Hello MilSpoFan Community!
What a pleasure to have the chance to share with you again…
As I sit down at my desk, I can’t help but notice a pile of journals, rehearsal schedules, and other papers that wasn’t here at this time last year. In fact, the desk wasn’t here either – in the living room, right next to our big windows that look out into our neighborhood in Madrid. The same neighborhood that for months recently was the most peaceful that it has probably ever been – ever. For more than a dozen weeks we were only interrupted by noon and eight-o-clock musical interludes, some applause and cheering. Momentary unification with unseen, unknown neighbors.
We have made the transition into full citizens of our community. If we didn’t feel that Spain was a part of our fabric before quarantine, well, we are now connected in a most unusual, traumatic, beautiful, and meaningful way.
I had to create a desk in this location because when the announcement was made on March 10th that schools were closing in Madrid, and then on the 14th when everything was shut down, a kind of hibernation hit the city, and we logged on to the internets to connect. But I also needed a sunny window to allow for the many hours logged helping the kids to connect, calming the family back home, and making pleas to stay home.
The truth is that quarantine has been incredibly productive for my career.
I have been saying for years that I have been on sabbatical. While it’s not exactly true, because I have been working this whole time, thinking in this way has given me the freedom to choose projects that have nourished my creativity from a cultural perspective. For example, I decided to really focus on learning Spanish while we have been in Madrid with the idea that this new skill might open up new opportunities for making art in the future. Same with traveling and exploring the food and culture in Europe. And for making friends from around the world. If I had just been chasing a paycheck and worried about directing shows back-to-back as I had been previous to moving abroad, I might have missed major opportunities to deepen the process of my work.
I have faith that this immersion here in Spain will pay off.
They say that faith is giving in to a loss of control.
This is a constant struggle for me, but one that I am starting to embrace more and more. It seems, the more I give in to this loss of control (Covid-19 is teaching us all a lesson, I think), the better things turn out.
In fact, I have had faith for many years that if I was really following my creative muse, positive things would happen in my career. Several times I have had to pivot to explore new avenues of creating and making while living abroad, or in cities with few opportunities (or at least the opportunities seemed few at the outset).
Meanwhile, since I have been teaching online for more than a decade, and even directed a show from a distance when we first moved to Madrid, I was really comfortable, and frankly pretty excited to jump onto Zoom and start messing around. I was more than prepared to meet our current creative crisis head-on. Horns and all.
This spring, after ATHE put out a call for visiting guest artists, I taught several online acting, auditioning, and script analysis sessions for fellow theatre professors at a handful of universities around the US.
I also co-moderated a couple of sessions on teaching and directing online for Directors Gathering out of Philadelphia. The research for those sessions inspired me to put together a devising ensemble to see what the possibilities of directing online actually were. I have been really inspired by my friends with Belarus Free Theatre – who have been directing from a distance for many years since the were exiled from their home country.
Artists, we do what we have to do. We find a way to create. We don’t really have a choice. It’s who we are. It’s more than a career, it’s a lifestyle. It’s an outlook on life.
Just look at any social media platform. The artists are everywhere, entertaining you – making you laugh in a time of extreme pain and confusion in the world. We bring you up close with nature, put up a mirror and reflect your inner thoughts. We guide you to the next stage of grief…
So along with binging “The Happiness Lab” podcast – and starting the accompanying course, watching every possible panel, chat, and workshop provided by so many of the theatre artists that I admire, and jumping into conferences that I had not had the opportunity to attend in years (or ever) – but were now suddenly made available online – I started to think that making theatre on the internets was a potentially worthwhile venture.
Joy has been a huge part of this most recent creative process. Listening to Adrienne Maree Brown talk about Pleasure Activism has really lit a fire – thinking about how pleasure and joy are integral to the process of changing the world. Beauty… art… these are joyful experiences. Theatre has that power for me.
In April we started a virtual devised theatre laboratory. There were four actors, myself as director, and fourteen directors were observing the process. We were using a process I developed that I call “Five-Task” devising – with the basic idea being that you can jump into the devising process from many different angles (or tasks) depending on your theme, style, and intended purpose of the project. For a few weeks we explored the tasks, and gathered feedback from the ensemble and observing directors. During the final week of the lab, several of the guest directors led the ensemble and we all had the opportunity to learn from each other.
Very quickly we learned that we could establish community in this way. It’s not the same as a face-to-face experience, but definitely rich in unexpected ways – such as getting a last-minute actor replacement calling in from Washington state, and having participants join us from all over the world.
We parted with the director observers after the lab, and The Red Wolves Ensemble decided to move forward collaborating on a project together. After a discussion of our interests, and a well-timed email notification about the Women’s Theatre Festival Fringe application going live, we threw our collective hat into the selection process, not exactly knowing what the final project would look like.
It was about this time that the Black Lives Matter movement was really exploding (literally) in the US.
Can we pause for a moment to consider the lives lost due to racism in our country?
I got really uncomfortable about continuing to develop a project, directing a project from my point of view, centered on my voice.
What is an incredible struck of luck, or fate, or the universe working in mysterious ways, our ensemble is a very diverse group of women. Well, as diverse as you can probably get for three actors.
We doubled down on working collectively.
We double doubled down on creating a project that had something to say about this very moment in our history.
We also wanted to make sure it was entertaining. And this means (to me) in the sense of engaging. We wanted full audience participation. Not just sitting back and observing something that could be film. For us, that response, and interaction with the audience is what makes the performance space of Zoom potentially theatrical.
What we developed is an interactive, choose-your-own adventure, Theatre of the Oppressed inspired performance that focuses on an adventure of powerful historical women. And it’s based on a (very recent) true story.
Adventures of The Red Wolves will be performed live on July 4th at 7:30 EST and July 11th at 2:45 EST.
It’s hard to explain exactly how we got from those first lab sessions to the current “Adventures of The Red Wolves” project. I think, if I were pressed to answer that question – it would be to say that there was a lot of hard listening involved.
There is a philosophy of activism circulating. Listen with the intention of understanding. Understand with the intention of acting.
This is how I am making art right now.
This is also how I am trying to live my life.
Summer is here, which means that my courses at the International Institute have wrapped up, and another cohort of Master Actors is graduating with my Personal Branding skills up their sleeves. I am so proud of the artists going forth in the world to create. But the sentiment is unanimous – we can’t wait to get back into the rehearsal room again.
It’s not an easy time to find your voice.
But it will come.
Our period of living abroad in Spain is coming to a close.
I’ve never felt less of a desire to leave a place.
With the confusion of events playing out currently in the US, and the sensation that our time here has been cut short, the unfairness stings and underscores the melancholy. Nostalgia strikes on all of the corners of my neighborhood, in the aisles of the supermarket while browsing my favorite local products, shopping the windows of my favorite stores.
Soon it will be time to pivot again.
But I have faith.
CURRENT PROJECT – THE RED WOLVES, A DEVISED VIRTUAL PERFORMANCE:
PERSONAL TRAVEL BLOG: https://dramababyabroad.wordpress.com/