Members of the SITI company are back at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles to begin our third residency to read and develop a production to be premiered here at the Getty Villa in the summer of 2014. Our production’s of THE TROJAN WOMAN (AFTER EURIPIDES) and ANTIGONE came out of this same generous residency support. This time we are reading 3 plays in a single week with another week to either find other works to consider, or to dive deeper into the choices we have before us: THE PERSIANS, THE BACCHAE, and ION. For more information on the readings this week you can log on to http://www.getty.edu/museum/programs/performances/playreading_series.html First of all, I have to say that the curatorial and educational staff here are brilliant, kind, thoughtful, incredibly supportive, and extremely passionate about what they do and their relationship to what we are doing. As is often the habit of SITIco, we like to keep “diary entrys” when we are working on the road to keep company members, administration, staff, board members, who cannot be with us current. It’s rather more that we want everyone that is SITI to feel included in the process of making – we just thought that “everyone that is SITI” might also include anyone out there who has an interest, curiosity, or investment in this company. I am especially conscious of all the voices and faces with whom we’ve interacted as we celebrate our 20th anniversary being together. So in the spirit of sharing, these diary entries are personally written by a different member every day. This person is the one who leads training before the rehearsal begins that day – yes we still train every day before … anything ….
GM May 24, 2013
Reflections on a 2 week investigative process.
This diary entry has taken me a few days to get out for various reasons but I think, beneficially, has allowed me some time to process some of my thoughts.
Our final day at the Getty Villa began with an early meeting regarding Saratoga and then our ritual drive through Topanga Canyon to the Villa. For whatever reason, every time I’m at the Getty Villa, something in my body is challenged – last time it was my knee and this go around it happened to be my back. Time marches on, apparently. I lead training a bit gingerly that morning but with a big emotion that was a reflection of the circumstance of our final day there. A final day to train – move, speak, explore – in the black box theatre and surrounding spaces that have given me so much over the last few years now. Anne watches, of course, and Ralph and Anna Woo join us and watch as well which, actually, means something. As has been noted in the diaries before me there is a love affair happening between these two organizations and it is certainly well matched.
We convened in the green room and began our final day of discussion. At the top of the day I was itching with excitement for this conversation. What would happen? Would we passionately agree? Angrily disagree? Spontaneously combust? Would the Getty staff finally drop the hammer and tell us we weren’t talented or trained enough and the deal was off? I’m joking but there was a sense that anything could happen and, I believe, that was a sensual response to the wide and differing landscapes of these three incredible plays. The Persians, The Bacchae, Ion… how does one chose? In the room was the company, Anna and Ralph – all our other fabulous curatorial/dramaturgical collaborators were off to other ventures. I helped start the conversation with a random and perhaps unfeasible costume idea that I had the day before. In thinking of how cold it had been inside some of the rooms at the Getty I thought about how going outside into the sun on a break was like defrosting. That brought me to an image of the chorus in The Persians coming out onto the stage dressed in costumes of ice. Real ice. Throughout the play the ice would melt and reveal more and more of the live, breathing bodies underneath. I guess the ancient quality of the text brought me to thinking of glaciers and the old things that are constantly discovered in them. As I said, random, but a visual of something that interested me anyhow.
The conversation ran around and around with so many interesting ideas and opinions. We found a fluid back and forth that gave each play its due. What was constant at every moment was an absolute engagement and passion for what we were discussing – the various benefits and possible pitfalls of each play and how each might fit in with the DNA of both SITI and the Getty. I was worried that I wouldn’t remember everything that had been said so I recorded almost all of it on my phone (this is definitely the case – I listened to the first half of it this morning and it is a fascinating piece of documentation). Here are a few important points without trying to make up the mind of the reader or tip my own hand:
- Anne said she was “jazzersized” (her words, not mine… but meaning “jazzed”) about this idea of the chorus being the primary focus, concentration or character of the production. This was a concept that tickled all the Getty crew as it is such a central tenet of the early plays but one that isn’t always given really particular consideration.
- How do we find the most appropriate and magical translation/adaptation of whichever play we chose? The staff seemed open to the possibility of a commission for a new version which would be incredible.
- Ken and certain others felt that Ion hadn’t been given a fair shake both because of the highly adapted and contemporary version that we read first and the more staid or “clunky” version that we read on our second pass.
- It would be absolutely amazing if the entire company could be in the production (J. Ed’s incredible idea).
- Anna Woo was, perhaps, singular in her wish to see a comedy (The Frogs?) or something with humor in it (Ion?) as a change of pace. She thinks concernedly on the security guards.
- Is The Persians too close to Trojan Women? Can Aeschylus be done two summers in a row (Prometheus Bound is being done this summer). Is the company’s history and intense relationship with The Bacchae a hindrance?
- Ralph held our feet to the fire (damn you Ralph!) and made each of us express which way we were leaning. He also went on to say that we shouldn’t fret too much as we could always come back and do another one of course. Side note: I have this recorded on tape! He can’t go back on his word! We love Ralph! Yay!
- Okay, I’ll spill it a little here – it seems that The Persians and The Bacchae are battling it out for first place. “How now Aristophanes?” methinks.
