Sunday, September 28, 2014

Curating a season

A recent e-newsletter from Portland Stage posited the question “What goes into crafting a season?” Anita Stewart, Portland Stage’s Executive and Artistic Director, answers the question with “Conversations, letters, emails, and scripts coming from audiences and artists alike...and reading, reading, reading plays...”

This certainly sounds familiar. So how it is that tKAPOW crafts its seasons?

tKAPOW has placed a great deal of emphasis on curating our seasons around unifying themes for several years. This approach requires that we select shows that complement each other in the way that they relate to the season’s theme. We also find it important to build season upon season so that the shows we explore this year relate back to what we did last year and next year’s shows will relate to this year’s and so on (the past three seasons for example have had the themes “Dream,” “Awake,” and “See”).

“Reading, reading, reading” is absolutely a reality of show selection. The fact is that we often read dozens of scripts before we decide upon one single show in a season. How do you even choose scripts to read? This can be quite daunting so we have developed a formula that helps provide structure to our season. Without being too strict about how we do it, we produce a European piece in the fall, a comedy in the winter, and the work of an American Master in the spring. Throw in our other projects, like the 24-Hour Play Festival, three playreadings for the ARTiculate series at the Currier, a devised work in June and... viola! A season!

Sounds easy, but in honesty, in addition to the “reading, reading, reading” there are tons of late nights, heated arguments over particular titles, and lots of private heartbreaks over the realization that a certain favorite just isn’t the right fit for the season.

Oh, and one more thing, lots of luck. Sometimes you just happen across a show (one possible result of all that reading) that is just perfect for the season and you share it around and everyone agrees that it is a must do (these are few and far between, but Eurydice and Penelope are great examples).

Since the beginning, tKAPOW has been commited to producing theatre that challenges both artists and audiences. We are very aware when we sit down to discuss shows for the next season that as a theatre company you are only as good as your last show. We work hard to constantly push ourselves to do better work. We are also keenly aware of the importance of input from our audiences and colleagues. So, please send us along a great script you just read, or grab one of us after a show and tell us what you did or did not like about the play. As we start looking forward to season 8 (hard to believe it), we’ll be needing all the help we can get.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A shrinking and growing world

We live in an ever shrinking world and yet the more it shrinks the more our understanding seems to deepen. It’s a world where technology has made it so that at the touch of a button we can communicate almost instantaneously with someone thousands of miles away. With just a few keystrokes we can translate text from almost any language into our own in the time it takes a webpage to load. In this time when access is at its peak, sincere cultural exchange is critical.

A number of productions have informed my desire to achieve work that transcends language and culture (notably National Theatre of the Deaf’s Peer Gynt and Teatr Zar’s Caesarian Section), but it wasn’t until I trained with Double Edge Theatre that I actively sought out ways to incorporate multiple languages into tKAPOW’s work. My summer with DET was focused on intense training that was led in relation to the company’s exploration of Homer’s Odyssey. Early on in my time there, I was taught a series of Bulgarian folk songs. What did these songs, I wondered, have to do with the Odyssey? As we neared the end of the intensive, we started to use these songs in our etude work and the answer became clear. The language didn’t matter; it was the storytelling that was important. A Bulgarian folk song made a perfect sea shanty for Odysseus’ sailors. This was an important realization for me and it has shaped much of my work since then.

Last July, I took part in the International Symposium for Directors at LaMaMa Umbria is Spoleto, Italy. Participants from throughout the world took part in two weeks of workshops, attending shows, and many late-night discussions in the gorgeous Italian countryside. There, I first met Valentina Lattuada, a theatre artist of Italian and Brazilian heritage who is currently residing in Barcelona. Valentina and I worked on a couple of pieces while in Italy and quickly realized that, despite our cultural differences, we shared a common theatrical aesthetic. Before leaving Italy, we decided that we wanted to collaborate on a project that would cross the barriers of distance, language, and culture.

