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.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Day Six

Today we started at the beginning of the show. It is really remarkable to hear the flow of the piece without stopping every five seconds. It is a wonderful translation and they've taken out so much of the confusing language and pronouns. The words and their delivery feel meaningful. The translation has a huge impact on the relationship of the audience to the story. Especially with the goal of a modern audience, but trying to preserve the nobility of the story, I think they've done a very good job. I think the audience will feel comfortable with the language and will relax into being told a story.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Day Five

We almost finished staging today.

We were discussing the blindness of Teiresias, and how that could be played, and the story of Moondog came up.

Essentially, he was a blind musician who sat on Sixth Ave in NYC and played his music. And after getting kicked out of his apartment, Philip Glass, who was at the time married to JoAnne Akalaitis, invited Moondog to come live with them, and he stayed in their apartment for two years, until JoAnne was going to have a baby and they couldn't put up a blind musician anymore.

We also listened to his music, and JoAnne recommended reading New York Times articles about him, since he was such a fascinating figure. Like Teiresias, he was not born blind, but was blinded by a firecracker as a boy. Here's an article from 1989, which was written long after his time on Sixth Avenue and provides a nice view of his life.

What an amazing person's life to have been a part of.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Day Four

JoAnne started staging today! The set-up of the stage is just 14 folding chairs staggered across the back half of the stage. Characters not in scenes come onstage sporadically and watch the action, which adds an interesting effect that I really like, as if every moment in the play is being shared with people who it is not intended for. I am unclear at the moment whether they are supposed to be actors or their characters, but I believe the idea is that they are simply actors.

I left for a while to listen to Leslie Lewis Sword (who is performing in Miracle in Rwanda this weekend) speak at noon, and in talking about being in Edinburgh with an average audience size of 3 she said that theatre only needs a single performer and a single audience member, because that is of course the essential theatrical relationship. Coming back to rehearsal, JoAnne makes use of this relationship constantly in a way very essential to the staging of the piece. First there is the unstaged relationship of actors and audience, which occurs by just putting actors onstage. Next there is the relationship of the characters to the audience, which happens through the telling of a story and asking the audience to feel certain ways about different characters. Both of these happen in every performance. In The Bacchae, there is also the relationship of the chorus to the characters, because they are onstage the entire time acting as a second audience that can comment on the action and even engage with the characters. As mentioned previously, there are the actors sitting onstage when they are not in the scene watching the action. Lastly, there are the staged relationships between the characters and the audience, where the actors break the fourth wall and include the audience in their scenes. In the prologue, Dionysus picks up a microphone and speaks to the audience, leaving the stage and walking around to engage each person watching. The chorus also leaves the stage in moments to ask the audience philosophical questions. In each of these moments, it feels like something is happening, that theatre has a life that other media cannot. I love those moments.

Day Three

Unfortunately living in a co-op means I had to cook from 12-6 yesterday and could not be in rehearsal. On to Day Four.

Day Two

The day began with a Meet and Greet in the lounge over lunch. Oskar Eustis, the Artistic Director of the Public Theater, is one of the most eloquent, inspiring speakers I have ever heard. (Over the summer, my supervisor invited me to the meet and greet for A Midsummer Night's Dream just so that I could hear his speech). We also discovered that Stanford was the reason JoAnne started doing theatre: while doing research here for her PhD in Philosophy at the University of Chicago, she got cast in the lead in a play over dozens of drama students. Amazing how things come full circle. :-)

In rehearsal we finished reading through the script and half the cast was sent home while the chorus rehearsed their music, which is being composed by Philip Glass. It turns out that JoAnne and Philip Glass were married for 15 years, so he has become an exciting part of the creative team even though he is not physically present. I absolutely love Philip Glass's choral music, which I first heard a month ago at a preview of Appomattox at the San Francisco opera. Another exciting fact: Sara Jobin, the music director, became the first woman to conduct the opera in San Francisco in 2004. And she's coming here directly from conducting Appomattox.
Pretty cool.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Day One

I arrived at about 2:40 for the 3:00 read-through, and tried to make myself useful without being in the way. After several speeches and a round of introductions, JoAnne Akalaitis invited those of us not already sitting at the table (the three Stanford students involved in the project) to join the cast and staff for the read-through. And so it began, stopping every 10 or 15 lines to clarify pronunciation of a word or the meaning of a line with translator Nick Rudall. This man knows more about Greek and Greek mythology than I can imagine knowing about anything. He could spend ten minutes explaining the reasons for each word of his translation... or say frankly, "That is exactly what it says in the Greek".

The range of background and experience in the room made the energy around the table really exciting to be a part of. From young New York actresses to stage veteran George Bartenieff playing Teirisias, the cast is remarkably diverse and vibrant. I am really interested to see how JoAnne is going to shape the show once the cast is on its feet.