observed particle – Catharine Dill 11/21/10

Apologies in advance for the lame, amateur physics reference, but I kept thinking of it as I wrote this post, so you’re stuck with it.

I have a conflicted relationship with open rehearsals: I love them for other people’s work but not so much for my own.   I find it very difficult to share my own work at an embryonic stage and am often fearful that, once a potential audience member has witnessed my undigested ideas, he or she will become less interested in the work as a finished product.

I opened my rehearsal last week as part of my participation in my residency program.  I had done the same thing last year and it went really well, but this year I didn’t feel ready at all and found the experience quite wrenching.  The feedback was really valuable however, and perfectly timed since I am about to go off to MacDowell for a month and I don’t think I would have made these discoveries alone in the woods without the audience’s input.

I dreaded the open studio because I felt we had very little to show anyone.  In the past few weeks of rehearsal, we’ve done very little other than fielding interference; we only cast the Dad (a pivotal character) a few weeks ago, and that performer won’t be joining us until January.  We have a wonderful female performer standing in for him, but she can only do so much to provide an emotional marker for the other performers.  Our show is very dependent on music, physical set pieces and video that the performers are interacting with, and few of those things are in a presentable stage.

For these reasons, I didn’t really feel like I could “choose” my material—I settled for the few scenes that we had had a chance to rehearse.  I felt that I was asking the audience to imagine their way around the strange staging we’ve created to interact with set pieces and video cameras that are not yet there, creating a video picture they cannot yet see, with performers who are substituting for people they will have to imagine.  I felt that handing out an essay about our intentions might have been just as effective.

But I still managed to get a lot out of it.  This is my first time writing a piece entirely (my previous work has relied on my edits of found text), and the open studio helped to articulate what the problems are.  The project rides more than one fine line: it is a memory play in which the characters square off about their shared history.  So there are a lot of scenes that should play ambiguously, but not vaguely.  It should be possible for different audience members to walk away with very distinct and different interpretations of a single scene.  There have been a few things that felt “wrong” to me and to the performers.  The feedback after the open studio articulated a lot of those problems for us, and our rehearsal the following night was very productive.  There are a lot of things that need further development, and I would sum them up by stating that they fall in the realm of articulating intention.  While it is fine and even compelling that a lot of the story line and character changes remain unspoken and mysterious, we have not gone far enough in choosing exactly WHAT will remain mysterious, and what should be revealed.  At the time of the rehearsal, it was all quite messy and vague, and the audience was confused about plot points that to me were “obvious.”  So we had to look at the script with an eye for clarity and be sure we were getting across whatever information needed to be understood to fully experience those scenes.  This might never have dawned on me had I not spoken with several audience members wrestling with the same questions.

I have sort of set myself up to experience this in a more intense way in January.  We are staging a special presentation for programmers in NY for Under the Radar, and opening our rehearsals to them as well.  I insisted on this development myself as a way to get accustomed to creating relationships with programmers and rehearsing in front of an audience.  It will be good for us but probably painful.

–CATHARINE DILL