Reflections

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

Theater is a live art. You share an experience physically together in a space with actors, crew, and fellow audience members. Things happen differently as actors attempt to repeat actions and new audiences with diverse experiences come in and receive new things, laugh in different places, and clap (or don’t) where no one has before. That’s what is exciting about theater. You can see the same play performed by the same company over and over, but still you can experience something new.

However, the problem with live art is there always comes a time when it has to die. The curtain falls on the performance and that production with those participants (actors and audience) in that space will never be performed ever again. It’s just gone.

Ali-Social-Worker

Just last week, I was discussing this with our stage manager, Hannah Richardson. Both of us have been a part of this production for almost a year and we were bemoaning the fact that this play that we helped to create, The Cleverest Thief, will probably never be produced again. It was a play written specifically for our audience by our audience. It was what it was. It didn’t try to be anything different. But because it was our stories, it connected more to us. Provoans wanted our stories as Provoans to be told. We filled that void. Would it be as effective in St. George, Seattle, New York, or LA? Probably not. Even performed here Gone Missing (which is set in New York) lost a little of its resonance with our audience.

deaf woman

Thinking about it now, I don’t know if I want it to be produced again. Maybe we take the process more than the production here. Maybe we inspire people to go out and perform and tell their own stories. Maybe it doesn’t have to be performed (in the traditional sense) to keep this particular piece of theater alive.

I guess it’s a little ironic that we are already feeling nostalgic about this show about loss. But as Dr. Palinurus revealed to us in Gone Missing, we enjoy this pain, this nostalgia, this pain in coming home again. There is something that interests us about loss and brings us closer together. We have all lost something. The difference is how we choose to deal with it. Even though we no longer have the production, we will always have the memory. We can always choose to enjoy that.

Thank you to all who came and shared your stories. They live on in our hearts and minds.

An Actor’s Perspective

by Ali Kinkade, actor and performance writer

When you play around ten characters in a show, it presents a unique acting challenge. In Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief, I play an old Russian woman, a hip social worker with a checkered past, and a BYU student with an affinity for both makeup and histrionics, among other characters.

Ali as the Russian Woman in "Gone Missing."

Ali as the Russian Woman in “Gone Missing.”

Another unique aspect of this show is that oftentimes, since interviews form the text of our show, we interacted with the people we were playing, so instead of working internally, I worked from the outside in. That sounds confusing, so here’s an example: when Michelle Williams played Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn, she started with Marilyn’s voice and physicality to capture the essence of such an iconic woman before she did typical “actor homework”– discovering objectives, creating a backstory, etc. When I was creating my character who we affectionately refer to as “Makeup Bag Girl”, I started out with things like the particular way she holds her hands, how she goes up on her toes when she wants to emphasize something, and her sharp, excited voice. Then, I discovered things about her by inhabiting that physicality and voice.

Ali's portrayal of the "Makeup Bag Girl"

Ali’s portrayal of the “Makeup Bag Girl”

When Emily Ackerman, who works with The Civilians in New York, came and did workshops with us, we talked about noting tics, vocal patterns, where they “lead” from when they walk, where they hold tension, and status (how confidently they carry themselves) in addition to the words interviewees were saying, because noticing something that sticks out physically about a person can be a great starting point to create a distinct character. In our character creation, we also came up with a “gestus” for each character (a pose that encapsulates the person). Sometimes–well, let’s be honest, much of the time– we would magnify a particular tic or vocal pattern in order to make a character more identifiable, because we’re trying to capture the feeling of the person, not recreate them exactly how they appeared to us in the laundromat or the street corner. This is also how we (and The Civilians) conducted interviews: we did not record them or write anything down until we were done speaking with them. That way, we remembered the most important words and gestures so we could emphasize them.

Working from the outside in is not typical Stanislavskian acting, but then, this is not a typical play. I’m so excited to be a part of a show that considers the things that can be uniquely accomplished through the medium of live theatre.

Fresh Air

by Ariel Mitchell, Dramaturg

Gone Missing is a non-traditional play. Instead of following a linear structure, where events build on top of each other to a climax, the play has what theater practitioners call a mosaic structure. Like a mosaic creates a picture out of miscellaneous fragments of glass and tile, the play is composed of bits and pieces of stories from lots of different characters. This allows the audience to explore a theme or see all sides of an issue. The problem with this is that sometimes, it is hard to find one story or character to hold on to.

Our Terry (Sarah Porter) and Palinurus (James Lyon) in rehearsal.

Our Terry (Sarah Porter) and Palinurus (James Lyon) in rehearsal.

The way the Civilians accommodated for this in Gone Missing was by creating a backbone, or a fictionalized reoccurring discussion between a radio host and her guest. This radio show is based on the NPR program, “Fresh Air,” hosted by Teri Gross, in which she interviews interesting people about various subjects. This sets up a perfect platform to discuss the thematic issues of loss and tie the somewhat unconnected script together.

Terry’s guest in Gone Missing is named Palinurus, after the helmsman/guide of Aneas’ ship in Virgil’s Aenid. In the Aenid, the gods tell Aneas that Palinurus is the only man who can get them from Troy safely. One night Palinurus falls asleep at the helm and falls into the ocean, paying the vain Neptune’s sacrificial price and ensuring safe passage to Italy. He fulfilled the prophesy, but probably not in the way he was expecting.

