IN WHICH THE SWAMPOODLE ACTORS ARE AWESOME
We’ve reached the midway point of our week-long process, and morning has flown into afternoon into evening into the next morning in a gigantic blur. I thought today was an outstanding day in terms of creative work, and the group’s chemistry and trust is coalescing into a rare energy. We’ve all been in lots of shows, but for many of us (myself included) this is the first time we’ve been entrusted with conjuring up the raw material for a theater piece.
After our ritualized physical warmup – those plank positions kill me, folks – Jo tells us that “today is Uline day!” and we separate into groups of three, each of which is given a photograph and a page of text from Tom. Working alongside Adrienne and Stephanie, my group’s photograph is an industrial wasteland, possibly taken from a modern art exhibit, cluttered with broken clocks and computers, and our text is a circus-like incantation recalling a few quirky events from the history of the Uline Auditorium. Again, we can use anywhere on the estate to stage this. We take the lift to the elevator and on our way out notice that just at the spot where a hallway corner turns right, some windows look out on the main entrance. We’ve found our viewing area, and we stage the audience in the hallway while we three performers are outside. We all come up with some ritualized, mechanical motions for the text, and during the imagining process I shoot three videos: two on my camera and one on cell phone. The first piece, which was to represent a ballet studio, used Rachel’s dance training in a room neatly organized into rows with chairs, which Jo compares to the Philip Glass/Robert Wilson set for Einstein on the Beach. The second piece began with Karl leading us through a dark room, under a table covered with a large sheet of paper, and at each “stop” he played a recording of a spooky, disembodied voice reading the text, off of his iPhone (i.e. “this is where John Lennon strummed the first chord to ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’). We’re led through the room, under a table and into another room, with stops along the way and I feel like a kid being led through a haunted house. (Who’s going to jump out at us behind a corner?) We get to the final room, and there is Clare standing on a ladder, pirouetting an umbrella in front of a table on which old books pulled from the walls are left open.
Before we performed, I rushed outside, placed the cell phone (with video loaded) on the window ledge, hung the camera (with its playscreen facing the hallway) on one of the iron window crossbars, and after loading the third video onto my laptop, balanced the laptop vertically on top of the bench next to where I entered the sightline. All three videos played as we mechanically intoned the text and followed our ritualized, repetitive movements, and we sensed the cold removal from our audience beyond the window in the hallway as part of the aesthetic.
After lunch, Jo tells us Tom will see us one by one in the side room in order to record us giving accounts of our daily routines. I’m asked about what my typical day after 5pm looks like. While waiting, we’re to pick out an image from art books which they’ve laid out on the floor. I find my image instantly (its Angelina Jolie, her mouth turned up in an expression of joy and ecstasy), and since I’m done with that I take to gazing out the window at the enormous field in front of the estate. When the recording is done, we’re arranged in a V formation and told we’re panelists on a TV show “in the year 3000” and proceed into a group improvisation in which we’re played our own voices back, and we analyze what the voices are saying from an anthropological perspective. We’re all over the place, but if one fact is established it is that Chris needs to clean his pod.
We’re put in groups of three again and tasked with creating a piece using our images, I’m with Chris, who has found an image of a sculpture of a deserted city which is being fed crude oil, and Clare, whose “land art” image reveals a snaky pattern of bushes laid over a grassy field. Given my previous experience at the window, the staging of the piece seems obvious to me; I take the group to the window and we plot out where we would trace the Clare’e squiggly pattern in the field outside. As we stage the audience at the three windows of our rehearsal room, we imagine two pillars on either side (Clare and Chris) representing the stark oil city, while I would be in between the two dancing and singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” (The relevance, of course, is that the Beatles first US appearance was given in the very building where our show will take place.) I have Tom sync up the song on the speaker, and luckily, I have the song on my iPhone. From behind a bush outside, I give the signal and starts the music in the room as I start it on my phone, and start dancing and singing with ecstasy amidst the two pillar people, all of us tracing the squiggle. (Though as I shake it my iPhone leaps to the next song and I keep having to re-find my place in the song; though I don’t imagine they could tell this from inside.) At one point some roofers from the adjacent building stop what they’re doing and shout “Shut up, ya f—in eejit!” though I couldn’t hear this – I was having too much fun! A few workers at the side door congratulate us for our singing as we reenter, and I apologize for singing a British song in Ireland. When we get back upstairs, Rachel says, “I felt like a little kid screaming with joy at the window!” Obviously I can’t speak about the process of the other two groups, but the end results, including a morphing images set to random bits of music once heard in the Uline, as well as a shuffling trio of emotion-shifting huffalump creatures set to Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.” What outrageous fun we’re all having doing this work.
We end the day and I get a lift back to the hut for some pizza and Irish cheese around the kitchen with MJ. I make the long trek over the field through the mud over to the “Round House” for wine and craic and loadsa photo taking. I bring over the nice bottle of Bordeaux. Our lovely and helpful friend Collette should take credit for many of the very good photos which came out of last night!
PS – Gotta run as we’re all heading to dinner and a play in Dublin… will post photos from yesterday tomorrow! Cheers, all.