19. PROCESS POST: FRESH EYES
I’m an avid crossword player and if there’s one solid rule to breaking one open, it’s fresh eyes. I can work on one and run into roadblock after roadblock, convince myself that I don’t even know the word the clue is for, and yet if I set it down for an hour it never fails. I’ll pick it back up and immediately solve what I had previously considered the unsolvable. It’s like my brain can work itself into a rut and spin my problem-solving wheels in the mud until it seems hopeless; and after I walk away, the mud turns into dirt, the rut turns into a ramp, and upon my return my brain pulls out with ease. So, wouldn’t it make sense to treat my artistic work in the same way? This is a process question that’s been on my mind and it’s taken a non-traditional piece to provide a personal breakthrough of articulation.
Most directors (including myself) would tell you that an ideal rehearsal calendar looks like the play; you begin at the beginning and slowly work your way through the play, scene by scene, in sequential order. Most directors will also tell you that, due to actor conflicts, this is almost never possible. We bemoan this fact to each other, our stage managers, and anyone else that will listen. Yet this idea falls apart when you consider that not all scenes are equal. Each has an individual set of problems that aren’t always evident on the page. For example, the scene in The Ballad of Romeo and Juliet in which the Nurse teases Juliet about Romeo prior the wedding seems pretty cut and dry. It reads simply off the page, it’s between only two actors, and it’s funny. In the read through, one could easily believe it will be a snap to put on its feet. Yet when it came to staging, it was anything but easy. If we had to figure that scene out before we moved onto the next one, we may still be in rehearsal. Instead, we had to move on because our schedule was dictated by actor conflicts. The next time we were able to get back to it, it suddenly seemed obvious that we needed a stool center stage and the scene broke open. Now, this articulation is all in hindsight, which has been given to me on the current piece.
When I am creating a project like the upcoming An Appalachian Christmas Carol, the mechanics of the creation (instead of cast conflicts) make a linear process impossible. Since I am building puppets, there is paint drying or glue setting time involved with every scene. In order to stay efficient, I have to have every scene up and ready to be worked on. I realized about halfway through the creation that this enables my process to work in the same way that I solve a crossword puzzle. It gives me the gift of fresh eyes, which clarifies the next step, solves the next problem, and prevents any brain ruts from occurring. Yet even this hindsight was earned from an extreme example.
We created the An Appalachian Christmas Carol last year on a strict time schedule. It was a crunch just to get it completed, let alone make any choices other than that instinctual first. A mentor of mine preached to keep it simple and I did, which is why I believe that first iteration had any success. I am thankful to be given an opportunity to return to the piece and the biggest gift this has given me is an extreme example of fresh eyes. As I unpacked the old puppet pieces and crankies, a world of opportunities greeted me and some striking choices became obvious. I had to ask, “Why couldn’t I see this before?” That was the question that led to this articulation of fresh eyes. I’ll be directing two one act absurdist pieces (The Room and The Bald Soprano) for UNC-Asheville in the new year, which has me returning to my theatrical roots. I am curious to see if this idea will transpose to a much more traditional process. At the very least, you won’t be hearing my complain about conflicts. I’ll report back here as to what I find.