Archive for November, 2015

Adventures in California

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

OPERA in Los Angeles & OTOA in Santa Barbara

The last six weeks have been a whirlwind. After rehearsals in Queens in September Beth Morrison Projects transported the entire cast, design and production team, to LA Opera’s REDCAT Theater, in Los Angeles, CA. for of the remount of the multi-media, experimental opera, Song From the Uproar, composed by Missy Mazzoli.

LA Opera House, LA, CA. Designed by Frank Gehry

We were welcomed by a remarkable producing organization, and enjoyed four successful shows (see PRESS QUOTES below), and, if I may say so myself, the REDCAT production of Song From The Uproar (SFTU) was beautiful.

REDCAT Theater, LA – Part of the Frank Gehry building, See Photos Above

With a chance to remount SFTU, came the rare opportunity to further enrich it.We were able to refine areas of the music, libretto and choreography/staging, that we had simply not had time to do the first go round at The Kitchen in NYC, in 2012, and also to use the 20/20 vision that comes with hindsight to make alterations, incorporate feedback and strengthen first choices.

Song From the Uproar Tech Rehearsals

Over all, the entire SFTU team worked to the brink of collapse (crew, designers, performers, producers, and myself included). Although we may all have been sleep-deprived by the time we opened, the pay off was BIG, big, beautiful, magical and transporting.

On opening night, while many went out to a chic steam punk nightclub to celebrate, and while others went to a local karaoke bar until the wee hours, I could NOT have been any happier than I was to crawl into my hotel bed and lay my heavy head on that pillow!!!

The marquee at night outside REDCAT


We received some standing ovations and heartfelt words of appreciation from the audiences, and some very nice words of praise from LA critics:

“Spellbinding… a joy to experience”
Opera Today
[Read the full review Here]

“A treat… I can imagine no better way to be introduced to the LA Opera than by this show…”

“The choreography [by Gia Forakis] was stunning…”

“I cannot rave about this opera enough.”

New Classic LA
[Read the full review Here]

Song From the Uproar Costume & Makeup


One significant difference I noted between this production and the 2012 production was that in 2012 we premiered the opera at The Kitchen in NYC, a venue and producing organization known for its hybrid projects; productions that do not come under a singular performance label or genre.  Where as this time, in Los Angeles, SFTU was produced and advertised through LA Opera, which of course attracts its opera-going public.

Although REDCAT is well known as a venue for groundbreaking productions, our opera was being produced as part of a new initiative through LA Opera to broaden the experience of those more familiar with traditional opera, as well as to expand and attract a new type of audience who do not normally attend opera.

During the Talk Backs after each performance, it was clear that some audience members held our very new form of opera to very old opera standards of the form– as was noted through some of the questions we received:  Why were there no supra titles? Why was there a video of seagulls flying upside down? Why were the singers mic’d?

These types of responses were relatively few but what I hear in them is how they speak to the path of change, a path that is generally always met with some manner of confusion and/or resistance.

Because my work and my interest as a theater artist has always been to investigate storytelling through the experimentation of form and style, and because I see theater as both a visual medium of time, space and physical action, and an arena for ritual, myth and metaphor, I have become used to the push-back associated with the new, the unconventional and the experimental.

Nevertheless, I am repeatedly reminded of just how important it is to set up the framework for any type of an experiment. Giving the audience (and the press) a context by which to view, review, observe, and respond to what they are seeing and experiencing not only helps them to more fully engage with something new or unfamiliar, but it often feeds the text of a critic’s review. Example: If we wake up after a long sleep and the moon is out and the sky is black, and someone tells us this is “daytime” then we may feel lost, scared, and confused. But if someone tells us that in this world day is night and night is day, then we have some context by which to experience our environment.

I recall my professor, Liz Diamond, Chair of Directing Dept. at Yale School of Drama, offering words of wisdom about the necessity to include a Director’s Statement in the program of every production because it is from this statement that the press often pulls language for reviews as well as can aid the marketing of the show). And yet, when I am so busy with the task of directing, I often forget to ask my producer to include a Director’s Statement –much less remember to write one. NOTE TO SELF: Remember to write Director’s Statement: frame the production.

If we are inviting audiences to buy a ticket and walk down a new and unfamiliar path, then the “signage” needs to be clear: e.g. context is everything!!!
Rehearsals at REDCAT Theater


It is my sincere impression that the majority of our audience who were opera-going regulars, as well as those who were frequent theater goers, experimental music lovers, modern dance or experimental theater patrons (audiences who did not have much experience with opera in general) all absolutely loved and were transported by our production.

I myself was touched and transported by the production—particularly the last two performances.  This is a real “gift”, for it is very rare for me to experience that type of the freedom as a director that during a run I am able to sit back and allow myself to give over to the journey I had directed, staged, choreographed, managed.

