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day 6: all things must come to an end except for swampoodle

in which 31% of the swampoodle creative team gives ireland "da bluff" and we all agree to meet again in three months

semi-overcast 40 °F

As was to be expected due to our trip to town the previous night, Friday was the most difficult day to get up and out to rehearsal, though the adrenaline of the final rehearsal day took over. On my final morning walk through the mud to Castletown, I take some B&W photos, and after we begin, there's celebratory gifts for Marketa, who is leaving Performance Corporation after working hard for a year and a half. Over the week we've settled into a nice routine with the physical warmups, adding core and voice work along the way, and the balance (literally) brought by our final group warmup is needed. Though I must admit I will very much look forward to not having to do 60-second side plank positions until mid-April.


We’re brought outside and split into two groups, and told to stage pieces which use the substantial balcony-like entrance to the estate, as a way of connecting to the large bleachers sections of seats which we will eventually see in the Uline performance space. (And also that we should try to implement languages apart from English!) The first group sets the audience over by the pillars so that the entrance is viewed from the side and from a bit of distance, and we’re viewing a sort of political demonstration. MJ, Stacy, and Clare pretend to be led down the stairs in handcuffs, shouting and struggling, and they’re led away, while Rachel stays on the stairs and shouts in French. I love the clarity of the use of space to frame the drama.

Our scene begins with Chris, Karl, and I all balanced as statues on small circular road barriers which look out straight on from the entrance, while Adrienne sings a love song in Russian all the way at the door at the top of the entryway. Steph leads the audience into the space, while we three break our poses, run past them and break out into a raucous football match, hurdling into each other like bumper cars. Steph approaches with a large sign which happened to be there proclaiming “No football allowed!” which she screams out in Irish ("Cosc ar imirt peile!"). One by one the footballers see the figure singing on the balcony, Chris and Karl make their way to her, then proclaim “I love you!” in French and Irish, but she rebuffs both of them and they fall down the stairs. I approach with my “I love you” and she doesn’t resist, then we embrace at the top of the stairs. Steph comes back with the sign. It’s tough to convey the excitement and drama of some of these pieces via the written word, though I imagine the “anything goes” part is coming through?


We return indoors and Tom goes around with a video camera interviewing groups about what the week’s experience has meant to them, and about what they think the project will mean to audiences in DC. After lunch was our final exercise of the week. We’re put into three groups and given four slips of paper and an image from an art book to create our scene. The first group (MJ, Steph, and Rachel) stages a boxing match with a coach in the corner, and the boxers get tangled up. The second group moves us outside to the small parking lot and begins with Karl sitting in an office chair in the middle of the lot, drinking coffee, then Chris and Stacy approach on either side, singing “Hello my baby, hello my darling…” which evolves into Stacy leading a gospel meeting, and Karl notices none of this as he drinks his coffee. Chris and Stacy walk away, and get into a car which backs up and picks up Karl and his chair, though we’re blocked from seeing him get in. Brilliant and fun.

Our group is given the phrases “political rally,” “parking lot,“ “When will we ever learn?” and “How does this end?, and the image is of a giant piñata made of colorful flowers, shaped like a bear, and like Godzilla, is holding a woman in his jaw who is bleeding red rose petals. Our piece stays outside and splits the audience into two groups, and is staged inside a car in which Clare is a Washington tour guide with a phony American accent, slowly driving people past vignettes that Adrienne and I create. To implement a level of implied discrimination (which the Uline was certainly known for), she first allows any white American men in, telling anyone else they can go in the second run. The car drives past the "Lincoln Memorial," which reveals me sitting like the statue on a tree trunk, then Adrienne becomes Booth shooting Lincoln, I throw blue shoe covers in the air (meant to indicate flowers) and she screams “Sic semper tyrannis!” in front of the slowly moving car. Clare’s narration in the car, however, is all positive and cheery and represents a story which runs opposite to what we’re acting out outside, as a sort of rewriting of historical events. The car wheels around a circle and passes by the estate, and as it reaches a break between the trees, Adrienne and I run out as Vietnam-era protesters, yelling and spitting on the politicians in the car, and she stops me from shooting, and we toss more blue show covers on the dashboard. We sprint to our next location, staged behind a sign emblazoned with what appears to be a singing voice and a rigid hand proclaiming “stop!” (I think it was telling car drivers to not drive into this area?) As Clare drives the passengers toward us, I am Paul Robeson (who sang at the Uline) singing “Old Man River” with a blue shoe cover/flower in my lapel while Adrienne puts out her hand and tries to stop the concert. Finally, as Clare diverts attention in the car (hopefully?), we make a mad dash to Collette’s car which we have parked close to the lot facing out, and as Clare pulls her car nose-to-nose up to our car, we have a tender moment and I give Adrienne a flower. Then we repeat all of the above for the second carload. I have no idea what any of that looked or felt like to people in the car, but it was exhausting and thrilling to do all that running around, and it’s a nice way to go out.

