A Semester at a Close

Well, it happened. Against all odds, somehow, I got into Columbia. I’ve been here a semester, and things are booming.

I’m working as a Literary Manager for an International Festival of New Plays, produced by Columbia’s School of the Arts Faculty. I’ve acted in several student productions. I’ve made friends with a Playwright in the program and directed a scene from one of his plays—which I hope to produce in full one day.

I have three recommendations pledged from faculty members for a Fellowship for which I plan to apply in the next ten days.

Things are rolling along.

I mention this because I just reread my last blog post from the beginning of the semester. I was terrified. I had a fear that coming to Columbia would somehow pull me out of the professional world of theatre-making, where I had just made a reappearance through Daniel’s Art Party. That fear has proven to be ill-founded. I’m am now more deeply connected to professional theatre practitioners than ever before.

I am Dramaturg. I am Columbia. Hear me roar. It feels good to be home.

What for?

Today is my first day of Orientation at Columbia. I am over the moon, bouncing-off-the-walls, stupid excited about it. I have to leave in about 10 minutes, as soon as the laundry is done.

This morning as I was sending some emails, I came across an old journal brainstorm to myself, which I must have written at a stressful moment in the application process. It was titled simply, “What for?” I will reproduce it below:

What the fuck do I want it for?

The goal is to one day—well, not one day, today, tomorrow, as soon as possible, however I can—have a voice in the theatre world, which means to me that I am directing, producing, or otherwise creating exciting, new, explorative work in the world of theatre, either in America or in Europe.

There are lots of things that could look like. It could look like running a theatre company, curating seasons, directing a show or two per season, hiring other artists and collaborators.

It could mean working freelance as a director or dramaturg, hired by whatever (probably small) theatre needs me next.

It could mean working freelance as an actor, running the gauntlet of the audition world. This option limits me to working in the states, and would eventually burn me out unless I was also in some way creating or generating work of my own (see above).

Dramaturgy and dramatic criticism is probably a really good thing to study towards any of these goals. The scary thing—it’s a commitment thing again—is pulling myself out of the professional working world for those three years. I’ll be 23 when I go in, if I’m accepted this year, and about to turn 26 when I come out. That’s three years that I’m not working. Three years that I’m not acting. Three years without audition experience. But 26 is still young. Heck, 36 is still young. And acting—on its own—is not the path.

How do you eat an elephant, Theo? How do you hike the Himalayan mountain range? One bite at a time. You walk, every day. You take the GRE.

Tuesday, July 31

Just found out that I will not be able to attend the Double Edge Theatre spectacle this Summer. Working very long hours at Red Gate Farm overnight camp. Still trying to work out two weeks between camp and Columbia orientation: hoping to see Mothers and Sons at Shakespeare and Company, and Annalise’s new play with the Clementine Collective (Brooklyn). Philadelphia 8/11?

Columbia looming. 50 pages remaining of Antony Sher, then must begin reading Brecht tomorrow. Excited to re-immerse in a theatre world. Very inspired by Moss Hart’s Act One last week. Reading reading reading…

Before The Party

When I got back from Berlin, that August, things seemed to be taking off for me in a way that they hadn’t in a very long time. By the end of the year away, I’d felt lost, drowning. Unable to find work, I was losing sight of what had driven me into the theatre in the first place. Now, though, with my grandmother’s death and all the relatives in town, I had plenty to distract me for the moment.

Then I got a fateful text: some old friends from college who hadn’t heard yet that I was back in the States reached out to me in desperation. They’d lost an actor, and would I be willing to jump in? The show opened in less than two weeks. I hopped on a bus to Great Barrington, reading the script—actually two scripts—on the way, and jumped headlong into a world I’d nearly—accidentally—left behind. I was thrilled.

Back in New York, after that show, tensions rose with my parents. I’d never been sure New York was the place for me anyway, and with Allen still in the apartment and no room for me to spare, 77 Bleecker Street was not the place for me. Not proudly, I fled back to Great Barrington, back to comfort.

