Workshop (2/27/07)

This has been cross-posted from Dale’s blog.

Another amazing Tuesday Lacuna workshop. Tonight, it was me, Marc, and Melissa.

Molly with sunflower puppet prototypesI had mocked up the heads of two sunflowers in the Troupe and made some leaves, so we began by attaching elastic to our feet, then to the crossbars of the flowers. We stapled the leaves to the elastic, and then we played. We played with making the sunflowers grow, making the leaves bounces. We studied how sunflowers would move, how they would jump, how they would dance. We played with one sunflower each, then two, having them relate to each other and to other sunflowers.

The sunflower waltz has turned out be quite workable. It is big and glorious, but that works. I shall finish orchestrating it as it stands.

An interesting thing happened this afternoon as I prepared the CD for rehearsal. I’ve been working on a chopped up version of Two Sunflowers, mostly because I didn’t want to mess with the original in case something went dreadfully wrong (as it appeared had happened first thing this morning when the cellos and basses wouldn’t make any sound for a while.) This afternoon I pasted the song itself back on to the beginning of the waltz segment, which then of course recaps with the second verse of the song. This da capo structure was suddenly, terrifically poignant: the two sunflowers have declared their intention of staying with William Blake, then their Troupe engages in this huge, liberated waltz, and then they come back to their two friends to bid farewell. As the Troupe leaves, the lyrics come to us again, “They both took root in the carpet…” It’s sort of sad in a way that wasn’t there before.

Anyway, we did a lot of good, solid work exploring the movement of sunflowers and positing ways for the waltz to be choreographed.

Here’s what we need: ten sunflower Troupe members; the Two Sunflowers; the tea set; the suitcases; the turtle train; an angel costume; a small table for tea. Personnel: the Two Sunflowers (currently sung by Ginny and Denise); five dancer/puppeteers; one angel; and a rabbit, to serve the tea. Lacuna members, check out the What We Need page for details.

Moving on to The Man in the Marmalade Hat Arrives, we did another round of amazing brainstorming. We’ve written the lyrics on a huge stretch of paper so we can start choreographing/blocking, but we haven’t written anything yet.

What all did we decide? The Band/Parade phalanx is slightly creepy in their “inexorable” march forward, but the MMH moves the piece toward something a little more silly as it progresses. Quasi-military band uniforms. Oversized breakfast implements?: spoons for the drumsticks, plates for the cymbals, etc. Discussed some blocking for the MMH, mostly freeing him from a line-by-line literalization. Band moves UL to C; Chorus moves DR to C; both move L to the Parade Ground, joined by the Gang from the Inn. Close order drill.

The banners remain as Parade Ground backdrop for the second half, switching front-to-back as spring arrives. We affirmed the idea of the ice sprites as middle-aged men in loincloths. It’s the kind of detail that will rattle audience expectations. Now all we have to do is find middle-aged men who will wear silver-blue body paint and little else, who can also summon up their youthful ballet training to move across the stage. That shouldn’t be too hard, should it? (I reiterate that I plan to be wearing a tux and sitting in the audience next to Nancy Willard.)

We had a large discussion of the Gang and characters in general, as in how we would portray them. Lots of ideas floated around, pros and cons of having actors in costumes to puppets (and what kinds). An overall design concept: if we allow ourselves to stray from natural colors, then it becomes easier to identify characters whether they are being portrayed by singer/actors or by puppets.

For example, we want a singer playing the King of Cats for his two solos because we need the actor’s face for those showstoppers to work. So we can put the King of Cats in a purple morning coat, perhaps with a green waistcoat (slightly furry), with a high white collar. Then when we get to the Milky Way, the King of Cats would be protrayed by a rod puppet, with all the flexibility of levitation that puppets allow, and it would be not only okay but wonderful for the cat to be a real cat, but a purple tabby with a green chest and an actual high white collar. Flexibility of vision and execution.

I’m sure there’s more. Melissa and Marc, make comments.

