters. But it's really hard to write for in a way they can use if you don't know what to go for. If it's too vague, they have no direction. If it's too specific, they're straight-jacketed by my words.

What I needed was a blueprint, a template, a starting point.

Enter A Map of Making Dances by Stuart Hodes.

If you can get your hands on it, do so. There is a diamond mine of ideas and inspiration for developing a story without words. Just looking at how dancers - and, by extension, actors - approach something as simple as walking gives me so much hope and inspiration for what I'm working on now.

I've used the exercises in the book as a springboard for exercises of my own, especially with writing.

The exercises I've developed start with basic movements and progress to more complex events. Each of them sort of builds on the previosu ones, so it's easy to create a very complicated scene using relatively simple movements.

For each of the exercises, I'm limiting myself to 3 to 5 sentences or phrases. This is for two reasons: to take advantage of the fragmented imagery I have for the piece and to maintain a kind of elegance when describing movement. As I complete rewrites, I can add more layers to things as I see fit. But not in the Getting It On Paper stage.

I'll talk about the actual exercises in future posts (feel free to try them) and maybe give examples.

September 21, 2008

Starting Over

The play as I envisioned it isn't working. I know I haven't posted many of my brain droppings here (and for good reason), but I have been struggling to put pen to paper. I'm sure the block is entirely my own doing, given how many "rules" I have in my brain as I write. In addition, I just can't figure out this main character: who is she, what she wants, why she does what she does. On the one hand, that's sort of up to the actor, but it's hard to write for a completely passive character.

On the other hand . . .

I had a bit of a revelation about her. Let's just say that I've been taking the story from the wrong POV.

September 18, 2008

Introverts Anonymous

This is something I should probably have tattooed on my forehead: INTROVERT.

I mentioned this before, but few actually picked up on it. Basically, I recharge energy by being alone with my thoughts and expend energy being around other people. Even around nice people. Even around people I like. Even around the people who are most precious to me.

For a long time, though, it's been a struggle since I have absolutely no desire to be an extrovert. I enjoy my rich inner life. I love living in my own little world. In fact, that's what playwriting is for me: giving people a piece of one of those many worlds I inhabit on a day-to-day basis. I'm privately and frequently grateful for the secret gift of being able to experience the sacredness of the most trivial things: sunlight streaking through clouds, smell of rain, the caress of a breeze, trees applauding and pretending they sit by the sea, flourescent green flight of a lunar moth, winking headlights of a passing car, twin rainbows against a slate gray sky, brilliant corona of a full moon on a cloudless night, strands of cool grass tickling my feet, stars talking in a language like tapping on crystal, darkness and silence within the womb of the universe, the decomposition of dead things, the transformation from seed to flower.

But when I'm around people - at least, when I'm fully present around people - I can't sense those things. Some sort of distortion happens, like a cell phone on an airplane during take-off. I can't get my bearings, can't tell North from South, sea from sky, self from mask. And the real me, the me that's supposedly behind this, sort of just tailspins.

It's at these moments when I sometimes experience extrovert envy. I guess the moon feels the same of the sun at times. Then she remembers the beauty and mystery and power of night, of darkness, of silence. Then doesn't mind the new moon phase where she isn't seen.

September 16, 2008


Ezine Articles has accepted my "7 Reasons" article. Whoopee. Now I'm an expert! I'll probably post more in the future, but first I'll give my brain a breather.

Now back to your regularly scheduled irrelevance.

Response to Laura

Laura left in the comments section of my previous post:
I have one of those open-ended questions for you, my friend... perhaps a writing prompt, if you will. As someone who jumped herself into the theatrosphere about the same time I did: Why? A)What did/do you want out of blogging? and B)What did/do you want out of joining up your blog with the rest of this rambunctious "community"?
Her question is so good I had to follow up in an actual post.

This won't be long, but I think it can open up discussion in new ways. I know that in my very first post, I mentioned generating conversation with and between other theater folks. But if I'm honest with myself, it goes deeper than that.

The first word that came up when I read your question was: gateway.

Too often IRL, when I met other Theater People, they functioned more as gatekeepers. Instead of finding fellow artists to talk to, I felt sort of brushed off. Virtually none of the people I met locally acted like I was important enough to listen to or ask questions to. If I'm blunt with myself, I know they have no reason to care. I also know that I'm not gregarious or charismatic or immediately likeable. But it still stung.

I'd hoped blogging would be a way to get the more aesthetic conversations I crave. I literally had nobody to do this with. It's not that I don't care about politics and arts funding. I do (or I wouldn't want to make money doing it). But there are other things worth thinking and talking about. There are things beyond the topic of the day that I'm interested in. Things like experimentations in form and content, problem-solving for shoestring budgets, balancing theater with "real life" responsibilities, deepening and expanding our theatre vocabulary, giving ourselves more tools to understand and evaluate avant-garde work, etc.

