Today I write with the smells of Axe Body Spray and assorted fruity/floral concoctions still lingering in my mind and in my luggage. Last week, I spent five days at Gould Academy, in Bethel, Maine, teaching as part of their Sophomore Four Point program. This is an intensive mid-term week during which the sophomores work with professional artists, learning about their crafts, watching presentations, and building their own original art pieces. (The other classes at Gould do equally cool things off-campus during the Four Point program: the freshman go to China; the juniors go winter camping–heavy duty that far north!; and the seniors pursue individual internship experiences.)
When the Sophomore Four Point program was started, all the artists involved were painters or sculptors of some sort. But they have since added theatre and cooking to the schedule. New Hampshire Theatre Project sends one of their teaching artists to Gould every year, and this time around I was honored to represent NHTP. There were seven artists in residence for the week, and each student worked with two of them, for two days each. From my perspective, I spent two days with a group of seven kids, and then two days with a group of six. On the third evening, I presented my Mask work to the students, faculty, and staff. (Which was followed by a demonstration from the visiting chef on how to bone a chicken. A fitting combination of wackiness, I thought!) And on the final evening, at a banquet where the art work was displayed all around the dining hall, the acting students and I presented a show that featured improv games, clowns and mask characters. I was incredibly proud of the students’ work–they each spent nine hours over two days with a huge array of new ideas I had thrown at them. And they came up with some great characters! They were extremely nervous about sharing their “weird” work with their peers, teachers, and parents, but once the spotlight was on them, they hammed it up in fine style. Two particular standouts were a boy named Reed, who had turned a droopy-faced mask into a version of Henry Fonda’s character from On Golden Pond; and Ke, a Chinese basketball player whose clown character used the words “Whoa!” and “Oh, yeah,” to hold an entire conversation with two girls. He managed to win the hearts of both girl characters by the end of the scene, with the whole audience cheering him on.
So! My work at Gould is done! Back to the director’s chair–and I’m also beginning work as a Red Cross volunteer in the Services to the Armed Forces program this week. Stay tuned!
After almost two months of investigation and consultation with my colleague and co-producer Stephanie Nugent, I can now announce two upcoming directing projects at WEST in Portsmouth, NH. As part of ACT ONE’s annual Festival, TRAGEDY: a tragedy, by Will Eno, will run in the last two weeks of October, 2012. [My solo masked show, Clean Room, will also run for four performances in September/October as part of the Fest. Busy, busy!] I’m already lining up the TRAGEDY cast and itching to start work.
Then, in 2013, Stephanie and I will bring Make Sure It’s Me to WEST. Written by former ABC journalist/television producer Kate Wenner, MSIM addresses the issue of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in military service members. Although fictionalized, the characters and events in MSIM derive from months of interviews Wenner conducted with TBI survivors and their families, as well as researchers and caregivers who specialize in TBI. The Make Sure It’s Me/nh project will include a full production in May/June 2013 at WEST, including talk-backs with members of the medical and military communities. Additionally, Stephanie and I will produce a series of library visits to occur in March and April 2013, to use scenes from the play to encourage education and discussion. The goal of MSIM/nh is to encourage NH veterans with any signs or symptoms to seek screening for TBI, and to build awareness of the great resources in place to support TBI survivors within and beyond the military community. We have begun to partner with the Brain Injury Association of NH and other organizations to develop the outreach components of this project, and to support us in creating realistic portrayals of TBI survivors in the performance itself.
I’m extraordinarily grateful to Stephanie for discovering this play and to Kate Wenner for allowing us to produce it in New Hampshire. Stay tuned for news as this multifaceted project unfolds!
Had a great weekend in Fayetteville, NC, where I went to visit my friend Dr. Michael Martin, the director of Choral Activities and Music Education at Methodist University. I had met him a few years back through my work as a presentation coach and choreographer for barbershop choirs (thanks to Dr. Bill Adams and the Austin Chord Rangers for bringing me into the barbershop world!). (If you want a nice mental picture, think of me in Austin, TX in the late 90s developing a dance routine for fifty men, aged 16-90, to spice up their rousing rendition of “Rubber Ducky.”)
Well, Michael liked my teaching style, and he was intrigued by the idea of my mask work. But he’d never seen it. He took a leap of faith and secured funding to bring me to Methodist to give a lecture/demonstration for the public on commedia dell’arte and mask performance. Then he asked arranged a workshop for the Music and Theatre majors on physical theatre. So, that’s what I did! Friday night was the lecture/demo, during which I brought out my masks to illustrate the history of commedia, as well as where I’m going with it in my present work. I can confidently say that Brighina, Stupino, and Punch rocked the house! On Saturday morning, we had about 30 majors all strutting and slouching around, creating original characters from the ground up. Enormous fun–plus, I got to visit with Michael and his family, and learn a little bit about Fayetteville. Next up: Gould Academy in Bethel, ME in two weeks!