In January of this year, Valentina made her first visit to NH to lead an open training and to continue our discussion of potential collaborative projects. Not long after Valentina returned to Barcelona, she was contacted by her friend, Nick Farewell, a Korean-born Brazilian author who was interested in having one of his novels adapted for the stage. After reading it, we knew that Uma Vida Imagin├íria would be the perfect piece for collaboration, and decided to premiere it in June 2015. To accomplish that, we knew that we’d need to find away to overcome the boundaries of language and culture, but most importantly distance. In August, Valentina came to NH again for our Artists’ Retreat and then a week of work developing the text for Uma Vida Imagin├íria.

The only missing piece was finding a second Portuguese speaking actor to help develop the script so that it remained faithful to Nick’s novel but also resonated with an American audience. We were so blessed to find Rafael Marinho, a Boston-based Brazilian actor to do this work with us. So, for four days Carey, Peter, Valentina, Rafael, and I worked through the text and really started exploring the beauty of Nick’s writing There were lots of fun moments (the Pulp Fiction-esque realization that Brazilians don’t use the term “quarter pounder with cheese”) but more often than not we found that Nick’s characters, themes, and words transcended language and culture.

This month, we’ve already had two conversations over Skype to continue the planning and the work we started this summer. As these calls and text conversations continue throughout the year, we’ll continue to be in awe of the way that our as world is shrinking our understanding of it continues to deepen.

~Matt Cahoon

Monday, September 1, 2014

Learning to Learn in the Present Moment

This summer was our third Artists Retreat, concluding just a few weeks ago. Why do we go there for a week each year right at the start of the season?
Continued study has always been a core tenet of our company. Eugenio Barba writes of the phenomenon he calls learning to learn. "This is of tremendous importance for those who choose or are obliged to go beyond the limits of specialized technique. It is the condition that enables us to go beyond technical knowledge and not be dominated by it." As we experience and learn from on-going theatre trainings, we wanted to share our disparate methods with one another. Peter, through a series of events and meetings only to described as synchronicity, was introduced to the owners of Chanticleer Gardens, an idyllic flower farm. So Matthew said, "Let's go to the farm all day every day for a week, share, and see what comes of it."
In addition to sharing our own methodologies of the Michael Chekhov training, psychophysical improvisation, and Viewpoints, we brought in guest artists to lead workshops in modern dance, poi spinning, Lessac Kinesensic training and more. What we discovered, and continue to discover every year, is that the similarities and commonalities among all these practices far outweigh the differences. All of them seek truth, a unity of something both inside and outside the self, which is recognizable beyond culture, medium, or even time.
For the last two years Aaron Butler, a master of several martial arts who teaches at The Training Station in Manchester, NH, led a workshop in Tai Chi and I Liq Chuan. This work became some of the most profound of the retreat for me. At the core of both practices is developing a mindfulness and awareness to the present moment. The vocabulary is different, but the ideas the practice is driving toward are familiar. Aaron's teaching reminds me that there is so much in this world that I don't know, there is so much I can learn.
This summer we had a new guest artist, Valentina Lattuada from Barcelona, Spain, who shared her work which she calls Integral Transpersonal Theatre. I prefer the alternate name she uses - the Poetics of the Invisible.  Her work began, like so much does, with a connection to the breath. Again, the vocabulry was different, but the goal a familiar unknown. Breath is one way we can check in on five levels: physical, energetic, intellectual, emotional, and transpersonal. The exercises she led each session point to that same mindfulness and awareness, and even reception of the present moment.
Just a few weeks before our retreat, I read a blog post by John Britton of Ensemble Duende about the challenge of returning to "real life" after an intensive. "Could that even be our job as artists, to help our communities (re)discover the wonder of each passing moment and the connections between us, across time and geography?" Yes, I think so. And that is why we return to Chanticleer Gardens each summer, why we meet monthly for Open Training, and why we work hard to keep learning, and keep striving to connect in the present moment.
~Carey Cahoon