Because it is only during a run, in real time, that we get to really see the thing we have carried in our heads for so long as an idea, come together as a cohesive whole. Usually, my director’s eye is still at work, unable to rest, taking notes, refining and revising the production as all the parts get glued together

But because we were remounting SFTU, and not inventing this production from scratch, part of the pay off was, not only the satisfaction of getting to watch each performance, but the supreme joy of getting to experiencing the production.

I commend the excellence of the performers, NOW Ensemble musicians, Maestro Steve Osgood, as well as the expertise of the run crew, stage management, and tech assistants.

Interlude Four: Song From The Uproar


SFTU was a rare opportunity to apply my technique, One-Thought-One-Action (OTOA) to generate choreography. Because the thoughts/lyrics are a psychological and emotional response to the interior world of the lead character (rather than text that described or promoted a more quotidian series of actions and objectives) I was able to use OTOA in a choreographic manner that made it closer to interpretive dance, rather than to pedestrian activities.

The libretto of SFTU, is written more as metaphor and poetry, so when physicalizing the increments of thought/text, it organically led to physical actions that were form-based: content-driven gesture sequences, built upon the sung, poetic lines of text, and set to the music of the score.

The result was that the choreography was a full embodiment of the music, the singing and the libretto. In this way, the audience is seeing as well as hearing the entire opera: making it a fully immersive experience —not in the way the current trend of “immersive” theater has come to mean placing the audience in the middle of the stage action, but rather as a holistic experience.

SFTU was a fully collaborative effort where a group of highly talented artists, musicians, crafts people, technical experts and crew created a journey that, at its core, is about finding a kind of peace and collective resonance on the subject of death.

Although you know from the start that the lead is going to die, her journey (the music’s journey) leaves you uplifted by the experience of surrender: surrender to the flood that took her young life; surrender to our own destiny’s.

As I often say when speaking about the principles of OTOA, things of value take time, and this production was indeed a product of time. Our first chamber version of SFTU was in 2008, the full opera premiere 2012, and then this remount 3 years later. Like fine wine, it matured over time– and so did we all ;-).

Song From the Uproar Talk Back
(Left to right: Royce Vaverk, Librettist, Steve Osgood, Maestro/Music Director, Gia Forakis/me, Director/Choreographer, Missy Mazzoli, Composer, Beth Morrison, Producer, Christopher Koelsch, President & Chief Exec. Officer La Opera)

A MEMORABLE COMPLIMENT came via renowned international Director, and professor John Blondell (Chair of the Theater Department at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA) who, during the talk back following our closing performance, said: “The production had accomplished what Peter Brook talks about in his quest for the Holy Theater.”

At such high praise, I audibly and involuntarily gasped, and Missy, not sure if I had gasped in horror or delight, whispered: “Is that a good thing?” I whispered back, “Oh, yes! The best!”

Westmont College, Nestled in the mountains above Santa Barbara, CA


To conclude my SO CAL adventure, after SFTU closed, I traveled north by Amtrak  (riding alongside the Pacific ocean) to Santa Barbara, where I had been invited by Professor Blondell, to lead two One-Thought-One-Action (OTOA) Master Classes, plus one Seminar luncheon, at the impressive and inviting Westmont College.

I met John Blondell and his wife Vicki, in 2013, when I was invited as a Guest Artist to lead an OTOA workshop at the Bitola International Shakespeare Festival, in the charming city of Bitola, Macedonia.  John, and his Santa Barbra based theater company, Lit Moon, had been invited to the festival to present their production of The Tempest.

After I saw his production, and he sat in on my workshop, we discussed the possibility of bringing me to Westmont to lead an OTOA workshop there. Then when I knew I’d be coming to LA for Song From The Uproar, we realized it was the perfect time to bring me and OTOA to Santa Barbara for that workshop we had discussed over lunch in Bitloa.

And that, my friends, is what makes the community of theater so strong: engaging in an exchange of ideas, philosophy, and dialogue, while sharing a vision of the human experience through our work.

Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA
The Harbor, Santa Barbara

I left Westmont feeling nourished. The students seemed guileless, trusting and eager to learn. The fresh air, the beautiful surroundings of Westmont campus and the town of Santa Barbara, the generosity of spirit, and the warm reception I received from everyone, left me feeling humbled and blessed. It was like adding (dairy free) the frosting to a (gluten free) slice of California cake.

The Beach, with the mountains in the background, Santa Barbara, CA

My SO CAL adventure was a blast!  I reunited with old friends and colleagues, many of whom I had not seen in decades and also newer friends and colleagues

Turns out I know a lot of people in LA, 90% of whom I did not get to see this trip, but it seems to me that I’ll be back in LA sooner than later…  It’s just a hunch, like a Peter Brooks’ “formless hunch”  –wink wink.

With Joy & Inspiration
Freelance Theater Director/Choreographer
OTOA Founder & Master Teacher