Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Once The Musical

Hello.  And welcome back.  And by welcome back, I mean to me.  I have clearly not been blogging lately.  I would love to say I'll be back for realsy, but I'm a final year grad student...  

That said - I finally saw Once.  And it coincided with one of my besties getting married.  Both of these things will be important in a minute.  

But first, my history with Once.  I saw it first as a movie.  Like the week it came out.  There were three of us who saw it, thought I only remember one of them strongly because our opinions we so diametrically opposed.  I loved it. Loved it with every fiber of my being.  I laughed, I cried, I woke up early the next day to get to barnes and noble before class to buy the cd (hey, it was the old days).  I think I saw it like 2 more times in the theatre.  (Which, for me is SUPER weird, I rarely watch movies more than once - you can square almost never to get the number of times I see them multiple times actually in the theatre.) There was just something about it though.  First off, it is def an Irish love story.  Or rather, it's really the story of two broken people helping each other not be quite so broken.  And that relationship is told through the music they share.  

Now, I have always had a personal attachment to music.  I was in choirs from the time I could talk.  I've danced since I could walk.  I have always owned more music than any human should.  I used to listen to my mom's old records on my fisher price record player until I scratched them all.  Music calms me, excites me, makes me sad, holds my anger out - whatever mood I'm in or whatever mood I want to be in, I can normally do it with music.  All done through music.   I've been reading lately about cultures who believe the world was created through music.  I have no reason to doubt this.  

A few years ago, let's say a few, maybe more than a few... for those playing the home game, I was still acting then...  Anyway, one of my former directors once (no pun intended) said that musicians were a different breed than actors.  That most musicians will play with other musicians in a heartbeat.   And he's right in so many ways.  Most of the musicians I have met in my life have been open and willing to play with whoever wants to play.  (Maybe I've just been lucky.  Don't ruin my illusion if that's the case.) 

And now we get back to that wedding.  The wedding was the wedding of one of my besties and his girlie.  He has made his living being a theatrical musician for the last...  ok, his whole life.  He plays ALL THE THINGS.  She can actually play a slide whistle and make music from it instead of just crazy noise.  They are both playful, and joyful, and loving, and pretty amazing humans.  And jam sessions at his house have always been some of my favorite, soul restoring things ever.  

So, it was no surprise really when the night before their destination wedding, I walked into a living room of musician preparing for the service the next day...  playing music!  What I love about hanging out with generous and kind musician is this - they were rehearsing for a thing that was kind of important the next day, but when I, a stranger walked in, one of them immediately asked if I played - I do not.  I do sing a little, but I'm not great at it.  She was very excited anyway and told me to come sing with them.  Later on, it came out that I am learning the spoons.  She told me to go get them and play with them.  It was just very welcoming and nice.  

When I got back to the city, I went to see Once.  Once starts 15 mins before the show actually starts.  And it starts with a traditional Irish jam session.  It reminds me of the jam sessions I have been to all over the world.  And I have been to quite a few Irish jam sessions.  I love them.  It's a past time of mine.  From there, the show started.  

Once, once again, hit me in the gut.  It is such beautiful story and so very well done.  The moments of movement and theatricality and staging were... I loved it.  I am beginning to realize how much I love moments of realism within the theatricality of theatre.  What I mean by that is that the emotions in Once were never in question, the connections real, the story told.  And yet.  It was told on a relatively blank stage, an Irish pub to be exact, that was two apartments, some bedrooms, a recording studio, a bank, a street corner, a moonlit walk on the hills....  The more I learn about the work I want to do, the more interested I am in simple theatricality.  The beautifulness of simplicity.   The "Let's Play" of theatre.  

So, Let's Play.  Let's make art together.  Let's do this.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

May Violets Spring: A new story for a new Ophelia

Let me first start by introducing myself to those who don’t know me and stumbled upon this on accident.  My name is Reesa.  And I am an unabashed feminist.  Some of you will stop reading or role their eyes at that, and that’s fine, it’s your right.  Just as it is my right to believe that all humans are equal, regardless of sex, color, sexual orientation, or anything else you want to put in this category.    I have spent the last few years of my life trying to figure out how to best work towards equality.  I’m still working on it.  

