Saturday, February 17, 2007

Six weeks to Elektra

"This is your captain speaking...
I forgot what I was going to say."

This is a record of the artists
This is what's happening
So we're working now, about seven hours a day including break, until the show opens. The material is starting to gather form but it's still loose enough that anything can happen, and still doubtful enough to throw us (actors, probably director too but he doesn't show it so much in front of us) into wild rants of wtf are we doing here. This is like: the joy of devising.

Some of our elements include:

  • airports

  • choreography to music as well as to traffic symbols

  • a made-up biomechanical training etude called "emergency at the airport," which needs work

  • a problem in dealing with stylized vs quotidien movement (i.e. when to use which and whether combining both at all will work)

  • spanish tragicomedy (which is sorta like commedia pre-masks)

  • a dress made out of a porn mag

  • great electro soundtracks created from such sources as purring cats and a washing machine

  • images, images, images, images... taped on the body, projected on the body or the set, taped to the wall; they're a total mess

  • objects, objects, objects... another logistical mountain. What do you do with all the objects when you finish with them? Every single thing needs a solution. I now understand what I had thought was just a rather trendy "gradual pile-up of complete mess" stage design that seemed to be in a lot of shows that have a kind of kinship with performance art as well as theatre; they save themselves the headache of finishing with the objects.

  • the order to develop a combined biomechanics and afro-dance warmup (!)

  • seriously, these things just pile up

  • The line "before rising to a new level of humanity, please read all instructions and comply with them"

  • many beautiful moments and a lot of cheesy ones that need to (perhaps) settle into their stereotypes even deeper so they can become beautiful too

  • Not really a clue as to what the costumes or staging are like

12/365 10.2.2007 (other): Warning: impossible choreography
Suprisingly excellent source material
for choreography/movement
The previous week was our last "workshop" session, tomorrow marks the end of our first week of rehearsals proper. During the workshops I still had a day where I felt absolutely awful about the whole project (for reasons that are not clear even to me), but it seems that the feeling was some kind of entity itself, hanging around in the cellar air and infecting each one of us one day at a time. I have a feeling it's again just one's own artistic fear or ego or what-not making a mountain out of a molehill, where you start to question what the hell you're doing in this project and why does it have to, have to be that way when this way would be far superior, &c. I suspect what's really going on in times like those is that you just really, really secretly want the show to be great and you're building up an arsenal of excuses in case it isn't, so you won't have to go anywhere near your own personal soul's worth when your heart breaks. Maybe that's extreme. Well. It's been part of this process for sure. But this week's been an absolute giggle-fest (from hell, from Davide's POV sometimes). We've got comedy coming out the wazoo, and the project is so much fun it barely feels like Elektra.

Snip snip
Porn dress! Made of porn!

But a porn dress! How do you go wrong? Aside from the fact that I can't really move in it and that we need to build a new one every night, you can't go wrong at all!

At the moment the way we work is that the first hour is warmup and training exercises, which are either led by me (biomechanics and working on the etude) or Juha (afro warmup plus his choreography based on movements from our old show), plus a wee bit of work on singing. This is really hard to get through in an hour; I usually find that once you've warmed up the brain and the body sufficiently to do an etude at all, you've got ten minutes left. Which ten minutes, if you know the etude really well, is kinda sufficient since you'll kill yourself if you do it more than thrice in quick succession, but we're still hashing out the shifts of weight and the exact body positions, so it's a bit harried.

Oh, rewind. What's an etude? To make it an extremely short story, it's a training sequence developed for actors, in a similar vein as a kata would be in karate training: an exact sequence of movements to be executed over and over again, striving towards their perfection (which, being impossible, let's just say their improvement). You wouldn't ever use a kata in a fight: you would apply the principles you learn in it. It's the same with a biomechanical etude: you study the etude to learn, very deeply, the principles of balance, weight, mime, rhythm, breath, sensitivity, precision, and visual interest. It's not an aesthetic; it's like a barbell for your actor's body.

The shitty thing about studying biomechanics right now is that there's only a handful of people who teach it, a handful of people who use it, and they're really not in Finland at the moment. So unless I have time and money to travel to a workshop, it's kind of a self-study thing. The really brilliant thing about that is that with Juha and Akseli especially, I've taught them all I know and have quickly come to the end of my expertise, and so doing things like creating etudes for ourselves is an incredibly valuable way to challenge the principles.

10/365 8.2.2007 (other): Akseli with an image, as well
Akseli doing an old statue
And challenging the principles is, like, ridiculous. Here we are, four grown people arguing about the precise angle of a shoulder in a movement called "presenting the passport," and the angle of the shoulder really matters. Or we come up with a brillant movement only to analyze it and discover it's actually two movements, so in the interests of efficiency we have to modify its brilliant self. Or spending twenty minutes on whether a foot should be off the ground or not, and really going at it with ruthless logic. You learn an awful lot that way. So that's keeping me pretty darn happy, although you also have to truncate your learning somewhat when you're in a rehearsal situation where you actually have to produce some kind of show.

I think the fastest I've ever led the warmup was 30 minutes, and I pulled a leg muscle that day. It's amazing how long it takes us. On the other hand, we do have a lot of bits in the show so far where the idea is to push a movement beyond our capacity: to work towards complete loss of power or balance, for instance, and that requires pretty much going all out in a way that spells instant injury if your body isn't prepped like a greased pig. The choreography we made with traffic symbols is one of these. We created movements corresponding to the signs, but the movements had to be too difficult to perform properly every time—more like you stick it once every ten tries. While the movements themselves can be quite pretty, what's way, way more compelling to watch is the look on the actor's face as they will every cell in their body towards stability in a given impossible position, and it's fabulously entertaining when they crash.

What that has to do with drama per se, I can't really say. We're wondering ourselves what the dramaturgical topography is like in Here speaks Elektra, and not so much even like are we looking at a relief map or a political map or whatnot, but what the hell hemisphere is this? Is it drama, theatre, performance art, dance, dance theatre, physical theatre, does it matter as long as you can hold it together? Can you hold it together if you don't really know what it is?

By the way: we finally got a grant. Like, our first real one. We are unbelievably happy about this.