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A Moment in Orlando

For the past 4 days, I’ve been here in Orlando, Florida, at my favorite event of the entire year: the ATHE conference. This it the fourth consecutive ATHE I’ve attended (Los Angeles 2010, Chicago 2011, Washington 2012) and by far the most chaotic and busiest. There was just so much going on, so many amazing panels and workshops and performances that I desperately wanted to attend but couldn’t for whatever reason. I’m typing this from Orlando International Airport where I’m waiting for my flight back to Houston. I can’t believe that the trip is already almost over.

As a veteran conference-goer, I advised newcomers against “conference burnout,” or attending too many events and getting sensory overload and brain saturation. I kind of did the reverse this year, I felt, conference “underload,” since between staying at an off-site hotel and skipping basically two days of the conference to explore Magic Kingdom and EPCOT with Nana – who, after much deliberating, decided to come with me on her first-ever vacation/flight/hotel stay, I managed to attend two half-panels, neither of which were particularly insightful. I did, however attend the LGBT pre-conference cabaret show, three grad student sessions, the keynote speech/performance by Bill Irwin, the opening reception, the all-conference meeting (which I got to for the first time ever and won’t be missing again), 2 focus group meetings (Dramaturgy, where I got elected as Grad Student Rep alongside Walter and LaRonika, and the first ten minutes of Religion & Theatre), and the Mickee Faust paid performance. Not included in that list were multiple nights in the pool and hot tub, Dramaturg’s Night Out, catching up with old friends, and making new ones. Oh, and I also spoke on a panel this morning.

An interesting moment happened yesterday as I was running in between the two focus group meetings, which were 2 floors apart. Right in the middle floor, between the escalators and the registration booth, was a camera overlooking 2 chairs with a clothesline strung between them. On one chair was a marker, some blank slips of paper, a jar with written-on slips of paper, and a jar with written-on slips of paper rapidly disintegrating into water. On the other chair was a real-life person (the identity of whom I discovered later when I saw her setting it up elsewhere) with a black hood over her head and body and an exposed back, with words written on it in Sharpie. The instructions, written on papers clipped to the clothesline, stated to write down a fear or anxiety on the paper, put it in the jar, draw another paper, write that word on her back so she could “carry around our burden,” and then place that slip in the jar with water.

I was in a rush, but was drawn to the jar. I wrote down “constant self-doubt” and dropped it into the jar, drawing “loneliness” out. I wrote that word in neat script under her left shoulder blade, and then dropped the paper in the water jar. Other feelings were written on her back too. I walked back to the person and the camera recording her, stood for a minute, and reflected on both the feeling I dropped in the jar and the feeling I wrote on her back. I can’t remember what I specifically thought about; I just focused. To the woman’s back I stood and whispered “thank you,” and then darted away to the dramaturgy meeting, where I was elected grad student rep. This meeting is always fun but this time, I was feeling particularly inspired and at peace, enjoying every moment of the room around me and the people in it, my dramaturgs, my colleagues, my friends. As I rushed out at the meeting’s end, I slipped back downstairs for something and passed her by again. Someone had written my phrase, in big, bold letters on the right side of her back, right at the top over her shoulder blade. I didn’t even stop as I walked by, but smiled knowing that someone else had drawn the paper and hopefully had been as affected by the words as I had been when writing down someone else’s biggest fear. It was a moment of peace in an otherwise busy vacation. I felt rejuvenated and refreshed, if only for a brief moment.

I can’t wait for next year’s ATHE, which will be in mid-July in Scottsdale, Arizona. Right now, people are lining up to get on our plane, but I think I’m going to sit for a moment more to enjoy the last bit of Orlando.

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Decorating Coffins in Galveston – Tales from the World of Dramaturgy

Dramaturgy is my chosen field, and even though dramaturgs are amazing and magical people, we’re often under-used. That is, until I have my way with it.

