Sojourn Theatre Summer Institute, Day 2

Similar to yesterday, the day was divided into clear sections:

We began with movement. First, we played with “flocking” (which is something Bogart learned from Mary Overlie, a choreographer) in quartets. Afterwards, we worked in pairs (from our quartets) and did the following in layers: mirroring, following the leader (cannon, in my head), and then solo work. We later on went back to our respective quartet to create five movement phrases (under the theme of “care”) inspired by the movement we’ve discovered as pairs. Our facilitator for this section, Rebecca, commented that this was a “fast” way of choreographing and I agree. I’d like to try implementing this. (But maybe this would be more apt for a Day 2+ than a Day 1 or one day thing.)

During the next part of the day, we went to our larger ensembles (from yesterday) and slipped into pairs. I was paired with S and we interviewed each other about the things that made us feel cared for. I gave her a very messy list, mostly consisting of my current addiction: BTS and how the frivolity of it, juxtaposed with the supposed seriousness of the field I’m in (academia and community arts), gives me a sense of fierce joy and having people to celebrate that frivolity with me gives me a sense of joy. (This doesn’t always serve me well, but I adore frivolity–in anything. In games. In art. There’s mischief in it and a rebelliousness that sits well with me. It’s like skipping steps or jumping to reach signs that are too high for me to touch. But I digress.) S shared with me how being a new mom opened up new ways she felt cared for.

From our interviews, Michael asked us to create a theatrical experience (where we were free to move around the building and even outside of it) for our partner. I felt incredibly lucky with S because not only did I enjoy her company, she gave me very specific ideas to work with: motherhood. I love/d this exercise because it gave me the opportunity to create something personal and interactive; an experience for one, so to speak.

Based on our conversation, S appreciated it when someone offered to help her with the stroller, when her husband took care of their son so she could get some rest, and when people would recognize her needs as a mother a matter-of-factly. Given the experience was only supposed to be ten minutes long, this was plenty of material.

I’d like to reflect on my own creation process here:

1. My first impulse was to start the experience at the breastfeeding station. I inquired about it, received strange looks, was informed about where they were, and was politely told that they were private rooms and if I weren’t using them for their actual purpose, then no, I can’t have access to them. Totally understandable, but that meant I had to go back to my drawing board, which was okay, because it made me confront something I was uncomfortable with.

2. I’m not a parent. There’s no way for me to truly comprehend what it’s like to be a new mother and everything they have to confront, so I wasn’t comfortable about being this “disembodied” voice asking S to go here or go there or think about this or think about that in the frame of motherhood. The direction I felt most comfortable approaching this project was to acknowledge my own positionality as this slightly silly, Peter Pan-ish, thirty one year old, who still has no idea what it means to be grown up.

3. The piece was in three parts. The first part was clarifying where I’m coming from and, in hopefully a metaphorical way that came across, I asked her if she’ll allow me to walk beside her (up the stairs) a bit to regale to her things I’ve learned while peeking over at her side, i.e., motherhood. This was an homage to the stroller information she shared.

4. Afterwards, I shared with her my experience asking about the breastfeeding rooms and I asked her to illuminate me about these things because I know nothing. She gladly did, but a part of me wonders if I could have done this differently. (I could have.) The discomfort stems from I had her explain things to me. This somehow feels akin to white allies asking the people of color they’re supporting to explain things to them. While this is mantle-of-the-expert in some way, I’d still like to think about it a little bit more.

5. Lastly, I invited her to sit on the sofa and presented her with five options: a song, a poem, silence, a listening ear, and a nap. She chose the last one. (She was in tears at this point. I was moved that she was moved, but also a little terrified because art, because there’s responsibility to how we affect people. It’s not that I’m afraid of the messiness, but I’m always scared of “oh, I did a thing,” this “oh, I was able to move someone.” One, I’m so very afraid of knowing I can wield that pen effectively. I’m also so very afraid of that happiness for myself; I don’t want to want to pat myself on the back for designing something meaningful when it’s not meant for me to feel good. I may not be making too much sense right now. But ah, as wroth as I am to admit, I do feel happy artistically that I was able to touch S.)

6. Briefly on how I delivered the work: sometimes I feel I “break character” or take things lightly on purpose. A small part of me is always worried that going on full actor/performance/character mode may be off-putting in such intimate settings unless there’s a clear need, i.e., when I played Salome (self-named) in Part 1 of Do;Wager or Jade in The Bunny Rocket–that was a conscious decision to “full on commit” because everyone was in-role and submerged within the fiction. The polished, professional, performance sheen just felt intrusive and impersonal for this particular project.

I love this. I love making experiences. I love working with people.

Lastly, we had group discussions for our collective theatre-making tomorrow (as an ensemble; we divided into three ensembles in this workshop). Michael invited us first to think of purpose and afterwards think of audience. Our final task as well as assignment is to gently think about form (we can’t be too married to our own ideas because we’re working as an ensemble).

One of our ensemble members comes from a very conventional theatre practice. What I mean by this is there’s a clear divide between the performer and the audience. Her asking for clarification was a good reminder for everyone in the group that not everyone comes from similar theatrical backgrounds or even pedagogy, i.e., aesthetic distance is important for me, maybe not for others, even if we enjoy interactive theatre. How can we acknowledge and respect where she’s coming from and sharing these new forms with her (which she may have never experienced) without making her feel uncomfortable?

Today was incredibly fun.

Side note: I submitted some of my poems a couple of months back and was recently rejected. I’m not taking it to heart because those weren’t poems that were refined again and again and again. But having said that: one, rejection is always somewhat uncomfortable. Two, if I’m serious about writing about the field, I have to seriously churn out something more than blog posts.