It’s always hard to pinpoint where exactly a piece begins. Nati and I had a first run of experiments in Buenos Aires in April, and didn’t feel like we’d cracked anything. Julia, who’d be joining us for the next workshop, thought it might be useful if we tried working from an existing text. I’ve always resisted that approach to devising new work, but nevertheless Steinbeck’s first hit novel Tortilla Flat sprang to mind – a tragicomic tale about a band of drifters in Monterey, California who pile into a dilapidated house together and, in the end, burn it down. There was something in it we all related to, something about the struggle between comfort and freedom. We’re crossing (or have crossed) the big THREE-ZERO border, and we’ve watched many of our fellow drifters pair off and nest down into nuclear units. The theater family, which was our home away from home in London, now lives in too many countries to count.
Our first big question about reimagining the book was – could we make a band of contemporary female characters as wicked and lovable as Steinbeck’s all-male posse of drunkards? The second huge question was – Spanish or English? What language would we be improvising, writing, performing in? We knew we wanted to show our work-in-progress for a Spanish-speaking audience at the end of our workshop in Buenos Aires, but we often tour in English speaking countries. Also Julia (who’d be performing) and I (who’d be directing) didn’t speak any Spanish at the time. Nada.
In the end I decided it’d be best to skip as much translation as possible and devise in Spanish. Julia and I were just going to have to kick our own assess with some hardcore language study to prepare.
I usually do all the actual writing on paper in a George & Co process, sifting through hours of rehearsal video and piles of books to weave together a mountain of raw material into a finished script. But this time I had no choice but to surrender that process to a merry band of native Spanish speakers. We were going to try to write collaboratively! There would be 3 writing teams, with 2 people on each team. I had indeed kicked my own ass to get to a rudimentary Spanish-speaking level by week one of rehearsal, and could understand most of what was going on in improvisations. I parsed up the rehearsal footage into chunks of video that represented basic scene structures and gave one scene assignment to each team. “It will be a miracle if this works” I whispered to Lydia Stevens, the translator who was helping me edit each of the drafts as they were finished. At the end of each writing day we’d line up all the scenes in a row and read aloud what we’d scribed that day. These were happy days – the six of us sprawled across beds and kitchen tables, laughing at rehearsal footage, and churning out pages. By week two we had almost written an entire play. By the end of week four we had found an ending and were able to run an hour of material for our work-in-progress showing. In the end it was a miracle, a collaborative miracle, mainly due to the immensely gifted and tireless community of artists surrounding Nati Chami and the ongoing production of Usted Estas Aqui. Without that tribe, we never would have pulled it off! We needed a man to record some voiceovers and up popped Ariel Mele. We needed an extra actress, and low and behold Vero López Olivera entered the scene. We needed the country of Argentina to stop electricity cuts during show times, and it cooperated with our prayers. All that remains is to find the money and time to continue with the piece! It may take awhile, but we’re determined to return to Riobamba soon.
We have begun a new play about the series of assassinations surrounding the novel The Catcher in the Rye. We’ve been aiming at living targets and smashing watermelons down in the bowels of the Pig Iron space. But, sh… don’t tell them that.
Ola damas y caballeros! I wanted to let you know that today is my last day in Buenos Aires (for now). I was brought here along with my partner Dan à la Pig Iron, a couple of weeks ago by a generous Global Connections grant from the Theatre Communications Group, and have spent every day since rehearsing, teaching, and loving the theater community here. Y que rapido pasó!
Do you know that in Buenos Aires shows often run only once a week, but can go on for ten or more years?! And that often a single venue will run three different shows in a night, so scenery has to be made to quickly set up and collapse in an hour – Edinburgh Fringe-style? Oh yeah, and even if the show has been running for seven years (take Tercer Cuerpo, by Teatro Timbre 4), it’s normal for the show to start at 11:30PM and the house is still totally packed. And people aren’t sipping cocktails. There’s no cancan at the end. This is gritty Steppenwolf stuff. Jealous? I am.
A small tribe of my co-graduates from the London International School of Arts have been great ambassadors to me here. Pablo Andrés López and Natalí Gaskins Rosado at Escuela International de Cabuia provided me with a home to work and teach. Nela Fortunato gave me a crash course on Argentine Spanish, and Arturo Gaskins, now founder of Circo Nacional de Puerto Rico, lead me to my first late night milonga. But it was the indefatigable Natalia Chami, co-director and founder of LindaLinda, who was my constant guide and muse. We’ve been cooking up something new and yet-to-be-defined, and it is not long I sense, before I will need to be reunited with the 60+ band of fearless artists who surround her in her unforgettable production of Usted Estas Aqui. May the Gods of theater make it so! – time to pack, Anisa
Anisa George is a visiting artist at Swarthmore College, and writes and directs an original gender-bending adaptation of The Three Musketeers in collaboration with four swell seniors (Katie Goldman, Madeline Charne, Mark Levine-Weinberg, and Anna Russell)
Well guys, the end of 2013 was so busy that I can barely differentiate between the beginning of this year and the end of last. What I do remember is there have been a dizzying amount of new collaborations.