We go back to the table room and hammer out locked-in rehearsal schedules for April and May, then sit for at least an hour talking about the week and moments that stuck out. I open my blog and it’s nice to be able to give an exact sequence of exercises. I offer that I think the pieces that worked the best were the ones with the clearest and simplest structure, things whose concept could be explained in a few words, rather than lots and lots of ideas thrown in. Everyone has something interesting to say and though all have a different perspective on the process, we agree on certain images which stick out from the week. We wrap up and collect our things, say goodbye to the rehearsal room and carve out a plan for the evening, some of us scrambling to find travel arrangements all the while.

I trudge back through the dark field for a final time, taking some shots of the gorgeous moon encircled by light, get home and clean and pack and cook some food, and call home for a few minutes.


MJ and I walk/run to the bus stop where we will meet the others who have already gotten on in Celbridge, and we will all head into Dublin for a last hurrah; this time with no worries about the next morning!


We get off at Merrian Square and walk to O'Donaghue's, a packed pub in which we nudge our way through the crowds and music in the front room past at least three other rooms to a relatively unoccupied room which we claim as our own for the next hour or so. Round of Guinness are floating around and Collette and I trade my camera back and forth; at one point I even pull out my emergency point-and-shoot camera, which I used on my trip two years ago. Suffice to say that between all of us, everyone will have loads and loads of shots to remember this week by. At one point I go to hear the musicians in the front room, and I realize that with the shots of The Dubliners on the wall, I am standing in the pub where this band became famous; I raise my pint to Luke Kelly on the wall and I really want to sing Raglan Road. I had sung the first verse for the group previously as an exercise, as Jo had us go around and each sing a song individually, though I don’t remember exactly when that happened.


The group decides to follow the craic to the next pub, however, and they make the 10-minute walk through the rain to Peter's Pub, where we sit and have drinks and sandwiches and Collette and I have a photo competition to see who can come up with the most compelling shot on one try. (I think its still tied but we will pick up in America.) Note to self: Jo absolutely adores having her photo taken.


We close down this pub and find ourselves outside what looks like an apartment complex but is actually a sort of speakeasy/nightclub, and we climb the stairs passing a number of dance floors, on one of which enter, crash a wedding reception, and begin disco dancing! After skipping floors and much dancing, we end up seated in chairs and sofas on the top floor.


At around 3am, we make our way across a few blocks and pick up a large van-taxi in front of Trinity College (one of the few areas I recognize from my last trip to Dublin), and though the driver is only allowed to take 8, all ten of us pile in and two people lose their heads until we get out of the city. We’re dropped off (the taxi was a great deal) and I catch only a few hours of sleep beginning at around 4:00am. This week definitely finished up with a bang, and though it’s sad to say goodbye to people, we all know we’ll be picking up where we left off in three months time.

PS - I've loads pictures to accompany this entry but will hold off until I have time and net access. Am leaving my hotspot in Greystones to have Peter drive me to Bray where I will catch a train to Dublin. In Dublin tonight, in addition to meeting up with a possibly distant cousin and her husband, two words will provide guidance: GO PATS!!!

PPS - Photos are up. And with two days hindsight, I think I may have jinxed my team.

Posted by coolmcjazz 08:14 Archived in Ireland Tagged theater kildare Comments (3)

day 5: it's a good thing we all get on so well

in which our nine swampoodle actors plus a few more cross the hump of the week

semi-overcast 40 °F

I’ve finally fallen behind in my daily posting routine, friends. On Thursday night the entire group ventured out into Dublin for a meal and a show and a pub, and I ended up leaving my laptop in Marketa’s trunk, or “boot” in the local parlance. Time has whirred by so quickly that yesterday morning seems like last week, and from what I remember of Day 4 (as I’m composing this entry days later, I’ll admit to using a cheat-sheet), it was a day of continued creative exploration, though I finally felt the subtle tug of exhaustion beginning to creep in. But when one is creatively turned on, in love with the work and process, lack of sleep hours are quickly overcome.

[Note: I'm posting this from an internet hotspot looking out over train tracks just in front of the Irish Sea in Greystones, about an hour south of Dublin. I spent a good part of the morning writing and visiting with my lovely hosts who will make an appearance in a later entry. Please note that I have a whopper of a story to tell about something which happened after leaving the group yesterday, but first I must catch up with the previous days in chronological order. STAY TUNED, readers!]

On the way in to the estate, I snap a few daytime pics; its amazing to me how much the area transforms over a few hours by the simple act of the sun lighting the space. Our first exercise on rehearsal day 4 was in three groups of three, arranging small vignettes based on our wall-hung images, which would show a process of rehearsing bleeding into a “performance.” Also, a character should die and the audience should feel something for that character. Running with Jo’s request that we cast ourselves “against type,” I played Margaret Lane, the young daughter of the Irish Catholic family in Swampoodle, ca. 1910. In our sketch, Margaret’s father is killed in a roller derby accident at the Uline Auditorium. (It’s a good thing we’re so focused on process now, rather than on final results!) In another piece, Chris plays the dancer Rudolf Nureyev (who once danced in the Uline) leaping to his death.


