Directors Lab West: Day 4

Day 4 of Directors Lab, for me, was all about embracing my own intensity. After the Theatre Bay Area conference last week (I think it was last week – I’m not really sure what day it is anymore), I was “feeling like a crazy person.” After four days of the Lab with 36 of my peers and some incredible guest artists, I’m coming around to the idea that “feeling like a crazy person” might just be the only way I’ll know that I’m doing it right. Ah! Two big reliefs in one revelation: 1) that it’s OK to feel crazy and 2) oh my goodness, can you believe it, there is a way to know that I’m doing it right!

Yesterday began with Anastasia Coon’s movement workshop, an eclectic mix of exercises ranging from running from an “enemy” and getting close to a “beloved” (an exercise we’ve actually done three times now at the lab, but Anastasia was the first to endow it with emotional stakes) to neutral mask work. Oh man, mask work! I have only ever put a mask on one other time, in Eli Simon’s clowning class at UCI. Both times I was astonished by the immediate and powerful emotional response, and the inventive physicality the mask can produce (when you can’t use your face, you use your body). I’m seriously considering getting a set of masks for training and rehearsal to explore more. Let’s see how long it takes me to work that expense into a grant request…

Later in the afternoon, we visited A Noise Within at their beautiful, brand new theater. The building is incredible, sleek and modern, outfitted with a spacious and inviting lobby, rehearsal rooms, administrative offices and library all with a lovely picture-window views of the hills, a costume and scenic shop, kitchen and dressing rooms, as well as the theater itself, a 280-seat thrust stage. We had two and a half inspiring hours with the artistic directors of A Noise Within, husband-and-wife team Julia Rodrigues-Elliott and Geoff Elliott. Our session with them was entitled “What Doesn’t Kill You,” after Geoff’s assertion that “what doesn’t kill you just didn’t kill you.” A few fantastic nuggets from our conversation:

  • “Starting a theater is real estate.” You’re always figuring out where you are going to be. A Noise Within started out in a Masonic Temple and recently completed a $13.5 million building in time for their 20th season.
  • “We didn’t mean to do this.” This sentiment is one that I have heard echoed throughout the Lab, and elsewhere in my conversations with people who have started their own theaters. As someone who has set out to create her own company, I wonder if my experience will be easier/faster/better because of my deliberate intention, or if “whoops, I started a theater” is an essential element for success!
  • “Everything is hard. You might as well do something you want to do, that you think will make a difference. You’re probably going to knock your brains out either way. Being a banker is hard, too.”
  • On repertory acting company: “You want both the energy of new people challenging the status quo, but there are things that happen with an ensemble of people who trust each other that could never happen in a 5-week rehearsal period.” And “any longterm relationship is hard work. You have to continually reinvest in those relationships.”
  • On audiences: “When they have opinions on the type of toilet paper we should have in our new bathrooms, you could get upset – or you could realize how great it is that they feel like the theater is their home.” With a repertory company, some of whom worked the box office in the earlier days, the audience has a long-term relationship with the actors. They have seen them onstage again and again.
  • On growth: “It’s easy to get into a desperate mentality and make bad decisions. You have to step back and invest in the long-term infrastructure.” As in Hamlet, “readiness is all.” “It’s all about hard work, and then faith.” (There’s that idea again, faith.)

I’m not sure that my journey will lead me to a $13.5 million dollar brand new facility. Who knows what the next 15 years will bring for me and for Inkblot Ensemble. The possibilities are endless – and all possible. I have faith. I have drive. I have vision and taste and compassion and leadership. I embrace my intensity. I am high on the future.