There are so many reasons that Young Playwrights’ Festival is my favorite time of year: piles of giant cardboard props accumulating all over the building; costumes for animals, objects, and supernatural creatures hanging off of anything hang-off-of-able; directors playing music from their plays around the office as they assemble sound cues (this year, Mr. Bill George has discovered a deep, abiding connection to the music of Taylor Swift); and gleeful anticipation for a magical performance night.
One little detail I look forward to every year is borrowing.
It’s a simple thing to enjoy. It’s now a tradition that I contact the beautiful and talented Pam up at Lehigh’s costume shop to borrow a knight’s outfit, half a dozen lab coats, a set of crowns, a lizard costume (really!) to give my play a little more visual oomph. I have no eye for costuming, but I count myself incredibly fortunate to be able to borrow from Pam, who is a costume goddess. This year, my costume search also had me wandering over to the fabulous and talented Bill at PYT, also willing to lend a helping hand.
In need of a couple of thrones this year, I grabbed the wonderful and talented Caitlin from Lehigh’s scene shop and drove out to Allentown, where they have their warehouse, and borrowed two poofy red chairs.We carried the chairs downstairs via a wonderfully creepy, manually operated old-fashioned elevator (really!), with shafts of sunlight illuminating dust motes as we went. Sweet.
But this year, something new and exciting is happening. This year, I’m actually loaning, too.
Two out of three princesses are getting costumed from my stash of princess dresses (did I not mention? We have three “princess plays” in this year’s Festival) (really!). Oversized cardboard prop #57 is made from a box that lived in my bedroom closet. I also get to throw in costume proposals for a witch, a genie, a hoard of creepy villagers, all out of costumes and props that I own. I love it. I love recognizing items onstage and seeing them as part of someone else’s play.
In the bigger picture, I think this makes me smile because this is part of how theatre – especially a community of theatre artists living and working close to each other – works well. If person A doesn’t have it, person B can lend. If person B doesn’t have it, person A can lend. We support each other. And it makes all the difference.
Now, then, I’m off to spruce up my beautiful borrowed thrones.
See you at the Festival!
Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to take a minute to introduce you to the amazing talent in the Ulysses Dreams pit band.
I’ve seen Erick play with two different projects in recent history and have been blown away every time by his drumming; exact without feeling static and dynamic without feeling overplayed. Here’s a link to some recent stuff: http://www.reverbnation.com/thetank
If you didn’t already know Jason from his countless years on the Lehigh Valley music scene, you may have seen him perform on the Touchstone stage as both a Musical Director and Performer in our Christmas City Follies series. Jason is a Touchstone Apprenticeship alumnus and most recently played at Touchstone as a member of the Pan’s Ball house band.
Been rocking and pouring drinks over rocks with Dan for the last 17 years. The Leathersich fronted The Remarkable Stims who were a featured act at last summer’s Pan’s Ball. Here’s Dan’s (along with Chris O’Donnell’s) most recent project: http://www.blindpigeonrecords.com/the-remarkable-stims, http://vimeo.com/48952344#
Our fearless Musical Director and Band Leader. Kevin served with me on Christmas City Follies a couple years ago as Musical Director. Most recently he served as drummer for the Pan’s Ball House Band. Here’s a link to his most recent project: http://www.thesugarpills.com
Straight from working as Sound Designer on Allentown Public Theatre’s Parallel Lives, Daniel brings with him the experience of serving as a brass player in one of the Marine Corps bands.
It’s an honor and privilege to work with such talented people. Thanks for all your help in bringing the beauty of music to life (while at the same time melting faces)!
See you at the show!
I just returned from Italy visiting five amazing and unique cites, seeing incredibly mind-blowing art, walking down the same roads as Julius Caesar, and so much more! So of course, I jumped at the opportunity to do my blog post early because I should have a million things to write about… but I struggled last week finding the right story.
Perhaps it was from the jet leg or because my mind is still absorbing all the experiences, or maybe it’s because once I returned it’s back to business as usual. No time to sit and eat a leisurely dinner, wander through art galleries, explore ancient cities, or just people watch.
In any event, while working late tonight playing catch up and strategizing how to juggle once again too many things, I threw on some music (switching from Bad Religion – heading to their show on Sunday – to Gogol Bordello – high energy, gypsy punk which helped me through organizing Board packets for the meeting – then finally fun. – of which I’ve only heard one song but they recently won best album of year so I’d try them out.)
The music from one to the next changed my mood and uplifted or motivated me – reminded me the power of art, why I work insane hours to create art here, and reminded me what our tour guide said when he (trying hard to assuage our disappointment at NOT seeing the Sistine Chapel due to conclave preparations) explained that Michelangelo stood 70+ feet in the air bent backwards in order to paint for years at I forget what age, but way past when he should having been doing it. BUT he did it, and it’s amazing.