Our motto du jour is “Successive Approximation.” Everything we do is a slight change on what we’ve done before; nothing is the final word. I think I shall open up a section in my online store for Lacuna, and one of the t-shirt designs will say, “What you’re looking at is a Successive Approximation.”

Design Ideas

This happens every so often. I am captivated by a design concept and I have to note it ASAP. This is just a verbal description, right now. I’ll try to get some visual work onto vyew eventually

What if any architectural elements of the Inn had a Georgian, Neo-Classical flavor? Part of Blake’s charm and power as an artist came from his use of academic, classical conventions (well near Greek) in the service of his own unique visionary conceptions. Something almost temple-like about the Inn.

A Palladian dome as a central feature of the interior. The dome could tilt to various angles and take projections of everything from architectural design details to constellated stars to angels swirling about to acrobats tossing the sun and moon. This dome could also descend and rest on the stage as a pleasant green English hill.

The interior of the Inn would be perpetually “under construction” and we would see scaffolding stacked in the space, Blake standing upon it and working on various relief freizes, or one vast one, carving the images of the beasts he’s tamed. The faces of tyger, rabbit, cat, cow, sun, moon, etc, could be removed from the reliefs as white masks. Children run with these white masks into the fireplace and re-enter with the masks vividly colored and perhaps attached to billowing cloth, now ready to be treated as animated creatures.

Such a concept could be abstacted to a flat, two dimensional approach if we chose with the dome becoming a disk, the reliefs becoming sectional screen panels, etc.

But I keep coming back to this notion of Blake as a labouring presence, a creative presence…

Opening image inspired by this approach. Chorus stands in a shadowy, semi-circle. In their midst are two angels rotating a giant drafting compass upon the floor. We hear the chiming. As the circle is inscribed the Inn’s floating dome begins to appear above: “this Inn belongs to William Blake…” “Many are the beasts he’s tamed…” we discern Blake working upon a relief and we see the carved images about the temple-Inn.

I think we could have fun juxtaposing a kind of mystic, austerity with a more cozy, domestic, eccentric atmosphere created among the various inhabitants.

Workshop (2/20/07)

[This is cross-posted from Dale’s blog.]

Another meeting of the workshop group tonight. In attendance were me, Marc, Galen, Molly, and Kevin McInturff.

We started by discussing items we had found over the week. I had two new puppet books to show. Marc had brought in some architecture books (one of Georgian period architecture, over which I drooled.)

I realized as I pulled in to the parking lot that after I got Finale 2006 working yesterday, I should have worked on extending the sunflower waltz, since that’s what we were working on tonight. Oh well. That’s what tomorrow is for.

[Yes, I played with Finale 2006 this morning/afternoon. Everything is as it should be with GPO sounds, in fact, better than it was, since it was working fine before except for the memory issue. Now that my new laptop has 3GB of memory, Finale 2006 performs fine. I can leave Finale 2007 out of the picture for the time being.]

I had brought in a photo from the New York City Ballet of five ballerinas in a very Grecian pose (and I don’t mean “one Grecian urn.”) We mimicked those for a while and liked the look. We’re assuming that the sunflowers will be teenage dancers, since we need to choreograph them fairly specifically.

We played first with the way the troupe of sunflowers moves across the stage the other times we see them. We clumped together upstage right, then moved across the stage in little shifting spurts. “Imagine you’re Matthew Bailey,” I told them. “You keep seeking the sun, the spotlight.” Once we get real dancers in there and get them to develop a vocabulary of movement, I think it will work well.

We then entered an intense period of fluctuation: what will the sunflowers look like? We tried baby tutus on our faces as substitute sunflower heads. We had construction paper blooms in our hands. We played with extremely non-dance-like moves. We discussed ways for the troupe to arrive (probably a classical corps de ballet entrance, just swooping in.)

Who were the Two Sunflowers? We keep coming back to their being older, weary of the travel. After their duet, using canonic movement to match the music, we gave them chairs and a small table at which to rest, tea to drink, and probably the Tiger to curl up at their feet.

