Final Words on France

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As part of De Fete du Livre, I had the honor of performing at L’Estrade, a small bar/café attached to La Comédie. The spoken word I perform is socio-politically engaged, rhythmic, musical and certainly contains echoes of heritage as the daughter of an Afro-Caribbean mother who was raised mostly in the south.

Between the language barrier and the completely different cultural context, I wasn’t sure how a French audience would receive my work. I chose to do: Flowers, one of the first songs I ever wrote; Black Body-a new piece written in the wake of Mike Brown’s murder; A mash up of Lyrical Rape and Harbor (the Pussy Poem)-because I wanted to do something musical (and because a version of Harbor is going to be published next year. More on that later); I Come From-a piece which honors my past and my Ars Dramatica-‘cause I thought it’d be a good one to end on.

I had my friend Tibor, one of the actors from COYOTE COMES/BEAST THING, translate a preface. I really dislike prefacing poetry as a rule typically, but decided it was a rule to change for the moment and maybe for all time. What’s the harm in giving an audience a useful entry point, so long as it’s concise and doesn’t try to do the work of the poem itself? Anyhow, I wanted to give some context about spoken word as an art from, racism and mythology in the U.S. and how dope my mama is. I spoke of how I’d seen Yevgeny Yevtushenko perform years before with such feeling that it didn’t matter that I couldn’t understand his poetry word for word. I received so much from his obvious love and commitment.

The audience was sizable and rapt. Most of the student actors from the play I wrote and in the other promotion of the program were present, as were faculty, staff, administrators from L’École de la Comédie and some folks who must’ve just come because it was part of the book fair. I shared my work, which is very personal and often an attempt at reconciling things I find troubling. When you put yourself out there in as pure a form as spoken word you’ve written yourself, you have to commit to the vulnerability of the space. You have to step into something (a kind of energy?) and let it take you and those listening for a ride. We went on a ride and it was humbling and affirming. By poem three, a few people seemed to be getting restless (One lady walked out. It was either my mismatching black on black attire or the language barrier. We’ll never know!), but by and large it was grand. I got a little emotional at the end. Where has the time gone? How can I get to know everyone here a little more deeply? Why can’t I stay an extra week to just explore the city. Ahh!

I end this experience feeling very lucky for all that I’ve learned.

Here’s a list of things my residency at L’École de la Comédie de Saint-Étienne taught me:

  1. There are things which translate despite language or cultural barriers. It sounds cheesy but it is so true. Based on conversations I had with people completely outside of my cultural experience, people for whom English is a second language, COYOTE COMES managed to be found in translation. With this I am very pleased and emboldened. More collaborations across languages and cultures! Yes.

 

  1. It is a sin and a crime to drink wine from a bottle which has been open for more than three days. Rachel, the director, taught me this. She was appalled at my “I’ll drink it when I get to it” habit. Appalled. Ha!

 

  1. You should be ambitious and flexible in your ambitions. Shoot for the stars and all that, but adjust accordingly along the way. Your challenges are meant to steer you. Yup.

 

  1. You might find yourself in someone else’s experience of your experience. The way others respond to your work will teach you what you have done. It is the closest you can get to bearing witness to yourself. More on this later.

 

5.  Eat fresh goat cheese from the market. It will save your life.

Avec Tibor, who translated prefaces to poems.

Avec Tibor, who translated prefaces to poems.

Best meal I had in France.

Best meal I had in France.

All is said and done.  Tired.

All is said and done. Tired.

Performances

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Performances

Well, the yelping has been nailed down, the costume pieces have been chosen and the reading of stage directions has been abandoned.

We put the image research on the wall outside of the theatre as an entry-way into the world.

Our first house was a full one. Mostly other students from the school. Their youthful buzzing was really wonderful to have for an opening.

I was struck by how much the audience laughed. On my last trip, I witnessed a staged reading in Paris and was struck by the bare-minimum audible response. I’d thought the play was pretty funny on the page. Hm.

Anyway, people seemed to be enjoying themselves and were very complimentary after the show.

Things couldn’t have been more different for the second performance.

The house was a third of what it had been the previous night, a bit older and soooo quiet.

On my first visit to St. Etienne, I showed the students videos of slam performances. If you’re not familiar with poetry slam culture, you should get to be. It’s an invigorating scene which has the potential to be life-altering in amazing ways. The slams I’ve been to are always raucous, joyful and full of audience response. I got the sense that the French students found the hooting and hollering slam audiences on the video a bit over the top. I explained to them that in slam, being politely quiet would read as disinterest or dislike for a performance. We ‘bout that noise.

