WARNING: The opinions expressed below are DEFINITELY those of The CoLab Theatre Company! Learn more at www.colabtheatre.org!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Staged Reading vs. Script-in-Hand

On Wednesday, April 27th we're staging the second phase of our workshop of "Dearly Beloved." It's a script-in-hand staging and I hope you'll join us.

I can hear some of you thinking it out there, but I'll put it on the page: How does a script benefit from a script-in-hand staging? As you may know we've already had a staged reading. A reading paints the broad strokes textually. It tells you several things about the play including character motivation, continuity issues, and perhaps the greatest boon: what the audience thinks. Receiving audience feedback about what was confusing or interesting will frame the next draft. From a staged reading the playwright should be fueled to round out the script to a newly cohesive piece.

Essentially, a script-in-hand staging is different from a staged reading in that we are going from narration to motivation. Are these lines motivating? Do they naturally build in action beyond on the page? Are the mechanics working? Do my characters inhabit a world that gives them business? What do I need to give them? The playwright needs to see the rhythm of the script matching the rhythm of the stage. If you as an audience find yourself saying, "what-the-what?" you probably just witnessed the script dragging. Maybe it was for a joke that was built in or a plot point that may fit better somewhere else.

Having directed a few script-in-hand stagings -- all of which took place in a "contemporary" or "real" setting -- I realize it is challenging to truly feel connected to the world you're acting in. The actors have scripts in their hands, they are acting their faces off (because they don't have to worry about lines), but they can't "mean-clean" the kitchen because the kitchen consists of a table upstage. The physical space is missing... on actors and on stage. We can see your head, heart, and hands acting, but because of the nature of the beast we will miss the nuance of the whole body acting.

But that's not what a script-in-hand staging is about.

All this being said, I can see how this step is essential for new playwrights. It allows the playwright to ask him/herself, "is this how I see the story I want to tell?"

I want to hear your experiences though. Any actors, directors, playwrights or producers out there ever experience other benefits or detriments from staged readings or script-in-hand stagings?
Dearly Beloved - A Script-in-Hand Staging by Brendan Doris-Pierce
Wednesday, April 27
Unity Church of God
6 William Street, Somerville, MA

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Drying Ink

On the T yesterday there was a young woman next to me who was writing poetry. Now, as much as I try not to eavesdrop (or read over shoulders) I couldn't help it. This poetry was coming out of the tip of her pen so quickly that it was distracting me from my own reading. I pulled my cap down tight around my eyebrows and watched (because, of course, that is less creepy).

She used a rolling ball pen, not the usual cake-y thick ink, rather it was mercurial and soaked into the page immediately. It was fascinating to watch her fill the pages. She expediently filled the pages of a wide-rulde spiral notebook by writing double-spaced in her first draft. Then she went back to the top line and rewrote it with different colors (meaning word choices) underneath. The line was stronger, more pointed, and more exciting.

What was she writing about? I couldn't tell you a single word.

So why am I inspired to write about this? Because of the seemingly simple discovery that it is more interesting to watch the ink dry, than it is to read the lines themselves. Meaning, the forward action is what draws attention -- or at least should. Anticipating the next thought and change was exciting, and I had no idea what was coming!

What's next in your text?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Juliano Mer-Khamis: Actor, Director, Peacemaker

"When I'm onstage, I feel like I'm throwing stones. We won't let the occupation keep us in the gutter. To me, acting is like throwing a molotov cocktail. Onstage, I feel strong, alive and proud." - Ashraf Abu Al Hayja, former student student of Juliano Mer-Khamis, killed in 2002 during the Battle of Jenin.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The next time a politician, pundit, or man on the street tries telling you the arts don't matter, please tell them about the life of Juliano Mer-Khamis, Founder of The Freedom Theatre, actor and "100% Jew and 100% Arab".

Jule, as he was known to his friends and colleagues, was born in Nazareth, Israel to a Jewish mother and Arab father. His Mother, Arna, was a member of the Palmach, an elite unit of the pre-Israel Jewish paramilitary armed forces. At the start of the Israeli War of Independence, Arna enthusiastically took arms for the establishment of a Jewish state. By the close of the conflict, she became disillusioned by political Zionism after helping to drive out Arabs from their homes.

