The Beginning of a Long Process

Yesterday was the first rehearsal of Single Carrot’s last play of its fifth season. It will be the final play performed, but it is the first to go into rehearsal.

Here’s what I can tell you for sure about the piece: nothing. Not because I’m not allowed to say. It’s because we haven’t decided anything about the show. The only thing we’d actually decided prior to rehearsal is that we wouldn’t decide anything prior to rehearsals starting.  The rehearsal and performance calendars have been determined. We’re rehearsing for one week now in August, and then we’ll rehearse essentially every Sunday until April of 2012, at which point we’ll do five weeks or so of rehearsal, and then it performs for five weekends.

I do know the entire Single Carrot will be involved in some capacity. I’m guessing the piece will be original. I’m guessing that as is standard for Single Carrot, we’ll configure the space in some new way. I’m sure it’s going to be a great show. I’m not sure how or when it will turn into a great show, but I have confidence that it will.

Since we needed to start somewhere, the group allowed me to run the first rehearsal. We began by folding a piece of paper into nine sections. We took the first column, and wrote in each of the boxes the answers to the first three questions: 1) Why are we here? 2) What are our concerns? 3) What are our ideas?

The next thing we did was launch into a discussion on setting the right conditions for ourselves, and we watched the Ted talk I referred to in an earlier post. At the outset of any original work, the creative team has the ability to lay out the conditions for the process and the performances. At this crucial part of the process, we need to consciously make the right decisions to ensure what we’d like to have. After watching the Itay Talgam Ted talk, we went back to our sheets, and added new “Whys”, “Concerns”, and “Ideas”.

Following a short break, we watched several video clips to open up the concept of different artists being at the “center” of the work. What I mean by center is that in most original pieces of art work, you often have a single artist who is driving the production. I believe that in American theatre, it is most often the playwright in the center of the work. In Eastern Europe, it is the director. In Hollywood, often it is the actor. Sometimes you can tell who is at the center of the work because it is they who gets top billing. Edward Albee. Krzysztof Warlikowski. Tom Hanks. In starting a new process where we’re determining the conditions, it’s important to think about who can be at the center. Here are examples of a few clips:

Choreographer/Director

Designer/Director

Director

Actor/Director/Shakespeare

We then read two short pieces of writing. One by Tim Etchells from his book “Certain Fragments” which is about his company Forced Entertainment:

“The process we’ve worked through (of which I’ll say much more below) has always mixed improvisation with writing, argument, discussion and , latterly at least, a great deal of watching back through video-tapes of the previous day’s work. It’s a process in which no single aspect of the theatrical vocabulary is allowed to lead–so that set design, found costume, soundtrack, text fragment or idea for action might just as well take the lead as a source or starting-point in a project. It’s also a process which refuses to know, at the outset, what it is looking for. Remaining, rather, a journey undertaken, in which the territory unfolds, as much of a surprise to us as it may be to anyone else. We say without hesitation that it takes us time to find out what a certain piece of work might mean or even be concerned with, and that this discovery, if it comes at all, is made by doing–making, talking, touring–a discovery based on risk and uncertainty, no t by our adherence to a plan.”

The second was from Liz Lerman’s book “Hiking the Horizontal”– a short chapter called “Wondering about Books”, where Liz discovers that putting “I wonder why” in front of a sentence, can unlock so much.She writes “the reason I recall the incident at all is because the round of questions that followed this simple insertion let the full group see how anger and frustration can become inquiry and that inquiry opens the door to discovery and to art.”

I then read excerpts from another chapter of “Hiking the Horizontal”, where she talks about the process for creating her very first piece, and her most recent piece. This was useful to hear about the different approaches one artist used at various points in her career.

We closed out rehearsal by reading aloud our “Whys / Concerns / Ideas “. It was so useful to hear this out loud at the start of the process. Of course everyone had many ideas and concerns. By setting up an environment where both ideas and concerns are shared up front, we’ll be able to solve a lot of issues before we even start. Concerns ranged from the self-deprecating “What happens if the show sucks?” to the intricate and strategic “How are decisions made, and is there a hierarchy within roles as it relates to decision-making, and can this change throughout the process, and are we establishing precedent as we go?”

The very last piece of business was the all important questions: “What are we doing at the next rehearsal?” I asked if it would be okay to make a proposal. The group said it would be, and I proposed that we write down all of our questions for the piece and process. After five minutes, we had each written out a total of nearly 140 questions, which we promised to address as the starting point for the project.

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