Cohort Report from Joanna Grosodonia

cohorts-300x300Cohort Club — First Ruminations

On November 29, 2012 Sean Daniels, director and uber energetic artist at large at Geva Theatre Center  asked me to join the Cohort Club, a group of 20 Rochesterians of varied ages, races, and socio-economical standings to be a part of the team that is making THE BOOK CLUB PLAY at Geva.  This club has unprecedented access to the creative process. We are welcome at all rehearsals, technical rehearsals, previews, opening and we receive rehearsal and show reports daily. We also have scheduled opportunities to chat with the director, playwrights and actors, to gain a deeper level of understanding. And hopefully we’ll find a few post-rehearsal nights for everyone to go for drinks to allow for conversation amongst artists and audiences outside the rehearsal room.

The cohorts are asked to attend a pre-rehearsal event at the theater, where the process will be talked thru and any and all questions answered. Snacks would be had, drinks imbibed, friends would be made!  We were asked to read the script in advance of the project -attend at least 2 rehearsals a week (length of time is up to us) and then journal about our experience in whatever medium we find the most exciting (written, twitter, Facebook), and make these notes available to the Geva staff. I don’t blog or tweet and I am terrible on Facebook so this is how I will communicate.

Geva may potentially do something with this material during the show or later.

Book-Club In Sean’s words “I’m picturing a high school kid next to a soccer mom, next to a donor, next to someone who has never been before next to a member of the local orchestra. Ideally, we make this group look like Rochester.”



Some group, huh?  Where do I fall in this mix?  I feel that I have a bit of a leg up on my fellow cohorts, because I am a Geva board member, and up until now I have been “backstage”, on stage, in the rehearsal hall and even in the green room on an occasional basis.  So I am eager to explore in depth what I have seen on a limited basis so far.

Cohort – that’s an interesting name!  Not a common word.   I first go to my enormous Webster’s second edition dictionary (yes, a book!)  to learn that cohort is the name for one of the 10 divisions of a Roman legion. It is an ancient Roman military unit of from 300-600 soldiers. Hmm, not joining the military with this club.

A cohort study refers to a longitudinal or observational study used in medicine, social science, actuarial science and ecology.  We’re getting warmer.

And of course – ask the Google — A group whose members share a significant experience at a certain period of time or have one or more similar characteristics. Now we’re talking.

GEVA finalThis Cohort Club is definitely following the last definition I came across.  Some very energetic people in the group have started up a Facebook page, and have asked to meet outside the theater periodically during this time period to talk about the process, what we hope to learn, how we intend to share our experience with our respective communities, other feedback for Geva, etc.  Another request was that we each provide a little background about ourselves: relationship to the theater generally or to Geva specifically, experience as a performer or other artist in the theater, how we became connected with this program, etc.

So we all met for our first face to face in the Nextstage where we were able to introduce ourselves and Sean explained the process. This is so exciting!!  I know several people in the group, but most are new acquaintances. I have the feeling we will be very close by the end of this journey.

The Script — The playwright generously allowed us to read the script in advance of any kind of rehearsal.  I read it twice. Started to laugh the second time.  It is sparse, lots of white space on the pages, lots of one line sentences for each character.  I had to use my imagination a lot more to envision the setting, the characters.  There are no soliloquies.  But once I started to read it the second time, I felt a better sense of timing and interaction among the characters. They started to seem like real people to me. I knew that an actor who has been in several Geva productions was going to play one of the roles, so it made it easier for me to picture her delivering her dialogue. That helped to create the scenes for me.

I came away thinking that there is so much work that goes into breathing life into these roles, and the necessity of sharp comedic timing to create laughs with the material. That’s not something that the playwright put in – how many seconds does it take; does it need a breath in between the words?  Is that the actor’s natural gift? Where were the detailed directions? Is it Sean’s job to set the pace to get the laughs? Is this going to be provocative or pedantic?

The title of this play intrigued me. I would like to be part of a book club, but have never been asked to join oneL, and I don’t know if I have the time or energy to start one on my own!

How do I feel about the books used in the Book Club Play?  Glad I asked —

Moby Dick – read the book, liked the book, saw parts of the movie

The Age of Innocence – read the book, saw the movie – liked both

Twilight – refuse to read the book, never saw the movie but visited Fork, WA (!)

The Da Vinci Code – tolerated the book, saw the movie – it was ok

The Return of Tarzan – never read the book but I am sure I saw the movie when I was 7

I am participating in another project at Geva that involves creating a new model of a patron and artist centered organization. Karen Zacarias, the Book Club Play’s author, is part of this initiative, so it was really neat to meet her (via Skype the first time) shortly after we started this Cohort business. She is smart, funny, engaging and brings good thoughts to the process.

Before the official meet and greet with the cast and crew we received the dramaturge’s notes. All 72 pages of it.  An incredible amount of detail – how to pronounce unusual or unfamiliar words in the script, a description of all the books named in the play, including background on each author, a recipe for fun! (food plays a role in the play as well) This is like homework — All of this is coming together in 4 weeks? Really?

The official meet and greet involved a lot of people, including the staff at Geva as well as all the people responsible for this play. After the breakfast pizza and fruit, and the actors dealt with paperwork (union rules and regulations per Equity- something we “outsiders” know nothing about) the cohorts settled into a semi circle around the actors’ table.  Sean led us in a hilarious ice-breaking, warm up exercise that involved disclosure of injured body parts and hidden pleasures (you had to be there to appreciate the scope and gravity of those remarks!)

And then the work begins……………………

I stayed for an hour of the read-through – and saw the pages come to life, literally. So much better than I would have imagined, even for a first reading.

I cannot wait to see how this develops.

– Joanna Grosodonia
















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