nytheatre.com q&a preview by Jessica Burr
March 20, 2013
What is your job on this show?
What is your show about?
Rooted in the myths of Orpheus/Eurydice and Echo/Narcissus, multiple narratives of wayward love are woven together with humor, precision, and sweat.
Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born in Bellows Falls Vermont, known by the natives as Fellows Balls. I lived with my parents in a little house that they had built with no plumbing and a lot of chickens. My mother and I began moving when I was five. The nearly annual relocations included moves to suburban Connecticut, Rome, and London. We landed in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in the early 80’s. My fifth grade teacher wore stiletto heels and skeleton earrings with glowing eyes. Like A Virgin was #1. Crack had just been invented and because of the spike in violence in the city we moved overnight to an island off the coast of Maine. I had just turned twelve. In Brooklyn I wore combinations of pink, purple and orange hues and arms full of rubber “Madonna bracelets” as a way of asserting my grooviness in a gaggle of similarly attired girls hailing from Poland, Puerto Rico and Korea. This was not groovy on the island in Maine. Ostracism ensued and I spent months reading my mother’s books. Flaubert, Colette, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, DH Lawrence. When we moved back to London less than a year later the punk scene was alive and kicking, but I lived in a world of ballet shoes and teletone taps. I was going to a performing arts school and had found my people. Two glorious years ended with another spontaneous relocation back to Rome where I finished high school. After majoring in theatre and dance at Bard College I became a traveling street performer in Europe until winter came, then got a job teaching English in Poland. Returning to NYC in the late 90s I worked off-Broadway as a stagehand. The annual reinvention of myself to suit each new place made the theatre a natural home. Now I continue to feed my travel bug with Blessed Unrest as we collaborate with partners internationally.
Are audiences in New York City different from audiences in other cities/countries where you’ve performed? If so, how?
Yes. We recently returned from a tour of the Balkans where audiences are very different from those in NYC. They are very vocal and when they don’t like something you know it. But when they do…. There were a number of times that the show would have to stop and wait for spontaneous and mid-sentence standing ovations to die down. Also everyone goes to the theatre there. We attended a production of Twelfth Night in Prishtina on a weekend evening and the audience was full of teenagers. They were hollering and popping their gum and talking on cell phones and laughing uproariously at Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and it was wonderful! I would love to have a raucous house of theatre-going teens in New York. I love the Elizabethan approach to theatre-going where the dialogue between actors and audience is just louder. While overseas, part of the cast appeared for over two hours on a weekly live talk-show shot in Tirana and broadcast across the Balkans. The show is a strange combination of trashy pop culture and highbrow art a la Jerry Springer meets Charlie Rose, and is hugely popular. That night the show included a group of go-go dancers who ended their segment by gyrating around the host, followed immediately by a discussion of our play and its examination of the role of women in society. The host told us afterwards, “Here, theatre is always a part of the cultural conversation.”
Why did you want to write/direct/produce/act in/work on this show?
I am obsessed with process, and when making devised work the process changes to suit the show. I love attacking form from different angles, then listening to hear what content emerges into it. My approach to making plays is physical and immediate. I begin with the body, using Viewpoints, theatre games, excursions into the intuitive and other exercises to let ideas and inspirations emerge. This also allows my creative team to circumnavigate the expectations and fear with which we all enter the room. It gives the actors a chance to surprise each other and to work in real time rather than developing a lot of ideas early on and trying to incorporate them into the words, movement and characterization later in rehearsal. I begin table-work after the actors have been working physically, during which time we analyze the text carefully and research the history and concepts behind the play. At a certain point we let the research go in order to begin creating our own universe. What I put on stage is a skewed and contextualized version of reality that we build together. It’s a sort of naturalism-in-extremis meets expressionism, and is far from being my own pre-conceived vision of the play. The physicality and expressionistic elements are developed largely by the actors throughout the rehearsal process. A huge part of my job is to establish the environment and ask the right questions, enabling them to create freely. When making a devised piece, I can follow the actors, they can follow the lighting designer, we can build an entire section of play from a poem or a sound. It’s a way of blowing open my own process. It’s very scary and very invigorating. Luckily, the cast, design team and production crew of “Eurydice’s Dream” has been simultaneously extremely flexible and open, and also rock solid. I am very lucky.
Which “S” word best describes your show: SMOOTH, SEXY, SMART, SURPRISING?
Sexy, smart and surprising all describe “Eurydice’s Dream”. But it is not smooth. This show is messy, risky, exuberant and very human.
How important is diversity to you in the theater you see/make?
Diversity is at the very heart of theatre, in that when we witness something on stage we experience it, literally. The mirror neurons in our brain react as though the experience were our own, and this builds compassion and empathy. Blessed Unrest is made up of artists with diverse backgrounds including those who are African-American, Korean, Chinese, Columbian, Indian, Albanian, Brazilian, Italian, South African, Japanese, Russian, and Latvian, as well as deaf and blind performers. We have noticed that as we increase the diversity of our artists, the diversity of our audiences increases naturally. It is important that we not only reflect the city, country and world that we live in, but that we are able to create worlds on stage as we wish they could be. This is a first step in bringing about positive change.