Today saw our first preview performance of Persians.
Working on plays at the Getty, we are faced in effect with two missions.
One is that we are charged with honoring the play as an artifact. An object that has survived the demolition derby of archeological history to reach us today in some version of “intact”. This mission is one where we in the SITI Company need a lot of help. As much as we bring our imagination and intellect and reading and researching to bear, we are dependent on the eyes and ears of the Getty staff, to help us. Guide us. And most importantly inspire us. I think it is safe to say that to a large degree we have succeeded in this mission with Persians. Our beloved curators have come to us and told us that we have done a lot of good on this front with our work on this play. Our work on the Ancient Greek text has paid off, and we seemed to have made some good choices that are allowing us to “channel Aeschylus” well.
The second mission is that we must create a production which sustains the interest and attention of a 21st Century Los Angeles audience. More than that, a production which moves a contemporary society. As we begin to put our work in front of an audience, this mission becomes more and more acutely felt. When we look out into the house now, we don’t see a smattering of sympathetic souls. We see the public. The punters. The polis. People for whom the plight of our Persians is the last thing they want to think about on a Thursday night in Southern California. They don’t care what a chorus is. They don’t want to go to school. They want to see a show. I don’t say this to speak ill of them. I say this because as much of a nerd as I am, when I sit down in a theatre as a member of an audience, after whatever kind of day I’ve had, I know how I feel.
This mission feels like it needs our focus now.
Thursday was in many ways a tough day.
It surprised me how much doing the show in front of the invited dress audience on Wednesday night took out of us. We came in today, exhausted.
We started off with Victor’s notes from the night before. We started with them because we had to lose Victor today. He had to fly back to Minnesota this afternoon. It is impossible to conceive of this production without Victor Zupanc. He gave us three huge handles into the play with the material he composed for us, and we’ve been holding on to them since (literally) day 1, but in the last couple of days since coming back, he has really turned up the volume on how we, in the chorus, need to be working. He is saying stuff to us that in many ways is SO elementary and fundamental. It is stuff than on paper WE ALL KNOW… But he’s been calling us out on it in such a great way. Akiko used the word “practical” and I think that’s right. He has an amazingly honest ear.
Our show is a rocket and we are launching. We have main engine ignition and we’ve begun to ascend. As we do that, the launch tower begins to fall away. The first part of the launch tower to fall away from Persians is Victor Zupanc. Big Salute to Victor! It was perhaps fitting that the last thing we worked on with him was our wailing, mourning, keening section.
Our stage manager Ellen Mezzera, seems like a part of the launch tower, but she’s not. She’s part of the rocket. We won’t be dropping her. But today was a tough one because she started it with a Migraine. She claimed to be fine by the time we did our preview, but I kind of suspect that she took a bullet for the team today and claimed to be better than she was so that we wouldn’t worry about her. It was bittersweet fun the way she kept popping up from between seats in the indoor theatre where she was supposed to be sleeping during our notes to save us or clarify things.
Shelby took us even deeper into how we’re using the Ancient Greek at the end of the show and how we can find more life in it. More freedom within the structure. Freedom in dialogue with structure. Individual in dialogue with group. This is deep chorus stuff. Antithesis as a form of union. I LOVE IT!!!
We then went through Anne’s notes. And began adding to the things that Victor had already put on our “work-list”. The things we want to work on before we go back out in front of an audience.
It is a bit frustrating that we cannot work things on the stage where we will be performing them because of the logistics of performing at a museum that is open to the public. So we do the best we can, and try to simulate and guess and prognosticate. We don’t get as much done as we would like to.
After dinner we do just a little bit of training. Literally, the basics, and then we do some “specials” and talk through some of the changes we’ve made.
Right now, we could go back into rehearsal for a week and clean a whole lot of stuff up. We know what we need to work on. But we’ve already lifted off. The rocket is already flying, and for better or worse, whatever we work on now, we work on, mostly, in-flight.
It still might blow up and kill us all. We’re holding on and trusting.
We did our first preview. It didn’t blow up tonight. The rocket continued to climb. The house was full. We learned a lot.
My beloved sister, a woman with a PHD in “Peace Studies”, was there with her family to see us perform this play about the pain of war.
I think back to something Shelby said to us about her field, archeology, at the very beginning of this process:
“It’s a mess. And we’re doing the best that we can.”
There is a moment in the show while the Queen is describing her dream, when I am lying on my back on the stone of the Getty stage. Every night that we’ve done this outside, I’ve looked up into the inky California sky and seen the same star. Almost directly above us. And it always strikes me… There are photons of light that were emitted from the surface of that star ages ago, that have been screaming across our galaxy, like some insane messenger, across distances I cannot conceive of, to strike the photo-receptive cells in the retinas of my eyes. As a result I see a star. Here and now.
It makes me think that it is possible that feelings generated inside Aeschylus’ heart, and in the muscles and sinews of his chorus, could reach across time and space and strike the senses of our audiences at the Getty, and unify the two missions of Persians.