In the meantime, what to do with the troupe? We kept playing with the idea that tiny movements could mean a lot if you have a lot of flowers on the stage, and with the idea that all the flowers faced the sun, wherever that might be. We had my three gobo’d window projections. We had an angel bring in the ball-sun.

And then we had an idea, one of those flashes. Somebody, Marc? Kevin?, talked about making the flowers puppets, in that the dancers would have two sunflowers, one for each hand. The stems would extend to the dancers’ feet.

Very quickly, the idea took shape: tubes of green fabric, covering elastic, strapped around the dancers’ feet; cloth/flexible leaves; sunflower blooms on handles, so that the heads could rotate independently of the stems. The sunflowers could grow, shrink, turn their heads, talk to one another, and dance.

After establishing the sunflower-ness of the puppets during the duet, then we could let the dancers have more dancerish freedom during the waltz, and the audience wouldn’t think twice about sunflowers whipping about the stage.

Returning to the Two Sunflowers, we decided that the singers too could have a sunflower puppet each, and they could have a leaf that could pick up their traveling bags and teacups.

We’re very excited about the Sunflower solution.

Then we played with Man in the Marmalade Hat for a while. (See how productive we were?) We put Galen out as the MMH and encouraged him to think of fleet movement. The MMH is a change agent and is in charge of those around him. (I keep thinking Tom Bombadil, actually.)

The piece is quite complex, staging-wise-speaking. You have the MMH, his attendant ice sprites, the Squadron behind them marching, the chorus itself, the Gang from the Inn, and eventually the Hedgehogs. Each group has its own movement: tempo, style, direction, pattern. All of them end up performing the close order drill down left during the first chorus. Well, not the Hedgehogs; they do the second chorus.

After seeing me play ice sprite, Molly decided that instead of slender teen ballerinas, they should be middle-aged men. In loincloths. Painted blue. I tentatively agreed to the concept, figuring I could safely count on wearing a tux and sitting next to Nancy Willard in the audience during an actual performance.

A lot of work, and now we’re ready to start putting stuff together. Those who are interested in an assignment should head to the Lacuna/William Blake/What We Need page.

Workshop (2/13/07)

Laura and I had a fun and productive meeting. Laura began by demonstrating some ideas for sunflower choreography and then sketched out a possible staging for “Two Sunflowers” involving an upstage raised area for young sunflowers, a middle area containing dancers, and the singers farther downstage. We played a bit with the presence of windows in the piece, sketching out, based on Laura’s suggestion, a vision of the singers looking out through windows toward the audience as they sing.

Laura’s interest in windows let me seize the opportunity to talk about preoccupations I’d been sketching out earlier that day. I know it’s a little conceptual at this point and has more to do with general staging than envisioning particular songs, but: two sources of light and two kinds of “portals” in our piece–hearths and windows. Two kinds of light, two kinds of energy, two frames for visions. I’ve played a bit with four-sided, rotating hearth and window units which could move freely about the stage. At one point I thought about animal masks hanging within the hearths, brought out by children when the time is right. Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Laura and I played with the idea of window and hearth frames rising and descending between the floor and a raised level. We both were struck by the notion of floating hearths.

Laura went back to an idea we had discussed last time and imagined one of the children placing an umbrella on the back of a turtle that was missing a shell. She suggested the children using other objects in similar substituting ways throughout.

We imagined all the “beasts” of the Inn being represented by large masks and a group of children dressed in colors evoking that beast. The children would move collectively to convey the bodies of the beasts, holding up the mask as the head. Laura also suggested a “Chinese Dragon” style of representing the creatures, with children moving beneath cloth which extends behind each mask. She also proposed a deliberate “international” style of theatre craft for our work, blending different kinds of puppetry and story-telling from around the world.

We used large sheets of paper and markers to make sketches of all the ideas we discussed and competed to see who could render the most wretched drawings. It was very liberating.

