Guest Blog Post #4

February 13th, 2017

img_3974

The view from above. Photo by Aram Aghazarian of Strange Attractor, voice of The Voice

On the (in)humanity of performance

My sleep schedule has not quite recovered from the past week. It’s hard to believe that just seven days ago, the Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor crews were going into their tech week: rehearsals to polish what needed polishing, mine out what still needed refining, and add the lights, sound, set, costume, and tricks (fake blood! A fake tooth!) that made Sans Everything the smashing success it was. (Seriously. Smashing success. Read the reviews here.)

In order to mount such a great show, tech rehearsals become a crucial space to make decisions. It’s when a number of elements that have been waiting on each other suddenly begin their conversation, only to discover that that show opens in four days. “If we had had more time” becomes a mantra. Except in our case, we only really had one day of tech, despite going into ten hour rehearsals well before the show’s opening.

The reason I mention this is not to bemoan how hard our jobs are – we know they’re hard, that’s why not everyone can do them. I mention it because on hour 9 of a 12 hour day, the fourth 12 hour day in a row, when your stomach is in a constant state of unease (you’ve been subsisting almost entirely on sugar to get you through these late nights), when your limbs are aching because you’ve rehearsed the Wrestling Scene three times (and each Wrestling Scene contains As You Like It’s wrestling scene three times), when your inbox is filling with emails of calls to action that you simply cannot answer right now, when you haven’t seen the people that you live with since Monday, when your bed is a distant memory, you actually start to wonder why it is you do this.

img_3922

Notes on opening night

One thing that we see in Sans Everything is that the discovery of performance, and therefore, the relationship between humanity and artmaking, is as natural and as obvious as human thought. And so it must then mean that artmaking is human, or humane. Or just a necessary part of the expression of humanity.

I don’t mean to be glib when I say is it though? And I don’t mean to be annoying when I mention how exhausted we all are. Every job has its sleep deprivation, its stress. Every job has its moments of why do I do this. But beyond the triggers of the final week of rehearsal, I think what has me pondering artmaking as humane the most is not quite preparation, but performance. Because I know that the other thing we see in Sans Everything is the discovery that performance is not always kind, or contemplative, or restorative.

Saw is forced to be a part of the set. Breathing is made into an actor against his will. Simon – poor, tortured Simon – struggles and fails to fight the artifice of performance. And even the actors within the play are being knocked around, worn out, physically abused by their need to continue performing, performing, performing. And just as soon as they start, they stop. Foon pulls them offstage, shows them that it’s all just a play. Likewise, just as soon as we started performing at FringeArts on February 9th, we stopped performing at FringeArts on February 11th. Our set, the strange, clean, humming world of discovery that we had created with such reverence and love is torn down. It’s being dumped away to make room for the load-in and creation of the set for A Ride on the Irish Cream (everyone go see that one too). Something we spent so hard working on is not only finished, but it is, in many ways, gone.

Is it humane? Are we really doing the human thing, in pretending, and then discarding? Are we at our most human when we are being watched? Or when we are doing the watching? To whom is performance most humane – the performers, or the audience?

I don’t know. And, at the end of the day, I don’t care. Because it is true that I always get a little physically ill after a show closes, my body finally releasing several week’s worth of stress, adrenaline, and exhaustion. It is true that I am also always a little lost after the closing of a show, because something that I have spent so much time thinking about is over and no one is asking me to think about it anymore. But it is also true that despite not needing to, I sat and watched almost every performance of Sans Everything, because I was desperate to feel the audience feeling the show. I longed to laugh when Henry showed Breathing peekaboo for the first time. When I’m performing, I black out and forget almost everything except for moments when I am fully present in the humanity of my relationships – to my fellow performers, to my audience, to my art. I think in many ways performance can be an abusive ritual that is fueled by obsession, self-deprecation, sleeplessness, and exaltant fervor. But I also think that it is an expression of a longing or yearning that, though will never be filled by any one performance or art, is deeply human.

Thanks for coming into space with us. I think this is a good place to stop.

Signing off,

Tenara Calem

Guest Blog Post #2

January 28th, 2017

Tenara here again.