The role of the dramaturg in the production is the complete opposite of the rules of hair care according to Elle Woods, in that they are “complicated and infinite.” It is on this very topic which I am speaking in Florida in a few weeks, and provides me with a continuous challenge. Usually when my friends, my parents, and my parents’ friends ask me what I do/what I want to do with my life.

My relationship with this particular show, Young Frankenstein, at Island Theatre ETC in Galveston, Texas, began with an email of interest that I sent to the theatre’s director, Kim. When she asked me what I could do, this is what I said:

The role of a dramaturg within the production is something that has been hotly debated about in our field and in the real world, because it really depends on the production, the director, and the vision for the show. What I like to be is:

a) a representative of the playwright and the integrity of the script (especially when playwright is absent)
b) a communicator between director/actors/production
c) someone who always has the director’s vision and ideas in mind to help keep the production moving forward
d) a resource and educational tool for actors and directors, answering the questions so that the director can focus on directing and the actors on acting
e) a facilitator between show and audience, by writing for the theatre, doing talkbacks, etc.
In my tenure, I have been everything from basically being assistant director of the show to being a silent partner, and everywhere in between. And I mean EVERYWHERE…choreographer, costume and set design advisor, replacement actor in rehearsals, educator, activity/workshop leader, lobby display maker, makeshift therapist, mediator between quarreling actors/quarreling actor and director, production problem-solver, acting coach, warmup leader….you get the picture.

 

That was how our relationship started.

Since then, I’ve made an actor packet, spoken at 2 rehearsals, and seen 1 rehearsal to completion. It’s been a great experience so far, and they go up tomorrow night so broken legs to them.

Last week, someone either donated or found a prop coffin, and it ended up in the theatre’s lobby. Since the show doesn’t call for a coffin, Kim had no use for it. I suggested that I use it to make a lobby display, and she let me, so I did.

I drove to Galveston this afternoon armed with 27 pages of history on Frankenstein and several glossy images. I put the coffin in the middle of the upper lobby and artfully arranged the text and pictures into an artistic timeline entitled, “Walk This Way.” I did it in about an hour, and Chelsea, the ASM, helped me out with the finishing touches. Before I drove back to Houston, I took some pictures, but they’re blurry and awful so new ones will be taken when I go see the show. I didn’t get Kim’s reaction immediately, but I emailed her letting her know that it was done, and asking her to mount it on a table and put a tablecloth underneath it to look like an operating table. She said she really liked it. All because of a completely useless prop coffin.

And this is why we need dramaturgs.

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Today in the Life of Jacob

The last 24 hours (or so) in the life of Jacob:

12:30 AM: arrive back at Jacob-South. Exhausted but take meds anyway. Proceed to tool around on the Internet as always while binging on Wisconsin cheese and bread until sleep takes over.

Next 11 hours: land of crazy dreams. At one point, I actually remember being out of dreams.

1 PM. Wake up, realize time, feel horrible about self. Resolve to get something done today. Proceed to the Internet to catch up on buzzfeed and celeb gossip.

5 PM. Leave (late) for gym time. Arrive (late) but manage to get a good workout in before I realize…

6 PM. I have one hour to get to Galveston for rehearsal. And I’m still in traffic, in sweaty and grimy gym clothes, with not a real meal under my belt.

6:15 PM. Leave for Galveston showered, dressed, and late, of course. Battle traffic and actually succeed somewhat, arriving at rehearsal at 7:23 PM.

8 PM. Deliver approximately 25 minute dramaturgy lecture focusing on Frankenstein on film. Feel even more like a high schooler delivering an oral report on Animal Farm. Get good feedback in general. I did do a bit of preparation but all things considered I did ok. Proud of myself.

Present moment: 10:10 PM. Eating chipotle salmon for dinner at Yaga’s cafe on the Strand in Galveston because if I drive home now, it’ll be over an hour before I eat my first real meal of the day. Also have no food at home so god knows what said meal would’ve been. Will probably tool around on the Internet the rest of the night even though I need to unpack, do laundry, and finish reading Performance Theory.

More on dramaturgy magic later. Also, Facebook status pet peeves.