We continue with another three groups of three; each group must find an excuse to make use of either a roller derby, a bulldozer, or a marching band. I’m in the marching band group, and we travel from a math classroom (“76 Trombones!”), an airplane ("McNamara's Band"), featuring Adrienne’s sendup of the haughty stewardess who snarled at Chris on the flight from JFK (we have taken to calling her “Nanny McPhee”), and a doctor’s office, where Stacy receives a bit of bad news (“When the Saints Go Marching In.”) The second group stages us in the center of the room, facing outward while they whirl around us like a roller derby, then morph into screaming as if we were the Beatles onstage at the Uline. (Have I mentioned that that Beatles gave their first American performance in the very space where we’re performing our piece? Well it’s worth saying again!) The third group starts with Karl’s unsuccessful proposal to Stephanie at a restaurant, which gets interrupted by… Rachel driving a bulldozer! Karl and Steph become Swampoodle artistes angrily defending their right to use the space to make “art,” while the bulldozer operator (much like our roofer friends the previous day) mocks them. Rachel the bulldozer driver then becomes a dancer. You see where all of this is going, yes?

After a quick lunch, we’re taken on a tour of the estate by a friendly employee who knows lots about the history of Castletown House and has many stories to share along the way. I had no idea about the opulence which laid underneath our rehearsal rooms, but its all pretty magnificent. We’re asked to not take photographs in one special room which contains fine imported drawings framed on the walls with a mixture of flour, water, and arsenic, which kills all bacteria, an 18th century glue which sticks to this day. Our guide tells us its one of the finest rooms for this style in all of Europe. There’s also a rare statue of George Washington's head currently held in a storage box, and a fun story about the cracks in the mirror and fireplace in the lavish dining room coming from a battle between the local priest having thrown a Bible at the devil, whose cloven feet had been revealed while cheating at a card game. So apparently there’s precedent for the free-range storytelling we’re carrying on a few floors above?


Next we’re introduced to Niamh, our costume designer, and Ciaran, our lighting designer, who are swiftly integrated into our madness as we're split into two new groups and given some text from Tom. The first group tries on a selection from Niamh’s colorful costume pieces while sitting around a table, and their text focuses on “I want to be remembered for…” Our text is concerned with history, and realizing the history of a place and its connection to the present moment in that place, presented as a list of “History is…” For staging, I suggest the outside courtyard adjacent to the side entrance we’ve been using to enter the estate; it’s diagonally shaped and rife with interesting playing spaces. We have Ciaran lead the “audience” into the center of the area, and one by one the actors pop up at different places, reading individual sections of Tom’s text.

The final exercise is focused on sound, and we’re put in two groups and given more text. The first group puts us in the architecturally fascinating brick room in the center, which was remodeled to serve as a stabilizer for the entire estate. The group is spread around us, the lights are turned off, and soft whispering and breathing g on all around us, which lead into Rachel leading the others in a gorgeous, simple, original folk melody (inspired by “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?,” she later claimed)… “See the women working… still, still… smell the bread baking… still, still… hear the children playing… still, still…” It’s a wonderful, magical moment to hear that sound and I close my eyes and try to stretch my awareness of the present moment, just as I had when I crossed the dark field the other night. Our group, staged in a dimly lit, 18th century-feeling side room, starts with me singing some faux Sean nos, following a minor pentatonic pattern (I resolve to learn this style!), followed by the sound of brushing paper on the wooden floor (“the rushing of Tiber Creek below”) and a crescendo building to the improvised end.

We end the day with a grueling attempt to piece together a coherent rehearsal schedule for when we meet back in DC starting mid-April. That evening, the group heads out for a fine meal at Wolfe's Irish Artisan Bistro in Dublin, which we order and finish in record time in order to make the curtain at the Project Arts Centre, where a group called Forced Entertainment is performing a new work called Void Story. The piece is constructed as a staged radio play of sorts, with still images reminiscent of a comic-book projected in the center. Though the four actors do a fine job reading their scripts on side tables, personally, the piece isn’t my favorite and my exhaustion is getting the better of me.


After the show, we walk over to a pub which seems to have hundreds of Guinness signs hung in different ways, and its nice to have a pint of the black magic while the group unwinds for a bit.


We stay for two drinks, sing birthday wishes for MJ (what are the chances that out of 9 actors, 2 of them have birthdays during our rehearsal week?), and head back to Celbridge. On the way, Jo and Tom invite our carload (Steph, MJ and myself) into their home not far from Castletown for a quick swig of fine whiskey, the gift of a birthday cigar for MJ, and a bit of fun with their three wonderful dogs. Jo drops us off at the Langley Lodge and MJ enjoys his birthday cigar smoke outside. It's overall a nicely rounded, not-too-crazy night; after all there’s one day left and no one wants to be the only one to show up “under the weather” for our final rehearsal day!


Posted by coolmcjazz 06:07 Archived in Ireland Tagged theater kildare Comments (0)

day 4: create... you do it!

in which the swampoodle actors are awesome

semi-overcast 40 °F

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.


Posted by coolmcjazz 09:47 Archived in Ireland Tagged theater kildare Comments (0)

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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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