From there I popped down to Philly with Dana, and spent a week there with her parents for Thanksgiving. I tacked on a trip to D.C. to visit Cecily and her family, who had recently settled there after finishing their stint in Nicaragua, and ended up staying with them for two weeks while I got to know their social sphere and tried in vain to crack into the vast theatre landscape of that city.

When I’d outstayed my welcome with the Wernicks, fearing New York City and the prospect of living with my parents, I found myself again in Great Barrington. Word got out that I was back in the area, and soon I had roles in the main stage production, as well as two senior thesis performances, even though I’d graduated two years earlier.

The landscape at Simon’s Rock is so fluid and unconventional that many people thought I hadn’t graduated and was back there to study. Others thought I worked for the college. It was a strange time for me. On one hand I was needed, and felt that I could offer something to my peers. I was working in theatre, and was even paid a small stipend for the main stage role. On the other hand, I was crashing with my girlfriend in my college town, unemployed, afraid to face my parents. At $15/hour, her lifeguarding income seemed unattainable to me. I felt bad relying on her support, but I did not see another option.

Graduate school, once a lofty nowhere-land, now seemed a real possibility. I began applying in earnest.

Christmas and New Year’s I survived with the Vorfreude of the upcoming rehearsals, the stress and exhilaration of applying to programs for which—I thought—I was colossally under-qualified, and a Village Harmony tour.

It was January and I was back in Great Barrington with Dana, waiting for the semester and my ridiculous rehearsal schedule to kick in. And then I met Ken.

Well, no. It wasn’t quite that simple. I attended a memorial service for Becky Fiske, a former professor, advisor, and mentor at Simon’s Rock. There, I encountered Ian Bickford, the provost, who told me about Daniel’s Art Party, a name which would become my salvation.

“We’re transforming the DAC,” he told me. “We’re hosting a joyful arts festival up there.”

I told him that I would be around anyway and that I wanted in. He put me in touch with Ken.

Ken Roht is a genius. He is a powerful mind and a force of nature. “Humble” is not a word that comes to mind, nor yet is “arrogant,” or “egoist.” He is brilliant, creative, eccentric, and capable of moving mountains. I think he knows it, too. When he talks of his past, his abilities or accomplishments, he is blunt and matter-of-fact, neither boasting nor modest. There ought to be a biography written of this man. I couldn’t have known it at time, but my world was about to be turned upside down.

What’s Coming Up | as of November ’17

It’s time for another update, folks!

I’ve spent about a week in D.C. with some dear friends, exploring the theatre scene and applying to jobs. I’m excited to discover what the holiday season holds.

I had a wonderful time with the youngsters at Woodstock Union High School in Vermont, leading my first workshop with that age group. It was not without its hiccups and learning moments, but still very rewarding.

Coming up after the holidays, I’m still very much looking forward to the tour with Village Harmony, but also stressing about applications for graduate schools, which will be due around that time.

That’s all for now. See you in December.

What’s Coming Up | as of October ’17

Well, a couple of things have changed since June.

I came back to the States, and I’ve been eating my weight in apples and drinking almost as much apple cider.

The trip to Portland sadly didn’t happen, but I look forward to reconnecting with Reid at Village Harmony at the end of this year. (More on that below.)

I spent a week in Vermont with the ArtMonks in September. I had hoped to stay a while longer, but life and logistics got in the way. I may connect with them again in December, though…. Stay tuned.

I did indeed work with Steve Henderson, who connected me to BrickRoad Productions (read more about them here), where I enacted a fair amount of silliness with co-conspirators Ray Suprenant, Julian Findlay, and Jaime Taber. With any luck I’ll book more work with BrickRoad in the future.

The calendar is in flux at the moment, but two things are certain: first, I will be leading acting workshops at a high school in Vermont where I know the theatre director—I’ll be sure to add details about that—and secondly, I will once again be joining forces with Village Harmony (details here) for the Winter Alumni Tour 2017/18. I’m very excited for the opportunity to rejoin these similarly-spirited humans for much singing and general merriment.