Decades later, Arna founded a community center for children in Jenin, a city in the occupied West Bank. Initially viewed with suspicion, she slowly won over the trust of the Palestinians and provided a refuge for refugee children to paint, dance and play.

In the late 1980's and early 90's, during the first "Intifada" (One of two acknowledged major Palestinian uprisings. Literally, "shaking off".) Juliano, a popular actor of the Israeli stage and screen, came to Jenin to help his mother run the theatre on the top floor of a space donated by the mother of a young boy named Zachariah Zubeidi. During these years, Juliano filmed the work of his mother with the young boys of Jenin as she offered them an alternative outlet for their rage. In words of one of Juliano's students, Yousef:

"I can tell people how I feel. What I want and what I don't want. Whether I love life or not."

Some of the other boys discussed their own prejudices:

"We thought, he's jewish, he's come to spy on us... We thought you were spying for the occupation, but then we got to know you..."

"I thought: Why isn't there an Arab who would do this for us? Why would the jews who are the enemies of the arabs, why would they do this for us? I really wondered."

A few years after Arna's death, Juliano left Jenin to continue his career as an actor. During these years, the theatre went defunct and the boys grew up in the refugee camp as their Israeli and European friends moved on with life outside of the occupied territories. Juliano would not return to Jenin for nearly 7 years.

In 2001, Juliano received a call from a friend who had taken footage of the aftermath of a suicide attack in Hadera that killed four Israeli women. They decided to review the footage to see if they could trace the perpetrators and do something about the tragedy.

In the video above, Juliano describes his pain what he discovered (7:10):

"I discovered that it's my... It's my Yousef... He's the most talented, charming boy... "

Juliano returned to Jenin in 2002 with a camera crew, and discovered that most of the boys he taught as children had taken arms and been killed in the previous weeks. He meets up with one of the survivors, Zacariah Zubeidi, now amongst the IDF's most wanted terrorists and covers the seige of Jenin from the perspective of the Palestinians. The result of this work was the heartbreaking and emotionally honest documentary Arna's Children.

The documentary caused a major controversy, but also attracted worldwide attention and praise. Using the visibility and financial success of the documentary, Juliano made a permanent return to Jenin and opened The Freedom Theatre, a continuation of his mother's work, in the hopes that a permanent arts community in Jenin would provide an alternative to the culture of violence and martyrdom that had plagued the Palestinian liberation movement.

In 2007, a film crew came to Jenin to visit the Freedom Theatre and interview one of Juliano's former students, the sole surviving boy from the original theatre troupe in the 1980's: Zachariah Zubeidi, whose mother donated the first space where Arna would produce her children's plays. Zachariah was now one of the most highly wanted terrorists in the occupied territories and a major figure in Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades.

After the interview, Zachariah made a last minute decision to visit the Freedom Theatre. He had not set foot on a stage in nearly 16 years. At first he came to watch, but by the end of the rehearsal he had been invited onstage to work with the new generation of Palestinian actors. Performing in scenes depicting the occupation, these young artists once again channeled their anger and aggression through the medium of theatre as the original troupe of boys did years before.

After the rehearsal, Zachariah disappeared promptly, returning to his clandestine underground life. Juliano shared these words:

He never was a child... As human beings, if you give them meaning, something to live for, they're not going to become terrorists, they're not going to become violent, they're not genetically violent, they don't look for virgins in the sky...

As Zachariah says, 'I don't believe in guns. I don't believe the gun can free Palestine'. But I believe that culture, poems, songs, books can free Palestine. It's already freeing a lot of people.

Within the year, Zachariah publicaly renounced violence, gave up arms and accepted amnesty from the Israeli government. He became the co-director of the Freedom Theatre and serves in this role to this day. The one surviving son, the last of Arna's children.

Last week, Juliano Mer-Khamis was murdered in front of the Freedom Theatre.

The majority of the media coverage has focused on his death and the speculation regarding the motive for his murder. I have chosen instead to ask the question:

What power does theatre have to heal nations? Is it possible that the arts are worth more than entertainment? If the civil rights movement can look back at baseball and the life of Jackie Robinson as a turning point in the struggle for racial justice, why can't we use the arts in the same way for the causes of the future?

