Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Week in Daytona

I am unsure of where to start in reviewing the past five days. They have been eye-opening, inspiring, full of excitement and good people. I had been dreading my trip to Daytona for the Region IV Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival--the train rides through the night, the apprehension of spending a week with peers I respect and was intimidated by, and flying solo in a realm of dramaturgy while the people I knew competed in acting. As usual, my anxiety was uncalled for and the convention was not only revealing, but has reignited the hunger that kept me working so hard in college and dissipated upon my graduation.

My attendance of the festival was mandatory for my application for the LMDA/KCACTF Student Dramaturgy Award to be considered for the regional award. I was excited for the workshops and teaching of Lenora Inez Brown, a Chicago-based dramaturg who is head of the department of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism at The Theatre School of DePaul University. She is also extremely accomplished, having worked not only at the Kennedy Center, but also the Goodman, the Steppenwolf, and the Sundance Theatre Labs. I guess you could say her resume's not too shabby. The information she impressed upon the dramaturgs in the few days we had with her concerned critical thinking, how to ask open questions, and writing diplomatic notes to directors--aspects I had hardly considered during my work on 'Art.' Here are just a few of the bullet points I've pulled from my notes:
  • Go from general to specific. You can make specific become general. But keep the big picture in mind.
  • Create questions for fruitful exploration.
  • Focus on the facts instead of opinion or interpretation.
  • An incomplete moment in a script is not the source of the problem. The source or problem comes before that moment.
  • Make notes rehearsal-hall friendly (with language that is achievable and includes action rather than scholarly). Write them to promote discussion in an objective way that does not direct the director.
In signing my copy of her book (The Art of Active Dramaturgy), Lenora wrote, "Don't forget to think thematically and to never shy away from the big questions." My perspective of the role of dramaturgy has completely changed this week, but in a way that I am curious to explore. Aside from the workshops, I was also responsible for working on a student-written 10-minute play, which gave me a tiny glimpse of dramaturging a new work. I also completed my application for the regional award with an interview. The award was given to a very deserving student from Clemson, which means my application is finally finished.

While the week has certainly not discouraged my interest and eagerness for dramaturgy, I naturally found myself wishing I could join the actors. And I did a few times in workshops on networking, working as a professional actor, and one on avant-garde techniques. During the latter, I shared a woo-woo actor moment of trust and vulnerability and forgiveness with a total stranger, who I am now desperately trying to hunt down on facebook. I love working with people I don't know. There are no preconceptions and there is nothing to mistrust. It's a blank slate to build upon and I am most comfortable to explore with people who don't expect a certain behavior from me. The workshop about working as a professional actor with actress Marguerite Hannah was a big wake-up call for my lazy ass to get moving (as was the state of my bank account by the end of the week). I intend to take the suggestion from the networking workshop with Michael Legg, Director of the Apprentice/Intern Company of the Actor's Theatre of Louisville to keep office hours to set aside a defined time to work. (I also had the pleasure to audition for Mr. Legg. Audition Journal post is next on my agenda) When I get home I have the following list of tasks:
  • Applications, applications, applications
    • Williamstown Theatre Festival Apprenticeship
    • Wooly Mammoth Literary Management Internship
    • Actor's Theatre of Louisville Literary/Dramaturgy Internship
    • Georgia Shakes
    • Dallas Shakes
    • Shakespeare Tavern
    • American Shakespeare Center
  • Expand monologue repertoire
  • Read NY Times theatre section daily
  • Subscribe to American Theatre
  • Print headshots
  • Read plays. All the time.
I also spent the best $20 of my life to see a live broadcast of King Lear at London's Donmar Warehouse starring Derek Jacobi. This was honestly the most stunning piece of theatre I've seen and I wasn't even in the actual theatre. As such, we were constantly recounting moments of it--the lighting, the storm monologue, Lear repeatedly picking up and dropping the limp arm of Cordelia, the moment when Edgar accidentally uses the word father, mad Lear and blind Gloucester lying on the ground in exhaustion. We were a weeping mess when we got back to the conference to hear that one of our competitors for the Irene Ryan Award had made it to the final round. Last night, his name was announced as a regional recipient, meaning that he will compete at national level against 15 other contestants, having made it to the top of over 200 in the region. His lovely partner was also given the award for best classical acting after the respondents had to call the national office to make sure the award was not reserved for contestants only. PS: My school has never competed in theatre. I am insanely excited and proud of them. It also gives me confidence in the quality of the education I was given. Our three nominees and their partners exhibited solid training, perseverance, and a refined craft that I think is inherent in all of my department's dedicated students. And then they are also just really fucking talented. That always helps.

While I didn't walk away with an award, I did end up with a much clearer understanding of dramaturgy and a very exciting reminder that I have a terrible case of the acting bug. Obviously, none of this was quite as good as touring the NASCAR racetrack. But we all knew that.

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