16. R & J CLOSES
In looking back over the most recent post, I realize I made a false promise of reporting back once more before the closing of The Ballad of R & J. You see, I once lived a life in which the opening of a show meant a great relief, both emotionally and practically. A director can often move away from the show, sometimes onto another project all together. And, indeed, I took my director hat off. I no longer gave notes or tried to refine my storytelling in any way. I let it breathe in its own life, grow, and evolve and that was a joy to witness. What I did not anticipate fully was the other hat I would need to put on.
When I first started filing the papers and building the website for the AMC, I realized I needed to give myself a title beyond “founder.” In an attempt to break from the traditional language of theatre, I knew I did not want to be an Artistic Director as much as I didn’t want to call the organization the American Myth Theatre. And I’m not just trying to be different for the sake of it. Changing the language is the first step in rewriting the contract, which I’ve talked about in previous blog posts. In looking for alternatives, I found inspiration in an unlikely place: the Mysterious Package Company. The company sells a fun storytelling idea, but the emails I would receive from the company be from its “Curator.” The term stuck in my mind and, as I was looking for an alternative job title, it made some sort of innate sense to me. At the time, I thought of my overarching job as curating new American Myths and that still rings true, but I now know there is more. That other hat I put on was the curator of the experience.
Now, I’m pretty confident wearing my director hat, but I’ve got a lot to learn with the curator hat. I mentioned a few tweaks to the experience that we attempted in the last newsletter, such as rotating the stage, bringing the tables and chairs closer to the action, and changing the placement of the actor tent so that there was no discernable backstage. Those all worked to a degree. Realizing many folk would join us once the show began and therefore would miss the “curtain speech,” I created laminated one sheets of the AMC Ethos and spread them out on the tables. I now realize that those need to be reinforced by a larger sign that anyone entering the grounds can see, whether they make it to the tables or not. I started to learn when and how to approach interested audience. I learned there was an invisible threshold and if I approached potential audience too soon, it could stop them in their tracks. Once past this threshold, however, it was necessary to welcome them and encourage their close proximity to the stage. Cast members began doing the same without prompt, which was beautiful to witness and, frankly, way more effective. If I was welcomed in the space by a performer in the midst of performing, I’d consider that a pretty fantastic invitation. In the end, I don’t think I’ve learned half of what I need to as curator, but I am certainly on my way.
Now folks are asking two questions I’ll try and address here. The first is: was it successful? The short answer is yes, but it is complicated in dealing with something that didn’t have any concrete expectations. So, I’ll go back to the simplest articulation of our goal. We wanted to tell an important story to our community in hopes of sparking conversation. Through conversations on and off site, Facebook posts and tags, and the Kudzu wall, we have more than enough evidence of success. The second question is: what is next? I’m still working on the details, but the simplest answer is we will take our small circle of community that we have built and begin building a bigger one around it. From the beginning, I’ve looked at the big picture of the AMC as a series of concentric circles, built one at a time with each year. As we focus on finishing this circle strong, we look to the future as well.
We will end the AMC’s 2018 initiative with a return to An Appalachian Christmas Carolat the Vance Birthplace. Last year, we made a mad dash to complete our first project. Going into it on such a limited timeframe, we knew we would rely on first choices and instinct. We learned a lot and now we have an opportunity to layer it, refine it, and hopefully improve it. As for 2019, there will be something old and something new, but that’s about all I can say right now.
Let me close with a huge, heartfelt thank you to everyone involved with The Ballad of R & J. To the cast, the crew, the designers, the builders, the supporters, and the audience: you are now part of our first circle of community and I love you all.