"Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds!"
My my, such a long and wild journey we've been on!
2016 has been a grand experiment in stretching my process and practice. We spent SEVEN months working together - the same ensemble, creative and production team endured THREE tech weeks for essentially THREE very different productions (albeit all interpretations of Romeo & Juliet), built carefully into SIX different sites ranging from the dusty, dry expanse of rugged fields in Petaluma, to a 14th century inspired Italian castle (complete with a moat and a torture chamber), to the sleek lines of a steel and glass modern home, to the lush lawns and gardens of a prestigious villa.
We ended our journey on Sunday October 16, 2016 with a double header at the Montalvo Arts Center, performing in the pouring rain for the matinee (then occupying virtually every dryer in the Los Gatos laundromat to whisk the costumes back into shape for the evening performance). Many, many hours later - packing and loading and driving and unloading and sorting and sifting and washing and organizing - Romeo & Juliet is settling into slumber and those touched by the experience can begin sifting through our individual and collective memories. Hopefully images and sensations will continue to arise as we move through our own journeys of love and loss and discovery, heart-break and heart-swells. Sounds and scents in the landscape may draw our attention back to the dry alfalfa grasses of Petaluma and the stunning sunsets crowning Juliet's death corral, or perhaps to the ionized air after the torrential rain, when the green earth pounds its vibrancy against the immaculate background of white columns and archways in Juliet's final resting place in the "Temple of Love" at Montalvo.
Much of my reflection will be private. I will go to Iceland in December, into the darkness (literally) to absorb the lessons, to reflect on the highs and lows, to detach from both the stresses as well as the successes, to get quiet and clear enough to move forward honestly into the next experiment, the next pushing of the edges of my creative practice. Soon, I'll be shifting into the sagas of Nordic heroes and investigating monsters of the inhospitable realms of untamed earth and psyche. I'll be joining forces with some inimitable collaborators - the searing satirical intellect and humor of Nathaniel Justiniano of Naked Empire Bouffon, the astounding physical precision and improvisational prowess of Shinichi and Dana Iova-Koga of inkBoat dance theatre, and the profound sounds of avant-garde saxophone quartet Rova, a team of musicians truly enviable for their deep listening skills developed over nearly four decades of collaboration. Together, along with Charlie Gurke, We Players' resident Music Director and composer, and myself - performing again after a 2016 hiatus from the stage - we'll create something entirely new, as yet unknown to any of us, inspired by the ancient poem Beowulf.
Soon we'll begin to share the images and visions that will guide our journey into that cave of shadows...
At the moment though, Juliet still swirls in my heart. "Dear Juliet, why are art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe that insubstantial death is amorous, and that the lean abhorred monster keeps thee here in dark to be his paramour? For fear of that I still will stay with thee."
And I will. I'll spill a bit more ink on you yet. And you, yon reader out there on your screen somewhere - if you're interested in this clatter of keys, this tap tap tapping out of memories from this 2016 R&J journey, well, you are most welcome. Perhaps drift off into your own daydream of memories from your year. Fall is a good time for letting go, for letting things fall away. It's good to long a little for what we're letting go of...even as we know this release will open the window into tomorrow. If this is your moment to sign off, thanks for accompanying me this far and see you next time! Those of you sticking around...
Brave actors - thank you so much for sharing the journey with me. For trusting me with the bulk of your year and courageously moving from site to site, integrating with each new environment and letting each space inspire you and dramatically shift your interior landscape. It was stunning to watch the inner life of your characters evolve over time and from location to location. Lady Capulet how you swayed your hips and devoured the vast open space in Petaluma, only to pull inwards towards sharper, cleaner lines and tight fisted control among the refined structures of Montalvo. Oh Tybalt! How you sulked at the adobe as an insulted and belittled boy who just wanted to claim some shred of dignity. In your own words, "Who just wanted to matter and who hated Mercutio for having made him kill her. Who had no choice but to go back and kill Romeo, or die trying. Some of the best acting I've ever done was out in that field, alone, for no one, realizing what he'd just done and where he could go from there...what a thing to look at your dagger and see someone else's blood on it." And then what Montalvo did to you! You didn't plan it, but your communication with the space led you somewhere entirely new. Mean and violent and definitely dignified. Who, instead of battling with himself out on the open field, intentionally creeps back through the forest to kill Romeo. To stab him in the back if you can time it right. You described it to me that the experience was "Almost like his psyche is being determined from the outside in. I knew one version of Tybalt, but another, different in so many ways, was just lying in wait. This one doesn't think there could be anything wrong with killing Mercutio or a Montague....Coming back to kill someone, what a weird thing to imagine. What a thing that most people don't imagine. Sneaking up to kill a person. it comes so naturally being up there on that hill...The lasting image I have from the adobe is falling on the hard dirt, knowing I'm about to die. The image that will stay with me from Montalvo is creeping up to the back of unsuspecting Romeo's head, ready to kill him."
