Now that Care Enough has had its first read through, we’ve been busy casting Night of New Works for July. Company member Candace Bilyk gives us a taste of what she’s been up to in California.
“How’s it coming along?” is perhaps the most dreaded question a composer can face. Or, at least, that’s how it seems to me. I think the reason behind this is that sharing unfinished music can be a really dangerous prospect: you have to trust in the other person’s ability to imagine what you’re imagining (which, really, is a ridiculous idea), and you have to trust in their trust in you to do a good job at finishing whatever it is you’re showing off. That’s an awful lot of trust for the kind of person who stereotypically sits in a little room working alone all day.
When there’s too much fear for trust, the stock answer tends to be, “it’s not ready yet!” Thankfully, that isn’t really what happens with a Savage Umbrella show, where we’re all sticking our spoons and spices in a pot of soup at weird times. It can be a little scary, but it’s also wonderfully freeing. When everybody expects a work in progress and comes to the table wanting to help it move forward, telling people how things are going and getting their input is much less scary and much more exciting.
Answering the question for people outside of our warm little kitchen can still be a little tricky - they often expect some progress point in a magically linear process. Showing part of an opera before you’ve really even finished the whole story is admittedly a bit like putting the cart before the horse, but I prefer to think of it like making that pot of soup in a way. It doesn’t always matter what order you throw things in the water, as long as it’s all there in the end. (Admittedly, I am a kindof terrible cook, but stay with me here, okay?)
So what have we been up to? Here’s a sip of what’s already simmering:
In December, Amber, Laura, and I spent some time making common head space for visuals (which really helps with that whole “imagining what other people are imagining” thing) by wandering through the plethora of antique shops in Stillwater, pointing at things we liked or didn’t like, and of course getting distracted by fortune telling machines.
Is the mystic swami trying to tell us that no one can actually see the future?
Some things we liked were just of nautical influence, like a velvet covered book with a decorative anchor; some of fairy influence, like a painting of a woman in a swimsuit with a flowing, sheer cloth behind her reminiscent of wings. As we got deeper into the nooks and crannies of the weird maze of a building, we started getting a little more abstract. One image that still really strikes me is of a woman in a 1920s formal dress. The print itself is not really anything special, but something about the way her green dress shines and slithers makes me think both of the grandeur of magical creatures and the slippery, dangerous feeling of seaweed grabbing at your ankles.
Since then we’ve decided what scenes and arias are going to be in the July 2012 production, put together lists of various arias or musical theater pieces we’re inspired by for each (again - shared head space is a blessing), and started sketching out lyrics and melodies. Want to know what the Carp’s big song is going to be like? Well, something between the worlds of Pirates of Penzance and Beauty and the Beast.
And the puppets? Oh, the puppets. I can’t wait for you all to see the puppets. I can’t wait to see the puppets. We’ve talked about them a lot. The thing is, though, they’re not ready just yet. That’s our next big thing. But I, for one, trust Amber Davis implicitly to do something crazy amazing, and I imagine they’ll be everything I could have ever wanted.
World Theatre Day is celebrated every year on March 27. This year, in addition to the official speech written by award-winning actor, director and producer John Malkovich, many other organizations are putting together their own celebrations and events. This year, NYC World Theatre Day's blog seeks to make connections between theatre artists across the country and share perspectives within our community. They asked SU Artistic Director Laura Leffler-McCabe to contribute a blog post. Below is her full post, "It's All in the Company," which you can also read here.
Company is a word that has been on my mind a lot over the past year and a half.
In the theatre world, the term company conjures many fleeting thoughts for me. The Federal Theatre Project, SITI Company, A Chorus Line - yes, different modes and hierarchies, but all companies, nonetheless.. We in the theatre have a pretty solid understanding of a "company" as a group of artists - usually actors with a director - who train and work together. Company is a catch all term - I’ll get to defining it. Hang on.
And then if I try to ignore the theatre part of my brain (which is hard to do), the term brings to mind big companies like 3M, Target, General Mills, and along with those companies, I see people in business suits, carrying briefcases, scurrying.
Okay, hold those thoughts, as I sidestep as nimbly as possible here.
In early 2010 I directed a production, an adaptation of Kate Chopin's The Awakening (which is a beautiful book you should totally read). I worked with the actors and production team over a period of seven months, workshopping, creating the script, sharing a physical vocabulary, working with a composer. It was difficult, yet amazing.
Then it was over. After all that work creating common vocabulary with all those great artists, there I was. Alone and dreading the thought of starting from scratch - again - to create that understanding that just comes after months of working together. And with my highly practical art degrees, I was also without a whole lot of preparation to run a company.
Now we’re back to company.
So. Wild experiment time. What if I started a theatre company that was both Federal-Theatre-Project-company and 3M-company? What if I got together a group of like-minded artists who wanted both to work and train together creatively, but also who wanted to be independent and produce our own shows? What if we were a company that was also a company? And we could provide each other company?
