House of X: Words Made Flesh

Nov
27
2012

This is late, but better late than never.

I'm the lucky recipient of a very generous three-year SSHRC grant--Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council--to explore using poetry as the point of departure for the creation of physical theatre--primarily the poetry of Lorna Crozier. This work is being done in collaboration with oboist and English horn player--and head of woodwinds at U Vic's School of Music--Sandra Dawkins. This work is to culminate in a piece set to brand-new texts by Lorna, as well as existing work. The following is an account of the first venture into this activity, using selected poems from a collection of Lorna's called Apocrypha of Light, a feminist re-telling of the Christian creation myths, and stories from the Old Testament.

Thursday, April 12, 2012: The actors and I meet with Lorna to discuss the project and its objectives, the problems associated with creating work of this kind, the choice of Apocrypha of Light as a template text, the work of the poet, the nature of interdisciplinarity, and many other related topics. She is really interested in collaborating on this project, and on making her work available to us as a plastic object, to be manipulated as the work seems to suggest. She seems really excited about and interested in being a collaborator, and in working in particular on theatrical embodiment of her texts.

The actors then read the introductory prose poem, The Origin of Pen’s Black Arts, and Lorna read the first eponymous poem. Then we put the chairs away and stood up, and began to take further and further steps away from the poem as textual artifact, and closer and closer to embodiment. Lorna stayed to observe and assist with staging the intro, which proved to be very easy to do, and produced a comedic and—we felt—elegant piece of movement theatre.

In the afternoon we were on our own, and spent three hours struggling with the poem Apocrypha of Light. This summed up all the anticipated problems with trying to force poetic text to serve as the basis of physical theatre, something it was not intended to do! The movement seems extraneous; it overwhelms the text; the text is best simply recited, face front. This is going to be arduous!

Friday, April 13: I do a movement sequence about God creating Eve from Adam’s rib and the snake wriggling on to toss her the apple. I want the movement passages to stand on their own feet, as it were, and not to be always entwined with text; dependent upon it, the way that dance is typically dependent on music. Also, I want to leave room for the music to participate with movement, and not simply underscoring text. (But the music will always be an adjunct to the main content of the work.)

I manage to crack the nut on two poems about the Snake, The Start of the Blues, and What the Snake Brings to the World, both as accompaniment to movement design. For the latter, Carol and Kale, with—I imagine—martini glasses in hand, flirt with each other as a composite snake-like thing goes by, like the Chinese dragon dance; this will have to be much more fully developed.

Also, I manage to stage God’s Yes and No as speech-with-movement, and also to set Who Is Like Thee, Doing Wonders, which proved to be a male actor—Graham Miles—reciting the poem on his knees, while the three women, like ghosts of banished goddesses, creep up on him from behind. It occurs to me that they ought to dress him as a woman and put lipstick on him.

House of X: Music Revisions

Nov
23
2012

Thursday, April 26:  I realize I don’t want to use any more of the text from this collection, as no other poem can play a part in the overall conceptual and thematic thrust of the “play” as we have devised it. This is the order at this point:

  • The Origin of Pen’s Black Arts
  • Apocrypha of Light
  • Adam and Eve and the Snake Dance
  • The Start of the Blues
  • What the Snake Brings to the World
  • God’s Yes and No
  • The Sacrifice of Abraham
  • God the Father
  • Tower of Babel
  • Original Sin (The First Woman and The Fall of Eve interleaved)
  • God the Mother
  • Who Is Like Thee, Doing Wonders?
  • What I Gave You, Truly
  • God the Son
  • Dinah, Jacob’s Daughter
  • Humiliation Quadrille
  • God the Daughter

THE DIVINE ANATOMY

  1. God’s Mouth
  2. God’s Feet
  3. His Eyes
  4. His Hands
  5. God’s Ear
  6. Untitled
  7. God’s Heart
  8. God’s Bones
  9. Who Is She, Then?

Some of these I know will work really well; others have yet to be tried. I hope to find places to use pure movement sequences to the piece—which will give the musicians more space to contribute to the work—but I don’t want to do that arbitrarily, and end up with filler.

The day—our third with musicians in for two hours in the afternoon—is spent working, revising, looking at transitions, etc.

