How Sweet the Sound
My Life as a Cohort
March 1, 2014
Yesterday, the director, stage managers, dramaturg and cast of Informed Consent spent several hours collaborating on music and dance with the sound designer/composer, Matt Callahan. Larissa, one of the five actors in the play, also served as the choreographer.
Dance and music in Havasupai culture is sacred, and it is not shared with anyone who is not a member of their community. I was disappointed that commitments at work yesterday prevented me from witnessing the creation of the music, so I am very happy today to time my visit with a rehearsal of the “blood ritual” section of the play, where much of the singing and dancing occurs.
Today, I learn that what I have called “maracas” are “gourd rattles”. The large drum used for “Tina beats” is now is joined by a smaller hand-held and hand-painted one with a webbed backing.The first thing the director, Sean, says to the actors is to “add in a moment of quiet.” This will signify “joy and release.” In this section of the play, the ritual, a group of scientists in lab coats (accompanied by oversized gloves and plastic goggles) morph into the entire tribe. They do this by shedding their lab coats, breaking into four sections, and looking out at angles. As they do this, they build in calls, yells, responses to each other—what Sean calls “adding layers.” They begin singing, dancing, and shaking the rattles—“Ha-yah.”
Sean says this dancing can be very “personal”. From his research, he has learned that the Havasupai use music to connect to each other. “Everybody is doing their own thing together,” he says, which gives the actors a lot of “latitude.” They do not need to be doing the same steps at the same time.
At this point, the actors create a tapestry by singing lines of personal songs imitating the tapestry of personal stories at the beginning of the play. Sean says this is the “connective tissue” of the play. The songs overlap each other. Several are spiritual. Some work better than others, so, in the end, he chooses not to use all of them.
There is some discussion of the drum beat. Jessie asks if there will be a beat “that we’re all hearing like a metronome?”
(I am reminded of the time I was at a retreat in Jemez Springs, New Mexico. There were three circles of dancers, a feminine circle going clockwise, a masculine circle going counterclockwise–or was it the reverse?–and an improvisational circle in the middle. We danced for hours. There was the steady beat of a large drum. When one drummer became tired, another seamlessly took his/her place. It was said to represent a heartbeat that never stopped. Cathy played someone’s flute. We were at a Buddhist monastery, but this was not a Buddhist event. Afterwards, by the light of the full moon, we went out back into the hot springs and heard loud Country and Western music blaring from a nearby bar. Stories always overlap.)
At the end of the lovely, haunting musical interlude, Sean says, “Guys, you are amazingly brilliant! Thank you. Can we now do a little old school rehearsal?”
Someone answers back, “You mean memorizing lines?”
And some quips: “You forget to say, ‘I remember’”
“Learn that line last. It may not be there. . .”
This play is about stories and memory. And aren’t all plays about that? Is this a metaphor for theatre or vice versa?
Each time I visit, each run through of the play certainly serves to stimulate my own memories. Or did I make that up about the full moon in Jemez? I know there was a steady drum beat, three circles of dancers, a hot springs, a Buddhist retreat, a bar with Country Western music, but a full moon??? I’ll have to ask Cathy.