A Travellerspoint blog

January 2011

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 Comments (0)

day 2: rehearsal begins!

where the actors bring Swampoodle stories to Irish soil

semi-overcast 40 °F

I knew I’d be overestimating the likelihood of my waking up early enough to run after jetlag and a 5-hour nap, so I forsook my planned run with MJ this morning and slept until an hour prior to our call time of 10am, which I’m still ever-so-slightly “feeling” as 5am. (Come March, this marathon idea may or may not happen.) After a Tesco-sponsored breakfast, MJ and I venture out to the rehearsal space, and quickly realize that a) this is longer than the 15 minutes we were expecting the walk to take and b) it is really muddy out here.

We get to the enormous Castleton House and a security guard takes us on our way. The group has just started physical warmups led by Jo and it’s really ice to have our first significant work be focused on physical awareness. After 30 minutes of stretching and kneading, we individually answer questions Jo has dreamed up for us: what do we love in theater, what do we hate, what frustrates us, what have we always wanted to do but haven’t ever been asked to do, etc., then we read our responses in a sort of free rambling monologue. Apart from the two new faces, the Irish actors Karl and Clare, most of the American actors know each other already, at least tangentially. Still, the responses help to set our knowledge of each other’s energy; it’s all positive and open, and one person makes a comment along the lines of “this energy that is in this room right now, is the energy that I want to carry with me in performance.”

Continuing on with work like this, we take lunch - without sandwich bags, my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches congeal in a giant lump in my 20 cent plastic Tesco bag - and the latter half of the day begins with dramaturgical exercises: dozens of newspaper articles, research pieces, and photographs on the Swampoodle area, stretching from its beginnings in the Irish famine of the 1850s are set before us, and we are instructed to select pieces which resonate, stick them up on the walls with gum tack, and explain what we liked about them. Everyone finds individually relevant and compelling stories, many of which are funny; the arcane newspaper writing style uses gratuitous quotation marks (the culprits give the cops “da bluff!”) and the characters are colorful. There are lists and lists of names representing lives and stories, the specific details of which we can only imagine. Many of the newspaper stories highlight the lawlessness, violence and widespread chaos of the neighborhood and time period, but I choose a simple daily journal by a mother, ca. 1911, recounting relatively ordinary events like the a first Communion and the opening of a store. There’s a photograph of this family, decked out in Sunday finery, and as I point to the characters I tell of a strongly felt kinship with my own ancestors of this period, who I know only from blank census records and indistinct expressions in dim, distant photographs.

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We continue on with improvisations, tasked with creating a collective piece made under specific character instructions, and although I find it difficult at times, a few compelling moments spring forth. This is a uniformly solid and talented group of artists, and it’s so refreshing to be back at square one in a rehearsal room, where anything seems possible for the future of this piece. It’s clear that though thorough research has been undertaken, the production team is just as open to finding out what the specific nature our Swampoodle will take. Next, we’re placed into smaller groups and work out mostly abstract renderings of some of the stories from the clippings, and its fun to see the radically different ways groups interpret them, especially given specific “styles” – ours was “ice hockey” – a reference to the Uline Auditorium (aka Washington Coliseum, where we will perform the piece in May. (See the shots I took outside it last Saturday night on in my Swampoodle pool on Flickr.) We conclude with easy readings of other stories from the texts, and we’re all playing with acting while music, microphone sound effects, and a standing lamp, are toyed with – all is a bit trippy and loads of fun at the end of the first rehearsal day.

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After posting my Day 1 entry, I initially have some difficulty finding my way out of the giant estate, but am eventually helped by a friendly security guard. I walk in the direction of the small lodges where the cast has gathered for food and revelry, and on the long walk I take a number of photos of the vast grounds falling under a light, refreshing evening mist. Though it’s dark, my camera is able to pick up quite a lot of the light and the sky looks just as orange in the shots as it did in real life. Everything here – indoors, outdoors – smells earthy, especially at night, and it’s usually having to do with burning peat or burning wood.

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At the small lodge, the cast bonds further over food and wine and a calming fire, and we seem to all be aware that experiences in the theater aren’t always this interesting or special. I insist on dissolving Rachel’s modesty by playing her Deep River album off my iPhone, and we all talk on sofas and comfy chairs. It’s the end of a satisfying and productive first day, and our process is off to a thrilling start.