The rejectionists of the world are always attacking the arts. From Oliver Cromwell to Joseph Stalin, repression always starts with the control or destruction of our culture. The arts are vital to the lifeblood of a civilization, just as vital as technology and philosophy.

In the aftermath of the Boston Theatre Conference, we've talked about the need to make the case for the arts in America. The arts are not a frivolous expense that benefits the elite white liberal base, despite what many will say. The arts are an investment opportunity with an incredible potential for return.

Juliano Mer-Khamis saw what happened when the boys of the camp were denied their venue for artistic expression. He founded The Freedom Theatre to make sure the future generation of Palestinians would have a real choice between cultural struggle, and useless martyrdom.

In his own words:

"We believe that the third intifada, the coming intifada, should be cultural, with poetry, music, theatre, cameras and magazines"

The Freedom Theatre has said they will continue their operations in spite of the violence and threats they've received for their activities. I am donating ten dollars a month in solidarity from now on. Please consider making a donation to support this cause. Find out more about The Freedom Theatre.

Juliano's documentary, Arna's Children is available in it's entirety on youtube.

Solidarity and Love to all,


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Erika Upholds her Resolution

I couldn't sleep last night and two characters kept chasing their way through my brain. I had to get up and write down their dialogue before I could drift off to sleep. This morning I realized that I hadn't shared any writing with you in the blogosphere for awhile, and I promised to do that as my New Year's Resolution! A professor once told me that Harold Pinter started plays not by plot but by dialogue. He'd be sitting in the back of a cab and would hear two characters conversing with each other in his head and he had to get their story out. This is how his plays were born.

I'm no Harold Pinter, but here's a conversation that was running around my brain. I started this scene in January and I finished it last week. This started out as an ABCD exercise and evolved from there. You'll notice that the first letter of the first word of the first twenty-six lines create the alphabet. As usual, comments are always welcome. But be kind, I'm still a little rusty. :)

- EG

I Miss You
A Scene by Erika Geller

Lights up on a sparsely furnished, neat but dim living room. There is a picture window center stage and a fireplace against the wall stage left. It is early evening and we see the end of the daylight creeping through the curtains, which are slightly askew. The fireplace is immaculate, as it has not been used for a long time. Family photos decorate the walls and are propped against the mantle. A wedding photo of a beautiful young woman and a groom in full military dress is centered on the mantle. The family photos are out of date showing HANNAH, 10, and EVAN, 12, as much younger children. It is February, but the cards on the mantle are still up from Christmas. At rise, EVAN, dressed in pajamas made for a child much younger than him, runs into the room holding a photograph. HANNAH, still dressed in her school uniform, dashes in after him.

HANNAH. Alright, Evan, give it back!

EVAN. Back? S’not yours.

HANNAH. Come on. Mom said I could have it!

EVAN. Didn’t even. She c-c-c-can’t even say that. It’s not h-h-h-hers so she c-c-can’t even give it to you.

HANNAH. Evan! (Screams a little.) It was in her room. It’s hers. She gave it to me. Sorry she didn’t give it to you, but… But – you can’t just take it.

EVAN. Fine. Just wanna – (Thinks for a minute and puts the photo on the fireplace mantle. It is out of her reach.) Just wanna think, k? Keepin’ it there for safes.

HANNAH. God, you are so annoying. (Trying to reach for the photo.) So annoying. I’m gonna tell! Mom –

EVAN. Hey, stop it. Gonna get her mad if she c-c-c-omes down h-h-h… down here.

HANNAH. I’m gonna get her mad?

EVAN. Just trying to think.

HANNAH. Keep it up, Evan.

EVAN. Like you even would. Gonna be just as mad at you.

HANNAH. Mom knows you’re the instigator.

EVAN. Nuh uh!

HANNAH. Oh really?

EVAN. Puh-lease. You’re the instant – (Breathing quick and shallow.) Insta –

HANNAH. Question for you, Evan. How d’you expect to tell her about the (imitating him) insta, insta, IN-STA-GAY-SHUN if you can’t even say it.

EVAN. Really making me mad, H-H-Hannah!

HANNAH. Shut up!

EVAN. (Almost to himself.) I miss Dad.

HANNAH. Well, he’s not coming back, Evan.