Ultimately we came to an agreement that we would have a choice by the end of June. This would give a chance for the rest of the company to express their feelings and for us who were there to attempt in person to relay to those who weren’t what we had learned. We had a pretty firm idea of what was on the table and where our interests lay and it was all incredibly positive. Anna had brought delicious cupcakes and beverages (one guess: it’s got a Bush at the start and an ills at the end and an m in the middle) to toast the ending of a hard wrought and brilliant two weeks.
That night I spent the night at a friend’s house in Venice to have dinner with him and his girlfriend and have a simpler journey to LAX in the morning. They went to bed before I did (he’s trying to learn all of Two Gentlemen of Verona in a week for a coming engagement) and I had a chance to process what I and the company perhaps had just been through. I’m sure some of what went through my head was interesting. I’m sure some of what did was just the silliness of a Dionysian wine-infused giddiness. What really stuck with me, however, was this – how fucking lucky I am. I’m not sure how often one gets in a lifetime to take two weeks to chew on these types of meaty classic plays – the origins of western theatre – surrounded by people of incredible intellects and passion. How often does one get to sit in a room and read aloud any, really ANY, of these plays to an interested audience? I feel as if I have been working my whole life towards the moment of even engaging with these plays and I feel as if the hard work is starting to pay off. Brain and body working towards a sound. A sound that might start this play. Whichever one it may be.
JEd May 23, 2013
( YIKES… Monday evening/Skidmore…. I learned today that this email, sent Fridaynight, never arrived to SITI folks.. so pardon the resend)
Getty Villa ..what day is it? ..Tuesday may 21, 2013
Yesterday was our day “OFF.” Which meant chores for us all. Ellen and I spent all day downtown looking at apartments and loft spaces. Altho’ it is far from Westwood, I have chosen a more urban walkable area, close to good friends who I can commute to work with a few day a week and try public transportation on off days. YES I will have to buy a car eventually but I hope that can wait for a while. After a long hot day with lots of walking, we didn’t get back to the Oakwood Woodland Hills until after 8pm. Ellen and I take a cocktail out to the pool to see if anyone is around. Yes at the jacuzzi we find both Kelly and GM resting weary bones. Eventually Bondo and MK join us and we chat about the day, the days past and the days ahead.
As happens here in the artistic womb the Getty provides us we are all incubating plans and ideas, interests and dreams. We have now read 3 veryyyyy different plays and each provides challenges and joys… we talk about them all. And for the most part we all agree much more than disagree. We realize that the next day (today) we will get more specific feedback from all three Getty Dramaturgicurators and are jazzed about that, excited to hear what they will say and sure they will have strong vibrant opinions… and we were right.
This morning Ellen, Kelly and I drive and try to avoid turning on the AC but before we even cross under the 101 (Hollywood/Ventura Highway) Ellen cranks it on as we climb the canyon past the Topanga Canyon Festival signs (Hippie Hollow Holidays I call it) and road crews cutting down brushfire fodder. I wave at the Theatricum Botanical with its normal 5 school buses and as we pass the GIANT Buddha lawn ornament sculpture stand, the air cools and we lower the windows.
At the Getty security post there is yet another new guard… I don’t think we have seen the same one twice yet, we get our badges and grabs our bags with more and more scripts and Greek Theatre notes, our lunches and tabi head into today’s empty Museum. A thrill for me as it seems to make this magical place…even more so.
Yes lets be honest, we all love this place and feel somewhat proprietary about it…not sure we have the right but we have done good work here and it is appreciated and respected and we reciprocate the feelings.. we adore this staff..every last quirky one (says Mr. Pot to Mr. Kettle), so on Tuesdays with no tourists we really feel a part of this lovely place and walk the gardens quietly and alone and sit in the sun on the outdoor stage to go over notes and just…imagine.
We stretch and thank Jessica, who has been GREAT, for having the coffee on and ready. Anne’s tai chi is looking more and more fluid and concentrated. Today Anne tell us we have plenty of time before our ‘BIG’ meeting and so we train a bit longer. Sunkyos, Basics, Walks to the new music by Rachael , SloTen and some statues. Viewpoints starts slow and meditative, it is based mostly on floor pattern and time. Anne mentions that perhaps that is something she wants to work on more at Skidmore.
After our break we all gather in the green room/conference room.. and I mean ALL, the room is full and exciting. All three dramaturgicurators, Ralph, Anna( what shoes will I wear today)Woo, Laurel, Norman, even Lauren one of the the other head curators. We sit around the Antigone configuration tables and let the floodgates open…..
‘RELEASE THE HOUNDS!’
In my last Getty blog I mentioned that I think classicists love their work as much as we do…. AND they are almost as opinionated. This is a wonderfully symbiotic match! I like to think that they enjoy and appreciate our energy and enthusiasm, our ability and desire to jump in and much as we LOVE their intellect, knowledge, commitment and passion for their, now OUR, work. They are ALL real collaborators here, and becoming more so each time we return as our dating dance seems to be getting serious. I may just bring the Suburu and trailer next time.
( A break here, we are all exhausted, excited and exhausted and I just did not finish this tonight.)
[ continuing on Weds. but still writing aboutTuesday]
So we start talking generally to begin. Anne has sent us a list of questions, some of were
1) Why do this play now? What specific questions does this play provoke?
4) In what world might this play take place?
2) How will the work on this play challenge our abilities?
3) What kind of preparation would this project require?
7) What special skills are required of us?
9) Does the right translation exist or does it need to be commissioned?
