Friday, November 12, 2010

the second uptown/downtown performance: harlem

after a disco nap and a bowl of mexican hot chocolate, i put on a very elegant black vintage fur coat -- kangaroo! my favorite! -- and walked in the late afternoon sun through what was essentially my first new york city environs to the dance theater of harlem. those were heady times, i suppose. i was full of ideas and swimming in fearlessness. i didn't know anyone. i had no idea where anything was, or how to get anywhere. and as far as anyone was concerned, i was some new kind of idiot. every day when i left my humble abode, i would stride forth triumphantly past crackheads and drug dealers and the flotsam and jetsam that populated my uptown street life on a daily basis, and they would routinely laugh at how green i was.

good times.

it felt good to not have to take the train to where i was going. i was on time for a tech rehearsal that wasn't really a tech rehearsal at all. it was more like a "this is what the deal is" rehearsal. chen dance center was a small black box theater with a lighting grid and everything. this was a large room with brick walls and garish flosphorescent lighting, replete with a floor to ceiling mirror on one side of it all and a wooden dance barre that framed the whole thing, just in case you might forget exactly where you physically are in the course of the evening. not that there was anything wrong with this space or anything in it -- it was just so not like the space we'd just worked in. that mirror was especially daunting. so was being able to see the audience. and the sound in that room, how cavernous it seemed and the way the sound continued to echo in this endless way when anyone would so much as cough. in a way, it felt like, wow -- now this is a workshop performance (whatever that is)!

and i guess that's a good thing. it was beyond naked. it was even more bare than bare bones, if that's possible. there were no theatrical touches to get in the way of the work, or to get in between us and the audience. it made for a much more immediate, more present experience. there was something unexpectedly visceral about a lot of it, something especially intimate. like it was all happening much closer than right in front of you. it wasn't quite in your face but it was definitely in your lap.

so tech was basically figuring out when someone would flick the light switch on and off and who would press play on the cd player, and where i could put my stuff.

we all met up pre-show, asked questions and drifted around in the room like we were lost in space. everyone at dth were nice. there was seating for about 100 people. nice, wide open space, folding chairs, very basic. there was no backstage area, per se. a hallway next to an exit door from the room had been sectioned off with a curtain, and most of us piled our things there. there was a locker room but that was two floors down -- too far from the action to know what was up. if we weren't careful, we would unwittingly find ourselves amongst the audience. there was no real way of knowing what was happening onstage, unless you drifted towards an open door, the entryway.

daniel carlton (my partner in crime) and i spoke sotto voce as we drifted around the open area after the audience went inside, ran lines and cracked many an inside joke until our time was up, and then just like that our time was up.

afterwards, he stuck around for the q & a, took pictures and had mint tea with a few of us at a moroccan spot called my marrakesh on amsterdam (that i happen to love a lot) and that was decompression enough, to sit and laugh and talk about what had just happened, to begin to piece things together and such. and yet there was more.

in those first final moments, i had no objectivity whatsoever. getting through the 10 week program was overwhelming enough and finally finishing it successfully with a rough draft of the script in my hands -- way more than i was figuring on, to tell you the truth -- left something in me dazed, yet focused. i was grateful to have something to show for my time, grateful that this program dislodged something important in me creatively that would have me writing theater again, the way i used to when i first came to new york city and lived in that neighborhood and thought, i want to do solo performance art, i want to do a cheesy cabaret act, and then i would actually go downtown and do it. maybe i had to go and live and breathe and lose myself in another direction before i could come up with anything interesting. i don't know. all i really know is, i've got my mojo back. i have ideas -- i've always had ideas -- but now i want to do solo performance again, and i want to take this alberta hunter idea as far as i possibly can.

what's especially cool is that i don't have to be a lone wolf about this anymore. the downtown alternative theater scene isn't necessarily dead creatively. there are still agencies hard at work that are in place and ready and willing to help develop an idea. i just never tapped into them before. that's the sad part. i never had to be alone -- development and production-wise, at least -- in the first place.

the problem isn't that there isn't any money in this town to develop an idea. the problem is that most artists can't afford to live in new york city.

more on that later.

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