Saturday, October 8, 2016

Long Division Creative Meetings

So I submitted the rehearsal draft of my play, Long Division, earlier this week. We're at draft 17 by this point. While I know individual lines and maybe even whole sections of the script will inevitably change once we get into rehearsals, and potentially once we open as a result of audience response, and likely as well in the gap between closing at The Gateway at the end of November and opening at the Orpheum Annex next April (did I mention that part yet?), for the time being I had to stop tinkering--if only so that the cast can start to absorb their parts before we begin rehearsals.

Those rehearsals begin in two weeks, but in the interim our director, Richard Wolfe, has been holding a series of creative meetings at the Pi Theatre offices with various members of the production team. So, for example, last week Richard and I met with our choreographer, Lesley Telford, to talk about ideas for the movement score. We went through the script page by page and very intuitively and organically threw out potential ideas. If you'll forgive the metaphor, it was amazing to see how in sync we all were, fairly quickly deciding on a set of three conventions for each of the monologues that we could manipulate and play with over the course of each's delivery. Then, too, the choral sections, and the different math concepts described therein, seemed to lend themselves fairly easily to different kinetic frameworks, ranging from geometric patterning and canon structures and instances of retrograde, to changes in tempo and direction and the use of spirals and even moments of stillness. It was exciting to hear and watch Lesley (moving in her chair and every now and then leaping to her feet) begin to develop a gestural vocabulary for each of the characters based on my descriptions of their imagined psychic and physical states within the play, as well as her own mental notes on the actors' responses to her movement prompts during the last day of our workshop back in September. Because we don't have the luxury of infinite amounts of rehearsal time to devote to a more collaborative and improvisatory development of the choreography (which is the way Lesley is used to working), we are incredibly lucky that in the next two weeks Lesley will be able to test and develop her ideas for different sections with the aid of the students in her Arts Umbrella pre-professional class. By some magical coincidence, there are seven students in that class, and she has already distributed the script to them, with the goal that they will each take on one of the characters and, even better, be available during some of the rehearsal period to act as individual movement coaches to the actors playing their corresponding parts. This is just one of the many bits of extra resourcing for this production that has fortuitously fallen into our laps; another is Keltie Forsyth, a recent MFA grad in directing from UBC, who is doing an internship with Pi this year, and who will also be helping to get our show up.

I met Keltie last night at another creative meeting that Richard organized, this time so that we could hear some samples of the musical score that our composer Owen Belton has created, and so that Owen and Lesley, especially, could think through some ideas together. It's easy to see why Owen, who works regularly with Crystal Pite and Kidd Pivot, is such an in-demand composer for dance (simultaneously with my play he is working on commissions for companies in Switzerland and Germany); he creates music with so much texture and mood, and with so much room to move with and inside of it. What he played for us as a possible opening sequence, to which Lesley would add some more geometric and directional choreography, was absolutely perfect; ditto the underscoring he suggested for the opening bit of dialogue, which he has composed in two versions, once with piano and percussion, and once with just percussion (I think I prefer the addition of the piano). As someone who is not very musical, it was also amazing for me to instantly recognize where some of the samples Owen shared with us would go. For example, there was a cello sequence that immediately put me in mind of the God proof section of the play, for which Lesley had already been thinking of something quadrille-like that riffed on Beckett's square (Pascal's God quadrant is referenced in the text). Another bit of atmospheric piano underscoring I thought would work well with Alice's monologue. As Lesley said to Owen afterwards, "You make it so easy."

Of course the music is not just a support or supplement for the text and the movement. It is a key conceptual component of the work in its own right, and to this end Owen has even written a sequence based on the Fibonacci numbers. I thought it worked brilliantly and can see it providing a nice transition into the final section of the play, which is structured around the golden ratio, and which is where I see movement, music, text and video to be the most integrated.

It's all so exciting to see unfold--and we haven't even gotten to Jamie Nesbitt's video projections yet! Part of me would be happy just to see the creative process extend indefinitely, forgoing an actual opening. But I'd also be lying if I said I didn't also want to share the work with an audience. Working with such talented collaborators makes that prospect so much easier to contemplate.


P.S. It's already been announced on Pi's website, so I can now also share it here: the news of who is in our cast. They are pictured below: left to right, Anousha Alamian (Naathim), Jennifer Lines (Jo), Melissa Oei (Lucy), Kerry Sandomirsky (Alice), Jay Clift (Reid), Linda Quibell (Grace), and Nicco Lorenzo Garcia (Paul). Photo by David Copper. Drawing by me!

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