EVAN. Yes he is. He promised.

HANNAH. Stupid.

EVAN looks at her. He is confused. Unsure of his next move.

HANNAH. This is why he’s gone, Evan! Because you’re too stupid.

EVAN. (Beginning to shake.) Take it back!

HANNAH. Understand that, Evan? Can you even say it? It’s your –

EVAN. Very mean, H-H-Hannah. Take it back! Ugh. (He starts to moan, grunt, and move back and forth.)

HANNAH. What? Take what back? It’s your fault!

EVAN. X-Ray vision! X-Ray vision! Kew, kew! You’re lying!

HANNAH. You’re crazy…

EVAN. (Simultaneously) Kew, kew!

HANNAH. Stop it.

EVAN. Zero gravity. Kew, kew. X-ray robot vision. Target intercepted.

HANNAH. Are you okay?

EVAN. Bringin’ ‘er down.

HANNAH. Calm down, Evan.

EVAN. Down, Evan, down.

HANNAH. Either you calm down or I call Mom.

EVAN. Final target. Beep, beep, beep!

HANNAH. Geez. I didn’t mean it, Evan. I didn’t mean it. Just calm down. Please calm down. C’mon –

EVAN. Ahhhhh!!!!!!!!!

EVAN runs at her full force. They fight. Various yells, “ouches” and “calm downs” and “get off mes” are heard. After several moments, EVAN pushes HANNAH backwards. She hits the mantle, hard, and falls to the floor. The picture falls, or has already fallen, to the ground next to her. HANNAH lies motionless on the ground. EVAN snaps out of his trance as he realizes that she may actually be hurt.

EVAN. Hannah?

He kneels next to her and touches her gently, apprehensively.

EVAN. I didn’t mean to h-h-h-hurt. Just meant to… don’t know. Ha-Ha-Han-Han. Ah.

HANNAH whimpers slightly from her spot on the ground.

EVAN. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Sorry to h-hurt. Sorry ‘bout Daddy. H-H-Hannah?

HANNAH. Help me.

EVAN. Mom!

HANNAH. Shh. Just help me up.

EVAN. H-Hannah?

HANNAH. Listen, Evan –

EVAN. Mom!

HANNAH. No. Wait. Evan.

EVAN. Out. I don’t wanna. C-c-can’t –

HANNAH. Evan. Evan, look at me. I’m okay. Shh. Help me sit.

EVAN helps her to sitting position against the fireplace.

HANNAH. See? I’m okay.

EVAN keeps shaking his head back and forth.

EVAN. Not okay. Not okay. Malfunction. C-c-casualty.

HANNAH. No casualties, Major Evan. Injury count at one but she’s expected to make a full recovery.

EVAN. Over and out?

HANNAH. Over and out.

She smiles and reaches for EVAN’S hand.

EVAN. Sorry.

HANNAH. Me too.

They sit in silence for a few moments. EVAN picks up the photograph.

EVAN. When’s he c-coming back?

HANNAH. I don’t know. Soon. I think.

EVAN. Mom won’t say.

HANNAH. That’s ‘cause she’s sad.

EVAN. Are you sad?

HANNAH. Yes. (Pause.) Are you?

EVAN. C-c-can’t tell.

HANNAH. Tell me what you know.

EVAN. It h-h-hurts.

HANNAH. Where?

EVAN touches his hand to his heart.

HANNAH. Do you remember what the teacher said?

EVAN shrugs.

HANNAH. About being sad or mad or angry or –

EVAN starts to breathe harder and get physically frustrated.

HANNAH. Ev, it’s okay. Forget about the teacher. Um, remember last Saturday when Mom took us for ice cream?

EVAN. I got mint c-chip.

HANNAH. Yeah, yeah you did. We went for ice cream and mom was wearing a blue dress and you got mint chip and you smiled. Why did you smile?

EVAN. Mint chip is my favorite!

HANNAH. Right. And mint chip makes you smile because you’re happy. I was happy too, Evan.

EVAN. Because you got strawberry?

HANNAH. Kinda. But also ‘cause I was with you and Mom and we were having fun. And being with you guys makes me happy. And happy makes me smile. And it makes you smile too. But, what you feel right now, is the opposite of smiling. When happy goes away, that’s sad. Sad is what you feel when your heart hurts. And sometimes when your heart hurts, you cry and that’s the opposite of smiling too.

