"Devised" (Alternative Play-Making), Bossier City, Cajun Food, D.C., Devised Theatre, Dramaturgy, Heather Helinsky, Iphigenia Come Home, Jackie Goldfinger, Jodi Jinks, Kathy Randels, KCACTF, Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, Matthew Ivan Bennett, Museums, New Play Development, Pie, Random Snapshots, Rehearsal Photos, Shreveport, Shreveport-Bossier City, Texas Tech Theatre and Dance, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, Washington
Another year, another week in Shreveport-Bossier City in the bag. To be honest, this week was a stressful one, not just because of what was going on but because of what was waiting for me when I got back: a thesis, one more conference, the ol’ Raider Red’s One-Act Play Spectacular, etc. Having said that, there was still plenty of learning and a great deal to celebrate. I got to do some great work, make a host of new friends, eat far too much good Cajun food, and ultimately get a ticket to Washington, D.C. for nationals. That gift alone makes up for all the sleepless nights and long, long van rides.
Dramaturgy was, of course, my main focus here. Last year under Heather Helinsky’s brilliant tutelage was a major game-changer for me as a dramaturg and all-around theatre geek, so it was great to come back the following year with greater experience in my pocket. Once again, Heather took my cohort and I through an assortment of interesting challenges, assigning each of us a play to report on (the first draft of Jackie Goldfinger’s Trish Tinkler Gets Saved in my case), another to read and discussed (Matthew Ivan Bennett’s A/Version of Events), a pair of writing exercises based on our museum visits, and the standard reflection paper in which we had to sum up our Shreveport-Bossier City experience at large. Heather also put us through a professional-level interview over our casebooks, which was particularly helpful as it gave me some experience in answering in-depth questions about my process and my aesthetics. Getting to reconnect with Heather, a committed mentor and friend, was obviously great fun (especially when food and/or coffee was involved), and getting a second chance to work with her in this fashion was a major blessing. I also treasure the time I spent with my peers: Evangeline Jimenez from TTU (a longtime friend and collaborator), Bree Windham and Connor Konz from the University of Oklahoma, and Rebecca Price from the Northwestern State University of Louisiana. Getting to work with colleagues of similar age and experience has to be one of the best parts of the whole conference, and the laughs we shared prove that. We also got to make friends with Elizabeth Zurn, a dramaturg/business manager at Creede Rep in Colorado, who dropped in on a few of our sessions and enriched our experience at large.
At the end of the day, I was honored to receive the KCACTF Region VI Dramaturgy Award, an accolade that carries with it a trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in workshops, see productions at major theatres, and benefit from the mentorship of some major professionals. An extra special thanks has to go to Heather, of course, not just for giving me the award but for helping make me the dramaturg I am today. My friend and colleague Kristen Rogers won the award in Theatre Criticism and will be joining me there. Our two wins suggest that Texas Tech has, somehow, become the arbiter of taste in Region VI; Texas State and OU can put on the shows, but TTU will be there to tell them all what they’re doing wrong.
One of my favorite parts of the dramaturgy process at KCACTF is participating in the ten-minute play festival. This year, I got to work on a unique and ambitions play called A Docudrama About C as Written by JS and Last Edited on Friday October 31st 2013 by John Steele, Jr., a student at the University of Oklahoma. The play, based on and interview John conducted for a class on docudrama, is a fascinating examination of what it means for an artist to take on another person’s story on the stage, employing vivid, semi-abstract language and movement to blur the lines between reality and representation; needless to say, I was hooked from the start. It was apparent that John and I had a lot in common as far as aesthetics go, and this was confirmed after Bree and Connor, friends of his from OU, remarked at how eerily apt my program note was for the play (now I want him to write a note for The World is Watching, just to see if the trick works the other way). The play received an excellent reading thanks to the guidance of director Kevin Delaney of McNeese University, and a strong cast that included Alan Hughes, Christa Ruiz, and J.T. Medders. Getting to work with these fine artists was one of the highlights of the week.
Besides Dramaturgy, the big thing for me was the Devised Initiative. I had the pleasure of presenting a piece entitled Out of the Question, created by an ensemble that also included the tremendous talents of Maria Albutra, Grayson Bradshaw, Kate Dressler, Becca Venable, and Madison Weinhoffer. The piece was based on the prompt “I’m like you, I’m not like you,” a broad concept that would be wide open for interpretation. The process of creating Out of the Question was, to put it frankly, absurdly easy. Everyone in our group already had experience in devised theatre, so we came in knowing what worked for us and what didn’t, but beyond that, we just had a strong respect for each other and remarkably similar aesthetics. The piece, made by stitching together individual “moments” each of us had come up with, incorporated a little bit of everything: movement and text, song and dance, humor and pathos. It was ostensibly about a thwarted love affair between the characters played by Kate and Madison, but it also focused heavily on the humdrum affairs of everyday life, a subject that proved unusually fertile ground for creating art.
It’s hard to know what you’ve got when you’re in the midst of a show, and doubly hard when you’re dealing with a devised piece because you are, after all, largely making it up as you go along. Fortunately, our work was well-received by both the audience and the pair of respondents, Kathy Randels and the inimitable Jodi Jinks (a friend of TTU’s thanks to her involvement in last summer’s WildWind Performance Lab). We were complimented on our sense of ensemble, which I found particularly gratifying, especially since we had rehearsed (seemingly) so little. They also singled me out as “the clown” in the group and encouraged me to pursue this line of performance; I have chosen to take my new “clown” moniker as a positive.
Besides dramaturgy and devised, I also had the opportunity to serve as a partner for two Irene Ryan nominees, Joshua Barrett and Trevor Wise, both of whom selected Tennessee Williams pieces for the first round. While neither of them advanced to the second round, I think we can still be quite proud of our work.
Of course, KCACTF is all about getting to work together and make friends from other schools, but it helps when you’ve got some interest places to eat at. Step forward Marilyn’s, a sensational cajun place, and Strawn’s, a mom-and-pop place that serves legendary pies in all sorts of flavors. The strawberry pie I had at Strawn’s was particularly magical, taking the edge off of what had been a particularly stressful day.
I should take a few moments to thank people who have not already been mentioned: Dr. Mark Charney, for being a great boss and wonderful supporter; Courtney Brown, for being our devised and Irene Ryan coach; Evangeline Jimenez, for doing such a great job keeping track of everyone; Troy Battle, Nick Irion, and Clay Martin, for being amazing van-drivers and all around good guys; and Joshua Barrett, Joshua Servantez, and Grayson Bradshaw (Josh Josh and Grayson) for being nice (quiet) roommates.
And now it’s on to Cleveland for MATC to work on Iphigenia Come Home and “Mystery and Morality in the Twenty-First Century: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot as a Postmodern Interrogation/Revision of Catholic Drama. Viva la Cleveland!