Those were the one that most resonated with me and esp. the middle grouping above…I’ll get to that soon.
The dramaturators add a few more and then it seems to distill down to a few main questions, the first based on a moving statement by the Getty personnel, led by Mary as they talked about the Mission of the Getty and how that relates to the what, and why they present the particular type of presentations they do, they also talked…in a general way about what shows or types of shows have been more problematic than others. We of course TRIED to get some juicy theatre gossip out of them.. but they turned into…. Greek statues.
I do not want to paraphrase the Getty Mission so I am hoping that Anna Woo or someone will send me a copy that we can add to this post but something that Mary said really resonated with me, that the Getty’s reputation (as related to theatre) rests in Greek drama as an investigation into Ancient Geek life. That is so exciting to me because I love the Greeks and the questions that they asked about their lives are as relevant today as then.
The Getty has done over 30 of these investigations, counting both productions and readings but perhaps we can say that not all were….successful in terms of their mission statement and part of that was the ongoing search to find and use an…hmm authentic or faithful script.
They also said that we were”probably” the most successful at using the space. I certainly hope so, another one of many lovely compliments from our wonderful collaborators.
So finally I think it came down after much wonderful, thought provoking and fascinating conversation to two main points.
1. What is the responsibility of this production to the Getty, and
2. What is our responsibility to the original script.
We talked about that for a while going in depth about all three plays, their strengths and weaknesses…. and then I added another THIRD point.
3. What is the responsibility to the Company, to SITI.
and I meant this in terms of the second grouping above: How will the work on this play challenge our abilities? What kind of preparation would this project require? What special skills are required of us?
I said that we have been training for 20 years for THIS work, for this opportunity and how much this collaboration means to us, to us all- that I only regret that we are not ALL here. So then I said it. I would love and hope that the WHOLE COMPANY could be involved in the next project, the next BIG play, that we have never ALL been onstage together but that is what we train for.
…… THEY DID NOT BLINK!
Ralph asked how many is that? Ellen said 10.
They looked around at us and each other, several nods…” It might be possible.”
I got even more excited. Yes of course we know that logistics might be impossible but with a year to plan and to try to arrange schedule.. at least we MIGHT we able to have this opportunity, all of us together. I would like to think we can all TRY to make that happen.
That lead to more discussions, questions, ideas.
I asked if I was correct is assuming that it is good for the Getty that Trojan Women traveled and has a life- “yes or course.”
So I mentioned that was also a part of the equation to consider, which script might be of more interest to those big international venues we have been talking and dreaming about for years.
It was a wonderful and lively discussion. I made my choice early on, thinking big and about what I thought might best suit the larger part of the company- I won’t say now, we all want to discuss it together in Skidmore and perhaps read two scripts but we also talked about possibly using some ancient Greek after asking Shelby to speak some lines from the Persians.
Then we decided to try and learn some Ancient Greek to perhaps train with. Just a a few lines… and so Shelby will work on that and work with us tomorrow.
[She did and We did and it was wacky and fun and thrilling… and not so easy…not surprise there]
One of the main points of the whole day but the idea of THE CHORUS, what is means and how to explore it, what it would take to embrace that idea of the chorus as a main character in the spectacle. Another point the Getty staff said was not usually stressed and successful. We all got very jazzed about what that might mean to SITI and the project.
The dramaturators did NOT want to have everyone say their vote, esp. them, they wanted more to ask questions and even more to answer ours.
The meeting ended with an acknowledgment of the importance of the best choice and of the work and responsibility that would come with it. it was another wonderful day.
MUCH later. Friends I apologize the days seemed to get longer and longer in work hours and short and shorter in chronological units….ask Anne to explain about the two notions of Kronos…. So I am sending this to you Friday evening. My schedule has now changed and I will have meetings all daytomorrow, Saturday and then catch the RED EYE back to NY.
I will see some of you at Skidmore on Mondayto our dear Getty colleagues I send a very fond and affectionate farewell…
Bondo: Getty Villa Day 7 May 19, 2013
We are tired … and ….
Sunday was our 3rd and final public reading of the Greeks. We read Euripides’ ION. We arrived at the villa for training at 10:30 a.m. I chose that we would work on the marches, then statues with speaking the “Midsummer” text. We did a 15 minute VP session that was entirely open, then set up the tables to sit and do our rehearsal read.
Each table configuration has been slightly different over the 3 public reads. For PERSIANS we set 1 table with the men (JEd, GM, & Bondo) behind it and the two women (Kelly & Ellen) on either end. Jessica sat at the proscenium edge SL to read directions. The focus for us was entirely forward toward the audience. The table was several feet up of the edge of the stage. For THE BACCHAE we moved the setting slightly more down stage with 3 tables all in a line where Jessica & Anne joined us (Anne read the stage directions from the table.) For ION we set the 2 tables side by side only a couple of feet from the stage’s edge. It was cozy.
This closing of the distance with the audience really felt like we were subtly staging the progress from the remote distances of THE PERSIANS of Aeschylus to the familiarity of Euripides’ ION.
