It’s a hot, sunny Sunday morning here in LA. My favorite kind of morning…just me, my dog and a cup of extra strong coffee. Yesterday marked the end of our third week of Persians rehearsals at the Getty Villa. While we reverted to a six hour schedule yesterday, the day felt extra long at the end of a long week. Long, I think, because we’ve reached a pivotal moment in our process. The proverbial rubber hit the road this week. The work we have been doing to get the numerous specials of our play into our bodies has begun to pay off. We are seeing progress in our choral speaking, movement and singing…and thus, are able to look at these elements not only as technical compositions, but as storytelling devices set in the context of our play. It seems to me that in the very moment that a piece of vocabulary actually begins to sink in, it comes into question. Mastering the forms allows us to see their contents emerge…and sometimes the validity of those contents becomes unstable in the process. It is a thrilling and delicate moment for all of us.
As usual, we started our day with training. We began with some gentle stretches…rolling out the spine and stretching the side body. It is clear to me that, after hours spent in the evenings on the marble floor of the Outdoor Theater, a little extra TLC is needed (for the spine and neck in particular). Up & Down in 10, 5 and 1. Basics #1 & #2. Stomping and shakuhachi: speaking the Ancient Greek stanzas during the slow walk downstage. Standing statues with changing and speaking a tricky section of the play, in which Xerxes has a dialogue with the Chorus.
Choral speaking challenges us, as always. We continue to navigate the terrain of unison breathing, volume and dynamics, pitch and tone, emphasis and rhythm. This kind of work requires such a sharp ear and depth of focus. I am learning so much from everyone in the room about what it means to speak as a part of the group. I am grateful for the feedback I receive daily, and know my journey in the art of the speaking will be a long, arduous and fruitful one.
We enter an open viewpoints session…I suggest that while the work is open, we might continue to explore the dynamic relationship between individual and group. So much of our play lives in the space of that relationship. The improvisation finds its way into an exploration of Xerxes and the Chorus. We grapple with the place of actual expressions of grief (wailing, crying, keening) in the world of our play…and continue to examine the narrative life of our design elements (fabric, set pieces).
Before we move onto our specials, a conversation arises about the particulars of a metrical movement sequence we have been working on. As I eluded to earlier, we find ourselves at a place in the making process where the duration of certain forms comes into question. While we chase down new ways of moving, the important task of tracking our progress in conveying the story keeps us, constantly, on our toes. Time is so precious, so the need to be selective and productive is strong.
Onto specials…more work on choral speaking (Ancient Greek stanzas and the first chunk of text in the play). Ellen makes some structural changes to our score, and we find a new drive and cadence in our opening choral stasimon. The energy and enthusiasm toward changing and sculpting the sound is palpable. We learn that the quality of breath in these passages is as, if not more important than the words themselves. We see marked progress in some of the physical compositions we’ve been working on…this is encouraging! The quality of singing moves in the right direction as well…the more confident we are with the songs themselves, the more nuanced our choral work becomes.
The afternoon takes us into work on the entrance of the Messenger. Anne articulates, what I believe, we are all thinking. The choice for a single voice to attack this text was, without a doubt, the right one. Bondo dives in head-first and, with a masterful and delicate spirit, guides our ears along on this epic journey. We discuss, again, who we are as a Chorus and how we relate to the arrival of this character and this news. How do we balance our role as a somewhat detached narrative entity and a, simultaneously, implicit emotional reactor? The conversation goes right the core of our experience in making this play.
While I am grateful for the day of rest today, reflecting on the work of last week makes me hungry and eager to get back to it.
Looking forward to what the coming weeks will bring…