Moral of the story—I sense a difference in the way French and American people receive theatre. Either way, I’m proud of the actors’ work and feel good about the piece.

Side note-we shut a club down to celebrate the opening. Dancing is good for the soul, but not for the sole. Ha. Ha ha. You love it.

More soon.

Down to the Wire is a Good Place to Be…

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Last full day of rehearsal. Whoa.

We began in the costume shop trying to mix and match pieces for the actors. I have so much respect for costume designers. Telling the story of a small town bent on principle through clothing–without falling into cliché–is a difficult thing. For me, anyway.

Then we worked through the text, stopping and starting as necessary. Staged readings make me especially anxious because of the balance between what is fully realized in the body/text and moments which must be restrained. Leaving room for the audience to have an imaginative experience is hard for a control freak like myself, especially with a piece like this. Especially with a piece like this which has been translated into a language I cannot speak fluently. It’s forced a kind of “giving over” which I suspect will serve me in future endeavors. At least, I hope so.

I’m glad to be working with such a generous group. They aren’t afraid to get out of their comfort zones. They aren’t afraid to question me and/or the play. They aren’t afraid to tell Rachel and I if they believe they’ve got an idea which will work better. It’s challenging and refreshing.

Tonight we dashed from rehearsal to a performance art piece called Press, in which a box shrinks as a man dances inside of it. Reminds me of this process. Less and less room in a space forces more and more imaginative ways to exist within that space.

Gratitude.

We gon’ see.

O. Mon. Dieu.

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So, we’re re-connected to the internet and the sense of loss I felt without it might be shameful. No blogging? No facebook? (which I am giving up again when I get back to the U.S.thankyouverymuch) No ogling beautiful places on pinterest?

Le sigh.

Things have been amazing in rehearsal. On Friday we had a great chat with the actors about prejudice in the U.S. and its resonance with the play. The actors seemed a tad gobsmacked at how bad things are, as well they should be. It’s disgraceful and there is much to be done. Much I’m planning to do, but more on that when plans become action.

COYOTE COMES/BEAST THING’s examination of group thought fed by prejudice and leading to sanctioned public violence probably won’t land with a French audience the way it would in the U.S., but I think that’s A-okay. It is good to discuss these things and for us to have a fruitful exchange.

Yesterday and today we worked through the more challenging chorus sequences. Clarifying beats and movements, making sure the story is crystal-clear and discussing intention have been great ways for me to interrogate the play as its writer. I still see room for dramaturgical strengthening, but it’ll have to wait. We don’t want to throw too much new information at the actors (especially since new pages would have to be translated. Time. Yuck.)

So, we’re gearing up for a fun exploration. Tomorrow is our last full day to rehearse.

Also—I’ve got a poem memorized for Sunday. It’s an expression of my frustration with the limits of language following the murder of Mike Brown.

We gon’ see.

Internet Troubles

Not sure if anyone is actually reading this or if it’s just dancing in the void…

We’ve been having internet issues, so I’m a little behind on posting.  But things are going very well in the room and Rachel and I are safe and happy.

Also-finished the new poem and am memorizing.

So many good things.  Soon.

Group Thought and Bodies and Such…

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Time is not always a friend. Especially the slippery sort of Time which seems ever-elusive during a workshop.

Today we worked on putting the chorus up on its feet. Arranging bodies in space is tricky, particularly in a piece which demands strong physical engagement. We’ll continue working on it tomorrow and I’m optimistic about the results.

One thing I haven’t yet discussed with the actors (or anyone else for that matter) is the role of profiling in the piece. “The Town” in this play is a character comprised of 7 people at its largest and three at its smallest. The Town criminalizes individuals and nearly executes them on a couple of occasions. This is absolutely related to the experiences of black people in America, as we are constantly challenged by a society which criminalizes us—sometimes in ways which result in our deaths.

During the four months I was working on Coyote Comes/Beast Thing, a few cases of racial profiling landed in the national spotlight. In some ways, this piece is an attempt to examine the “group thought” which can lead to the sanctioned terrorism of individuals based on a perception of who they are.

I also finished the spoken word piece which begins “Your Bard doth not look like mine.”

We gon’ see.

Day 3 With the Actors

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Today was short because the actors had to get to another show, but we managed to get a few things done.

Rachel opened with some physical work aimed at freeing their bodies. It was fun to see some choices for the way the characters exist in space. We also worked a bit with the music, re-hashing and experimenting a bit. Then we moved into divvying up the chorus text between characters, which was a bit painstaking.