Each of you taught me so much about the truth of letting the space inform your characters. Thank you.
In April we lived together in the 10 live/work studios of the incredible Sally and Don Lucas Arts Residency Program Center at Montalvo. I recall the sun drenched mornings. The cry and clatter of crickets. The sense of both subtle and significant progress. Of artistry - collective and individual - daily moving apace. The late nights full of surprises, like that April full moon when the two owls called to each other back and forth, back and forth, late into the night, into the early morning even. In bed listening - 1am listening, 1:30am listening, 2am listening… Are they lovers? Friends? Sharing in the hunt? Arguing? What can I learn from them? How do I attune my listening such that nature can teach me how to proceed with the work? The sense of being at summer camp with these artists, who are good people. Big generous hearts all round. In Shakespeare summer camp, our text work pierces the valley air along with the sounds of construction and hikers and local birds blending in their song. The clean breeze feels gentle and kind.
In each site the environment offers sudden surprises that enrich the meaning and delight the senses. In Petaluma a frenetic swallow took jagged flight at the very moment Mercutio was stabbed, as if her surprised soul was leaving her body in a rush. One day, as we rounded the corner of the adobe to lay Juliet to rest in her corral full of black crosses, a dozen stoic black bulls stood hulking in their massiveness in the pasture beyond. At twilight, for those remembering to look up, a criss-crossing of bats streaked the violet sky as the death mask was placed on Juliet's face. Then the hawk that screeched it's high, clear cry as she was laid into the open tomb. That sunny Sunday matinee when Benvolio and Mercutio loitered listlessly in the hot summer sun and Tybalt approached with hate in his eyes and a vulture swooped down from the sky, as if on cue, circling the feverous trio, waiting to see who would die first and possibly become its next meal. And who among those present can forget the precious moment during the marriage of Romeo and Juliet when just as the lovers kissed and said amen a burst of wings shot up from the great walnut tree as a flock of red-winged blackbirds took flight!
We'll bow our heads with humble acceptance for the sometimes distracting noise of traffic and inopportune airplanes, for these golden moments where art and nature align in precious, unrepeatable beauty.
Yes. But sometimes the forces of nature held us right up against the edge of the possible. And we invited the audience to uncross their arms and legs, to lurch from their would-be theatre seats, and instead lean into the experience with us. We don't pretend they're not there. They don't pretend they're not there. We are actually all inhabiting the same space together, scorching sun or pouring rain notwithstanding. This is a different request of the audience. To be willing to navigate occasional discomfort to be fully immersed into the world with us. It isn't always easy, but we hope it's worth it.
THANK YOU for this huge, long adventure. Thank you artists and thank you audiences for leaning in and joining in at Capulet Ball parties, at Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park, at the Montalvo Arts Center. Don't forget to get out and play, no matter the weather.
"The show was FABULOUS!!! It was the most memorable theater experience of my life, apart from the downpour. The 3 hours flew by! The experience of following the players from scene to scene, and in many cases interacting with them, was so engaging. The actors were superb...and then there was the final scene at the crypt, when the steps were covered with dead bodies and Juliet's mother was weeping, surrounded by Montagues and Capulets, and the narrator walks among them and tells us, "We're in mourning. Go home now." -- WHOA. No curtain call, no applause, no chatting with happy actors after the show. Just this end...And the actors stayed in character (we saw Juliet's mother crying -- and several cousins leaning on poles crying and consoling one another, all the way up to the parking lot). SUPERB!!! And it will be a huge advantage for my daughter Juliette when she sits in class and wades through the play, like they do in so many old-school high school English classes; Shakespeare is meant to be ACTED and LIVED. Well, it doesn't get any more alive than the We Players on Sunday." - Vikki B, audience member.