Each project that you get involved with as an artist feels a little bit like a new baby, doesn't it? The idea is the conception (or being cast if you are an actor), you feed it with ideas, you nurture it with rehearsals and meetings, you give it as much love as you can, and even when you can't see into the future you try to shape how it will be born into performance.
Last January, we started on a journey with no idea where it would take us. Now 9 months later, it is ready to be born.
We started as a group of 10. Inspired by the fact that the 50th anniversary of The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was coming up, we watched documentaries and movies, researched people, and looked at everything from the abolishment of slavery to Wounded Knee and the Gay Rights Movement, and learned about ways that our lives have been impacted by the Civil Rights Movement that we don't even think of. We also watched documentaries on form and style, design, performance icons, and music, in order to get a sense of what style of piece we wanted to create.
And we wrote.... lord, how we wrote. Each documentary, each song and picture, was inspiration for a writing exercise. We wrote scenes, monologues, dance pieces, songs, and carney freak puppet shows!
We rehearsed and performed them for each other. We put them on film to watch later.
One exercise involved making a list of the non-realism styles of theatre, some of which included: Vaudeville, Burlesque, Clown, Circus, Minstrel, Puppet, Hip-hop, spoken word, carnival, acrobat, TED talk, masque, radio/soundscape, kara walker-esque cutouts, standup/comedy, grand guignol, farce, agitprop, mystery play, satyr play, zar/funeral encantation, flamenco, kabuki, Sanskrit drama, street busking, medicine show... and then being given prompts to create in those modes that we were most intimidated by. Some of these were styles I had never even heard of! But it led to incredible risk-taking and bravery on the part of the artists involved. Because to talk about the Civil Rights movement is to explore some very serious issues. Hard topics that open centuries of wounds. And the trust in the room allowed us to do that. To talk openly, to share, to be silly, and vulnerable, and brave.
Much like the Civil Rights Movement, it wasn't one event and it wasn't always the same people. There was a core group that was there from beginning until now, and then there were people that joined and left along the way. There were fights about what we were trying to accomplish. There were split feelings about what we were trying to say. We wondered who was navigating. There were times when we wanted to give up, or wondered if it was really going to happen at all. And then there were times when we would see the most beautiful piece of art created, that it made it all worth it.
It really has been a hard labor; sometimes breech, sometimes having the umbilical cord wrapped too tight, or feeling like this baby was swimming around aimlessly with no sense of how to get out. And the next three weeks are going to be all about sculpting, crafting, and molding what is being born on October 25 to give it the best life possible and with the goal of letting the audience explore with us how far we have come in our fight for freedom and equality, and how far we still have to go.
But I have been changed by this process, and I am not even part of what is going on in rehearsals. I can't imagine how much it has impacted the artists who have been involved the whole way through. Nine months is a long time- ask any expectant mother. But what you have becomes a part of you for the rest of your life.
So, we're not REALLY having a baby... But just like a baby, you feed a play, you nurture it, give it your best, and hope that all of your hard work pays off. You hope the audience becomes a part of that journey and learns, grows, thinks, challenges, and experiences the best parts of what you have been laboring towards. We hope you come see it, and share with us your experience.