And we ended by touching upon the question: interior or exterior? Do we use our stage space in a more open fashion in which we incorporate a strong horizon line or do we consciously create an interior stage world? Or neither? Discuss?

Workshop (2/6/07)

[This is cross-posted from Dale’s blog.]
Another good night at workshop.

Tonight we brought in our visuals for Man in the Marmalade Hat and Two Sunflowers. Laura had the two sunflowers on a blue sky/carpet with the traveling troupe behind them, and in front, an angel pulling turtles on wheels. (The last one was facing backwards.) She had a window with the sun streaming through; Marc shared a similar sketch of a window. We discussed using a gobo to project the sunshine onto the stage.

Laura's sunflowers thumbnailHere’s Laura’s visual. You can click on it to see a larger version.

I had my visual for Marmalade Man, and we talked about “straightening the road” by shifting the snow drifts around. Also, the green spring fabric would flow from behind the drift cutouts.

Melissa's Marmalade ManMelissa had her annotated drawing of the Marmalade Man. She said she kept seeing the Man in the Yellow Hat from Curious George, so she colored him orange and gave him a moustache, which we all quite liked and decided to enlarge even further.

Marc's SunflowersMarc had a sketch of the Two Sunflowers being rowed in a boat (feeling the slow beat of the waltz, I presume). We talked about whether or not the chorus would be the characters and decided that the chorus ought to be onstage and part of the action whenever possible, but that it was just as viable to have dancers doing the Sunflowers, for example, while singers stood in full view and sang.

Laura said she had thought of making the turtles umbrellas, and this led to a discussion of motivic design elements: angels, umbrellas, sun/moon. We also thought of using similar elements as building blocks for some set pieces. For example, a flock of brown umbrellas could be opened and arranged to form the hedgehogs’ “hollows and holes,” from which they roll out.

Marc then revisited the idea of children arriving at the Inn, each clutching one of our motivic building blocks: umbrella, suitcase, book.

We then began to play with hedgehog choreography. Eventually we were scuttling around the room, earning snickers through the glass of dancers on break from the next studio.

After we blocked out a basic marching drill for the hedgehogs, we then revisited it for the first verse, wherein the Usual Gang is dragged from their beds to march. They do a very clean, martial version, setting up the ultra-cute hedgehog version for the second verse.

We should have gotten photos/video of us working on the hedgehogs. Someone needs to be making a documentary of this.

Assignment for next week: play with traveling sunflower choreography; begin to firm up which piece(s) we’ll perform live; generate items for the “We Need This” list.

New concept

[This article is cross-posted from Dale’s blog.]

I continue reading A Perfect Mess, and now it’s actually proving useful.

[from A Perfect Mess, p. 168]

University of Milan researcher Mario Benassi refers to spin-up-friendly companies as “modular” companies, and espouses three basic principles for them: growing in pieces instead of holistically; being as quick to shrink or get rid of logy pieces of the company as to invest in the promising ones; and being prepared to reorient its efforts around any of the pieces.

Growing in pieces:

We’re already “growing in pieces,” I think: working on three songs from the entire work as a visual sample for our potentially “uneducated/unimaginative” audience. However, I think we can do more in this direction and have it benefit us.

For example, what if those of us who are working live in the workshop begin to come up with elements that we needed, say the Sun or Moon disks for Sun & Moon Circus, and then posted those needs on the webpage for those non-live participants to take over?

In other words, on Tuesday night we decide to go with a combination of Laura’s two-sided Sun/Moon disk which then splits apart into two separate 10-foot disks for the Circus portion. We post that on a William Blake webpage called Things We Need. Diana reads it on the webpage and decides that’s something she can do, so she emails us and lets us know. (Ignore the fact that we have no budget for the moment.)

Diana sketches out a couple of possibilities, posts them to the Vyew page [room ID 067760] or emails them to Dale and he posts them to the site. Soon we reach an agreement on the design, and Diana builds these items, following a schedule we’ve hashed out at the same time. Meanwhile, the live workshoppers are moving on with other ideas and items.

