Monday, November 12, 2007

Day Thirteen

My last day with JoAnne and the Bacchae. I am off to Oakland for a concert tonight so I went over to the hotel for a 45 minute notes session to say goodbye. If there's any possibility of being in New York next September I really hope to get to see the finished product.

This experience has been wonderful, and I am so grateful to the Public and to JoAnne for the opportunity to be a part of this project.

I expect a sell-out crowd tonight, so get there early!

Day Twelve

The first performance yesterday went very well. JoAnne only interrupted the show once, telling an actor to move without stopping the action. People seemed to really enjoy it. There weren't many students, but it was a Thursday so I expect more will come over the weekend.

Today was just notes and an hour of working through and then break until call for the performance.

Day Eleven

Today there was an IDA Panel with JoAnne, playwright Octavio Solis and playwright/director Mary Zimmerman on adaptation.

"You can't just jump into rehearsal with these Greek plays. You get screwed up. You get screwed up anyway"

"[It's a] delicious opportunity... to prepare to rehearse"
- JoAnne, on the workshop process

On why they adapt and direct classic pieces:

"Older texts are originally oral... so you have permission to adapt. The plays deal with fundamental problems of life: family, love, politics..."
-Mary Zimmerman

"With the Greeks, things are bigger, they're more important. [They're] in our DNA that trickles down to us."

"I look for stories that shock us, disturb us."

"Myth is like an encyclopedia of the world."... "Collective smarts that isn't a part of logic [sic]"

"[The classics] give us meaning where we're always trying to find meaning"
- Octavio Solis

"Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths" - used in Metamorphoses, attribution unclear

A fun story: JoAnne was arrested with Robert Woodruff and actor Joseph Haj when visiting the the Occupied Territories in order to write an article on Palestinian theater. Their passports were taken away and they were taken to Egypt and nearly put in prison.

An interesting reference: There was an article written comparing reviews of JoAnne's production of Cymbeline at the Public, focusing on how critics treat female directors differently. It turns out the article was written by Jim Leverett (I looked it up and it's called "Cymbeline and Its Critics: A Case Study", although I couldn't find an internet version to link to. It was published in American Theater in December 1989).

Day Ten

Some Observations on the Art of Directing:
(this is actually the title of a wonderful book by William Ball, founder of ACT in San Francisco and Artistic Director from 1965-1986)

JoAnne has taken apart the Bacchae to its very roots with her production, leaving us with characters whose motives and actions we understand (but should not identify with) and a simple yet humanly incomprehensible story arc. It must be simple so that the audience can understand just how tragic the story is.

During rehearsal, JoAnne will turn to Jim Leverett and ask the simplest questions, forcing everyone in the room to consider things they have not thought about, or defined in a very simple way that may in fact be far more complex. In doing so, she sucks out the meaning from the text, informing each scene with the most comprehensive available knowledge, which is then distilled into performance. The audience will never have the knowledge that the actors do, and yet the performance is affected by it, bringing out different nuances and emphases.

In directing classes they always tell you never to use descriptors (be angrier, be happier, etc) or to tell an actor how you want the line said. Well JoAnne Akalaitis is one of the most renowned directors of the last several decades and she does both of those things all of the time. Not that it's a bad thing that they teach that way, because not doing so forces young directors to think about why they want a line said a particular way and how that fits in with the rest of the scene, but I'm just pointing out that it's really not a "no-no" when it comes to directing. If JoAnne told me to say a line a particular way, I would say it exactly that way, because she clearly knows exactly what she wants out of it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Day Nine

Today I escorted JoAnne to Kevin DiPirro's "Madness and the Family" PWR2 class. I missed most of rehearsal for class, so I'll just share some things from that discussion. It was actually fascinating because Stanford students come up with the most intricate, academic questions, and trail off at the end unsure of whether they articulated their point clearly. Ironically, the point of PWR2 is to improve communication skills, so I think it was somewhat jarring for JoAnne to reply to a question with "I don't think I understand" or "Can you rephrase that?". Good practice. :-)

Two quotes that struck me:
"The Greeks are not us"
The audience is not meant to think their actions represent things that we can go through. The audience is not meant to identify with the characters.


"A tragic event is not a tragedy. Eric Clapton's son falling off the roof was a tragic event. It was not a tragedy."
In order to be a tragedy there has to be something off- Agave does not know that the thing she kills is her son.

Day Eight

Day Off!

Day Seven

This morning I had rehearsal for a reading I'm directing (for STAMP and Blackstage's theatre festival on AIDS: "Searching for Angels"- you should check it out!), and as we waited for the last actor to arrive, one of actors turned to the rest of the group and asked how we dealt with transitions. He had been teaching at a Spoken Word workshop, and his specific role was talking about transitions, and he was exploring how actors and speakers deal with that mentally and physically, in rhythm and tone. How does one internalize a transition?

At the beginning of rehearsal, JoAnne pulls out an excerpt from a book by Jean Genet. In summary, he writes:

Every scene and section of scene should be treated as an entire play- it should not indicate that anything will follow it. Every moment comes, and then it goes away.

And to this JoAnne said: "I am not interested in transitions."

Just something to think about.