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From Bill – This is the Work

May 28, 2013

I heard, not too long ago, from Maestro Funfgeld at a recent Bach Choir dinner, the oft repeated saying of a colleague of theirs when they are in the midst of rehearsals–something to the effect:  it is a joy to make a “work of art”, and this is the “work” part.

Emma Chong and the Ensemble--doing the "work" of art.

Emma Chong and the Ensemble–doing the “work” of art.

The recent production of Ulysses Dreams was an extraordinary collaboration led by Jp Jordan featuring the writing and scenography of Christopher Shorr at Moravian College, the costumes of Mary Wright, Jp’s music, design and direction, Ensemble improvisation and collaborative ideas by the hundreds, Emma Chong stage managing and riding herd on the ensemble, Kevin O’Boyle ‘s music direction, and somewhere in there I was responsible for an aspect of the movement, its early stages.

For me, the process of creating this work was a bit like Dante’s trek through the different levels of the inferno and back (I think we made it back, not sure yet.) –starting with the reading and studying of the text, originally conceiving it as a two person “story-telling” epic and then turning it into an ensemble created Odyssey with basically twelve chapters which evolved into an eight scene then seven scene sequence with music that was to cover the Illiad and the Odyssey material, focusing on Odysseus’s relation to women in his journey.  Along the way, ideas about doing a Western version, a film noir version, a comic version–all fell by the wayside.  I still remember the rehearsal where we worked the Cyclops scene again and again, all of us working with a single, large cardboard eye on a long stick (think perhaps a bleary-eyed Sauron out of the Lord of the Rings films) or the Lotus Eaters done on a small puppet stage we’d jury-rigged–none of which made it anywhere close to being in the final show.

Try as hard as we might to “bottle” the creative process and get it to be obedient to rules and regulations, in my experience, it is always messy.  That’s not an excuse for messiness, but it’s a reminder that when the dragons come out, when hearts catch fire, it is impossible, try as we might, to be certain no one will get burned in the heat. It is the physics of trying to put something that wants an infinite amount of time and effort into a finite entity and form.  It’ll fight not to be squeezed into the bottle.

Here’s a brief video, late in the process, Jp working us in the Penelope sequence.  Notice the notes on the wall that track our thinking over the months, the use of ragged blue-green cloth since we didn’t yet have the proper cloth for performance, the fact that we’re working without one or two of the ensemble because of scheduling conflicts–which means we can’t fully create the waves we’re trying to suggest…  So much of the work is still in our imaginations, untested, and this is just a week and a half before opening; we laugh in the midst of our agony.

The only thing of which one can fully be certain is that it’s necessary to be comfortable as best one can with one’s discomfort–fear that things won’t come together in time;  frustration with being misunderstood;  shame at not being able to contribute perhaps for reasons of time or circumstance or abilities;  anger that no one listens, or jealousy that so and so is always the one listened to;  fear of making a fool of one’s self;  sadness that the work never seems to be good enough or that it is just simply bad or that it’s all vanity.  The collaborative creative process is sometimes a delight and often an agony.  There you go.

And in the end, we get what we get, knowing, if we can work together, support each other, listen and have clear decision making processes, we’ll move forward collectively making something that is greater and potentially more powerful than anything any of us could have made on our own.  Perhaps at it’s purest, it will be something that transcends and expresses a beauty that comes from a consciousness that is greater than our own–that of the ensemble itself.  I applaud Touchstone for its creative courage and for what in the end was a beautiful “work of art”.  One can’t ever be certain about such judgments, but it was, certainly, a lot of work!

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