A Travellerspoint blog

day 3: stretching out our process

in which the Swampoodle actors prove their mettle on the imagination gridiron

overcast 40 °F

I write having made a long and unforgettable walk via the “short path” from Celbridge town to the Langley House. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. Acres upon acres of open land around me, light misting and the wind whipping through a night sky just bright enough for me to make my way over the curving, muddy and puddled path. (Swampoodle rehearsal, indeed!) Stopping every few moments to capture a new shot; the black silhouetted framing of the skeletal winter trees reaching toward the sky cutting through the dim light peeking over from the town. Each photograph requires I hold still as possible through the mud and wind for a good 4 seconds, and my camera catches the dull pinkish-gray light as orange. I’m not sure I’ve never felt so solitary on the earth’s vastness.

It’s hard to believe I’m already past Day 3 of the trip. Like the wind outside my stone hut, time is whipping by and it seems our 6pm rehearsal end time arrives approximately one hour after our 10am beginning. I arrived early and we picked up straight-away with our physical warm-ups from the previous day, including yoga poses, deep self-massaging ("find the poison points!"), and balance exercises, and today we added some vocal warmups led by Rachel.

What activities will they have in store for us today? Our first task is to assemble in groups of three and create staging for pages of text given to us by Tom. Sitting for a quick table-read with my partners Rachel and Chris, the language is already funny and cheeky and I’m loving the fact that though obviously there will be serious parts, we’re all getting the sense this show is going to be irreverent and entertaining. Since we’re allowed to use any location on the estate, we head outside and after a search, end up staging our text on the staircase of the main entrance to the estate. Our key word is “imagine” and we play with the idea of using the vast physical space in front of us, rushing from the field in three directions toward the “audience,” which we place on the top of the estate entryway. Given the lavish surroundings, the line “this once was a rundown parking lot” is a nice opposite. Our piece reminded me very much of assembling similar text-based pieces in Joy Zinoman’s Greek class years a few back. We start to build creative momentum, but only have a short time to finish our project in. The other two groups are funny and well-structured; one makes thrilling use of its location in a ladies room and the other deftly employs slapstick.

We continue with a group improvisation, exploring our own visions of what this piece might mean on an individual basis, then devolving into an all-out physical war between factions of the cast. (All in good fun, of course.) It’s cool to know that even if our impulses only generate a tiny portion of what eventually ends up in the piece, that it’s still our process this week which will help to set the tone; MJ would later refer to this as “spaghetti work” – throwing things up on the wall to see what sticks. (I should also state I’m learning a great deal about process-driven theater, which I hope will inform the OMG project we’re currently developing in DC!)

Next we’re given a video camera and split into groups to create short films which explore historical elements of the Swampoodle and the Uline Auditorium. Our piece centers on overcrowding; the other group creates a striking piece telling the story of anonymous census names through closeups of bare feet walking slowly by the camera. We then split off into other groups – a common question today was “who haven’t I worked with yet?” – and told to choose a photo for which we are to “recreate” a story of the moment preceding. Both groups pick domestic scenes ca. around 1910; the first group uses hilarious, Chaplinesque movement and finds some Duke Ellington to accompany, while our group “plays ourselves” before freezing in place uncomfortably for a good 90 seconds. (Long shutter speeds in those days, folks.) We end the day with music; two new groups are assigned texts (both giving poetic directions for areas of the Swampoodle, ca. the 1850s) for which we must compose and coordinate music. The first group lines up and bursts forth a tight, jig-like melody which ends up in a spritely round. When our group goes up, I make my debut in the Sean nos style of singing (or at least some version of it), improvising a melody in the flavor of the great singersI’ve been schooling myself on (it’s harder than it sounds!) and joined halfway through with a pub-style melody we came upon in the mere 10 minutes we had to assemble the piece. Have I mentioned how great it is to work alongside such talented, focused, and giving artists?

At the end of the day I catch a ride back to the stone hut, shower and change, and eventually head back out, making the 2+ mile walk “the long way” to get to Celbridge where pints are to be had at The Mucky Duck, our first gathering in the town. On the way I stop to take some shots of a rugby team practicing on a "pitch" close to our hut – dozens of fierce competitors yelling "lemon! lemon! lemon!" I assume in an attempt to get a pass? On the main road I listen to Luke Kelly sing “Raglan Road” and try to get the words down, and the walk in the chilly rain feels longer than expected.

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Pints are lovely with Adrienne, Stacy, Rachel, Chris, and Steph, and my plate of curry and chips hits the spot. It’s nice to unwind in the pub, though the place is overheated and mostly empty and we’re easily distracted by the Euro-trashy (etc.) videos playing on the big screen. We all depart after two hours or so, and I begin my long, incredible trek back to this place where I write from right now. I said to someone today that it feels funny to write and reflect on something while you’re still very much in it – I’m glad that I’m doing this daily writing of a rehearsal process but it’s not something I’ve ever tried in the past. Anyway, hope readers are enjoying and keep checking in!

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Posted by coolmcjazz 04:52 Archived in Ireland Tagged theater kildare

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