It sometimes feels like I want to play ball, but I always have to warm the bench.

September 12, 2008

Theater blogosphere community (or lack thereof)

Devilvet posted something that touched a nerve today.
We all have agendas here. These agendas are multifaceted and leveled. Sometimes our various pet causes and issues run parallel and sometimes they don't. But each and every one us while we are committed to our ideas must also realize that some days, when it comes to the things that we decided to take on, we have to carry our own water. Well can passionately cry out or shout out for someone to speak to us on that which we care about, but we must also be wary of biting at those with whom we wish to commune.

I have been scolded in the past often for my 'glass is half empty' take on the assumptions/perceptions/ and to my mind misuses of the word community. But, if the theatrosphere is to become and remain a community, we have to find ways to challenge and cajole each other that show some sort of appreciation for that end. If the tone of our debates, etc reaches a pitch where it seems like we are rather exiling certain folks from the community of the theatrosphere because of a distaste or impatience with their approach or their path... well then what to we get? A bunch of angry individuals instead of a system of support or community.

I am not saying we must play nice. Hell, anyone who looks through my talks with Don Hall or Scott Walters will know, I aint interested in tea time talk. But, at the same time, let us encourage more than we scold. Let us not lose our sense of humor, and let us aim more often toward fraternity rather than condemnation.

We must always strive to be supportive as often as possible. And where we disagree we have a duty to expound on it, without attempting to digitally exorcise that which we find distasteful at the expense of our community.

The direction of inquiry this week I fear leads to a place where people share less, skulk and bray self admiration at the expense of others more, and we all lose.

Perhaps a page has turned in the system of blogs I think of as our theatrosphere. I hope not. It was a source of great joy, provocation, and community for me.

Hey, you know, if I'm using that ....gulp word... something must be changing.

lets make a push to talk to each other more often. Let us share more!!! Share more people!!!

Ask for more if you want more!!
I'm not exactly sure what Devilvet means by support here, but if it simply means engaging with people who may not always be in our "clique," then I think he's absolutely right.

And here's me asking for more:

Just reciprocate.

I generally don't talk to hear myself talk or to sound clever. I really want to connect with the person I'm speaking to. It takes a lot of energy for me to be around people. I only say something when I feel compelled to speak, even if it's just a one-liner or a joke that I just had to share because I wanted to give you something funny.

I know that what I say isn't as cool or smart or interesting as what you're doing, but is it too much to ask that if I comment on your blog, you at least make a token attempt to do likewise on mine? Here are some examples:
  • Hi.
  • Cool.
  • Interesting.
  • This is dumb.
  • Fuck you.
Now, if you have a bit more time than that, I always appreciate open-ended questions. Really. I have a tendency to keep stuff in, and I occasionally need to be drawn out to express more (The irony of a writer not alwys knowing what to say is not lost on me).

That's what support is like for me.

What about you? What do you want more of?

September 11, 2008

When I Grow Up

I'm going to do something that's likely very, very stupid on this post. I'm going to tell you what I want to do when I grow up. Isaac posted a blurb about this over on his blog. But since I'm continually dissatisfied with what I write (I veer between being as great as Shakespeare and a talentless poser who's just faking it until she realizes there's no hope for her), I revised it.

Also, to give a bit of context: I'm not writing this for my health. I really do want to do this. I really can do this. I just need a crack in the door.

I write text for artists, designers, and performers to talk about their work. Whether the audience is a funding organization, a donor, or just the average person on the street, I provide the words that express how powerful and engaging their work really is.

Let me be really honest. You can find someone with more skill, more experience, and more connections. You can find someone faster and cheaper. But you won't find many who are artists themselves. I'm a playwright. So I understand what it means to put your heart into something you create. I know what it's like to have dry spells and struggle with the direction you want your work to take. I can relate to how you can be both confident and insecure about your work. I understand the need for space. I understand flow.

I know a lot of stuff is all hype and no substance. But that's not me. I'm not doing this for fame and fortune. I don't want to get rick quick or become an overnight success. I just want to make a living using my writing skills to help the kind of people I enjoy working with - creative, passionate, intelligent people out there doing what they love. I want to tell the world about these wonderful people and the awesome work they're doing.

Who better to do that than someone who knows what you go through?

Communication at Work (LOL funny)

Just watch it.

September 9, 2008

Wrote something

I wrote an article ("7 Reasons Why Indie Theatre Rocks") on Booksie and submitted it to others. Go here to take a look at the article. Feel free to comment. And if you have some writing, feel free to sign up, so I can read your stuff and leave comments that make you feel like sunshine too!

September 2, 2008

What I've Been Doing Lately

I've been helping out with setting up, a new performance art listing for the New York metro area. Think of it as Craigslist for live performance - with video.

So if you know about a show coming up and want to let people know about it, go ahead and list it on the site (it's free). We're working out the bugs and kinks, so your feedback will help a lot.

Thanks a bunch for your help.