Making a Stand(ard)

Hi. I was wondering if I could be let back into your life. You can't see me now, so I'll just let you know that I'm standing, in a trenchcoat, outside my car, holding a boombox over my head and looking mournful. Sure, the boombox is playing "Life Is just a Bowl of Cherries" rather than something romantic that we got freaky too (like "The Thong Song"), but that's just because I'm stuck in the '30s, and can't get out. At least, not until October 21.

Some people are genuinely upset with me for being so absent. Not so much on the ‘blog—that, at most, inspires increased frustration with work-induced boredom—but more in general. I never write. I never call. The least I could do is ‘blog every now and again, just so you know I’m still alive as you sit there, reading in the dark without your glasses, two miles in the snow uphill both ways. I am sorry, truly. I have had a worry or two of my own, you know. Nothing to rival your worries, and of course the greatest worry I have is that something terrible would happen to you and I wouldn’t know about it because I have been so selfish, and unworthy of your thoughtful consideration. You have, at the least (as you lie in traction from your tragic tractor trajectory) this comfort: It has been in the name of Art.

And fart jokes.

Look here to see what has been so occupying now that I’ve not been available. Oh, I can’t trust you to links! It’s Zuppa del Giorno’s first original creation in a year-and-a-half: Prohibitive Standards. If you do take the “here” link above (and how much better it is to live in the here and now), you’ll see that a tremendous amount of work has gone in to creating this show, and the ‘blog(s) don’t hardly reveal but half of the actual salt-water work (that is: sweat and tears [thank you, Friend Kate]) what’s gone into this production. The rehearsal room, after all, is where all the material for Zuppa’s shows really springs from, and for the past three weeks we’ve been gathering in a room (or two) to make our baby.

I had previously attempted to ‘blog about the process of that, but never got very far, because I was constantly off to learn music, or watch movies, or try to master a front handspring. OR, to balance my life. Because that’s a special effort too, when you’re an actor of somewhat modest means working out of town. It’s important to acknowledge that aspect of The Third Life©. From balancing one’s checkbook, to reminding one’s parents that he or she is not, in fact, home to be visited, to maintaining some sense of home and personal identity amidst characterization and shacking up in someone’s guest room, the traveling artist has a lot to contend with. Not that it’s not without its perks, either. New experiences are fantastic fuel for creative endeavor, and it’s easier to obsess (constructively, we hope) without frequent reminders of responsibilities.

One of my previous attempts at ‘blogging on this process was entitled “A Host of Angles.” I’ve written to some extent already about the unique process of creating a show from improvisation in my experiences with UnCommon Cause Theatre and Zuppa del Giorno, but never since opening the Aviary have I been so close to the process, nor has it culminated in quite the same way. Prohibitive Standards will be performed in a structured improvisation style. It will never solidify entirely. It will always be different. This means that the same concepts applied to making the show from the ground up will be applied in making it work when the curtain goes up. That creates an intense energy in which one has to set rules for oneself in order to be ready for anything that could happen on stage. We’ve constructed a scenario—or sequence of necessary actions—as our rules, within which we can play and stretch and improvise. In this way, the energy of a performance is very much like live sports, for both the participant and the observer. Everyone’s eager to see what happens next.

But “A Host of Angles”? Well, the most impressive reminder I was receiving about this process when I came up with that title (a lifetime ago, on September 15) had to do with the abandonment of structure and the necessary mastery of the elements of a play involved in creating one by committee, from scratch. In a more standard process, there is a sequence of events and a hierarchy of authority. Typically, the play passes from playwright to producer to director to actors, with very little passing back, and each party has a sequence of gradual development that results in a finished product. In creating a show in the living tradition of commedia dell’arte, however, everyone fills each role in some fashion all the time. One moment you are discussing character arcs, the next you’re leaping around imitating a boiling tea kettle, and still the next you’re trying very hard to be open and objective as you argue for more time for acrobatic training. Rehearsals end, of course, eventually, but they never really do, because everything you see, feel and do at all times goes into the soup, and as a producing playwright directactor, you never stop thinking about and discussing the show. Rather than a sequence of creation, you are coming at an intangible goal from every angle at once, and a lot of the time it feels as though you’re completely wasting your time, spinning your wheels while nothing productive takes place. But I leave out here, as something too obvious to mention, a critical ingredient in this creative soup: Faith.

However we got here, here we are, with a complete scenario that we may even manage to remember and properly reproduce on preview night, this Thursday. It has been a tremendously ambitious project, involving collaboration with Marywood University, regular workshops and training sessions with students and a good deal of marketing. Not everything has turned out the way I had hoped: the student actors are not as involved in the story as I would have liked, there's less emphasis on vaudeville than I had imagined and our physical daring, so prominent in the last two shows, has taken a backseat (necessarily) to an intricate story. However, I am very proud of what we’ve made, and excited to add an audience. Everyone is doing something they never thought they could do before, including me.

What new am I doing? I’d like to keep it a surprise for anyone who can make it out. Let’s just say that my embouchure hasn’t been in this good a shape since I was fifteen.

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