Directors Lab West: Day 5

This morning I am thinking about endurance. On day one, we were told “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Having never run a marathon, this phrase means (to me) something along the lines of “chill the hell out, Amy” or even feels like a pat on the head. I know, it’s supposed to mean “pace yourself.” But that’s not a thing I like to do – or really know how to do, if I’m honest.

On day five of the Lab, my body probably thinks I am running a marathon. Especially yesterday, when we ran from session to session with barely enough time to get there and not enough time to eat. Couple stress and hunger with exhaustion and frustration at the ratio of studio time to lecture time, and you’ve got 30 cranky directors. Now put them all in a car on the 110 South in traffic… So yesterday was about keeping my energy up in a lot of different ways.

There were some really thrilling moments in the first session of the day, “Insta-Plays” with Jen Bloom, an interdisciplinary director here in Los Angeles. We broke out into small groups and created compositions on themes, in 3 minutes or less. Anne Bogart calls this “exquisite pressure” and as one of my co-conspirators pointed out, the compressed time limit doesn’t allow you to second-guess yourself. I also noticed my own tendency to jump in full force and expect that everyone will meet me at a high level of concentration, energy, and… is “confidence” the word? Maybe “openness?” It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately in relation to ensemble work, how to bring my full self to the work without that force overwhelming my collaborators, how to gently demand that we all bring our full selves to the work and meet at a higher level. (I’ll let you know if I figure that out.)

Another great insight from this session, in relation to originality and borrowing from other artists: “Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use it to roll something. That’s smart, that’s not stealing.” – Daniel Stein.

From Insta-Plays, we booked it to Hollywood to chat with the founders of Troupe Vertigo, a circus group that uses story to contextualize the remarkable technical skill of circus performance. As one lab participant put it “Juggling 14 balls, whatever. Juggling 14 babies, that’s something.” I hope I’ll have a chance to see a Troupe Vertigo performance soon – San Francisco is a great place for circus, so I will just have to keep my eyes peeled.

After Troupe Vertigo, we sped back to the Pasadena Playhouse for a session on the Michael Checkov technique. I’m not sure I buy the thing as a whole – to be fair, it can’t be fully communicated in two hours, and by the time we got to this session, I was getting loopy, exhausted to the point of deciding getting coffee was way more important than being on time. I did pick up a great focus exercise for ensemble work, that combines the physical coordination of throwing and catching a ball with intense eye contact with a partner. I’ll have to try it in rehearsal to know if I like it as a tool, or if my partner and I were just really good at it. (We were really, really good at it, and that is pretty satisfying.)

We ended the day by running back to LA and grabbing the fastest dinner in history before seeing Sondheim’s Follies at Center Theatre Group. It was a perfect production; though of the show itself, I have to say that the first act is a little slow for me. I’m less interested than I used to be in shiny dance numbers. It’s hard to believe that less than 10 years ago, I was sure that what I wanted to do with my life was act and sing in Broadway musicals. Thank goodness I went for a BA instead of a BFA, with the flexibility to try a ton of different things and discover what else is out there. But as musicals go, this is a pretty great one. I do love the wryness of the mature characters, their buried longing for the past and “the road you didn’t take,” juxtaposed with their young counterparts’ longing for the future and impossibly hopeful ideals. There’s a heartbreaking tension in that juxtaposition. And of course, I love the complexity of Sondheim’s music and lyrics. But anyway, this post is not a review. Follies doesn’t need a review on my blog – they have a wheelbarrow full of Tony Awards.

After the show, for the first night since we arrived in Pasadena, I did not lead the charge to go talk about theater over a beer. One of the best things about the Lab is the conversations we’re having among the participating directors, and the relationships we’re building with our peers. But last night, I decided to pace myself for the marathon instead of sprinting to the bar.

Today’s a new day, and I’m ready for the next lap. Ready, steady, GO.