Persians Diary August 8, 2014

Aug 09, 2014

So much of what we do is about building routines. 

Of course we have “routines” that we perform on stage, but more importantly at this point in the process are the countless routines that evolve around the daily repetition of our schedule. How we navigate our preparation in the morning and getting to the cars and driving up to the Getty Villa and going through security. And then the routine of the work day itself and the getting home and the night-time routines of unwinding and studying and reflection and distraction. And we will do this for weeks, parsing out our energy and trying to find the best ways to bring our best selves to the problems at hand. 

It is personal. It is public. It is our work.

All this for a patch of time that will last less than two hours for most of our audience. We strive to create something that will resonate inside people’s lives for longer than simply the running time of the show, but the asymmetry of how much time we put into this, versus how long it will take to attend it, is really striking to me right now. 

It’s not a new thought.

So much of our work now is about literally carving new neural pathways in our bodies. Etching out fresh patterns and forms in our flesh. It gives me a feeling of kinship with the sculptures that live, quietly and vibrantly in the museum. They too, had a time when they were carved. When they felt the daily sting of the chisel. And they must of had moments of wondering if it would ever result in the joy of expression.

I woke up today and before I even got out of bed a huge section of the Greek we are learning was available to my brain in a way that it simply hasn’t been up to now. Despite my fatigue, this was a good and reassuring feeling.

Everything in my being wanted to do a “massage day” in training today. I just wanted to have everyone pair up and give each other some rejuvenating attention. But I knew that we needed to get through another 8 hour day, and it wasn’t yet the end of the week. Perhaps Emily will give us a break tomorrow…

I wanted to do the Marches. This has always been a favorite exercise in the Suzuki repertory for me. I love the scale and grander of it. It is both rigorous and varied. Highly formal and deeply expressive. It speaks to endurance, and a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of artistry that is part of our Persians right now.

As of yesterday I started leading our choral work on the “stichomythia” in the final part of the script including the “exidos.” Stichomythia is a formal term referring to text in which short, usually, single lines (if it’s half lines it’s hemistichomythia, and if it’s two lines it’s distichomythia) are exchanged between speakers. Often in a rapid, rhythmically energetic fashion.

All of this is arranged into “Strophies” and “Antistrophies.” So the section I’m charged with is structurally the Stropies and Anstistrophies leading to the Exidos and Epode. Formally it’s stichomythia.

I love this technical stuff, because we could easily call it “dialogue” or “conversation” but for me, these terms bring the material closer to daily life. Into that confusing place where theatre is no different than life. Where language is simply doing what it does when we’re walking around talking and texting and living. Stichomythia reminds me that we are not re-creating something that exists in quotidian, daily life. We are making something else. Something more.

So we used a bit of this stichomythia in our training. It works well, because as we have noted before, so much of the Suzuki work is rooted in the problem of how to perform these classical texts in the contemporary world. It’s always a little funny to me when people remark on how clear the classical text becomes when we do it in exercises. There’s a little bit of a “duh” for those of us who have been inside it for so many years. Now the problem is getting that clarity into the show.

I deeply enjoy the choral work we are doing. Not just the work on the stichomythia, but the Greek choral work that Stephen is leading and the work on the Parados that Ellen is heading. This is the kind of close choral work that reminds me of some of my favorite moments with the Suzuki Company. Hours spent in a circle working out whether to go up or down on a syllable. How to hit a consonant or vowel. It reminds me of that work, but I like this better. Our openness and shared rigor is so active. Every voice is not only welcomed but vital. None of us have this down and it makes us reach towards each other in deep ways. This is the root of chorus. We are more than the sum of our parts. 

It takes us the bulk of our day to work through our routine of “specials” before we get back to staging. We work for only a short while on the queen’s entrance and her exchange with the chorus before it’s dinner break.

After dinner we move outside again to work in front of the undulating apricot glow of the hanging fabric. As much as we are getting used to it, there are still moments when it takes the breath away. There is something deeply primal in the way wind and fabric interact. It has SO many valences.

We work from the Queen’s entrance through to the entrance of the messenger. After a couple of whacks at it, we finally get things lined up enough to give Bondo a real crack at the messenger. It’s been a couple of days since the first time he took a swing at it in the indoor theatre. This time he’s in situ. On the stone stage surrounded by what we have so far, with an aluminum pipe, standing in for what we think will be a battle-scared oar.

It is, in a word, epic. He basically impales himself on the oar and delivers the speech to us with an urgency and intensity that is literally hair-raising. He’s not done with it, and it is, frankly, full of holes. If what he ends up with in a month is half as amazing as it was tonight, it’s worth the price of admission on it’s own.

I was sitting right in front of him, trying to move as little as possible to concentrate all of my energy and attention on him. To try and be a lame sort of midwife to this process. But at the same time, I was transported back, 20 years, to an afternoon at Julliard, when Mr. Suzuki was conducting a lecture/demonstration and worked intensely, with Bondo, cast as Pentheus (with a staff instead of an oar) for what seemed like hours. It was Bondo doing that exquisite and amazing mixture of performing and exploring that he does so well. Suzuki was making things very difficult, and Bondo kept coming back at it with that ego devastating grace of his.

There he was tonight, fully capable of doing that same thing in the context of our rehearsal. Taking on, and moving forward, something deep in the history of this company. Putting extraordinary into the routine of a day. Raising the bar. Reminding us why we’re trying to do this.

Here’s to taking heroic swings at ancient shadows under huge skies!

Thanks Bondo. I know you didn’t do it just for me, but I needed that.