EVAN. I don’t like it.

HANNAH. Me either, Evan. But I guess we can’t be happy all the time. Just sometimes.

EVAN. Like taking turns?

HANNAH. (Laughs.) A little like taking turns, yeah.

EVAN. Why does it h-hurt?

HANNAH. Because…

EVAN. Doesn’t feel like this when Dad’s home. Why does it h-hurt? H-h-have no c-cuts. No bruises.

HANNAH. You can hurt inside too. Like, how sometimes you know you’re going to start crying because your throat hurts?

EVAN. Yeah…

HANNAH. It’s because your heart starts to cry before your eyes do.

EVAN. And that’s h-how you know you’re sad?

HANNAH. That’s how I know I’m sad.

EVAN. (Takes him a minute to start speaking but he gets a hard “H” out.) Hannah?


EVAN. My throat hurts real bad.

He leans against her. She winces slightly but manages to put an arm around him.

HANNAH. Mine too, Evan. Mine too.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Self-Evaluation Paper #2

OK, so some of you may know that I am taking a stage combat class at Tufts this semester. It's a catch-all crash course for undergrads so they have a basic knowledge of stage safety and how to handle choreography. It's a class that was offered as an elective in my program at UConn (go Huskies!!!!) but I opted out of it so I could work. Most of my classmates took it and it always looked like a lot of fun. And the skills are definitely useful.

Throughout the semester I've found it interesting in what ways I've enjoyed the class and the things I don't like about it so much. I like being in a learning environment again, although I would have liked to put choreography in context sooner (we're just starting scene work now) even if it was with simply 5 line open scenes. And I like the movement part of the class. When I started my Acting degree there's no doubt that I thought movement training was a bunch of bullshit and sort of didn't take it seriously. Later in my degree Suzuki (a Japanese actor training method based in extremely stylized movement patterns) would change me as an actor and put movement at the forefront of my acting process.

Funny how things turn around like that, huh?

Anyway, getting back in to movement with stage combat has been really important to me. It's given me a renewed sense of how to use my body in space and how my body relates to the other bodies on stage. What that means to an audience. And how much it can impact the message of the text. So that has been highly positive. I've also learned that I work better within structured movement systems than I do with simply creating my own movements. Case in point - on the one day we worked with swords, I was instantly at ease, comfortable, and moving quickly through the basic principles because of the rules and structure of it. With fake Aikido, however, which is a lot of flowing movement, I was a mess.

It has been hard to work with undergrads. Not because the kids in class don't get it, or because I think I'm better than them, but simply because we are in such different places and have such different expectations and goals and requirements upon us, that connecting on a genuine acting level can be difficult. And when you can't find that connection, trusting a partner who's aiming a fist at your face is difficult. It's not that I don't trust them, but I feel this barrier of them not trusting me. They don't know me, I'm not part of their circle or social life, and so much of theater and classes in college is knowing people outside of class and trusting who they are as people. I remember that anxiety when outside actors would come work with us, until we felt like they were our buddies, the relationship was strained. And so I'm having trouble finding real connections with these students, which makes the learning curve a little harder on my end. I feel that I'm holding back a part of me because they're already a little discomfited at having a grown-up in the class.

A lot of this could be incorrect perception, I suppose. Some of my own insecurities or anxieties getting the better of me. But I remember college camaraderie and how much it impacted my ability to be open with my acting partners. It's something I've learned how to do on the professional level now, but it did take me some time. There was an adjustment period. And these students haven't had to have theirs yet. And that's just fine and perfectly appropriate. They shouldn't have to make that adjustment until after graduation...it's why they're in college! But it has been a little frustrating to feel that I'm not getting the absolute most out of an acting class. Because that's what I loved most about class was the relationships I built.

In a pursuit to bridge the gap (and perhaps get another shout out) our instructor, the multi-talented Meron Langsner (see Meron, it wasn't all for naught) told me (after I showed up to class with no self-evaluation paper in hand...due to life) I could "blog it". So I took him up on it.

It's probably a good thing I'm not getting graded for this class... ;-)