Today’s work was a hilarious romp of a reading. ION (this David Lan translation) really is very funny. I don’t think we understood how funny the audience would find it. Let’s just say that once we understood, we went there. But we really couldn’t have done so had Kelly not pulled out all the emotional and energetic stops as only she can. Also, we were held firmly in the capable hands of our curatorial expert, Ken Lapatin, who reminded us that there are some serious issues and consequences contained within. We were reminded of the themes of the Foreigner, Truth, and how the god/human relationship conspires to manipulate it (“if the gods lie, how can we ever know the truth”), Borders (a haunting representation of our own immigration war in this country), and so on.
After the reading we reconfigured to have our post reading discussion Q & A with the audience – not before Anna Woo handed out prizes to audience members who’d attended all three of the readings. Thank you to them.
This was a lively and appreciative conversation. We truly have been searching to extend our relationship with the audience, asking their thoughts on the translations, how they imagine the works being done (with guidance from the expansive and expert knowledge of our curator/handlers), how they think of SITI and what might happen with the works in our hands, and much more. I am so impressed with those who stayed to talk. I am surprised by how much they got from the readings, how they remembered so much detail, how they translated the works to our own time and to their personal situations. In a sense, we did our job, much in the way that the festival of greek plays during the celebrations of Dionysus did – that is to unite a community in a common pursuit, confirm identity, engender conversation both personal and collective, provide some catharsis, and allow us to somehow see in the future what might happen – or at least the “possible” future we hope to share when we come back next summer with the full on — whichever play we choose. What’s more, the consensus seemed to be that we do 2 of the scripts – better yet, all 3! I wish I could name all the audience members who went on this ride with us.
Here’s another surprise. As much as the BACCHAE is so much favored as a work overall, the audience (and we with them I think) were particularly taken with THE PERSIANS. The audience thought this would be a good fit despite the difficulty of the text, the obscurity of the language, the seeming lack of “action” and “character development” and, well, the fun of the bloody violence or the comic misadventures. In short, it seems they were up for the challenge that THE PERSIANS would offer. And then it was put to us that to do ION as well would be a nice balance. I think we of SITI were pleasantly surprised and heartened, and I could feel our collective bloods rise in anticipation of the challenge. Later discussions back at the apartment complex included such “what if’s” as a 3 year residency to do each of the 3 plays, or a performance of ION in the small indoor theater followed by a performance of THE PERSIANS outside in the amphitheater, or a festival of all 3 performed in repertory over a series of nights ….
I want to articulate the amount of enthusiasm, support, confidence, and encouragement I felt from those who stayed to speak with us, to keep going, to dream as big as we wished, to know that we were not alone in this process, and that they’d be there when we came back. Remarkable.
And so this coming week will be about pouring over some translation alternatives to what we have now, perhaps reading something new such as Aristophanes’ THE FROGS for example.
But for today, our 1 day off, it is about laundry, good food, STAR TREK (!), visits with local friends, catching up on emails and phone calls, skyping the kids, and the rest of it. “Rest” is the key word there.
So, thank you Kel, El, Jessica, GM, JEd, Anne, Anna Woo, Ken Lapatin, Mary Hart, Shelby Brown, and Ralph Flores for a happy, productive week.
Ellen: Day 6 May 18, 2013
An early morning after reading the Persians last night. The fog and clouds giving way to a pure light that etches everything with such clarity. The beauty is almost too much, overwhelming to the senses and the soul. A morning drive up into the canyon and down to the Pacific, which is now a color we haven’t seen before.
After the formality, archaic structure and rigor of Aeschylus’ language, we give over today to the wild, unnerving energy of Euripides’ The Bacchae. One has been read at night, sombre and strange. The other will be read midday, while this light outside shines on the white marble, glitters the fountains and herbs, spins the birds into the air.
But we were tired.
And so in the morning it seemed somehow not possible that we would be able, sitting behind tables in the chill of the black box theater, to provide any kind of hook up into this brutal text for the audience, something that might take them back into its history while letting it roar into their immediate lives.
We read it thru before the performance, after training. Mary Hart, our curator and scholar for this play, listened, provided more context. With Anne reading stage directions, we sat in a line of 7 across 3 tables, pushed closer to the audience than for the Persians.
This is hard to write about. This experience. It is not for lack of feeling, but rather because feeling is refusing to be captured in words. Today we read The Bacchae, and I read the role of Agave, mother of Pentheus- who rips her son’s body to shreds in her state of possession by Dionysus. Tricked to thinking its a lion, she rushed from Mt Kithaeron into the city of Thebes, only to be talked down by her father (Bondo)to look at what she has really done. The ultimate scapegoat-blinded by the god. Responsible? Free will? Victim? where are the lines drawn?
For over 20 years, under the direction of Tadashi Suzuki, I struggled with this role, toured the world, grew up inside it, in just about every way.
If a person has a child, they have some way to mark the passage of time. Their eye can see the growth marks, lovingly inked on the door jam, they can flip thru albums of birthdays, report cards. Their arm that used to cradle, soon pulls a little body in, then drapes an arm over taller shoulders. My life has been marked by playing this role.
And because this is, as it happens and the wide world works, its my day for the diary, so this is my subject. Agave then- Agave today. I thought my heart would break, my head would split, but neither happened. What I could do was pull together 2 countries of my life. I didn’t know this was what the day would give.
In 1992, Suzuki cast me in the role of Agave in his production of Dionysus, his majestic interpretation of The Bacchae. Akiko, Kelly, Bondo have all been in it, before the advent of SITI. We each had our growth inside it. Then, it was performed alongside Chuck Mee’s Orestes, in that inaugural season of SITI. The earliest members of something called the Saratoga Institute included Tom, and too, those who have long since gone down other paths, were in this piece. It has deep resonance in our culture.