Tomorrow we’ve got more time and will hopefully begin to craft a culture of movement for the chorus. I’m anxious about how we’ll manage to create a soundscape which tells a story of dysfunctional community—how to capture the chaos of group thought? How to make the most of vocal dynamics so that we aren’t doing the same ol’ same ol’ corny, expected stuff? I don’t know that this process will allow for enough time to do the things I’d like to do, so I’m trying to be patient and realistic.

The latest spoken word piece is coming along more slowly than I’d like as well. I can be (ahem) pretty impatient, so this isn’t news. I hope it finds me (yes—I believe poems find me) in time for me to memorize it by the 19th.

Ah, adventure.

Tonight we sought ice cream and ended up with some kind of half milk/half whipped cream concoctions. Mine had oreos in it and Rachel’s was…well…

woot.

Actors working.

Actors working.

October 8th-Day 2 With Actors

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Today’s session with the actors began with one of my favorite things: sharing images and video. One of the most helpful things I picked up at CalArts was the power of sharing and discussing research imagery with collaborators. It’s a lot of fun to fall down an exploratory rabbit’s hole of viscera via imagery.

After taking a look at pictures, we moved into the laborious task of making translation decisions. We went through the script in French, making decisions about sections which had an option for how they might be translated. Basically, Rachel and I listened as the people who speak the language the script has been translated into offered their opinions, sometimes asking me for clarification. Doing this work also provided the actors with an opportunity to take a more in-depth look at the text, deepening their understanding of the story and world of the play. One day I’ll be fluent enough to contribute a little more. I hope.

The music I created for this piece is really rhythmic and acapella. My goal was to create a work song which tells the story of a culture of communal thought and shared labor. The actors seemed to connect to the music and sounded dope.

Tomorrow, we get on our feet for the first time.

And yes—we did get our whiskey. And kebabs to boot.

Work hard. Play hard.

With the actors.

With the actors.

woot!

First Day With Actors

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This day started pretty early. Having struggled to get to sleep (I finally managed to nod off at about 2am) I awoke at around 5am and couldn’t get back to sleep. After about an hour of tossing and turning, I committed to being awake and began to write.

As I mentioned before, I’m working on a spoken word piece for my performance on the 19th which calls out the lack of diversity in theatre education and privilege in the realm of its creation. One of my instructors in grad school once said that if some part of you doesn’t feel like you shouldn’t be creating a project–sort of naughty about it—you shouldn’t be creating the project in question. This is a writing I deeeefinitely falls into the category of “I ‘on know how folks are gonna receive this…but I’m goin’ for it!” I am aware that it will be misinterpreted by some, but I’m up for it. It should start some important conversations. We’ll see how it lands with a French audience and whether or not it lives up to its hype.

Today was also the day we finally got into the room with the actors. It was lovely to see them and re-connect. I was naturally anxious about how they’d react to the text itself. Would the humor be lost in translation? Would it bore them? I fears were put to rest, as they seemed genuinely engaged with the text. There was a lot more laughter than I expected and I have no doubt we’re in for a good time together.   I’ve still got questions about how to handle ye olde chorus, but they’ll have to wait until we actually have the opportunity to try a few things. This process is forcing me to embrace a spirit of patience—something I really, really need to continue working on. Aleshea likes things to prove themselves effective IMMEDIATELY. Not always healthy.

We’ve got one more day with the translator, so following this posting I’ll be revising the text and sending it off for her to work on in the morning. Tomorrow we’ll work on translation challenges, songs and Rachel and I will show the actors some contextualizing videos. And then. We’re gonna go out for whiskey.

Work hard. Play hard. Be happy.

More soon!

Resolutions Over Le Vin Rouge

First full day in France and things are going wonderfully.

Rachel and I had a scrumptious breakfast in our hotel lobby, then parted ways to nap/plan/dream. As part of my experience here, I’m performing spoken word in conjunction with a book fair. I’ve been working on a piece which calls out a lack of inclusivity where theatrical education is involved. It’s bound to upset someone, but so it goes. My hope is to have it written and memorized in time for my performance on October 19th at La Comèdie de Saint-Etienne.

Rachel and I met up later in the evening to wander and, seated before our glasses of wine, discussed our resolutions for this process.

I can be a workhorse, product-over-process kinda artists, so I’m committed to enjoying every step of this adventure. She shared a desire to be bold enough to speak terrible French, rather than acquiescing to fearful silence. We also spoke of where we’ve been and what we’re excited about as artists in a world which allows us to travel and meet people to make things. Cheers.

I’ll probably awaken at 5am or so to continue revising the script and articulating what I believe are its needs.

Tomorrow we meet with the actors and translator to get this thing cracking. Wish us luck!

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