On Friday we presented our 3rd piece. We spent a week developing ideas and creating improvisations. The theme this time was an imaginary trip. If we thought the imaginary man was difficult!?! My group consisted of 2 Japanese, 1 native French, 1 Chinese, 1 Italian and me – the sole American. We worked in French the whole week – an hour or so a day – and by the good humor of the participants and many creative ideas, we managed to put together a simple piece of theater I could relate to and feel happy about. On Thursday afternoon after class we found a park nearby and rehearsed our piece for another hour. The ‘quartier’ (neighborhood) of the theatre is very mixed ethnically (every other shop appears to offer hair extensions or Indian food.) Some locals from the Ivory Coast applauded our efforts – despite the fact that we had taken over their basketball court.
The movement classes all week are beginning to take on more concrete uses – learning how to move through an invisible body or water – or pull an imaginary rope. Each cliched mimetic move requires hours of practice and layers of understanding - how we walk, how we move, how our bodies can amplify a gesture. We also had 2 acrobatics classes at which I am a complete disaster I but took a shot at handstands and a few cartwheels.
Friday morning I was nervous but confidant. Sadly, our performance was not well received. However, I still felt satisfied with the process. They are tough. I could see the bored and impatient faces of the teachers out of the corner of my eye. How many times have they seen these exact mistakes before? The challenges we face are many – applying recently learned techniques of movement and storytelling, overcoming language barriers (the toughest for me), and creating a credible work of art as a team without a director in 5 or so hours. Several of the other groups had more carefully worked-out themes and used their bodies more elegantly and resourcefully. I could not help but feel some envy and frustration. I imagine that the better pieces have had a forceful member of the group direct the piece – something I can’t do – because of the language – but also choose not to do because I think it is antithetical to the process. But how to take several strangers together…? I think the aesthetics of the school are valid and as close to universal as any one thing can be, but they are also narrow. Beyond the fairly obvious lack of most language, they don’t allow for boredom or prolonged confusion.
I do think I am gathering tools for pushing the work further – to go beyond the merely comic, clever, or passionate. We are learning how to engage the audience in a dialogue (the outcome is unknown and perhaps unimportant), to capture their attention, and to hold it en rapt with delicate intensity. If I can succeed at that I think I will have accomplished something.