1992-Ellen Lauren and Tadashi Suzuki
At the time I was placed in the role I didn’t know shit. I was loud and tall. Unlike others, I remained in the piece, toured the world and experienced almost 2 decades of the most essential, challenging lessons that an actor can face. I stood on the great Herod Atticus stage, the Teatro Olympica in Vicenza, the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, the ancient stadium of Delphi, the Moscow Art, the RSC, the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, the sleek Hong Kong Arts Center…its a heady list and goes on. For 16 of those years I was the only Western actor in the piece. It was bilingual and my Japanese remained only at a level that allowed for dressing room camaraderie, airport necessities and heartbroken late night confessions- but never more than that. I lived on this 20 minute experience.
When I finished in 2008 I think I knew less in some ways, but the geography covered had shaped my life, taught me what I lean on each and every day and in turn try to share. The experience scalded me clean, and has become not something that I did, but something that I am. I do not know how to describe this.
So today, we gathered once again to tell this story in the basement of the Getty Villa. Another time, other parameters. In the middle suddenly I was rushed in by memories. The most distinct memory of my first day of rehearsal so many years ago in Mito, Japan. We had trained, and then I was sent off with the prop of Pentheus’ head, a wig mannequin, to ‘rehearse’. I was sent to a small sound proof room. When the door clicked shut, I had no idea what to do. What did it mean to ‘rehearse’ without the others, the director, even the text. I thought I would go mad, took a breath, and then the following years became about that discovery.
We read so well today. I realized that my legs were burning from pressing into the floor under the table, as they were used to in reference to these words. I realized that I had kicked off my shoes to feel the floor. I felt Bondo next to me vital and skilled, he pressed my hand, and then something transpired between us, an acknowledgment of the past in our present. Our history. Something quickened and deepened in the room. There at the end of the table, Kelly tore into the Chorus sans music and locale and created a whole world. GM seduced with spectacular charm as Dionysus, JEd had the audience rapt with Pentheus’ transformation from angry Prince to the best drag act in the history of Western Theater. This transcript of the most wild unsettling behavior ever set down, woke and worked. On us all. We all heard it. And somehow it wasn’t even the translation-it was something else, unspoken, invisible that transpired.
After, we were a bit stunned backstage. A talkback, and then a meeting to select the scholarship candidates for the Conservatory-in the sunshine, at the Getty Villa, after ‘reading’ The Bacchae. Which I realize now, read us.
Tonight, we gathered because we needed to see each other, by the pool, with drinks and J.Ed made food. I still don’t know how to write this.
but that was day 6.
Dionysus, Teatro Olympico, Vicenza Italy
xellen G.M.: Day 5 May 17, 2013
“When all the Persians troops had gone
To conquer Greece we old men known
As ‘the trustees’ were left to guard
a rich, gold-glittering estate.”
These are the words that would begin our public conversation and journey with our reading of The Persians in the evening of the fifth day…
I woke up in my Oakwood Apartments bed, early, with the sunlight penetrating the useless defense of my plastic blinds. No matter what the set-up, here in Los Angeles there is no escape from the sun. It is a beautiful thing but also a reminder that I am not home. I am, actually, in quite a foreign place… LA, and by extension California, is a magical and gorgeous place but one that I don’t call home. I remembered the feeling two years ago of “endless summer” that actually worked counter to what would seem obvious and made me miss the place I call home – crazy and seasonal New York.
I woke with the multi-syllabic names of foreign people and places swirling in my head. “Pharnadakes and Sosthanes“… “Sousakanes – Egypt’s own Pegastagon“. The meter of the play and our translation’s attempt to adhere to it ran strongly through my dreams. The play is like a storm that slowly and inevitably moves through it’s course. The night before, Bondo and Marianne, my roommates, and I had some food and wine and discussed how we had a vision of this play set in a Beckettian landscape. The chorus slowly enters and just stands and delivers. Maybe the characters’ faces are painted white and their clothes are ripe with age. I thought of “Play” by Beckett. Ellen had talked about the stillness. I thought of the design of some of the characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Ha. The ancient reality and quality of these plays, of course, lend themselves to this.
We had a little more time in the morning since we had a long day and evening “reading/investigation/performance”. It’s been a question on our minds – what is the purpose of the three public happenings? Are we here to put something out into the world? Are we trying to find out what the public wants most? Are we trying to learn something about ourselves in relation to these massive Greek plays? All of the above, of course.
It is interesting that The Persians is a play written by a decorated Greek military man. As our amazing classicists have told us there is a purposeful exoticism about many of the names in the play. Aeschylus was trying to celebrate the Greek victory in the battles of Salamis and Marathon but to also warn against the hubris of an empire, which, of course, always seems to follow. Thousands of years later it seems that this is a lesson that is inevitably re-learned – a lesson so easily forgotten and necessarily thrust on every empire. The parallels are obvious. Empathy is, actually, the ability to see into the future.
