Humana and New Work

When I begin to tell people about the Humana Festival of New American Plays I can’t talk fast enough. Anticipation settles into my chest and stomach, and, more often than not, I begin sweating.

Full disclosure: I worked at Actors Theatre of Louisville for the last few years, and this will be my first year going back as an alumni. Though my excitement is amplified knowing I’m going to see friends who still work there, it is remarkable how many people I’ve contacted to who are not ATL Alumni to ask, “are you going back for Humana?” The sense of national community, the “Homecoming” that it represents, is incredible.

I have never been in a place where the playwright is so revered and engaged. In rehearsals leading up to the Festival you see playwrights dotting the halls. They’re meeting with their dramaturg or director. They’re printing new drafts. They’re staring at the vending machines. Sometimes you can overhear conversations between directors and playwrights. There is a give and take that you don’t get to see in other social circumstances. Opinions and impressions are freely expressed. Motives are questioned. With this amalgam of ideas the playwright may continue to mold their script until their story is told. A playwright’s work is never finished. Even after opening night they may have new ideas for a revision.

You may know we’re working on a new play called Dearly Beloved. We’re taking steps to workshop this script because we have faith in it. We’ve worn opinions on our sleeves — openly offered thoughts and thrown them away. Open discussions have informed the work we’re doing, and I think you’ll see the playwright’s story coming through clearer than ever. We’re going to be taking it to the next level in our staging a month from now, and I hope you’ll join us.

Bringing a new play to life is exciting, and it is important for the world to know about it. This is why I think that the New Play Map (go find Dearly Beloved on there, I dare you) does an important job in making new work accessible. There can’t be a Humana Festival for every play, but there can be a way to develop and foster the work that is going on in your area. Go see something new around New England this weekend. I can’t wait to swap stories about what you saw!

Modern Dance

I’ve come to love modern dance, however I used to have an awful aversion to it. There were very few pieces that I liked. I didn’t connect as an audience member and I didn’t know why. Therein, I dismissed modern dance for a great while. I wasn’t going to fake it and say, “that was amazing!” when I had no idea what I had just seen. I could certainly recognize the timing, strength, and skill of the dancers, but I couldn’t find what compelled the choreographer to design the piece.
Last night I was exposed to a text for a performance piece. The playwright read the piece and I assume that it was at the tempo and rhythm she desired to perform at. Her four, double-spaced pages took nearly eighteen minutes to read, and mired in amongst those pages were vivid, dreamlike imagery as well as detached, intellectual phrases. And finally, after years of thinking, I discovered what made “good” modern dance (but not an absolute as the arts are subjective. (Yes, I just created a clause to my thought)).
It’s the story. I will say that modern does not always necessitate a story or journey, but it was my biggest hang up.
Now, I’ve called it out before that I didn’t get the story. However, for a long while I beat myself up for thinking I wasn’t smart enough to get it. That it was too intellectual (A-HA!). That this performance style didn’t have to have a story. That dance was an exploration of the body and an exposing of the mind, however tangential. That there must be some other value or component that I missed, right? I did the same thing with theatre. When something avant guard is on stage as a performance piece I at least want to see a story, or a theme, or a lens to look through at culture or society. I want to see something that is going to connect me as an audience member or at least take me on a brief journey. Heartless, soulless, selfish theatre is something that I do not want to see (or make).
That is also to say that in any performance I need to see the connection between body and emotion, and from that comes the intellectual. Read any of Chuck Mee’s works and you will find a lens, a theme, and a story. While you will discover how disconnected his pieces may appear on the surface, I think you will find that there is a story to be had throughout (not to mention a theme and context). I will say that I have not read all of his works so perhaps there is an exception to my rant here.
All this musing is to say that I’ve been thinking a great deal about Beckett and Muller in juxtaposition to musicals and melodrama. How do we find connections in a disconnected script? And how do we ask the audience to come along? How far can we take them? This is what makes modern dance so human.