House of X: Dual Run and Nips and Tucks

Nov
23
2012

Tuesday, May 1:  This was a really good day, as we got to run the piece twice with various shifts, additions, changes, developments. The running preamble to the sculpture sequence seems to work really well: it’s exciting to see all these near-collisions that are totally choreographed. I made some more nips and tucks to Apocrypha, and changed Tower of Babel: they do the first part of the dance, then recite most of the text as though they are at a cocktail party; they then resume the dance steps to exit the sequence.

The rest of the piece is subjected to the same adjustments and revisions. One of these that works really well is the paired set about the Mother Goddess, Who Is Like Thee… and What I Gave You…: the women enter as goddesses as Graham circles upstage. After they dress him and make him up they send him off down the vom, as though out into the world as a woman. The women’s exit is at the same tempo as the entrance, which gives Graham time to get the lipstick off and join the slow-motion fighting on God the Son.

At the end of the second run I make the wistful observation that—for the most part—I really haven’t challenged my assumption going into this: that this kind of performance works best when the text is not kinetically engaged; when movers and speakers are not the same performer. Maybe it’s time to reconfigure that assumption?

House of X: More on The Poetry Project

Nov
23
2012

HOUSE OF X (or, Elisa Sampedrín talks to you about “little theatres”)

Some years ago I got to wondering if you could communicate comprehensible narrative via movement, gesture and invented speech. In April of 2011 I spent a week working with Tara Friedenberg, Jeff Gladstone and Linda Quibell. We made three stories involving the conflict of two against one-- or one against two-- and there was not one word of English, or any other language, spoken: I brought in text I had invented for a character in The Boy Who Went Outside, and made up a bunch of other gibberish.

The first story was about a knight who angles for the hand of a mad girl in the grip of her protective mother. The second was about a nasty couple who put the man's aged mother in a nursing home, and how the latter and her REALLY nasty daughter-in-law don't see eye to eye. The last story was about a father and his two daughters; or rather, his daughter and STEP-daughter: he lavishes attention on the former, and punishes and abuses the latter, banishing her to the garden shed. One night she discovers she has supernatural powers and takes her revenge.

In December of last year I went back to work on House of X. Tara was not available, so I hired Tanya Podlozniuk in her place. I added a plot line about a director and two actors working on a kind of soap opera scene, in which, from one iteration to another, more and more English was spoken. I also experimented with a story about two women who abduct a man, torture and rape him, then transform him into some version of the Virgin Mary whom they worship, and of whom they beg forgiveness. This last did not work very well, and was scrapped.

I wondered what the point of all these stories was, and couldn't figure it out. I decided to cut them all to pieces and shuffle them, forcing the audience to figure out who was whom and what was going on; so the piece became about how audiences construct meanings out of whatever they see. If you were to deliberately jumble up a number of narrative strands you'd be able to force audiences to confront that subject. But would they thank you for it?

At some point it became possible to consider getting this show produced as part of the Neanderthal Arts Fest at the Cultch in Vancouver. With that in mind I did one more workshop, this one in May of this year. I had to replace Jeff AND Tanya, and found Sebastian Kroon and Jane Osborne. During this workshop I brought in all kinds of texts from various collections by eminent and highly-regarded experimental Canadian poet Erin Mouré. These were drawn from all her books, from her first collections in the late 80s to the most recent. I found poems and prose-poetry pieces that supported, echoed, revealed moments in the stories I had directed/choreographed. Elisa's speeches to the audience are taken from Little Theatres. While these are one thing for Erin, for me "little theatres" are the bits and pieces of narrative that are going on all around us; Elisa advises us to pay attention to these moments, which are the only parts of our lives to which we have any claim: this moment, right now.

I decided to cast Erin's alter ego Elisa Sampedrin as the writer who is bringing the various stories in House of X to the audience. On the last day I realized I had to bring in a fourth actor to play this character, because Linda could not both play her and be IN the stories, and so Crystal Verge joined the team. We spent about three hours trying to fit her into the staging, and then filmed the results. It was kind of rough, but the general shape of the piece had fallen into place. Finally.

I had made a movement introduction that summed up, in a series of tableaux, all the potentials of the stories that formed parts one, two and three. Elisa is evidently still experimenting with these, as she is with the coda, or ending, which seems to be about a couple finding true love, despite the fact that he is already married with children.

So, the piece is about a writer's process; about storytelling; about the different genres--horror, melodrama, revenge tragedy, comedy, romance--to which we are all accustomed and addicted.

