New month, new show!
I feel that it would be apt to talk about our cohort’s normal, daily life at Columbia, but truth be told, there is no such thing. After Oklahoma: Winner Takes All, we had a two week break to recuperate and prepare for the next guest artist, Firenza Guidi.
Check out her biography here:
Firenza is a site-specific director and theatre maker that often works with circus artists and a style she calls “performance-montage”. Her process with us, from first rehearsal to final show, happened in 14 days. The experience was (and still is) a whirlwind, and Firenza started the initial breeze and left before we had the chance to land. (Luckily, Thanksgiving was two days after closing, so the abundance of food helped to ground us a bit).
Here’s the timeline:
Days 1-5: Building a Vocabulary
Firenza takes over half of our morning classes and evenings. From the first hour, we begin highly physical exercises which Firenza often works with, from full runs ending in chest bumps, to waltzing (with everyone in heels, no exceptions), to staging a brawl where lifting someone into the air replaces actual fighting. Firenza has a metaphorical Mary Poppins carpet bag full of these physical bits, all of which make up the montage. Once we’ve learned them all, she chooses the ones that are best moulded into the site where we’re performing. Often, the bits are choreographed to a song, so when one of them is played, we are triggered into action.
Day 6: Photoshoot
While not in rehearsal with us, Firenza has been checking out some of the sites we recommended to her for our performance. She doesn’t like any of them, as much of the CCC campus has been remodeled and is too “new” for her liking. Nevertheless, we go to the the lobbies of the library and the fashion building to take photos. This helps us to better understand Firenza’s visual aesthetic and generate images for promotion (when we have a location, that is).
Day 7-8: Our Location!
We receive confirmation that our location will be the incredible and historic Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park. Two exciting coincidences happen: this year is the Chopin’s 100 year anniversary as a theatre, and Firenza finds out that the set designer of the current show in their downstairs space is a friend that she has worked on many shows with. We continue learning choreography and playing with costumes, but now we have an idea as to where all of it fits, literally.
Day 9: Promotion
We actually get information and poster for the show that will happen in 5 days!
Day 10-11: Build, Build, Build
We keep learning choreography, with the cohort getting increasingly anxious that we won’t have a show to present. Firenza has us rehearse in different places around the theatre building to give us an idea of how to work with an audience in a non-theatre space.
Day 12: Test Audience and Moving In
We get a treat! A group of MFA hopefuls pop into our rehearsal, and we get to maneuver them like we will a real audience in two days. We all get lunch provided for us and chat for a while about the EDPP program (thanks, Office of Graduate Studies!) Then, we load up two cars and move into the Chopin space!
Day 13: Tech/Dress Rehearsal/First Run Through/Shows 1 & 2
Yep. You read that right. We stumble through the entire show and finish 35 minutes before our first audience. Then, we perform at 7pm and 9pm, nearly at capacity!
Day 14: Fixings, Debrief, and Shows 3 & 4
We go into the space and re-work moments from the show, as Firenza believes every performance should continue the evolution of the piece. Since she leaves early the next day, we have a mini debrief about her work. We get to see all the photos taken of the previous night’s two shows, and then we complete our third and closing performances!
This was the fastest creation and mounting of a show we have ever had as a cohort. This, combined with the amount of content that Firenza came in with (as opposed to content created by the ensemble), made the creation process unlike any that we’ve experienced. At various points, I found it hard to recognize that we were devising, though I suppose we did create an original piece of theatre.
It showed me that in a year and a half of trying to break the mould of a theatre creation process, we as a cohort have created our own expectations of what devising is “supposed” to be. What we see as devising is actually ensemble devising, and this has thrown into question for me what devising actually is.
Having concluded the process, I’m excited to use some of the physical vocabulary and images we learned from Firenza, but it has definitely clarified for me that I prefer a longer creation process. More questions and conversations will surface when we return to class and have a longer debrief, and then it will be time to set ourselves up for…