That’s all for now. See you in November!

What’s Coming Up | as of June ’17

My friends, the wait is over! I can now tell (some) of the things that are coming up for me:

I will be back on the East Coast of the United States (in Ashfield and surrounding area) as of July 24th! I look forward to reconnecting with old friends and filling up on apple cider.

In the first week of August, I will be gone again, this time to Portland, OR, where I will be participating in a three-day Recess Retreat. More information on that here. Also in Oregon, I am very excited to be working with a beautiful dancer and fantastic human, Reid Bondurant. In less than two weeks, we will create a one-time only, two-person performance piece. Neither of us knows what it will look like, but that won’t stop us!

In September and much of October I will be reunited with some of the most wonderful humans I know in Vermont. Yes, I will be living and working with the Art Monks of The Art Monastery Project. More information on them here.

Towards the end of October I will join forces with comedic powerhouse Steve Henderson and help to keep his ball of sketch-comedy rolling. (More information on that soon to come.)

And finally… NYC!! That’s right, my friends, by the beginning of November I will be in the Big Apple. Look me up if you’re there too!

Theatre vs Theater, ft. JC-E

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Just visited your website and saw the “Theatre vs. Theater” item. Before I clicked through, I thought maybe it was going to be some kind of Wagnerian showdown, with Theatre unleashing the full force of its RADA manners and Theater responding with a barrage of Times Square billboards.

—Jonathan Caws-Elwitt, pictured

When I saw this post from the illustrious JC-E, I knew it had to be featured on my website. He even made a poster for me, in case I ever get around to producing such a show. Hats of to you, Jonathan!

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See more of Jonathan’s work at http://www.jonathancaws-elwitt.com/

I’m off to Nicaragua!

Yes, it’s true, and in many ways it doesn’t feel real, but tomorrow I will take off for a trip to Nicaragua. I’ll be staying with some wonderful family friends, and I’ll be volunteering at local education programs. I’m still not sure what my life will look like once I get there, but that’s the joy of the adventure. I’ll be taking lots of photos, and I might even post some updates here if the internet is reliable enough. I’ll be back in Berlin in March with a suitcase full of new experiences!

A Meditation on Theatre and Virtual Reality

At the end of October I was involved with a project at SomoS Art Gallery in Berlin. If you haven’t heard of them, check them out here.

I was working with artist and VR filmmaker Michel Reilhac to present his award-winning 2015 film Viens! as an installation; although the film had premiered at Sundance and had also played at Cannes, this was the first time it could be experienced as part of an art gallery, fulfilling one of Michel’s visions by blurring the line between the virtual and the real.

Read more about Michel and his work here. Read more about my involvement in the project here.

Throughout the process, I had many opportunities to speak with Michel about his thoughts on the growing medium of Virtual Reality as an art form, especially as compared to film and theatre.

In theatre and film alike—though more notably in film—we are presented with a frame, a window through which viewers project themselves until they find themselves caught in the reality of the piece. No longer am I aware of my seat or the people sitting next to me; rather I imagine myself in the universe of the characters before me. This imaginative leap and the eventual return to my own circumstance awakens my empathetic centers by offering me a new perspective. It makes catharsis possible.

Virtual Reality, by contrast, removes the frame. As soon as I put on the headset, I am enveloped in the world of the piece, surrounded by its characters. I am forced to let go of my known reality as my senses continue to feed me information from the artificial world, heralding it as real.

But, of course, it isn’t real. And I know it isn’t real. Even after donning the gear and immersing myself in an artificial world, I retain some consciousness of my external reality. Some part of me hangs back, waiting for me to reconnect with my senses. And therein lies the beauty of Michel’s installation. Removing the headset, I rejoin my known reality and yet remain in the installation, which mirrors the artistic (read: artificial) space created by the film.