The show, which ran just under 50 minutes, was presented at the main space of the Cultch as part of the Neanderthal Arts Fest in July. Both the set and costumes--by Catherine Hahn--were based on the notion of collage; pieces of furniture fused together to make the very simple set, and pieces of clothing SEWN together to make the costumes. The wonderful lighting was--once again--by the very talented Bryan Kenney.

It got good reviews, mixed audience response, suffered from very poor attendance--not surprised at that!-- and was basically an interesting failure. It didn't really hold together, because there was not enough text for the character of Elisa Sampedrin to make her a fully active part of the story; she seemed like an afterthought because she was!

Also, why do we see the stories in the order we do? And what is the accumulation that they offer to provide the sense of a rising arc, rather than a series of episodes. I have pretty much decided to hire Erin to write this part to order in the spring, and to revise the piece accordingly.

Where House of X Came From

Jul
15
2012

Some years ago I got to wondering if you could communicate comprehensible narrative via movement, gesture and invented speech. In April of 2011 I spent a week working with Tara Friedenberg, Jeff Gladstone and Linda Quibell. We made three stories involving the conflict of two against one-- or one against two-- and there was not one word of English, or any other language, spoken: I brought in text I had invented for a character in The Boy Who Went Outside, and made up a bunch of other gibberish.

The first story was about a knight who angles for the hand of a mad girl in the grip of her protective mother. The second was about a nasty couple who put the man's aged mother in a nursing home, and how the latter and her REALLY nasty daughter-in-law don't see eye to eye. The last story was about a father and his two daughters; or rather, his daughter and STEP-daughter: he lavishes attention on the former, and punishes and abuses the latter, banishing her to the garden shed. One night she discovers she has supernatural powers and takes her revenge.

In December of last year I went back to work on House of X. Tara was not available, so I hired Tanya Podlozniuk in her place. I added a plot line about a director and two actors working on a kind of soap opera scene, in which, from one iteration to another, more and more English was spoken. I also experimented with a story about two women who abduct a man, torture and rape him, then transform him into some version of the Virgin Mary whom they worship, and of whom they beg forgiveness. This last did not work very well, and was scrapped.

I wondered what the point of all these stories was, and couldn't figure it out. I decided to cut them all to pieces and shuffle them, forcing the audience to figure out who was whom and what was going on; so the piece became about how audiences construct meanings out of whatever they see. If you were to deliberately jumble up a number of narrative strands you'd be able to force audiences to confront that subject. But would they thank you for it?

At some point it became possible to consider getting this show produced as part of the Neanderthal Arts Fest at the Cultch in Vancouver. With that in mind I did one more workshop, this one in May of this year. I had to replace Jeff AND Tanya, and found Sebastian Kroon and Jane Osborne. During this workshop I brought in all kinds of texts from various collections by eminent and highly-regarded experimental Canadian poet Erin Mouré. These were drawn from all her books, from her first collections in the late 80s to the most recent. I found poems and prose-poetry pieces that supported, echoed, revealed moments in the stories I had directed/choreographed. Elisa's speeches to the audience are taken from Little Theatres. While these are one thing for Erin, for me "little theatres" are the bits and pieces of narrative that are going on all around us; Elisa advises us to pay attention to these moments, which are the only parts of our lives to which we have any claim: this moment, right now.

I decided to cast Erin's alter ego Elisa Sampedrin as the writer who is bringing the various stories in House of X to the audience. On the last day I realized I had to bring in a fourth actor to play this character, cause Linda could not both play her and be IN the stories, and so Crystal Verge joined the team. We spent about three hours trying to fit her into the staging, and then filmed the results. It was kind of rough, but the general shape of the piece had fallen into place. Finally.

I had made a movement introduction that summed up, in a series of tableaux, all the potentials of the stories that formed parts one, two and three. Elisa is evidently still experimenting with these, as she is with the coda, or ending, which seems to be about a couple finding true love, despite the fact that he is already married with children.

So, the piece is about a writer's process; about storytelling; the relationship between biography and fiction; about the different genres--horror, melodrama, revenge tragedy, comedy, romance--to which we are all accustomed and addicted.

So, come see the show, which runs just under 50 minutes, at the main space of the Cultch as part of the Neanderthal Arts Fest.

Past Production Posters

This Is A Dance

passion

passion