Monday, January 31, 2011

Courtney - If You Do Nothing, There Will Be No Result- A Hippy Dippy take on Downward Facing

As the opening weekend of Downward Facing comes to a close and we prepare for the continuation of a beautiful run, I find myself being sucked into the world of spiritual, yoga-centric musings in which Lilly-Anne no doubt lives. It's not that these thoughts are entirely new to me. I spent three months at this time last year Wwoofing in Hawaii at an eco-friendly retreat. During my stay, I was surrounded by people that consistently consulted astrologers about their year to come, twisted themselves into knots on a yoga mat before breakfast, and regularly referred to people and places as "magical". I guess we were in a paradise of sorts, so why wouldn't they be enthusiastically optimistic? But still, it's a new world to be thrown into for a habitual city dweller.

However, I can't deny that these type of philosophies and influences have had an impact on me since coming back. And playing Lilly-Anne has made some of that resurface, so forgive me for diving into hippy dippy talk at this time, but I feel it's relevant to our show.

Specifically, I'd like to address a quote from the Bhagavad Gita that I feel addresses both our play and the idea of making/presenting art in one. It goes as follows:

You have the power to act only
You do not have the power to influence the result
Therefore you must act without anticipation of the result
Without succumbing to inaction

The Gita goes on to say, "you may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing, there will be no result."

Though there are characters who take strong action from the start of the play (Dasher travels whenever he gets the urge, Jenna acts on her desire to have a child, and Lilly-Anne creates her dream business), I find that the conflict arises from the two characters who are more reluctant to take action: Janna and Flax.

Janna has trouble committing to her relationship because the idea of Jenna's child scares her. Flax does not want to leave her stoop, perhaps because this is the life she wants to live but also because she is probably afraid to change after living the way she has for so long. So I love that in the end of the play, Janna does take action and commits to Jenna, and Flax takes action by finding her own path, though we don't necessarily know what that path is. Essentially, these characters cease stagnancy and embark on taking action, whatever the result may be. The Gita also emphasizes that "action conquers fear," and in both of these situations, it clearly does.

And as I said before, I feel that these quotes apply strongly to putting on a show or creating art as well. We can't know what the result of our efforts will be. But we are taking action in a way that makes sense to us, and that way is creating. And we are brave enough to share what we are creating. So I am reiterating in my mind that I "have the power to act only," and yes, I'm aware of the double meaning due to the fact that I'm an actor in this show.  I guess I'm just saying that I often tend to focus on the results of my efforts. But according to this philosophy, that isn't really important at all.

PS- this might all be crazy talk because I think Lilly-Anne has hijacked my brain.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Playwright to Playwright: Mishelle Apalategui (2 of 3)

The characters in your plays seem to be driven by an overwhelming need to confess! They confess their love. Their disgust. Their rage against the unfairness of the world. They seem to hold nothing back. These confessions seem to fall on deaf ears. One confesses while the other rejects. Can you talk about your characters need for full discloser and confession?

I grew up in a really big family. The eldest of 6, plus mom, dad, g-ma and all the neighborhood kids were vying for not only all the bathrooms at once, but for all the attention as well.  The part of me that begin to grow from living in that situation was one that was absolutely terrified of being completely exposed. I developed a habit of secrecy at a young age. I spent lots of time creating, dissecting and then hiding my thoughts. But, I wasn’t reclusive, the exact opposite! I’ve always been very affable and social and rarely shy…because I figured out what to keep inside of me in order to feel absolutely comfortable in every situation. I did a lot of confessing to adults as a child and felt like my big emotions, my big thoughts were dismissed because they figured there was no way someone so small could have feelings so big. That’s a through line in my life and thus, in my writing-that the way my emotional brain works is too big for my physical britches. So, in a way, maybe my characters having an unquenchable thirst for confession is a funnel through which I feed my desire to confess myself, which really all comes down to a simple readjustment of what they call a Napoleon Complex. Once my friends, then my little brothers, then my friend’s little brothers got bigger and taller than me-I realized I could no longer be noticed eye to eye, so I had to use something else to get everyone’s attention. I chose my words. Anyone can be rambunctious and loud and tap dance on top of the big oak coffee table to the theme from Get Smart but there’s a real respect for someone who can affect you with words and little else.

God, I’m such a rambler, basically, I find it incredibly hard to confess. And (as you can see) to get to the point. I wish I could. So, they do it for me. Plus, it’s dramatic! Who wants to hear 45 minutes of subtext out of 60 on stage? I don’t. I want to set up relationships then break them down and from my experience, relationships between people only move forward if the parties involved confess their inner thoughts and desires to one another. Or else, all there is is stagnancy. There’s no drama in keeping things back except for the person who’s keeping the information. The drama, the catharsis, the explosion, comes from reaction. Relatable action is in the reaction. Think about the silent movie players, Chaplin wasn’t funny because he made stupid decisions in stressful situations, he was funny because the people around him saw him make those mistakes and perceived him a tramp. What would he do if there was no audience? What do I do when I think no one is watching? Interesting stuff, for sure, but how would anyone be able to decipher it?

Where are you in your work?

I use a lot of people I know in my plays. Not verbatim. I’ve realized that what I do at this juncture is take people who affect me, pull out one or two of their biggest emotional/social characteristics-name them something that I feel represents these attributes and build out the character from there. Usually everything I stuff them with is from me. So I guess I’m always there in every scene, just never fully intact. Oh! I also like to write to try and predict the future. It’s actually been successful more than once. More than three times to be vaguely exact.

Are your confessing to us in your plays?

