Monday, October 24, 2011

Dancing Not Dead

(the journey of a play Around the World)

Early in 2011, The Internationalists launched their first Annual Global Playwriting Contest.  125 plays from 18 countries were submitted.  The selection process was difficult, but John Freedman's 'Dancing, not Dead' was the ultimate winner.  In the past three months, his play has been presented (workshop or staged reading) in Berlin, Moscow and Bucharest. And it will be fully staged in January in The Hague by Karina Bes.  On 30 October it will also be presented in NYC – a live theatre/broadcast hybrid, directed by Doug Howe and Jeremy Lydic. At the end of the journey, we will sit down with John over a virtual coffee and ask him how the journey was for him, but for now, I asked Doug & Jeremy, who are currently in rehearsals, some questions. 

Ana: When you first read the Dancing, not Dead what impressed you the most?
Doug:‘Dancing, not Dead’ poses large questions without attempting to definitively answer them. Though the setting is simple and domestic, the themes and issues that pervade the text reach well beyond the home and across national borders. I was also impressed that John Freedman had written such strong and engaging female characters, especially those advanced in years. Their internal and external conflicts are both compelling and heart wrenching.  

Jeremy: A tragic death has happened, and yet the characters in this play are able to isolate and eliminate their empathetic response to the deceased, in order to pull focus to their own issues. I think that to write a play about someone who has just died, committed suicide rather, or was murdered, even, and make it entirely about the self-absorption of the survivors, is a challenging glimpse into human nature.

Rehearsal for Dancing Not Dead in Moscow with Oksana Mysina & Rimma Solntseva

Ana: What scares you the most about this play?

Doug: Nothing specific scares me about the play, but the constant challenge of honoring the text while putting it up on its feet is ever present. As we are only rehearsing for a limited time, we want to be able to do justice to the writer’s intentions while simultaneously making the performance engaging for the audience. Fortunately, we have some very talented and insightful actors, so my fears are minimal.

Jeremy: This is a play about two women whose game is bicker and banter, and yet a rule between them is to not let the game elevate to a "dramatic" level. And they refuse to really listen to each other. So, you have two strong women, who argue without blowing up, who don't really listen to each other. It defies typical drama in many ways, and the challenge is to keep this dialogue compelling to an audience.

Dancing Not Dead in Berlin, directed by Jake Witlen

Ana: Why have you chosen to co-direct this presentation?

Jeremy: I believe that Doug and I both have different strengths as directors, and I was really interested in seeing how his particular strengths, especially the ones I don't think I possess, combine with my particular process. I think the process will be greatly enhanced by this collaboration. I think Doug is incredible at talking about the play that exists, and I am not. I have a hard time engaging with the play until we start discovering what it can be through experimenting on our feet. So, I'm interested in seeing how our dynamic may or may not shift once we're up on our feet.

Doug: I am thrilled to be working with Jeremy. Every time I’ve seen one of his productions, I’ve always thought about how much fun the actors are having. Jeremy possesses a true sense of play and adventure, and encourages actors to really breathe life into their roles. I hope our individual talents inspire us both to become better directors. From our work together thus far, I am confident about the outcome of our pairing. Having an equal next to you in the room to bounce ideas and experiments off of is a real joy.

John Freedman with actresses Oksana Mysina and Rimma Solntseva after the Moscow reading of Dancing Not Dead

Ana: You also intend this presentation for online audience - why? how do you think the relationship between performance and audience will change depending on where this audience is present?

Doug: In this age of advanced technology, Jeremy and I were interested in experimenting with a live theatre/broadcast hybrid. Though the live performance is our primary focus, we wanted to create a more engaging virtual viewing experience for our online audience. Instead of the typical static wide-shot, we want to produce a more cinematic, interactive experience. We have spoken at length about how the two experiences differ, and we are specifically creating two different perspectives for the people present in the room and those on their computers. Like the three characters in the play, we want to offer both audiences varying points of view.

Jeremy: I believe that the online audience is always secondary when you include them in a live performance event. And, rightfully so. But since I do not believe that viewing performance online is very interesting, I'd like to try to direct this piece for them. I wouldn't say, however, that at this point we are directing more for the online audience. Basically, we're trying to create two different experiences for each audience. Rather than the audience just getting that back of the house camera view, which is super-boring, especially on a 240p window, we want to give them a different experience, an alternative to those in the live audience. In some ways, we're trying to think of it in filmic terms. Viewing theater online will always be more akin to film, so why not take advantage of that?

Dancing Not Dead in Bucharest, with Maria Ploae and Katia Pascariu
Ana : Watching online the previous presentations of DND in Berlin, Moscow and Bucharest had any influence in the way you perceive the play?

Jeremy: I don't want to watch any of those until after our performance is done. I don't like to be influenced in any way by what has been made in recent history.

Doug: One of the objectives of The Internationalists Playwriting Contest was to present the play in multiple locations across the globe. Each culture is going to get something different out of the experience, and to have the capability to witness those performances has been informative and inspirational. Even when it was performed in a language I don’t speak, I felt connected to my fellow company members around the world who were presenting it. It’s also been helpful to discuss successes and failures with the other directors who have already presented the play. Even though the presentation in New York is starting from scratch, I feel uplifted by the presentations done before, and am much better prepared to tackle this complex and challenging play.

Well, I hope you all won’t miss the Dancing Not Dead in NYC (even if you are not in NYC, you can still log online and watch it)! So, prepare yourself for a bit of adventure – this play traveled a lot this year, it would be nice for her to see familiar faces in NY.

Dancing Not Dead

Written by John Freedman
Directed by Doug Howe and Jeremy Lydic
Starring Orietta Crispino, Hank Kim and Sara Oliva

Sunday, October 30th, 2011 at 1:30pm - Live in NY; 2:00 live online
TheatreLab, 137 West 14th Street, New York, NY 10011

Limited seating, email to reserve your place to:

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