So it seems like just about every day something happens in rehearsal or prep for a show in which someone says “that should totally go in your blog.” Needless to say, I forget almost all of them.
I do happen to remember at least one. So, I’m directing Naomi Wallace’s No Such Cold Thing, a beautiful, poetic, violent, tragic, beautiful and provocative new play. It also happens to include a half naked man lying (laying? I can never get that conjugation right) on a bed without a mattress and a 13 year old girl wearing a burqa. I have discovered that while one might think there are certain things that can’t be joked about, when you deal with a play full of death and repressive regimes on a daily basis, you find almost any way to keep it light that you can. And a half naked man and a burqa on stage is one of those things. In addition, my cast is incredibly jovial and at some point my delightful Stage Manager Jinay Reitze and I nicknamed them the Care Bears. And the jokes about what would happen if the Taliban came in contact with the Care Bear stare have been never ending.
Tonight we began dry tech. Mostly we spent time trying to spike my mulch. Our lovely set designer Julia, has created a beautiful, if appropriately hard to contain spiral of “sand” that makes up the majority of my set. Needless to say the first attempt at setting it up took up most of the dry tech. We did however get far enough to need to see the burqa under the lights. At which point I said something to the effect of “we need to get that thing under the lights, cause it’s gonna glow like a mo fo.” To which the set designer responded, that I needed to put that in my blog. I have certainly learned more about burqas doing this show that I ever anticipated.
Something I’ve prided myself in over the last few years as a director is my ability to keep my actors feeling safe. Obviously a show this topically dangerous makes it even more important than average. While many of the casts for our showcase are filled with adult actors, mine range from age 16-22, which to me, makes it even more important. However, I really think I have been blessed because sometimes I think they are the ones keeping it light for me. We have learned to find humor in odd places. We have done things like celebrate the very brave Hannah Schwalberg’s 16th birthday with a Funfetti cake on the the day we staged the darkest part of the show. We find never ending amusement in the immensely talented Alex Hernadez’s various antics, and break out in laughter when the jubilant Archana Rajan frequently does impressions of people in her brilliant Indian accent. This, I have been reminded, is what makes the process possible.
When I was in college I did a really dark play about cycles of abuse in families and looking back I wish I could tell my 22 year old self about just how important it is to find the joy in the hidden places. This has been a surprisingly happy process. I have watched more documentaries about Afghanistan than I ever cared to and they really made me feel like I needed to go on a Disney streak when I was done. I feel like every day in the New York Times there is some article about new atrocities happening there. And I have certainly become more aware and horrified by my country’s complicity in the rise of the Taliban. And yet I keep returning to the thought of “it’s a shame we can’t fix it all with the Care Bear stare.” It is amazing how eye opening a play can be and how important coping mechanisms like Care Bears are. In a sense that is exactly what this play is about…..but you’ll have to come see it to find out why.
So we’re close to done, just a few days left. Tonight I went to see Martha Clarke’s Angel Reapers which was exactly what I needed right before plunging into tech. It is so important that as we keep doing this work, not only do we find the levity, but we continue to find sources of creative inspiration. So tomorrow I will plunge into my hour and a half in the rehearsal hall before tech armed with 8 hours of ideas for adding poetry to this piece (inspired by the brilliant dance/theatre piece I saw tonight.) Hope my Care Bears are ready for the marathon! Then, again, I have little doubt they are, as I am fortunate that they never give up, and always come armed with a new way to make me laugh.