As you may know, for 2 shows in the fall (ALL YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED and 39 STEPS), we have 20 Cohorts who have been given full access to the process of how we put theater together.
They can attend any rehearsal, chat with the actors, the designers, the shops, etc.
This is our second group to go thru the immersion process. You can read about how the first group went here:https://gevajournal.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/clubbing-at-geva/
From time to time, we’ll repost their blogs here, so that you can follow along also.
Here’s Paul Root, one of our newest Cohorts:
I had the pleasure of beginning my role in the GEVA Cohort program for this theatre’s season by hearing the world-class talent Greg Kotis share some of his background and work in the Mainstage on Monday evening, August 19. Kotis talked about his early improv work in Chicago and his activity with the Neo-Futurists, a school of dramatists whose signature approach he described as dissolving the fourth wall between stage and audience. This influence is seen in his famous work, Urinetown: The Musical, as well as All Your Questions Answered, his new work of shorts that will premiere as GEVA’s entry in Rochester’s Fringe Festival next month.
Kotis shared with the audience that Urinetown was written as his last hurrah; he was really going to retire from the nocturnal theatre life and “get a real job” as he was a new father and bumping up against the serious challenge of raising children and working in the theatre world. I am glad that he succeeded with Urinetown, as are millions of others I’m sure, so we can enjoy and learn more from the mind that created the subversive, hilarious and unflinching masterpiece that is Urinetown. His breakthrough with this play brought to mind a quote by Thomas Edison that I found recently: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Kotis proceeded to read excerpts from three of his plays. Jobey and Katherine (his first full-length play), 2006’s Pig Farm; and The Truth About Santa Claus. Kotis described Jobey as a parody of the New England sea mythology; and Pig Farm satirized the American Heartland mythology. And Santa obviously takes aim at one of the world’s most beloved mythical characters. He wrote Santa Claus in an attempt to show his kids what he does in theatre – like a carpenter might teach his or her son or daughter the skills of the craft. I couldn’t help but wonder how the kids enjoyed the play which showed Santa and Mrs. Claus facing a split in their union, with Santa – described as being like a virile old Hell’s Angel biker – wanting an open marriage and revealing his illegitimate children from a concubine to the barren Mrs. Claus! Welcome to Kotis’s world! Mythologies connect human beings and sustain us – Joseph Campbell called myths public dreams and individual dreams private myths. They serve positive purposes, undoubtedly. But they also delude us and serve as rationalizations for abhorrent behavior, sometimes under the simplistic explanation of “because that’s the way it is.” It seems much of Kotis’s work strips away the veneer of mythology – the symbols and roles and masks we wear to disguise the true nature of what we do to ourselves and each other – manipulating, exploiting, ignoring, and devouring each other. But he uses the humor as a buffer so the audience can actually watch and contemplate instead of completely wince and turn away from aspects of the human condition many may prefer were left unsaid – or unwritten about, or unperformed on a stage!
The day after the Greg’s reading and talk, I sat in on the cast read- through of All Your Questions Answered. It was exciting to be present for the first time that a play of such a major talent had ever been read aloud with a group – like being in the delivery room. And like being in a delivery room, it was both beautiful and a little messy. Sean instructed the actors to just pick parts as they read through the twenty or so shorts that comprise the play, and the actors did a great job creating some sense of flow even with the stage directions being read. There were bumps here and there, especially with some of the musical bridges that serve to connect the various pieces in a loose sense. Some of the shorts obviously worked well, while others maybe not so much. I didn’t feel any of the pieces clearly missed. But of course it’s a subjective thing; one of the pieces Sean mentioned after the read as a miss was one that I thought worked to some degree. There was a lot of humorous contemplation of the role of the actors, the playwright, and even the audience in the theatre experience, harkening back to Greg’s neo-futurist’s roots. At points, it definitely made me think of Luigi Pirandello’s famous Six Characters In Search Of An Author. The play’s title All Your Questions Answered made me wonder about the conflict we face in modern times – in theatre, in politics, in advertising, in virtually everything. To a large degree, chiefly due to modern technology and communication, we do know the answers to many questions that previous generations did not, or not to the same extent. We know how most special effects are done in films and theatre; we know how the Wizards of Madison Avenue manipulate; we know that the lobbyists and the money machines serve the few instead of the many. So to find a way a new way to enlighten and entertain a populace that is complacent and defeatist – Yeah, I know we’re being screwed but what can we do? – is a modern challenge for artists of all kind.
Finally, after the reading, Sean gathered the cast together and had them play an instrument, or sing, or tell a story, or do pratfalls, or splits, or tell jokes, or a combination of all of the above. He wanted to see different skills and talents that he could incorporate into the show with the thought that it is easier and more powerful to let the actors capitalize on strengths they already possess instead of being forced into developing something they may not have. A couple of thoughts I had watching the actors do their various things: one, music is such a great gift. The actors sang some pop songs, some music theatre numbers, played guitars, violins and ukuleles, and in simple but effective ways showed a peek of a new dimension that they could bring to the play. My other thought was just one of admiration for the courage and craft that actors possess. To sit in front of your director and the Tony award-winning writer of the new play you’re part of and being tossed the imaginary koosh ball with the instruction of “Okay, show us what you can do,” is simply daunting. But each and every one of the cast members delivered something strong. I will say that Sean Daniels and Greg Kotis couldn’t be better at creating a supportive and relaxing atmosphere for the actors to work in, but it is still a formidable task to stand and deliver.
Greg and Sean ended the first rehearsal by telling the actors to think about the broad strokes regarding the play – the rhythms and trying to find the place that exists in Greg Kotis’s work – the place where characters are slightly elevated above where most people live their lives – as if they are on the verge of breaking into song. I thought this was a perfect description of Kotis’s characters.
I was out of town for the rest of the week, but read through Sean’s updates that some of the original pieces were cut and others were added by Greg before he left Rochester. So, I look forward to returning and seeing where things are with a few more rehearsals under the collective belt! I’m quite certain of one thing: Rochester has a theatrical treat coming its way! – Paul Root