Annie Paladino is leaving the Bay Area in two months and her last local theater project is about to open. Unsurprisingly, she’s got a lot of feelings, and she wants to talk about them.
I want to talk about process. Actually, I want YOU to talk about process. But I’ll get things started, okay?
Let me backtrack: Hi, I’m Annie. You may (not) remember me from last year, when I wrote a lot of nonsense about performing for the first time in the Bay One Acts festival. Well, I’m back. For the month of April, you can find me here every Tuesday. For the next couple weeks, I’ll probably be talking about Time Sensitive, for which I’m currently about to head into tech week. Or, honestly, whatever else I’m thinking about.
Oh and another thing: I’m moving away from the Bay in June. So, the subtext of all this is likely to be: SAYONARA, I SHALL MISS THEE, LET ME LEAVE YOU WITH THESE PARTING WORDS OF WISDOM (AND/OR FOLLY).
Anyway…back to process.
Artistic process is one of those things that, unless you’ve been inside it, is a total and complete unknown. In the theater community, we all have a general sense of what a rehearsal process “looks” like. The timeframe may vary slightly, but things are actually surprisingly standardized. Casting, first read through, table work (an obtuse way of saying “script analysis,” basically), blocking (move there, sit here, jump on the couch over there), then a couple deeply traumatizing “stumble-throughs” (does anyone even attempt “run-throughs” anymore?) before ambling into tech week, at which point all anyone wants to do is tap dance on stage or make lewd jokes over headset (what, you don’t?).
But to anyone outside our community, the process of getting a play ready for performance is nothing short of a mystery. This was made very clear to me recently when I was talking about Time Sensitive to a coworker at my day job. I told her that we had started rehearsals in early January but the show didn’t open until mid-April, adding, “so obviously it’s a very long rehearsal process, which is nice.” She was surprised, and remarked that, for all she knew, that was a totally standard amount of time to rehearse a play. I further described how we started with only a few rehearsals a week, building up to more and more frequent rehearsals each month, with built-in weeks off to rest and recharge. And again, if I hadn’t implied that this was somewhat unusual, she wouldn’t have thought twice about it.
I wondered about this a few weeks ago after going to see Mugwumpin’s The Great Big Also at Z Space, an experimental piece with a longer-than-usual and atypically-structured rehearsal process. As an audience member, I personally knew this going in, and could clearly envision what this process was like. Most of the rest of the audience likely did not have that knowledge. And so the thought occurred to me — are our experiences markedly different?
So here are the questions, for you, dear readers (reader?). Primarily: why do we adopt an atypical rehearsal structure and/or timeline? Is it to produce a deeper and richer end result? Is it for the artists’ sake (and I mean that sincerely, without any condescension)? And secondly: if you are a theater artist, what are your feelings on process? Maybe you had an amazing non-traditional or extended rehearsal process. Maybe you are a director and you have your process down to a science. Maybe you wish you could work on a play for a year; maybe you wish you could start rehearsing a new project every three weeks.
As for the process I’m current in the middle of, we’re nearing the final stretch of what has been somewhat of a marathon. But I’m sitting at home tonight, not in rehearsal. Even though next Sunday is our first day of tech. In fact, I have (almost) this whole week off; it’s the last of those built-in breaks I mentioned. I’m of two minds about it: on the one hand, I’m ecstatic about the sleep (SLEEP, GUYS!!!), but on the other hand, I’m so anxious to keep working and start tech that I can’t truly relax.
So here I sit, spending way too much time having so many FEELINGS about theater. Help a gal out. Hit me in the comments.
Annie Paladino is an actor, director, producer, and stage manager. You can see her on stage (eating a SERIOUS cupcake) in Ragged Wing Ensemble’s Time Sensitive starting April 18th (more info here). You can find her on Twitter @anniepaladino.
DUDE. First of all, I sincerely hope we get to try out even more process together before you leave in June. Wishful thinking? I hope not.
I feel super passionately about this subject. And my feelings are that atypical processes are necessary if you have an atypical performance/piece/show/whatever you want to call it. And even if you don’t, I think that our standard model of rehearsal for three to five weeks with tech integrated only at the end and a lot of top-down decision making (necessitated by the process) has room for drastic improvement.
But what I’m here to say right now is that I firmly believe every process should be tailored to the play you’re making. Devised or not, what do you want to do with the piece? And how can you create a process that will best help you achieve that? Process should serve the play. By the by, it might make the artists happy (or crazy), but I think questioning process and creating it anew — with everyone involved understanding the how and why — is amongst the best ways to create the best work.
From what I’ve observed, the “standard” rehearsal process is a result of the logistical realities for institutional theaters: renting a building, adhering to union contracts and weekly pay, and being able to move into the theatre when the previous show in the season will be vacating the space.
You and I and Rebecca (and others) tend not to make work in those logistical parameters, so our processes tend to have the luxury of some flexibility, the luxury to make the work in the way that particular work needs to be made.
Of course, by not playing by the standard rules, we give up some of the other support that an institutional theatre can offer – I’m not saying one way is inherently better than another. I don’t feel like I’m taking the high road by continually reinventing the wheel.
As a director, I definitely don’t have the process down to a science. If I consistently made work in the standard process model, maybe I would – or at least, maybe that would be the goal. But by pursuing projects off the beaten path, wherever they made lead me, I am always making up a new process to fit the project. See: modular Helen of Troy, and surrealist “Exquisite Corpse” Google Hangout online theatre experiment. And that’s just what I’m working on this month.
Maybe the goal, for me, is getting the process of creating a process down to a science. Not just “how do I make this piece of theatre” but “how do I make the right environment and structure in which to make this piece of theatre.”
Thanks for kicking off this conversation, Annie!
I love your idea to set “getting the process of creating process” down to a science. I think that means *not* reinventing the wheel every time [cue sigh of relief].
Here’s my solo performer rehearsal process for today:
Tinker with script on computer
Panic about memorization time till first performance
Schedule another performance slot
Tinker more: do word counts to figure out how much of the piece I can have down in the next two weeks
Avoid taking a work break to memorize in meeting room. Convince self I will do it tonight at home. (I never do)
Try to find an endpoint that works for a short excerpt
Print out section of script to work on memorizing
Write a comment on someone’s blog about the rehearsal process
Walk to Walgreens to buy discounted Easter chocolate…
First let me officially mourn the loss to the Bay Area of Annie Paladino. You may be leaving soon but you’re not forgotten. This is not Sayonara, but simply see you again soon, ‘kay?
And thanks for this conversation about process. I think the mere fact that many of us who create theater pieces from scratch and are involved in the ensemble model of creation-making are focused on the process of process is very telling about our work. I am fascinated by the fact that the careful attention I bring to how I approach creating a piece will directly affect what comes out in the final process. In a product-driven society such as ours, this may seem indulgent or inefficient. However, I agree with Amy Clare that each performance piece begs its own unique process. In some ways we’re just another breed of scientist: posing (sometimes impossible) questions, setting up tests and analyzing results. The final product? An amalgam of research results.