Fast forward 18 months, and here I am, Artistic Director of Savage Umbrella, a group that co-operates as a company to create new works of theatre, constantly striving to engage artists and audiences in vital discourse. And all because we envision theatre as critical shelter, embodying compassionate space for relevant conversation.
We’re trying to define company for ourselves, with all the facets that the word reflects. And there’s clearly a giant learning curve. Though growing can be painful, we feel taller, more flexible. We've had members come and go in that time - it's certainly not a model that works for every artist.
But for those of us it is working for, we embrace this idea of a 360 degree artist. We swap roles. We all write and perform and design; we all write e-mail blasts and create budgets and write grants. We seek to be jacks- and jills-of-all-trades. We seek to do it together. Together is better than alone, as we say in our manifesto.
We succeed; we fail - but we do it together, and that feels right. I often say in meetings, "We can do whatever we want!"
For now, we are.
We're a company-company, providing each other company. It feels good.
Read the other posts, too, and celebrate World Theatre Day! What might you do to celebrate?
The wait is nearly over - you get the chance to come see the workshop of Rain Follows the Plow by Rachel Nelson this weekend! To help tide you over the next 50-odd hours, here’s a small look at the three guest actors who joined us to make this play: Seth Conover as Jack, Adelin Phelps as Clara, and Eve Tugwell as Ingrid.
Who is your character?
Seth Conover: I would describe Jack as something of a self-proclaimed mystic/romantic. He hangs around the edge of a cliff, literally and metaphorically, searching for the rush of something subliminal. He's from the suburbs, obviously, because he's downright starstruck by nature. I can totally relate.
Adeline Phelps: Clara has a fire deep in her belly. She is impulsive, extremely smart, passionate, and ambitious. Full of convictions. And in tune with her sexuality.
Eve Tugwell: Ingrid is a strong women pinned down by time period and circumstance. She is a good wife who obeys her husband - until her sense of what’s right and their lack of sustenance pushes her to the brink of her mind - and then over the edge.
Do any parts of the script resonate with you personally? Which ones?
SC: I connect with the way the play investigates the American sense of 'hubris'. That old 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' adage we're so fond of; especially in regards to our country's rise to prominence. What got us here? What keeps us going? Why stay here? Those are great questions that the play explores. Socrates might say; 'the unexamined country is not worth fighting for'. I hope the gods don't smite me for paraphrasing that quote.
AP: I feel strongly about Clara's sense of ambition. She knows what she wants. I admire this quality and connect to it in the script. I feel connected to her most at the points of anxiety, honestly...when her hardness falls away a bit, and we see some cracks in her, we can see the pain she is feeling.
ET: Clara's loss of a place she loved rings very true for me. Be it a country or a family home there is a constant nagging in the back of my mind that reminds me I'm missing something. I think that rings true with every character, but is the most clear with Clara.
What do you think audiences will take away from the workshop?
SC: There's a wealth of inspiring images and poetic ideas in this play so I hope they translate to the audience's personal search for meaning and belonging. I think it's a treat to listen to and take in. I hope people will be entertained, too.
AP: Readings are an incredible way to hear a new story, to hear a new play. The audience will get to be invited into a working a story, a group of lives that are being worked on. I think that is really neat. These characters are alive and written, but are not finished. That involves an audience in an intimate way.
ET: I find all the characters easy to relate to in one way or another. I think that the audience will, too. This is a reminder of this era and bit of history, and representation of how far, or not, we've come as a country.
What has it been like working with Savage Umbrella?
SC: I've never worked with any company who conducts their rehearsals the way Savage Umbrella does. It's a physically investigative exploration of relationships between characters and themes. Whether or not I totally subscribe to all of the methods, it's clearly working well for them. I think having diversity in our approach to creating Theater is necessary and healthy. Plus they're all really great people.
AP: Working with this company has been wonderful. Every member I have met thus far is so smart. Incredibly smart. And they are open, willing and wanting to put new work out there. They work hard, they believe in their mission. It is sometimes rare to find people like this. I like it. I like it a lot. And I am thankful to be part of it.
ET: I have loved this experience. Working with some of the company and at times another person or two who has stopped by has revealed to me how much of a family Savage Umbrella is. I also leave rehearsals continuously impressed with the amount of knowledge bouncing around the rehearsal room walls. Everyone is so dedicated to the product it makes me feel like I'm working with a group that knows what it’s doing, and I find that very comforting. I have a harder time with improv exercises because I feel out of practice, but thanks to the ones we did in auditions and rehearsals I feel like just putting our ideas out there and doing the best you can helps with improvement in that respect in all areas.
See what Seth, Addie, and Eve are talking about this weekend: Friday March 9 & Saturday March 10 at 7:30 pm each night. At the Playwrights’ Center, 2301 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis. Donations at the door.