Friday, June 12, 2009

“It Turns Out it’s a Musical:” I’ve Never Been So Happy Workshop Day 9

A guest blog series by Christina Gutierrez, a Ph.D. student in Performance as Public Practice at UT Austin

“I thought, ‘Oh, we could make a musical. Why couldn’t we?’ But I don’t know how to make a musical. So I sent an eight page monologue to my good friend Peter.’” Kirk told this story on the first day of the workshop last Monday, and then again on Tuesday’s KUT interview with John Aielli.  Over the course of the last nine days, that eight page monologue, which Kirk and Peter worked into a three part song in the days before the workshop started, has grown into Scene 1 of I’ve Never Been So Happy. Our process for the first scene is emblematic of our work as a whole on the project. Piece by piece, we’ve layered on singers, projections, choreography, and finally, on Thursday, an eight piece string ensemble. Turns out that eight page monologue makes for some pretty gorgeous music.

As I sat at the table I’ve commandeered as a desk next to the stage managers’ set up and watched Peter teach three scenes worth of his score to the musicians, it hit me: “Holy crap. We made a musical.” Even after being reminded of the scope of the piece on Tuesday at the podcast recording, having eight new faces in the room made the work somehow more real. To some degree, they felt like our first audience, except that this was an audience that was creating right along with us. We’d grown used to running scenes and dances to the pre-recorded mix tracks Peter played from his computer—the same ones you may have heard on Tuesday’s recording. One of the great things about working with recordings is that we can stop them at any point, start over, rewind, skip ahead, and generally use as tools to build scenes. It can be a bit difficult to feel any sense of responsibility or collaborative energy from a computer track. Not so with live musicians. We spent most of our time with the musicians running Scenes 3 and 1, syncing our choreography to their cues. I don’t think I’ve ever been more committed to wrapping myself with rope and flopping onto the floor or pulling puppets across a projector screen as I was when there were eight ridiculously talented musicians playing along with me. There’s generally a moment in every rehearsal process when it becomes clear that the product of all of the work is much greater than any individual contribution to it. Thursday was that moment for I’ve Never Been So Happy. The addition of the musicians brought a new perspective to the physical and vocal aesthetics we’ve been exploring.

All of this is not to say that the musicians’ playing stopped our own. We’re still working to solidify puppet and projector choreography in Scene 1, and spent some time in the afternoon experimenting with bubbles and a rubber bat. We reconfigured some of projector positions and solidified which puppeteer is responsible for which effect. We added two more ladders for the trio, reasoning that if one giant ladder shadow was good, three would be even better. In the last few moments of the day’s work, we tried on costumes left over from the December workshop. Tomorrow, our last full day before the showing, will bring work with the musicians on Scene 5/6, and probably a few nerves.  Of course, there’ll be a few new experiments as well.

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