So, even if I still can’t comprehend standing on the streets of Pompeii and peering into the foyer of a house over 2000 years old to see a mosaic of a dog with the words “Beware of Dog” below it, what I can comprehend is that the essence of humanity has not changed all that much. We create beautiful art, we build communities, we destroy them, we struggle to survive, for meaning in our lives, some struggle for power and misuse it, many others don’t and we carry on leaving what we can behind for others and hopefully leaving a better, more beautiful world. And we do this year after year, century after century. Sure we’ve progressed, better technology, medicine, etc., and hopefully we aren’t still participating in the same games held at the Roman Colloseum, but we are at our core the same. Which is not an earth shattering statement but one that is often forgot.
So maybe that’s why I “bother” to create art that connects us, helps us reflect on our commonality, instigates conversation on our differences, and hopefully leaves behind an imprint that changes us for the better.
Okay, enough pondering the meaning of life and back to work!
[discussing detail work]
BILL: You have to find the right balance of accomplishment and blood.
EMMA: Blood and accomplishment are two of my favorite things, Bill.
BILL: I’m discovering that the better I get, the worse I get.
[discussing the beginning of a new day]
GREG: Are you well rested?
BILL: Yes… now we have to wake up.
EMMA: And survive two shows.
And on that note, it’s showtime in forty-five minutes. Later!
“Wait, does that require a computer?” That was Gary’s response to the question of who was going to write this blog about our Fresh Voices: ReEvolution experience. Let’s just say that the computer is not Gary’s favorite tool for communication, except when he uses it as a scene partner on stage.
That presents an interesting question: what is a good tool for communication?
I’d like to think that in today’s technology-driven world, communication is more efficient than ever before. It’s so easy to share every fleeting thought with tweeting, texting, status updates, iChat, Skype, etc. It’s no longer a novelty to see a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or even your 12-year-old nephew carrying around an iPad.
The iPad is the cream of the crop when it comes to communication. An iPad can do pretty much anything! But can an iPad write a play? Even more specifically, can an iPad help four completely different people write a play together?
Well, to make the disclaimer now: No iPads were used in the making of Fresh Voices: ReEvolution, and no apprentices were harmed in the process!
We used an ancient material known as paper, and even dusted off the old Crayola washable markers. WOW. And yet, I have never experienced a creative process with such efficient and poignant forms of communication.
From the first day, not knowing where else to start, we mimicked the Touchstone brainstorm approach of writing ideas on sticky notes and sticking them on a large piece of paper on the wall. This then lead to more sheets of paper where we expanded ideas into lists. Lists turned into concepts and the concepts evolved into the components of what would soon be our ensemble piece.
After the first week, we had almost covered one entire wall of the rehearsal space. We had diagrams, charts, timelines, and graphs all aiding our creative process. This was how we communicated. When words failed us, we grabbed the marker and the blank space on a piece of paper, taped it to the wall and presented our idea to the group visually. In a room filled with four individuals who could not be more unique or with artistic backgrounds more diverse, we had to be creative in our expression. If you saw our individual pieces, you know what I’m talking about. Regardless, we never moved on to the next point until we were all on the same page, often times literally.
I remember one specific moment in writing our Lemonception script, when we had encountered an obstacle. How do we get to the end? We knew we wanted lemons to fall from the ceiling but we were not sure how to get there. Then, one person began to brainstorm out loud and within seconds we all knew what was going to be said and out of sheer exhilaration for the simultaneous discovery, we all leaped from our seats unable to contain our joy for arriving at the solution together!
To whatever degree technology invades our personal and work lives, I can confidently say that it will never replace the intensity, immediacy, and intimacy of communicating face-to-face with another human being in the same room. That is why theatre will never be a lost art form. There is no iPod, iPhone or iPad that can replace real eyeContact.
We all learned priceless skills through the Fresh Voices process. We lived through the journey of creating original work out of nothing. We managed our own budget, marketing, and production elements. We directed, designed, composed, and performed in the same breath. But the best skill we discovered was how to communicate as a real ensemble. We learned when to respond and when not to respond. We learned how to listen. But most of all, we learned that live, in-the-moment, human communication is vital in creating anything worth pursuing. And no, Gary, we don’t need a computer for that.
I’d like to dedicate this to all the great patrons of the arts, from whom Touchstone has enjoyed generous and deeply appreciated largesse. Without them we could not exist.