It was my complete honor to direct The Bearded Ladies through a new work involving some rare mammals, and a compendium of epic Brecht poems.
There were also some bearded hijinks out at Swarthmore College where I’ve been directing a devised work based on the Three Musketeers with three valiant women, and one really swell guy who’s willing to put up with us putting him in skirts and wigs.
I got back on stage for the first time in a long time in LUCY, a devised work by Up & Down Theatre – which we all hope will be coming to a theatre near you soon (fingers crossed).
And then there was the opera. That’s right, I’ve been writing a little libretto. It’s about Alzeihmer’s and is based on some research and playtime the Philadelphia Opera initiated between composer Lembit Beecher (who is awesome!) and Pig Iron Theatre Company (who you probably already know is awesome!) (Alzeihmer’s is the opposite of awesome).
More about all of that soon. What I really want to tell you is that GEORGE & CO IS GOING TO ARGENTINA in April!! Or should I say Arkhkhkhentina? We’ve been awarded our first Global Connections grant from Theatre Communications Group (TCG) to travel to Buenos Aires and work on a new piece with LindaLinda, led by the indefatigable and sublime Natalia Chami and her partner in crime Romina Bulacio Sak. Estoy aprendiendo español. En realidad, sólo estoy usando google translate mucho … but it’s a start. I look forward to sending you updates from the Southern Hemisphere, and hope wherever you are in the world you are thriving. – Anisa (the red alien)
For those of you who have been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and waded through the biblically proportioned program there – you know how difficult it is to stand out and build audiences amongst the some 3,000 plus other events going on there each summer. We arrived in Edinburgh on July 29th, a Fringe virgin and verifiable unknown. We survived 12 power outs on our opening night of The Seer, distributed 15,000 fliers (one person at a time) over 3 weeks, and 25 shows later were nominated “Best Ensemble” by The Stage. Boo-Yaa! Thank God, Rimbaud did not clock the front row with his milk crates on those last few rapid revolutions. Thank God we all made it through the run, and to quote one aggressively positive audience member that accosted us on the last night, “Thank God for this fucking show! I have been waiting for this fucking show all month!” Rimbaud might have famously killed his own imagination, but we are all mightily grateful that he gave us a reason to sustain our own for one more summer.
For the last two weeks, Penn Dixie has been re-awakening and re-imagining its production of The Seer on the Northeastern banks of England. After much hunting for milk crates and international travel our savage and irreverent comic-melodrama about the life of Arthur Rimbaud is beginning to take shape once more. We’ve painted the stage footprint (for our eventual space in Edinburgh) with charcoal across a jagged stone floor in a barn where swallows sometimes nest above our costume racks, and when Verlaine says the line “have you ever seen the sea so calm,” we literally look at the sea and marvel at its beauty.
In one week we must abandon this shambolic paradise to begin our run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – a less verdant chaos – but one we hope where an audience can be found.
So if you find yourself in Scotland next month, come out and see us, and if not – spread the word.
We haven’t even opened yet and already it feels like Animal Animal Mammal Mine has lived so many lives. This week, just for the challenge, we will make a version without words. Will this piece ever stop growing and changing? I remind myself that the fish community which has joined us on stage (AAMM features live fish) has suffered 3 deaths, the birth of a new generation, and several subsequent infanticides. We visit the tank each morning wondering what could happen next?! Our theatrical adaptation seems easy in light of fish-related current events. We are excited to be alive and share our show with you. Come visit our tank at Underground Arts. The humans inside are utterly riveting. – Anisa
Previews: April 10th -11th 7PM
Performances: April 12th – 13th 8PM
April 14th 3PM
April 16th – 20th 7PM
Our whole team of artistic animals reunited today at Underground Arts to begin the final phase of development for our upcoming piece, Animal Animal Mammal Mine. We swung on the crossbeams of our awesome new set, designed by Amy Rubin, watched Martha Posner’s disembodied vaginas walk, buried presidents alive, climbed naked into gigantic nests, gave birth to televisions, and held hands with woven honeysuckle women. And this was only our first day back!
It’s time to pollinate the eyes and ears of all you lovely supporters with some buzz about this unique theatre experience. TICKETS ARE ON SALE.
Previews: April 10th -11th 7PM
Performances: April 12th – 13th 8PM
April 14th 3PM
April 16th – 20th 7PM
Location: Underground Arts,
1200 Callowhill Street,
Philadelphia PA 19147