The Persians is the first extant Greek tragedy there is. This fact really boggles my mind. I understand it is a simplification but it is pretty cool to attempt to perform the “first” play. The “first” play by the man who gave birth to tragedy. How does one perform the “first” play? What are the acting tenets and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation that allow us even to attempt this? It feels as if one has to reach down all the way into our cellular make-up, our genetic strains, to have this conversation. It is a much different physical concept to even attempt this, we keep discussing this fact, and I, for one, don’t really have the answer. In an attempt to meet this, I had the company begin our Suzuki training on the ground, curled up in the fetal position, and rising on a count of thirty – a poor approximation but as close as I could get to the metaphor and physical expression of this birth of theatre.
We did a read through in the afternoon and I was again struck by the absolute, massive strength of this play. It is not a quiet lamentation but a mountain, an absolutely steel-like reminder of the repercussions of mankind’s addiction of war. It is a ghost story as well and contains the first character of a ghost – Darius, played hauntingly by J Ed. It is the beginning of a long line of ghosts that haunt our history of plays, always reminding us that you can’t take any material riches with you when you pass.
The audience seemed to have enjoyed our investigation and many people stayed for the talk back afterwards. We went home exhausted. Today we read The Bachae and I will start that play again, as I did this one. Sleep now. But the words tomorrow are:
“I am Dionysus…”
J.Ed: Day 3 and 1/2 actually May 16, 2013
I am starting this late and will surely not finish until this evening after day 4…but so it goes.
Last night just as I was finishing supper and about to start my section of the daily blog…. the doorbell rang.. or someone knocked….. long conversations and a few drinks later I went to bed my report undone.
but to back up.
Some early memories of our amazing days here.
I had been in LA since late Friday evening having flown here from Windsor Ontario, via Detroit for 2 Saturday meetings( which caused me too miss the GALA).
Sunday as the rest of the SITILAGetty company landed at LAX and picked up rental cars, I ventured onto LA public transportation and 105 minutes later a bus dropped me off in Woodland Hills 2 blocks from the Oakwood Apt.s
Monday morning as Ellen , Kelly and I walk from the Getty parking lot to the theatre Anna Woo come towards us beaming broadly and says “Welcome Home!” And yes it was and is as beautiful and serene as we remember it.
Tuesday the museum is closed and GM and I warm up on the outdoor stage. Later as Bondo wrote we had a lovely dinner with the charming and PASSIONATE Peter Sellers.
Wednesday, the exhaustion is starting to creep in. We are all so happy to be here, to be back.. and ALL we are doing is “READING” but it is mentally and physically exhausting to read, study , analyze THREE Greek Plays in three days! We all know we are lucky to be here but the schedule is BRUTAL, we are to read the plays back to back on three consecutive nights. Originally we were to have one rehearsal/study day per play and then move on, coming back to the play again only on the day we are to read it
but that didn’t last past day one. Because we did not get all the way thru the first play THE PERSIANS on Monday. So Tuesday we returned to THE PERSIANS for a full read thru with no stopping for notes or comments and then after a short break moved on to THE BACCHAE.
Today (no- yesterday really, as I am writingthis Thursday morning) we returned to The Bacchae to finish the first work thru and then moved on to ION. (Time to leave for the ride to the Getty I will continue this on a break).
At the Getty now. How Wednesday began ( yesterday).
The ride thru Topanga Canyon was a bit cooler. Ellen , Kelly and i drive in our red rental, it looks sporty but not much power for going UP hills. We are not that much further from the Getty IF the traffic is OK but the South Valley is VERY different. Nothing to walk to here, the neighborhood we are in (Woodland Hills) is not urban friendly. We really were spoiled at the Marina Oakwood where you could walk to restaurants, shopping and even a farmer’s market- here it is a car for everything….So as we drive UP into the Canyon leaving the Valley it is hot, dry and yellow where not watered, we have to turn on the AC, on HIGH for Kelly in the back seat. Once we crest the Canyon and cross over to the Pacific plain the air cools, the brush and hills turn green and we lower the windows. Every day we pass by the Theatricum Botanicum and I nod my head and wave to one of my heros, its founder, the great blacklisted actor and activist Will Greer. It is still run by his family. His daughter Ellen and her children now. They are running MNDream now and the school buses are parked there most days as we drive by. Exiting Topanga Canyon you pass a final curve and there it is- not quite the WINE DARK SEA but still the very lovely and cool Pacific Ocean. We turn left onto PCHighway and head south. We reach Gladstone’s on the Beach , a touristy restaurant where we stopped once years ago while on a WOW RADIO PLAY tour, and take another left onto Sunset now heading east for just a quarter mile and then turn on Los Liones and head up to the Staff entrance to… the VILLA and what seems like another world.
Wednesday we stretch and Anne is there on her postOP hips doing TaiChi, it is great to see her moving so easily again; we chat, ask what we had for dinner, slug back a coffee and then train. I lead today and after some Sunkyo 1 and 2, slide sliding and basics we did Stomping and Shakuhachi. After Suzuki we get into a conversation about the nature of our journey here this time. What are we doing…doing three plays, are we “reading” or exploring, auditioning the plays, what do WE expect of this time and how to welcome an audience into that? Do we want the audience to HEAR the play, is that paramount or to share our process as actors with them? The conversation goes on long and so we did more of a vocal…viewpoints. However on another actual Viewpoints related note. The first two days of training we did not use Music for Vpts and most of us enjoyed that- not having music to lean on. The quiet, the concentration on listening.
