How did this happen?
As some of you may remember from an earlier posting ("Alma Mater Matters"), we were invited to bring a piece to Swarthmore College's 2007 Alumni Weekend Reunion. Not only will this be our first time bringing a piece to a college campus, it will be Kiran and my 5 year college reunion and the 5th anniversary of Stolen Chair's founding. Oh, the nostalgia!
We spent a long time thinking about what piece to bring to the event and had to consider two major factors:
- Mood: The spirit of most colleges' alumni weekends is usually pretty rowdy, so we had to knock The Man Who Laughs out of the running, figuring most alums wouldn't appreciate a tearjerker at 5pm on a Saturday, right before they head off to a party to hook-up with their freshman flame. We assumed that something with a libidinous streak would pair nicely with our audience's energy, leaving us with Stage Kiss and Commedia dell'Artemisia.
- Time: Though we could technically perform a piece of any length, doing so would likely mean alienating a majority of alums from our audience as most like to bounce from activity to activity. Stage Kiss hovers at about 90 minutes, so Commedia dell'Artemisia (gliding just past the 45 minute mark) seemed the natural choice.
Short answer (otherwise known as a blurb, in this case the ultra-pretentious blurb we submitted with our application for the Brick's Pretentious Festival): In a daring attempt to rival Moliere's greatest work and single-handedly revive the tradition of Commedia dell'Arte, Stolen Chair presents Commedia dell'Artemisia, a masked farce in rhyming couplets, satirizing the controversial rape trial of Italian Renaissance painter Artemisia Gentileschi. As the teenage virtuosa Artemisia tries to escape the clutches of her miserly father, she becomes entwined with Agostino Tassi, a master painter and criminal who would rather screw than woo. Transforming these complex historical figures into commedia stock characters, Stolen Chair irreverently eviscerates history, hypocrisy, rape, romance, art and artifice.
Long answer: Well, in 2004, Stolen Chair created (and self-produced) a piece called Virtuosa, a collective creation freely inspired by the lives and work of three female painters of the Italian Renaissance: Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, and Artemisia Gentileschi. The play was a collage of different styles, one of them being a 10-minute long commedia dell'arte inspired farce in rhyming couplets, superimposing commedia stock characters onto the real life historical figures of Artemisia Gentileschi, her father (painter Orazio Gentileschi), the man she accused of rape (painter Agostino Tassi), and the neighbor who acted as a procuress (Tuzia). The piece let us throw our voices as Moliere, taking on the sexual hypocrisy inherent in the trial's original controversy and the equally hypocitical ways Artemesia's story was reclaimed by the feminist movement.
Later that year, Stolen Chair wanted to apply to the much-lauded Stampede Festival (produced by Feed the Herd Theatre Company), but we didn't have a new piece up our sleeve. We sent the festival's producer the 10-minutes of Commedia that we cannibalized from Virtuosa and we were accepted. Great! Except...we got this news just before X-mas and opening night was the first weekend in February. We had no cast and no script. The only reason we even had masks was because I was currently teaching a 10-week Commedia dell'Arte course for 9th graders.
Kiran put together a script by the new year, we found a terrific cast and somehow, over the course of our briefest rehearsal period ever (20 hours spread over 3 weeks plus about a half-dozen hours of tech, at best!), we managed to put on a show that was well-received (sold out all performances except for Super Bowl Sunday) and finally allowed us to make Martin Denton's acquaintance. Oh, and did I mention I was in it? Yep, the first and last time that I tried to direct and perform.
But now, over 3 years after the zygotic version of the piece first appeared, we decided it would climb out of rep for a one-night stand at Swarthmore College with an all-new all-star cast. It seemed a shame to get the show all tarted up for just one night out on the town, so we applied to the Brick's Pretentious Festival and we were accepted for two performances in June.
So, we are busy as Brighella (sorry, commedia reference) getting the piece back on its feet and it is a blast, if only because this time I get to sit back and watch all of the proceedings without having to put my actor cap on.
Today we also had the first post-retreat rehearsal of Kinderspiel. Blurb? Sure: Set in the demimonde of Weimar Berlin, one cabaret offers access to the ultimate taboo: watching adults play as children. Stolen Chair presents the world's greatest children's story, told exclusively for an adult audience. After all, why should childhood be wasted on the young? Kinderspiel was accepted into Soho Think Tank's 6th Floor Series for a staged reading on June 25, and will enjoy a full run at UNDER St. Marks in late September.
It is exhilarating (for me, at least) to have these rehearsals back-to-back. I can actually feel myself becoming a better theatre-maker by virtue of the quick gear-shifting I have to do, allowing me to become more aware of the elements of my directorial identity that are project/style specific and those that are tied to my overall vision of theatre-making.
I'll be blogging about both of these pieces at length either tonight or tomorrow morning...