A guest blog series by Christina Gutierrez, a Ph.D. student in Performance as Public Practice at UT
“You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you,” I asked Jared Oberholtzer, one of the workshop stage managers during Monday’s I've Never Been So Happy work. While I could have been referring to any number of things about the workshop process, including the tray of cupcakes one of the actors brought in to share, as I asked the question I happened to have a length of rope tied around my waist, and I happened to be slowly turning in a circle as Jared wound the other end around me from head to toe. For the seventh time in an hour. Five minutes later, I’d be running full speed across the stage, waiting for Jared to jerk the rope still tied around my waist so that I could fall to the ground and have him slowly pull me back in. “Oh yeah,” he grinned. “It’s a stage manager’s revenge.”
Jared and I were only one of seven pairs of dancers who spent most of Monday wrapped in rope and refining the dance moves we’d experimented with last week. We learned how to avoid landing painfully on knots while falling over, how best to contort ourselves on the ground in order to have a prayer of getting back up, and—in the end—just how much this show relies on a cohesive ensemble. Both of the moments we worked on Monday—the rope dance of Scene 3 and the opening moments of Scene 1, required all of us on stage, quickly transitioning from dancing to singing to manipulating projections and setting up screens and rope piles. This is not a show that anyone, including the artistic and production staff, gets to sit around and watch. It’s a full-fledged Western carnival that requires some full body contact.
Of course, it’s not technically a “show” at all. It’s three scenes of a show. We found ourselves continually reminding each other on Monday that the goal of these two weeks is a work-in-progress showing. With all of the focus on refining details like just how many seconds of music we have to unravel ourselves from our ropes, the work can feel an awful lot like a rehearsal for a finished product rather than a step in a larger process. While we want to present something Saturday that will generate useful feedback, this workshop is not the place to answer large scale questions about the form and structure of I’ve Never Been So Happy as a whole. We’ve got four days left to workshop before the showing. The musicians will be here Thursday, which means that we really only have Tuesday and Wednesday left to experiment with moments and images before they have to be more or less set down and put to live music. With the time crunch comes the pressure to continually remember that we’re not rehearsing, we’re learning.
While retooling one of the projection moments near the end of Monday’s work, Erin finished a conversation with Lana and Thomas with “Let’s just try it. I’m done thinking today.” For the next four days, our discoveries will happen on our feet. That process will continue on Saturday; we’ll just have some extra eyes in the room to help us see them.