This past Wednesday evening, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing the current Broadway revival of The Color Purple. I went with a friend from work who I often see theatre with, andthese artistic experiences that we have together fuel all sorts of discussions and thinking that we do about current events, cultural trends, and social justice issues. Given our interests and past production choices, The Color Purple seemed like a great choice.
Last Saturday I attended a production of Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker at The Chapin School on Manhattan's Upper East Side. I worked with students at this private, all-girls school last year around this time, when my former student and now colleague Sarah Bellantoni asked me to work with her to create an ethnodrama with her students. The experience of making that play was one of the highlights of 2015 for me, so I was excited to see this year's production.
This past Friday evening the project that I have worked on for the past six weeks finally came to fruition with a successful opening night performance to a very receptive audience. Anyone who creates something and then presents it to the public, regardless of format or discipline, knows that the opening/launch can be terrifying. In the past I’ve always found myself wringing my proverbial apron, unable to let go of the project, and wanting to run out of the theatre as the performance unfolded. This time, I feel like I turned a corner in my practice as a director, and I learned to just trust the work that I’ve done, and more importantly, to trust the other people that I’ve made the work with: the actors and the production team.
In her book, A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre, the stage director and teacher Anne Bogart dedicates an entire chapter to a discussion of the resistance that one might encounter in any creative process. Given that I’m about to enter the second day of technical rehearsals for my show that opens next Friday and that there’s a lot of resistance right now, I pulled out my Bogart text this morning, and re-read places that I had underlined or marked with an “Amen.”
When I first encountered this book several years ago, the concept of resistance in a creative process was very frustrating to me. I would get very upset, almost paralyzed, when things didn’t go as I had planned. As I sit in this moment in the middle of the most difficult part of any theatre creation process (tech), I still find myself frustrated at the resistance that I’m encountering, but I’m not letting it paralyze me. In fact, I tell my students that reading Bogart’s thoughts on this subject of resistance and working to embrace the ideas has actually helped me to become a stronger director and as a result, my work has gotten better. Rather than have the paralysis, I try to keep climbing the obstacles until I make it over the top and the next one appears. It’s the only way to get the job done. Thankfully, I have a team of collaborators who are there to help push me up over the wall.
Reading Bogart’s words again this morning have helped to ground me as I enter today’s rehearsal. Here’s some of what she writes:
"Resistance demands thought, provokes curiosity and mindful alertness, and, when overcome and utilized, eventuates elation. Ultimately, the quality of any work is reflected in the size of the obstacles encountered."
"If there are not enough obstacles in a given process, the result can lack rigor and depth."
"Art is expression. It requires creativity, imagination, intuition, energy and thought to take the random feelings of uneasiness and dissatisfaction and compress then into useful expression. An artist learns to concentrate rather than get rid of the daily discord and restlessness. It is possible to turn the irritating mass of daily frustrations into fuel for beautiful expression."
Thanks, Anne. I needed that.