Constantly. But I’ll never make it obvious, sometimes its a big confession, and out of something like guilt or fear, other’s it’s just out of my personal confusion and the need to solve something I can’t let go of. There are little confessions all over the place in my plays but it’s not for you to find, it’s for me to release and revel in. I do believe though, that they will affect anyone who absorbs them consciously or sub-so. I do hope as well, that I will stimulate people to confess themselves, right there in their seats. Even if it's just to themselves, there's always something that needs to be let go of in the dark.

- to be continued

 Giau Truong directs Natalie Breitmeyer & Emily Tate in Mishelle Apalategui's "Downward Facing"

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Playwright to Playwright: Mishelle Apalategui (1 of 3)

Mishelle Apalategui
As we quickly approach the Opening Night of Downward Facing by Mishelle Apalategui, I wanted to talk to her about the script and her unique playwriting style.

How did you get hooked up with Dream Theatre? What drew you to their style of theatre?

I answered an ad. No, really. In 2008 I moved to Chicago after living in Milwaukee for 10 months doing a (god awful) life changing acting internship. I give it shit, but it actually was life changing, because I learned the most important lesson of all-what I didn’t want to do with my life. 

Learning that has made everything else much more apparent. Not any easier, but more apparent. I was tired of acting because it just didn’t feel right. It felt forced and stringent and exclusive but in a outdated way. So, I decided to focus on writing. I creeped websites like Chicago Artists Resource for postings for Playwrights. Play festivals. 10 minute plays. All that. And I saw a call for playwrights for Dream Theater’s Theater Of Women 24 hour festival. I sent in some samples and Jeremy sent me an email saying he liked my writing style and I joined the process. I knew nothing of the theatre except what I saw on its site and I really liked the visual aesthetic, I could tell they were a group that didn’t want to impress you, they wanted to effect you. And after I wrote for the 24 hour festival up to the day Jeremy asked to produce one of my plays, I never missed a show there. I couldn't, they drew me to their style

I just sat forward in my seat, gripping my knees  and got involved. 

Your plays are written in a very unique style. They are truly lyrical with very heightened dialogue. You almost seem to reject realism in your work. What drew you to this style?

Katherine Swan as Flax
There wasn’t one style I was drawn to. I look back now and I see a myriad of tiny influences instead of one big one. Beckett, Rivera, Edward Gorey, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Sara Kane, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Chaplin those are all definitely in there. And most recently, Jeremy because he was the first playwright who’s work I found absolutely accessible to me without question or dissection. But influences don’t write my plays like style doesn’t write my plays, the people in them do. I’m not sure I reject realism, I just write theatrically, which is why I write plays and not movies. I also find it very difficult to write realism at all because I’m not sure I totally understand it.

Instead of presupposing a play and writing it, I just get it one day. I don’t write all the time veraciously, the ideas sit dormant for a stretch of time and I have no idea they’re even in me. First, I’ll get an itch where I know I need to start writing some self-aware stream of consciousness babble-what I’ve experienced and observed in the past weeks or month-to purge and stimulate the part of my creative mind where I am always collecting information as fodder. So I’ll go to a bar to make sure I’m around people but not anyone I really know, no one to distract me, then I’ll take out whatever I can find in my bag, a pen, a highlighter and the back of a gas bill I’m subconsciously forgetting to pay, and write. Sometimes there’s an imposed structure like poetry with limiting rules, sometimes it’s everything I am thinking for an hour straight but nothing planned. As this is going on and my side of mashed potatoes comes, another part of my brain the one always looking for the next play latches himself onto something; a phrase a couplet of dialogue, a previously unknown whim or desire…something, and I stop. I change my motive and begin to write a scene. It’s always a short dialogue between a few characters that sort of just walk in the space and play for me. I write that until I get too distracted. Then I have the core of the play. Many a time that scene ends up being the first or last. So, through all that, I can’t really surmise what the style is exce
pt, it’s really just me and the way I perceive the things around me and how I find it best to interpret them. Ha! You know the way you talk to yourself out loud when you’re trying t figure out what to say to someone? That’s it, that’s my style.

- to be continued

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bil - Pilsen's Most Hipsterrific Show in Years

This coming Thursday marks the kick-off of Dream Theatre's 2011 season (not to be confused with tomorrow's kick-off to the end of the Packers' football season GO BEARS).  The show is "Downward Facing" by Mishelle Apalategui (directed by Giau Truong), and it will be without a doubt Pilsen's most hipsterrific show in years, and that's saying something for a neighborhood like Pilsen.

It will also be the beginning of Dream Theatre Company's most ambitious season in years, if not ever.  Ten productions all in all, on top of starting a Dream Theatre acting school?  That's absurd...and yet it's happening.  It's actually really exciting.

Something we learned about ourselves as a company last year is that every actor in every show has a different reaction to each play.  We also learned that every single audience member has a different reaction.  It's mind-blowing how we can all be in the same room, experiencing the same show (whether watching it or performing it), hearing the same sounds...and yet everybody walks out with something completely their own.

And this is a theme that fits perfectly in with "Downward Facing," which I'm sure is one reason we're using this play to bridge the 2010 season to the 2011 season.  "Downward Facing" is all about speaking different languages using the same words, and going through life in the same place as someone else yet living a totally different life.  It's also a little bit about crêpes, and I love crêpes, so that kind of makes me happy.

It's a week of epic battles.
- Bears vs. Packers...who will win??
- Yoga studio vs. the bums...who will win??
- The intrepid vs. the forever young...who will win??

We shall find out soon!  Get your tickets now.  Tickets to Dream Theatre cost a lot less than tickets to Soldier Field.