After the conversation, nothing decided really but it was and is an important one. We set up the tables and chairs, like the Antigone set, and then arrange books, scripts pencils, coffee, water, tea and begin. I have sat every day at the US table next to that day’s script curator, I like to be able to check one of their original GREEK versions of the plays to see the original structure of the meter and stanzas. Some of the English versions adhere more closely to the Strophe/Antistrophe than others.
Wednesday was pretty thrilling for me dramaturgically, Aside from Ken who is advising us on ION, we also had Shelby (The Persians), Mary (The Bacchae), our dear friend Norm Frisch and Ralph Flores who has taken over Norm’s position, Anna Woo also sat in for a while, as she does often when not busy solving our problems before they happen.
Wednesday we finished up The Bacchae but most of the day was spend working thru ION. Now that we have read all three we can see how truly DIFFERENT they are. The Persians is the oldest EXTANT Greek play, it is very static, FULL of long descriptive passages of names and places, very much more a choral poem as written with little dialogue by Aeschylus, it is both a hymn to Greek victory as well as a warning to Imperial ambitions. Kelly in particular carries much of the heavy verse, full of names and battle descriptions of place, and is amazing. The Bacchae is ..well… The Bacchae, one of the masterpieces of Greek and WORLD literature with a lot of history for us as a company and for Ellen, Kelly and Bondo as performers. Mary advises on this one and each of the curators are very distinct in personality but all share a PASSION for their work and amazing knowledge of the Greek language. Ken who works with ION is Ken, funny, SMART, insightful and with plenty to say. There is a great depth to all their work, I love Shelby’s quiet charm and her love for the difficult script we both admire. I leaned over to Ken after another great note and he admitted to getting emotional talking about Delphi and whispered
“I think archeologists are the only people who love their work more than actors. ” He answered
“you haven’t seen us on our bad days.” I told him
“try working with a bunch of drama queens.”
So after we finished working thru Bacchae we took a short break and then plowed into ION. It is mentally and physically HARD to go full throttle from one play to something so radically different.
ION is an…. interesting play and this version we are reading here is both interesting, funny and clever and a bit more…facile than the others. The version by David Lan is very accessible but perhaps sacrifices depth for humor; that was a large part of the conversation about the play. I like it, it’s fun and fun to hear with good roles but there is something of A COMEDY OR ERRORS to it, a form of domestic comedy.. in this version. Perhaps next week we will look at other versions?
On the breaks we step outside into the sun, as the studio theatre is as cold as we remember it.. but it’s about all we can complain about at the Villa. The staff is as warm and friendly as ever, they both help us and stay our of our way.
We work thru the day, slowly and surely plowing forward and are surprised when 6pmarrives and we all realize how tired we are.
BUT by Wednesday evening we have read thru all three scripts. We are not done with ION but we have studied Three Greek plays now- in three days and I think about this in the same way that I think SHELBY talked about THE PERSIANS, only this group could do this. My one regret…. that we are not ALL here and working together on these great plays in this magnificent location.
It is now Thursday night. I am very tired but I so look forward to work tomorrow and to our first…..”reading.”
I send you all greetings from Los Angeles and warm hellos from our friends at the Getty.
Bondo: May 13, 2013
Good evening everyone.
Well, to begin with we just got back to the apartments after a lovely evening with Peter Sellars at his favorite Indian restaurant. I for one over ate. And I’ve never eaten anything like this. I didn’t know that I’d never eaten southern Indian cuisine. This was a little hole in the wall (as apparently many fabulous places are in this strip mall – driving culture.) Really good and such a generous gift. The entire crowd was there – us, Anna, Ken, Mary, Shelby, Norm …. Ellen unfortunately had to bow out of the evening to wrap her head around conservatory matters. We missed you Ellen, but/and thank you for all that you are doing on that front.
We changed the schedule slightly and took another crack at THE PERSIANS to hear it again uninterrupted. Hats off to everyone. That was enlightening and fun. And especially to Kelly & GM who carry the lion’s share of the names and places — litany’s of the dead and dying and mangled — the Tumnases and the Oweembowopses who fought and died at Perspicuity and Pusillanimous … all the familiar and unfamiliar. Psoriasis made it home but Eczema took an arrow on the Isle of Aioli. Really that was a Herculean effort. Hilarious and always impressive.
We then cracked the spine of our second play, THE BACCHAE which at the time was a religion we are given to believe more than the cult we had possibly imagined. The Bacchae – followers of Bacchus nee Dionysus, also called Bromios the bull and Evius. We had a brief moment of discussion surrounding the difference between cult and religion. I thought that really interesting. Mary, our curatorial guide through our second play, told us about various BACCHAEs she’s seen including Theo Tersopoulis’s version. We smiled some of us because we know Theo well from Japan days. Ellen shared (actually acted out) some of the thinking and highlights of Suzuki’s DIONYSUS that both Kelly and I have done as well. I laugh to think of Kel as the reverend mother in her wheel chair veering off course in her little chair to plant herself firmly and with conviction, and confidently shouting her lines “History …!” directly into the hot white light of a “shin buster” and facing entirely the wrong way. Why’s she shouting at that lighting instrument?! And Ellen in Sao Paolo making what seemed like a 1/2 mile entrance down the avenue of this enormous park that Suzuki had us spend the day re-landscaping, digging up shrubbery and replanting it elsewhere to make a better setting while enormous, dark-suited body guards with automatic weapons looked curiously and uncertainly on.
