Once More With Feeling

A Rumination from my dramaturgy of Steven Dietz’s This Random World directed by David Lee-Painter (DLP).

Our production of This Random World The Myth of Serendipity was invited to perform at Region 7 of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival!

Months had passed since any of us had laid eyes on the set or thought about the script. People had moved on to other projects. Students graduated and in a myriad of other ways life has gone on. Last week we completed remounting This Random World to share it 1200 peers at the annual festival. Part of the remount included a benefit performance to celebrate and finance the trip.

Immediate challenges were identifying returning company members, rehearsal space, and scheduling rehearsals. The next two shows in the university season by this time were cast and in production. Those shows included members from This Random World. Seven people were unable to return. The bulk were from the technical side; two were performers.

To fill the gaps, one understudy moved from a worldbuilder to speaking role. A member of the artistic staff became a worldbuilder and another worldbuilder was recruited into the company as were the needed technicians.

Then the question of rehearsal space: the Forge Theatre, an 80-seat black box configured in the round, where the show was originally staged was unavailable. Also, the hall at KCACTF is a 350-seat theatre with a thrust stage. Ideally, we preferred to work in a similar hall. The best choice was the Hartung Theatre, the 400-seat university mainstage, but it also had a show in rehearsal.

In the end, we cobbled together five rehearsals in three different locations. Two days were spent running concurrent rehearsals in the 30-seat studio and a classroom space—much the way the original rehearsals were run—and three days at Hartung. The set diagrams on the floors for the alternate spaces were at ¾ scale and ½ scale respectively. Hartung would have the actual set pushed downstage at a slight angle. It would also be the location for the benefit.

Logistics sorted, we went to work. Due to the rehearsal process which included an understudy performance, the understudy arrived already off-book and familiar with her blocking. She was one of two actors who traveled over 7 hours to rejoin the company.

Remounting a show, there is a desire to present the original production but prevent it from ossifying. Blocking would change as we adjusted to a thrust stage. And new company members would alter the energy.

I was curious how the venue hopping would effect the work. Some of the spaces were so small it seemed a waste of time to even meet there. Co-director David Lee-Painter disagreed and wanted any opportunity to get the company back moving through the show and feeling it again.

Expanding and contracting the performance area was a benefit. We were unable to keep tightly to our staging and were forced to tell the story with the conditions presented. In the end, it strengthened the storytelling. Instead of just fudging the blocking to fill the stage space, the movement changes were motivationally driven.

For example, in a scene where Tim is trying to prove to Rhonda that he is not dead, They’d kept together in a tight stand-off to accentuate the tension. During the remounting, Rhonda moved away from Tim. He caught her arm and brought her around, reversing their places. The action of the scene demonstrated the emotions Rhonda was feeling at finally meeting a deceased person. It also fed Tim’s desperation to correct the mess he’d made by faking in his own death and suddenly having to prove–somehow–that he was alive. It also transformed the encounter from stand-off to tug of war.

In the above images, is the opening scene set in Tim’s apartment. The left hand photo was as it was seen in the Forge. Center, the actors working in the studio on the 3/4 scale stage, and on the right on the mainstage.

The remounting process provided us with an unusual opportunity to leave a production and return several months later with some of the same but a few different company members. It gave another layer of the experience of shifting connections that are so vital to Dietz’s show. We’re looking forward to sharing it with our peers as the festival.

Story Problems

Last week I went to see the doc with my 84-year-old mom. The doc decided to run some memory tests on her. It was the usual thing you see on TV on in a movie. A few questions in, the doc told her that he’s going to ask a story problem and I PANICKED.

I can’t do a story problem on paper much less in my head. How was she supposed to do one?!

When I’m forced to do a story problem, I forget the first half before I’m through the paragraph. I never know what’s important to solve the question. They are ALWAYS a nightmare.

In that moment, I was not sure if I was more terrified for my mom or for me and I didn’t have to solve the problem!

Before the doc was halfway through the story problem which he would repeat several times, I felt THE WALL go up behind my eyes. It’s something I’ve had since I was little when faced with math. Once THE WALL is up there’s no getting through it, past it, over it.

Well, that’s not entirely not true. My dad could somehow push through THE WALL and help me figure it out. And he never finished junior high! Needless to say, once I got into algebra, he couldn’t help me any more and my math grades were in the toilet after that.

When I drove home after Mom’s appointment, I was still twitchy over the math problem. At work I write all information down, figure out what I need and what is static. Then I do the math. Then I double check everything. Something is usually wrong. And usually I’ll find it. Then it occured to me that I remember the ENTIRE story problem.

You go to the store with $100. You buy a dozen apples at $3. A tricycle at $20. How much money do you have left?

Whoa. It was like fear had branded it onto my skull or something.

The only time I ever enjoyed math was when I took statistics in grad school which is–I KNOW–totally weird. It made me wonder if whatever triggered THE WALL had been avoided would I have excelled at math?

image from Pixabay