Of course, this only works if everyone out there is reading the blog and is committed to helping out in fairly concrete ways.

As quick to shrink as to grow:

As we begin actually build these three works, it’s going to be ultra important for us to be incredibly “messy,” in that we need to be able to step back and say, “Maybe this isn’t working.” We need to be able to abandon a puppet or costume or idea without regret, even if it’s perfectly lovely and took a lot of work (and worse, money, which we don’t have.)

Or perhaps we have two things going on in a piece as we work on it, and they conflict. We may decide to let one take over the whole piece rather than trying to reconcile or juxtapose that conflict.

We just don’t need to work with tunnel vision.

One way to keep us fresh, maybe, is to videotape something we think is fairly solid and use that to clarify our approach.

Reorient efforts around any piece:

As we continue to work towards the May performance, I’m sure we’ll do this anyway, swinging our focus from one of the three pieces to the next from week to week or even hour to hour. It should happen pretty naturally as we find ourselves grinding to a halt on one piece, fresh out of ideas or materials, and turning our attention to one of the others.

All in all, I think we’re probably a model modular company at heart, but it seemed useful to me to be able to use these three principles as a framework for what we’re doing in workshop. I’m counting on commentary to move this idea forward.

Workshop (1/31/07)

[This article is cross-posted from Dale’s blog.]

First of all, we are probably going to move the workshops to Tuesday nights.

Tonight’s workshop was as exciting as last week. Attending were Melissa, Laura, Carol Lee, and Dale.

We shared our visuals for Sun & Moon Circus: Marc’s pajamaed Tiger looking at angels rolling the Sun & Moon into position; Melissa’s angel ringmaster; Carol Lee’s painted umbrella (and pencil sketches of various characters); and Dale’s fuzzy pastel drawing of the King of Cats and the “fitful flashing lights.”

Everyone had had more ideas during the week, and so we added those, and we riffed on the visuals: Sun & Moon as a two-sided puppet; the three sunflowers as a kind of curtain, parting to reveal the circus; angels with umbrellas on tightropes; clowns using the planets as balloons, bopping them up into the air; stars as tumblers; pulling the whole circus into slow motion at the final rallentando, then vanishing, with a comet sweeping across the front of the stage as the final image.

We discussed extending the circus music so that we have more than thirteen seconds of circus: pre-repeat the circus waltz, then have the chorus sing.

Then we moved on to Man in the Marmalade Hat. It clearly divides into two sections. We seized on the line “Winter is over, my loves” and made the first half (and probably the entire work up to that point) in the winter, with snow drifts sprouting green grass and flowers appearing everywhere in the second half.

Everyone saw his entrance as a parade, of course: standards, pennants, marching percussion, attendants (ice sprites in the first entrance); mop as baton. For the keepers/sleepers chorus, we thought the regular gang (tiger, king of cats, etc.) could be the dance squad. For the repeat, we posited a horde of five-year-olds in hedgehog costumes. They would come rolling out of the walls of the Inn, like clowns from a clown car.

We finished up with Two Sunflowers Move Into the Yellow Room, and we had some silly moments: the sunflowers as two old ladies, with traveling bags; the sunflowers with long dresses, from which emerge/spurt the topaz tortoises.

But we also had some interesting motifs: a troupe of traveling sunflowers, which we’ve seen between numbers or even during numbers before this one, and begin with the troupe arriving on another journey, stopping facing upstage. The Two Sunflowers turn (with their traveling bags packed) and begin their duet as they move forward.

Again, we have to extend the piece: it’s 1:01 total. Again, easy to solve. We just repeat and expand the waltz after the chorus, then repeat the chorus bit. Finally the traveling troupe continues its journey while the Two Sunflowers settle in. Lots o’ ideas for topaz tortoises.

Assignment: visuals for Man in the Marmalade Hat and Two Sunflowers, and play with some choreography for the hedgehogs.

Soon it will be time for us to stop drawing and writing, and start moving and building.