Today in rehearsal, our marvelous outside eye/director Rebecca Noon said the following: “Today, we are deep sea explorers. We are diving into the darkness. We are probably going to encounter some beautiful coral reefs, but we might get a little lost, and that might make us panic a little bit. But we all have oxygen masks, and we can all share our oxygen. Look around the room – these people are deep diving with you, and if you need them, you can rely on them.” And she sent off the creators to generate the last third of the play.

img_3714

Fearless explorer, Rebecca Noon

On the idea of deep dive theatrical exploration: the creators at Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor have been working on Sans Everything for three years. Not every artist has the opportunity – the wonderful, challenging, ultimately edifying opportunity – to live in and mine out one artistic world for that long a time. For this stretch of Sans Everything, we’ve only got three and a half weeks to carve out the final and most true iteration of Sans. That’s very little time, but the good news is that we’re not starting from square one. Actually, the opposite is true.

img_3727

Jenn got the bends — er, the giggles

The challenge in these kinds of timelines is how to hold onto what feels most gold, how to kill your darlings, and how to find, remind, re-find, and rework what the ultimate question of the show is. For Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor, the creators don’t feel particularly obligated to be chained to one static and perhaps unyielding conceptual question this play is asking – but then when are we leaving behind what no longer applies, and when are we scrapping everything we’ve done to create something completely different? Is that bad? Is that useful? Is that still Sans Everything? Is it another show? Is Sans Everything merely a proposal, or a play made of marble that we are responsible for sculpting? To answer any of these questions in a way that is theatrically satisfying for all requires creators with brains and instincts that move rapidly from performer to playwright to audience to director to performing artist and back. You can rest assured that Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor supply just that.

But then, in an instant, it clicks. You find yourself in an improvisation that is offering absolutely everything you’ve been looking for – it’s the right tone, it’s the right question, it’s theatrically mesmerizing, and suddenly you know that while it may not be the exact scene that goes into the show, it is the first yellow brick on your road to what the audience will see on February 9th. You sit down with your fellow artists and share what it was that made that moment the right moment, and the action plan of how to make it the best moment, the piece’s moment. These kinds of rehearsals are the product of deep sea theatrical diving, and of witnessing the most gorgeous coral reefs down at the bottom.

~Tenara

img_3709

From Thursday’s designer run

What we’re watching this week: Time Lapse View of Earth from Space, by astronauts on the ISS

Do you have your tickets yet? Get them HERE.

Guest Blog Post #1

January 22nd, 2016

Hello from a drizzly and gray Washington, D.C.! My name’s Tenara Calem, and I’m the Assistant Director for Sans Everything, coming to you this February 9th at FringeArts.

This Wednesday, Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor kicked off their first week of rehearsals for the spectacular Sans Everything – an exploration of art, body, voice, instruction, culture, love, violence, and humanity. The singularity, Artificial Intelligence, Shakespeare. Space ships! Stretching out your fingers because it’s the first time you’ve ever had fingers. All the World’s a Stage. In a Fishtown studio, a group of performers and makers gathered to look at where we’re starting from: several iterations of one show that we’re still carving out, with past productions in Philadelphia, New Orleans, Providence, and Boston. 

 

img_3559

Clara, Jenn, Rebecca, and Jed at our first script-read after 9 months away from the show!

 

I’m going to talk about the body in today’s blog entry, because we at Sans have been thinking a lot about its function and utility, how it performs, what it performs. The humans on our ship in Sans Everything read a quiet little proposal that perhaps all the world’s a stage, and your body the player. But what if you refuse to perform? What if you boldly reject the assertion that by existing in a body, you are complicit in the grand performance of your life? What if you desperately want to stop the performance and replace it with existence? Exactly how do you go about doing that?

People have been arguing about that for longer than we makers have been in the room devising this play, and so one of our wonderful challenges is to try to create a world in which the body is not performing, but being. In a performance at FringeArts. The camp of humans on the ship who challenge Shakespeare’s assumption explored how to put body as existence first, performance second. And how do you do that if you’ve only just arrived into your human body a day ago? (And how do you do that as a group of performers in front of an audience?)

We ended rehearsal on Friday night at ten o’clock after one such discussion, because now our bodies, the bodies of Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor had a different job to do. We got into our cars and we drove the two and a half hours south to Washington D.C. that night, to attend a rally, a march, and a gathering the following morning on 3rd and Independence. Well, we tried to get to 3rd and Independence, but it turned out that half a million people had the same idea, so we could only get as close in as 7th and Jefferson. The Sans Everything crew – both artistic and space crew – tried on a different use for the body: to be a member of a mass of bodies representing a cause. Estimates are still coming in, and in the new paradigm of tweeted misinformation, this Assistant Director is hesitant to accept statistics from just any which news outlet, but it might be safe to say that close to 3 million people in the United States alone gathered and marched against hate. That’s half a million in D.C., 750,000 in L.A., 250,000 in Chicago, 125,000 in Boston, and 50,000 in our own Philadelphia – among countless other cities across America. In a lot of ways, the devisers of Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor encountered the same fundamental question that the humans on the Sans Everything ship grapple: if all the world’s a stage, and your body is the player, what will your body say?

~Tenara

img_3585

LRS+SATC+D.C.

 

What we’re reading this week: Reflections of Avant Garde Adaptations, on HowlRound