I am also a story teller.  I have been in theatre for longer than I can remember, and its really been the only thing I have ever wanted to do.  I started as an actress, then discovered directing and never looked back.  I moved to NYC 5 years ago to pursue my theatrical dreams, and this is where this post actually starts.

Nope, one more thing about me, I am also a scholar.  When I first started to write this blog, knowing where it needed to go, I pretty immediately do what I do – I started looking for sources and facts to back up my opinions – things smarter and more educated people have said, or studies (I LOVE studies!) have claimed to prove.  

But then I stopped, because that’s not what this is about. 

This is about what its like to be a female director in a theatrical world that mostly praises men while allowing token women.  This is about what it feels like to watch 75 shows a year, and see myself , a female, on stage as a main character 10-15 times a year, if I’m lucky.  This is about what it’s like to be asked about my boyfriend (or lack there of), my marriage plans (to my non-existent boyfriend), and my timeline for babies instead of how my art is going and whether I’m happy in the city or…  really, anything that actually has to do with me every time I go home by some well meaning person with good intent.  This is about an ex-boyfriend… ok, several ex-boyfriends who I let win fights, or even worse, apologized when I did nothing wrong.  (And no, they never hit me.)  It’s about being told by a professor that my worth as an academic wasn’t as good as that of my male collogues.  And this is about telling these stories - I am a story-teller after all.

As a director, I believe my job is to make sure the story is told through the use of the author’s words.  I’ve been doing it for many years, and I love it.  I tend to choose projects that help foster the female voice in some way.  I have used gender-blind cast, worked (and still work) with an all female Shakespeare troop (shout out Manhattan Shakespeare Project), chosen scripts with women who had hopes, and dreams, and foibles – women who make mistakes and clearly aren’t perfect – and, most importantly, women with agency, who make their own choices instead of just reacting to what is happening around them.  I have loved doing it.

And then, every once in a while you get a script that hits you in the heart and soul, one that tells one of the stories that you’ve been trying to voice for years.  For me, May Violets Spring is one such script.  Playwright James Parenti has been developing this script for a while.  The focus of it, originally, was the story of Hamlet, but with Ophelia as an equal partner in their relationship.  He quickly realized how problematic that story was, and thus began the four-year trek to this production.  In that trek, Parenti has taken language from most of Shakespeare’s cannon (it’s a fun game for those super Shakes nerds) and seamlessly intermingled it with his own original verse. 

All of those things are cool, but the thing that drove me to want to be a part of this production is the focus on Ophelia.  Parenti uses the framework of Hamlet to tell the Ophelia’s story, and her story is my story, is the story of so many women I know and love (and some I know and don’t love).  Following in Shakespeare’s own footsteps, Parenti’s story reminds me of the power of theatre to create a universal truth out of a single concrete example. 

On top of Parenti’s incredible script, the cast tells the story with a clarity that is often missing in newer work.  They know what the story is that they are telling, and how important it is to be told, and they do it. 

But for all of us, this has been a labor of love, a thing we did because we believed in the story, the script, and the cast so much, that we all jumped.  That is why we have been blown away with the support this production has received.  We sold out most of our first run.  So, once again, we are jumping.  We are jumping into a one week extension because we believe in this show, what it means, and how vital it is that women’s stories are told.  I understand the power of theatre, I believe in it, I have made it my life because of it.  And I believe in the power of this show, and shows like it, to help society shift and change.  Augusto Boal, a theatre revolutionary, once said “All theatre is political.”  I don’t think he was wrong.  Any time a story is told, it ads to the conversation that is society.  And I think it’s time for Ophelia to find her voice in that dialogue. 

And no, I would not be so sure you know how it ends.