BEOWULF marked the culmination of We Players' historic five year cooperative agreement with SF Maritime National Historical Park - the first of its kind in the all the land! This production also served as the inaugural artistic residency in the chapel at Fort Mason Center - look out for upcoming visual art exhibits in our old Mead Hall in the months to come. All of us at We Players extend sincerest thanks to SF Maritime and to Fort Mason for taking genuine artistic risks with us. We are so grateful to all the audiences who joined us in the wind and weather along the northern waterfront of San Francisco and in the warm embrace of the mead hall - as we wrestled with the heroes and monsters that live among us, and within us all.
As we return our creation back to the shadows, I reflect on this process - a truly unique collaboration and a synthesis of diverse art forms. Our BEOWULF was a hybrid beast: an immersive sound experience and avant-garde saxophone concert, cum movement piece, cum site-integrated theatre production, all combined through a kaleidoscopic interpretation of the oldest surviving Anglo-Saxon poem.
I recently revisited some of my earliest notes, written on the cusp of stepping into the rehearsal process back in late 2016. I dug up the following:
"I woke this morning with a new feeling, a trembling, a quivering, an uncomfortable, and yet familiar sensation…
The beginning feeling…
The feeling of standing at the edge, stunned at the prospect of stepping directly, purposefully, into the unknowable depths. Sending one foot and then the other into thin air to discover how falling down the rabbit hole feels this time…Some gears in my physical machinery resist the plunge, but others will overpower the resistance of vulnerability and hurdle me forward. I am poised briefly on this thin edge before the plunge…
We'll claw our way through dark forests where ferocious creatures lurk and into mead halls where blazing heroes recount feats of glory. We'll search for the monsters lurking in the closet and under the bed..."
Now standing on the other side of that journey, I glance back at the tracks left in the mud.... The process of creating this BEOWULF has been a wild creature, an unfamiliar animal. As an ensemble of co-creators, we coaxed our work from out of the darkness through much improvisation and iteration. While theatre is always a collaborative sport - one where numerous artistic disciplines align to create a seamless whole - for me, this project has provided a dramatic shift in inter-disciplinary collaboration. Usually, I start with a script and a site. I cast to my vision of the script and what I’d like to call forth from it, with the site informing foundational directing and design choices.
This time we began instead by gathering the players first - each coming to the work with diverse training and processes. Each had their own artistic vernacular, so we had to develop a common language. A playful shorthand emerged for different episodes we created through our improvisations. “Death Commercial”, “Disco Inferno”, “Eye of the Storm”, “Bonecrushers” - were written on index cards and arranged and rearranged. Content flowed in and out of these structures, changing the order of the piece. We left each rehearsal with composition assignments and came back with new scores or texts to share, to experiment with. What a joy, what an honor, to work with collaborators who are at once absolutely passionate about what they want to include, develop, or fight for - and who remain open to a relentless editing process, allowing their creations to be deconstructed or otherwise evolved by their fellow collaborators.
In this cave of the unknown, we wielded our tools - our saxophones, our eager bodies, our crackling voices - to see if we could build a fire together. A creative blaze to warm the space around us and bring light into this unknown land we inhabit together, this realm of shadows, of possibilities, of unborn ideas. We wielded our artistic tools - our pens, our horns, our fluid spines. We used these tools like broadswords and claws to hew a new shape into being, where there wasn’t one before.
Through these efforts, a shape in the darkness began to emerge…
Our eyes adjusted to the light and the shape gradually became more clear. A new flame of inspiration would light up in another part of the cave. A new piece of music. A new image. A new bit of text. We adjusted to the new light. And the creature changed shape again. We coaxed this wild thing into being, out of the cave of shadows, and into the light. To share with you. Thank YOU for exploring new terrain with us dear audiences! And tremendous thanks to our esteemed colleagues and dear friends at Rova and inkBoat. WE love you.
We're stepping now into the light of summer and the chaos of untamed love in a forest full of fairies with our Midsummer of Love. What dreams may come? Check back for updates from faerie-land soon!