I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus past couple weeks. It’s summer and we’re all a bit more relaxed, no? You needed the time to catch up on other things.
Part of that hiatus has been a dive into prepping my next project, The Tempest for Shakespeare in Clark Park this summer. Last night we had our very first rehearsal as a group and I’m not going to lie, this is going to be a good one.
Here’s some thoughts I shared with them, that I now share with you…
For me it begins from the experiment.
I tend to make work that one might classify as “experimental” which I think gets a bad wrap for being weird or strange for its own sake. But for me, “experimental” is not a look or style but a philosophy, one that assumes there is always more we can discover. That we use the wealth of knowledge we already gained and see if we can push ourselves to further greatness than we currently know.
I formed my artistic sensibilities at the same time I worked in an actual laboratory. And in spending that time with equal feet in both arts and sciences, when I finally committed to this path, I brought with me the lessons I learned as a science experimenter. And what I most took away was this deep sense that you run an experiment because you’re looking to answer to something, that you must always have an active question and know what it is you’re seeking or you lose the vitality and excitement of the result.
So for me, a creative work always begins from, “What if we…? Is it possible to…? Can I get I make the audience…?” and the process is experiment through which define the questions we all want to be asking and figure out how we want to answer them. And I’m inviting all of us to propose the questions we hope to find answers to.
And The Tempest, for me, is an experiment.
It’s an experiment in an author’s work that lots of people know and love and have strong feelings about. Which is partly why I picked an oddball – one with elements that were new and untested when he wrote them, the same aspects that challenge that excite me. This is a rare Shakespearean work in that it actually takes place in real time, almost time frame that the show will perform in. It has almost no break between acts and scenes. It has weird shit in it. Even Shakespeare didn’t try to stage this one outdoors. But we will.
It’s an experiment in what we really need to create theatricality. I really want to create a sense of magic and surprise, which will be doubly tough in a setting so exposed. We have one long light cue that’s going to dwarf almost every trick we try. So we must be extra smart in thinking about how our intimate human scale can grow to fill all that space.
It’s an experiment in sound. I want to fill this story with music. I want the music to be the magic in this world in a way I have not yet seen. And I’m excited to have on board, someone for whom this way of approaching music is also a kind of brave new world, so to speak.
In some ways it’s an experiment in casting, but I want all of us to get on the same page in talking about this aspect to others. I think we’d do well not to let people get caught up in that. I cast the people I thought were the most interesting artists to tell this story, and some of those choices I hope will add complexity and intrigue into character conceptions and relationships. But this is not a gender story, in Shakespeare’s version or ours, and to focus to narrowly on that will undermine the artistic excellence that drove the choices in the first place.
You’ll notice that I haven’t used the word “play” yet. That’s intentional. I don’t want us to think of what we’re doing as a play, but as a story we share, an event, a gathering.
Because more than anything, Clark Park is an experiment in connection. To a vast range of people on a massive scale.
I imagine Marla was surprised when I approached her about wanting to create this show. This isn’t a cannon I live in often, my own past work tending toward the new and unusual, in dusty basements, using Gregorian chant or with 122 variant performance possibilities. But that impulse to experiment with form and content comes from a desire to surprise people into letting their guard down, into stopping for a moment and being with other people in a way that is immediate and human, which I think we desperately need in a time when so many things allow us to isolate and stay separate.
And through skill or luck or magic, Clark Park has managed to pull the spectacle of theater into a massive public space and amazingly create an event that is deeply personal and communal, the exact kind that I seek in my own work. It gathers together people that would never, ever, have reason to be with each other and gives them an experience that binds them. And for lots of folks, it is literally the first, maybe the only theatre they will ever encounter. And for many it is the only time it occurs them to take part in the art form we’ve all committed ourselves to. We become a gateway. And that is a great and wonderful responsibility to shoulder.
And the best part is, we can’t mess it up. Seriously. We actually can’t mess it up. There have been Clark Park performances in which I’ve marveled at the artistry and those I have not. But the experience as a whole is always a lovely late summer evening picnic in the park with a thousand people gathered together and feeling happy with their kids and their dogs and their wine. On the lucky days there are 100 of them for every one of us. And we can’t touch that, it’s so much bigger than we can hope to be. We can only try and lift our work up to meet that awesome massiveness. We can only try and make that amazing, literally amazing, event a little better.
And seeing the hard work you have already begun, I know we’ll get there.
Let’s get started.