More geneology: who’s Kadmos? Who’s Echion? Pentheus means “sorrow”, Pentheus and Dionysus are 1st cousins – sons of two sisters, the daughters of Kadmos, founder of Thebes which is the place Athenians write about when they are actually writing about Athens (says Mary). Gods in for form of man. Men with god-like natures. Lines blur and heaven and hell play out in front of altar in ashes still smoking all these decades later. Clear and familiar themes and language we recognize from the Jesus tradition that are here in this 5th century B.C. play that wasn’t even performed in Euripides’ lifetime. I enjoy the story of Kadmos and Harmonia I remember suddenly from our work on ANTIGONE a few years ago. So many intertwined and unravelling stories and themes. And again names and places and stories overlapping from THE PERSIANS to the BACCHAE. We are immersed in the earliest of literary works from the beginning of western civilization. And I think now of listening to Peter Sellars speak of an initiative he’s trying to get started at UCLA that at bottom addresses the role of theater (art making) as the “thing” the “subject” on which one focuses that in the micro p.o.v. is all consuming and specific, but from the macro p.o.v. is only the thing there between us that allows us to actually look at one another eye to eye and understand much more important and human things – that no one really does any more what they trained to do, but do many things, and so why not embrace all disciplines and allow, no, insist upon interdisciplinary dialogue – with theater the necessary catalyst. And a circle closes, bells go off, we are in a large conversation supported and reinforced by these resilient, expertly crafted, pliant and flexible architectural marvels, like great bridges that sway in the wind but with the “tensile strength” as Ellen put it to weather the seasons and years all the while baring up under generations of human traffic – bridges across time carrying echoes of strange and strangely familiar conversations.
What a gift. What a day. And more to come tomorrow as we finish for the moment with THE BACCHAE and move on to ION.
Good night everyone.
Ellen: Day 1 May 14, 2013
We are back. Into the blazing sunlight, the heat of the valley where we are staying this go round. Into the scent of eucalyptus and jasmine and car fumes and sea. Today we wove, drove, up the canyon and down it- and just as you reach the other side, there is the ocean stretching endless-and back into the grove of the Getty Villa. My mind is filled with memories, but my body is what really remembers it. And just entering, just that much, I remember the warmth of the marble on our feet at night, the feel of the night getting cooler, the smell of lavender, the taste of the figs we’d snitch- the memories of another time in this extraordinary place when we made Trojan Women. But here, now, again to read these fathomless plays-The Persians, Bacchae, Ion.
And so we begin with welcomes and training and tables set up. There’s a meet and greet and old friends come and hug, much excitement. Mary! and Ken! and Anna! and Shelby! Later in the day, Norm shows up and participates. Its buzzing.
Its a stunning day of hot sun and cool shade and the Villa stretching out lazy and gaudy underneath the sky.
So we begin with The Persians by Aeschylus. A translation by Aaron Poochigian. It seems fresh new, smart. Its starts to reveal itself later as we read, its strengths, and its weaknesses. Something about it isn’t holding up for me.
Shelby is our guide thru this one, as we’ll have a different Virgil for each script. We dive into this ancient archaic text with freshly printed handouts and all that modern tech can provide, that Shelby has provided. She consults the Greek text constantly by her side, some of my favorite moments -watching her knitted brow over the words, bridging the languages and indeed, the centuries, together and bringing them to us.
But the piece makes itself, at least the most basic of its needs, known in the first few minutes, in regards to meter and meaning being one thing. As actors we perk up and know we have a worthy opponent.
And its canny. Where is it sympathetic to the opponent, when is it being nationalistic, or ironic? Its very crafty, this text, and very beautiful.
We come, later in the day, to that punchy place where the toll of trying to say a list of Persian and then Greek names has added up and we collapse in exhausted laughter. Kelly and later GM held up under so much, with precision and focus. Later we make jokes in the dressing room about ‘new’ names…”And then the Prince Psoriasis tore Eczemato bits” kind of jokes. We wept.
We got thru the script. We need to read it again, despite the schedule telling us to move on to the Bacchae. So we will first thing tomorrow. Its already so heady to face these plays and carry them and hold up under them. What tensile strength they have! What muscle! What necessity in the world! We have 2 more to encounter and I wonder how we’ll be able to breathe after all that, its that exciting.
here, again, at that Getty Villa, by the sea, we are reading some of the oldest words Western Civilization has. Old stories of old wars and loss and suffering. The only response is to gather and eat together and drink wine and argue and shout and laugh- and so we did after rehearsal, as I suspect we will more often than not. Back on this side of the Canyon, its hot and we ate too much and got sweaty.Too late, too much to do, but still…Tomorrow night we are invited to Peter Sellars home for dinner, that Norm is helping to arrange. You have to let go of something here to enter into it. The staff we are working with are already there in this special place, where it Matters so much-the places, the way a name is said, the lineage of power, the chronology of events. We are just reaching out and letting them take us by the hand.
Good god we need these plays. They are hard, this one was clunky in many places, (such good grace and fun to laugh together when that happens-‘Man down!” we’d shout when a name was stumbled over, poor actors, how we crash and emerge from the flames over and over)
But they are like laying down on the warm marble and hearing something ticking underneath -The faint heartbeat of the world.