The year has its cycles, its ebb and flow. Today’s February 25, 2013, and we’re definitely in a flow time at Touchstone. Linny passed two weeks ago, the apprentices just finished a brilliant Fresh Voices two nights ago, and the days ahead are a log jam of stuff to do. My plate is full: in this next week I will be…
- Working on the text for our April production
- Rehearsing for the touring of an in-rep solo piece up to New Hampshire
- Beetling away at the narrative of a National Endowment grant for a piece set to occur over two years from now
- Planning for three, five years down the line
- Teaching middle schoolers the skills of playwriting
- Seeking sponsors for our Young Playwrights’ Festival in May
- Attending important community and administrative meetings
Or, last but not least, and simply moving on because I’ve made my point, scratching away at a hopefully meaningful blog for this all important web blog.
I was recently reading a very insightful article by Lewis Hyde in the Kenyon Review. In it he talks about his book, The Gift, saying:
It describes a problem– the disconnect between the practice of art and common forms of earning a living… There are categories of human enterprise that are not well organized or supported by market forces. Family life, religious life, public service, pure science, and of course much artistic practice: none of these operates very well when framed simply in terms of exchange value …Any community that values these things will find non-market ways to organize them. It will develop gift-exchange institutions dedicated to their support.
It would be my view that we haven’t quite got this problem figured out (yet) in this country. Thus, we culture workers are left with either creating “commercially supported art” or working in such a manner that one is carrying on two lives– the one that is the artist and the other that does all the work to support that life.
There is much to do, even under the best of conditions. But in this country, it’s a conundrum, a bit like the ones that so often lead to endless quarrels in our political system whenever addressing any significant challenge. And, as usual, the folks at the center of the issue are left to fend for themselves, with broken social and economic tools, while our leaders fight over who’s in charge while ignoring the problem in the hopes that things will work themselves out in time.
At Touchstone, we work very hard to serve our community, to run “like a good business”– to work efficiently, with an understanding of the market value of our efforts, and the discipline of best business practices. Still, over 60% of our income is unearned, our staff is stretched to the limit, and lack of funding undermines our abilities to effectively make successful art. There is much talk of the importance of gun control, of the violence in our culture, of immigration, and the importance of getting our borders secure, of our budget mess. There is little discussion of the importance of art as part of our culture and how it should be funded. Thank God for our supporters, and if you are one of them, this prayer is most sincere. But relying on the largesse of individuals to keep the arts alive is far from creating a healthy cultural environment. Like telling the homeless to rely on what they can beg off the street, it’s not the ideal solution.
I call on someone, anyone, please, this country! to look further into building institutions and processes that will advance real art in this country, not just popular entertainment and cultural icons. I am simply a theatre creator. My plate is full. As Mr. Hyde goes on to say:
Those who can be clear about supporting the arts not as means to some other end but as ends in themselves; those who can shape that support in response to the gift-economy that lies at the heart of the practice; those who have the wit and power and vision to build beyond their own day: for artists, those will be the good ancestors of the generations of practitioners that will follow when we are gone.
“What about breakfast?”
“You’ve already had it.”
“We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast?”
“I don’t think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.”
“What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
– The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001
We started out this season with Cravings and The Little Farm Show, two guest-presented shows about the food we eat and the importance of the things that sustain us. Five months into the season, and I am still way struggling with that concept. This week has been especially demonstrative of that.
Lunch hour is usually spent in the office or in a meeting, trying to catch up on work in between rehearsal hours, or trying to keep momentum going on work without breaking. Lunch dishes are determined (in part) by how well they fit in between my computer and my piles of papers and sticky notes. A bowl of soup is nice and compact, not to mention warm and comforting on a cold day, and canned soup is usually on sale.
Dinner is two parts. After the bulk of the day at Touchstone, I’m off to Moravian, helping to stage manage their production of The Memorandum. Dinner part one is a small coffee or tea or hot chocolate, to help me push through the last few hours of the day, and a small tupperware full of pita chips, because I am profoundly fond of pita chips. Dinner part two is something easy after rehearsal ends– pasta or salad or sandwiches. Or Wawa. Usually Wawa. Delicious, life-sustaining Wawa.
Due to late evening rehearsals, I’ve been trying to pace myself by taking a later start on some days. A variable breakfast time follows, anywhere between 7:30 and 10. A bowl of Kix or a Naked Juice smoothie while I sit with the cat and get myself settled for the day.
Snacks are sprinkled throughout the day, when there’s room. This is the time of year where my favorite snack of all, the Cadbury Egg, graces stores with its presence, and I begin stockpiling them for when I need a chocolate pick-me-up.
So, clearly, this is not exactly what we call a healthy diet.
As the schedule continues picking up the pace, it’s easier and easier to fall into bad habits. I’m trying to look ahead to pockets of spare time where I can actually make a proper meal, and it’s always a nice treat to manage when possible, but it takes constant attention, and it’s so easy to let slip. Looking ahead, I’m counting the days until my evenings return to normal and I can try to resume slightly more regular mealtimes, and I’m definitely looking forward to that.
But until then, I’ll make do. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to grab a sandwich and coffee from Wawa. And it’s going to be delicious.