This entry is cross-posted at Mad King Thomas' website.
We're making a new dance.
We are hiring dancers to "play" us, or to "be" us (forgive the excessive scare quotes, strings of closely related nouns and verbs, and other ways of avoiding the obvious that I'm about to throw at you). We will put those dancers on headsets with their phones and one member of MKT will be instructing/guiding/influencing their performance with our voices. Beyond our vocal presence, we will never be in the room with them as they rehearse, and we won't be there when they perform. The audience will have forgotten the dance by the time we get to see the documentation of it.
It's a weird place to be, even for choreographers who often avoid worrying too much about exact execution. We prefer to know what is going on behind a scene and to let the dancer do the expressing, but whoa, it's scary to JUST know the behind the scenes and not know what is actually going to happen.
I am at the very least doing my best to relinquish that which is not currently under the microscope. The microscope is this: How can we make work without ever being in the same room? How can we get around/into the insanely frustrating reality that is rehearsing every week on Google hangouts? How can Mad King Thomas live in the machine in the body in the machine?
Here are the frustrations I have with Google Hangouts:
- It makes my computer overheat
- It requires me to close all my tabs
- I feel uncomfortable looking at it
- I feel weird being looked at
- I get distracted by my computer
- I can't really go anywhere because I'm stuck at my computer
- I have to wear headphones
- It usually fucks up part way through and we end up on the phone anyway
It's onerous to a degree that means we don't generally have the kinds of conversations you might have if you were idly in a room together. When one of us drops out, the other two tend to just sit there silently--in the past maybe we would have kept talking when someone goes to the bathroom, but now we just stop. It's weird and it kind of sucks.
I feel anxious about the dancers' experience in the piece, though the people we cast are massively competent and we're totally relying on their charisma and intelligence to save this piece when it falls on its face.
I have no idea what this will look like to an audience--I think it's the first time I've ever not known or even cared. I feel very deep in this weird process of voices: How close is the speaker to the ear of the dancer? What if the line goes dead? What can we hear/see of the other MKT members? How will I speak quickly or slowly or clearly enough? How the $*#! will the talkback work?
We could get around it somewhat with video technology, but a) that sounds even more stressful and failure-prone, and b) it doesn't really matter. If we just want to make a good dance that Looks Nice, we could do that and send them a video tape and have Theresa appear as rehearsal director. We do not want to do that. We want to experiment with transference, with imitation, with voice and body and how they work together.
It's gimmicky, too, and I understand that. I've never been shy of a good gimmick but I also try not to build my house on gimmickry. I don't anticipate that the earpieces will be a conspicuous or important part of the work. I certainly don't expect the piece to be About the Phone Thing. The phone thing is interesting to me, but I am hoping the audience will see something other than that: They will see dancers in relationship to one another, in service of a disembodied voice that is all powerful but utterly non-omniscient. Non-scient? Partiscient? Flawed. The controlling voice knows almost nothing about what is happening on the ground, which could be reflect in some ways on all sorts of subjects.
I want flickers of me and Monica and Theresa to manifest through them, the ghost, the avatar, the representation. I cannot know if this will happen except to be as utterly Me as I can be in rehearsal and in performance. To be as clear and strongly myself as I can manage, which I anticipate as a big challenge. I'm actually more worried about my own performance than the cast's. They're good performers and they are on-stage, where they excel. I do not excel at extemporaneous speaking and I sure as hell do not excel at dance-making-by-telephone.
It's not dancing, it's not talking, it's not teaching, but it is all of them. And I'm excited to see how it goes.