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Posted by coolmcjazz 06:55 Archived in Ireland Tagged theater kildare Comments (0)

day 1: back on the blog - a return to mother ireland!

rain 34 °F

Hello again, friends! I write from halfway (thirdway?) across the world, having skipped the pond and plunked down in familiar, lovely Ireland, one half of my two ancestral mother nations. Some of you may remember that while I traveled solo for two weeks in Europe last summer, I kept this journal and found it a terrific way to “live things twice,” and now that I’ve returned to Europe far sooner than I would have anticipated (yay!), I figured why not dust off the website and share more experiences again. Also, I may try to get some double-use by cross-posting on the Solas Nua and Performance Corporation blogs (where I see I've already been beaten to the game!) As I write, images from last summer’s trip randomly swap around on my desktop; I love how photography allows for experiences “in the now” to fast forward to later reflection and rest assured I will take lots of photos again, and rather than upload all of them onto this site, will post anything worth seeing onto my Flickr account.

This trip presents to me a different sort of adventure from last summer – I’m here on the bidding of Solas Nua and Dublin’s Performance Corporation, involved in a week of rehearsals in support of the Swampoodle project, to be performed in DC next May. We’re rehearsing here in Castletown House, a gorgeous, sprawling, early 18th-century country estate, starting tomorrow morning (Monday) through Friday, then I have another week of travels in Ireland and southern France, culminating in my first trip to Spain before flying out from Barcelona on the 22nd.

Having just returned from a great feast, lying now in this gothic stone castle, and listening to, appropriately enough, medieval Irish plainchant, I find myself already trying to slow down the passage of time, what with experiences and places whizzing by this jetlagged traveler. After a mere 3 hours of sleep (anticipatory angst?) and an hour with friends on the frozen gridiron of the National Mall, I scrambled out of Silver Spring to catch the shuttle to Dulles, running into fellow cast member Stacy on the train platform, though oddly enough she was headed to catch her flight from National. Arrived at Dulles, began some initial hijinks with cast members Adrienne and Michael John (henceforth referred to as MJ, same as my mother? hi mom!)...

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...then finally met the rest of the terrific cast at JFK where we all boarded an already hour-long delayed flight, which itself sat for 2.5 hours for de-icing before leaping the Atlantic. On board, I found it difficult to sleep, but watched the entirety of an incredibly sad, gorgeous movie about the Irish Troubles in the 1920s.

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We’re picked up at the Dublin airport by Marketa, who we had only known via email as our Performance Corporation contact, doing a wonderful job planning our often complex travel logistics. As we’re leaving the airport I recognize where I am and have few wistful thoughts of my last trip here in the summer of 2008. We’re put in a van and make the 30 drive out to Celbridge, County Kildare, southwest of Dublin, and upon arriving we meet Jo and Tom, our Performance Corporation hosts and project masterminds. I had worked with both of them briefly when they came over during the DC Snowpocalypse, on a Solas Nua/Performance Corporation flashmob in front of the White House last Valentine’s Day, and it’s nice to reconnect. Jo gives us a tour of our three lodging sites: the Gate House, the Round House, and, the Batty Langley House, the recently renovated, two floor “mini-castle” which I’m sharing with MJ, which due to its whimsical flair was accurately introduced to us as “the fairy house.” Though our hut is about 15-20 minute walk from the rest of our people, it’s nice to be in a place with such a palpable sense of history. The sharp, woodsy smell of burning peat hangs thick in the air around the town. The windows in my room are circular with ornate medieval cross-stitching. Our castle walls are hard, cold Irish stone, and I feel surrounded by the presence of hundreds of years of days and nights spent between these walls. I fall asleep that night imagining what the exact number is.

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Jo and Tom bring MJ and I out to Tesco (local supermarket where I find out plastic bags cost 20 cents a piece here!), we settle in for a quick lunch and I conk out for a 5-hour catch up nap; certainly not recommended for curing jetlag, but my body doesn’t give much choice in the matter. At 8:00 we’re to be picked up for a group meal. Waking up in pitch darkness, I have no idea where I am, imagining it’s the middle of the night and I’ve missed the chance to eat with my friends. Thankfully, it’s only 7:30 and Marketa and her friend Tom pick us up and head out to nearby town Leixlip for a satisfying meal at Donatello's, a comfortable Italian restaurant where we settle in for wine and a few courses, including birthday wishes for Stacy. It’s the first time the full group has sat and relaxed together and the chemistry is instant and relaxed; there’s a buzz of excitement in the air that the lot of us will be creating something together which doesn’t yet exist, outside of a general idea that we’re making a theater piece about the first group of Irish settlers to migrate to Washington, DC during the famine, a concept whose specifics we still know very little about. In the car earlier, I jokingly asked Tom if he was going to be up all night writing a play for us and responded “no, that’s what you’ll be writing tomorrow!” Yikes. Anyway, the morning brings our first day of creative work so it's lights out for me. I couldn’t be more excited for this trip and hope I can tell a few good stories on the way!

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Posted by coolmcjazz 09:29 Archived in Ireland Tagged theater kildare Comments (0)

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