An interesting choice of character that plays deeply with the ideas outlined in Gone Missing about loss.

fresh_air_617_347

If you are interested in tuning in to hear the real Terry, “Fresh Air” is broadcast weekdays at 12:00 noon (Eastern Time) and can also be found online at http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/.

Making the Media: “Stars”

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

The last song in Gone Missing, “Stars,” discusses how when you lose something all that you have left is the memory of what once was, like that thing never existed.

Last semester, our media team broke down the script, choosing moments to mediate in both Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief. “Stars” is one of these chosen moments. As a group, they decided to project a video in the background of a table crowded with objects. As the song, progressed the objects would disappear, leaving only the memory behind.

Simple right? It would seem so, but it is incredible how much work goes into one little clip.

The first thing that must be done is to set the specifics. What is the setting? Where should the table be in that setting? What kind of table is it? How big should it be? Will it look good on camera? What kind of objects do we want/need? How many? How crowded should it look?

The day before shooting the director, production designer, props mistress, and film crew met in the prop shop to check out some of the options for table and objects.

Production Team discussing what they want the table to look like.

Production Team discussing what they want the table to look like.

We decided we wanted the table to be in a nondescript location. We’d accomplish this by focusing on the table top itself.

Deciding on the focus we wanted for the shot of the table.

Deciding on the focus we wanted for the shot of the table.

We also decided we wanted the table littered with objects with no space separating one from the other, like an ISPY book.

I Spy

We decided we wanted the objects to be a mix of things that our characters talk about and random things that could be lost.

Some of the objects someone might lose: candlesticks, curlers, a mirror, decorative knick-knacks...

Some of the objects someone might lose: candlesticks, curlers, a mirror, decorative knick-knacks…

The next day the crew met in Studio A to film. They started setting up at 3pm, began shooting at 5, and finished at around 7. Not bad for a 3 minute moment!

 

The Creative Incubator

By Alec Harding, performance writer

Throughout our work on The Cleverest Thief/Gone Missing project, we had set up an incomparable environment which contributed itself towards our creative process. We had, in a sense, purposely designed a “creative incubator” to maximize our potential as storytellers, actors, writers, designers, and inventors.

The first step to creating the essential facilitating environment was gathering the group of participating individuals. Although one of the main goals of this project was a script, we did not just want writers creating The Cleverest Thief. At the same time, a group of actors would have been no better for devising the piece. A bunch of techies who could theatrically mediate the project would have not have suited either. Instead of getting one homogenous collection of similar individuals, we used the whole spectrum to construct our team. We did have our handful of writers, our defined actors, our theatrical
designers, and then a handful of odd individuals who likewise added their talents and capabilities to the project. The first step we did to create the correct creative environment was get together the right team of unique and skilled people to do the job.

Once the vehicle was together, our engine roared and we cruised. The next essential factor of our creative success was the open door to all creative ideas—a door to fit an airliner hanger. Every time the group met, everyone took their new collection of ideas, interviews, and moments gathered since our last meeting and gave them to the team without reservation. Everything, even if it wasn’t used, was never blindly rejected. The door was never slammed shut. Every idea, suggestion, and interview was taken objectively considered, no matter how big or small, no matter who presented it, and no matter if
it was thought to be of any use. Every idea was given its due chance, which kept the doors of creativity, collaboration, and progression wide open.

The third great factor to incubating the creative might of The Cleverest Thief project was the fusion and chemical solution of each of the different interviews, moments, and ideas gathered. Individual and isolated interviews were combined into their ingenious moments which created something greater than each of the two separately. Elements were tested together, swapped between combinations, and reimagined and reimagined and rearranged and rearranged again and again. At it’s root, that’s what creativity is.

We had the team of divers, skilled individuals and we had an unrestrained, unfiltered inflow of new ideas. The finishing piece of our creative process was the building and collaborations of interviews, moments, and ideas unto the creating of the remarkable play we now know as The Cleverest Thief.

How to Make a Moment

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

Devising is a type of theater that creates a play by building theatrical moments, or little theatricalized scenes that we string together into a production. Instead of writing a script, we perform it and then record it. The script is the last thing to be created.

When creating a moment, the first thing you do (at least according to our process) is take an interview or a couple of interviews that share an idea, feeling, or theme and tie them together with a theatrical idea. For example, if an interview is about a girl who lost her sister to cancer, while she is speaking a hospital scene could be acted out in the background. Or, another different idea, pictures could be projected of her sister before she fell ill showing the nostalgia of the sister who was interviewed. It all depends on what you want to say, but it’s not a moment until it becomes something you can see on stage.

One of the defining aspects of the Civilians is their desire to incorporate media into productions. Their mission statement summarizes this by saying “The Civilians expands the scope of American theater and champions innovation by tackling complex and under-explored subjects, enabling artists to enrich their processes through in-depth interaction with their topics, diversifying artistic voices and audiences, and integrating theater with new media.” Many productions explore how theater can be enhanced by projection and actor and audience interaction with projected images. This idea of adding media to moments was a major aspect to consider as we started to create moments and present them to the class. How did we want to use media in our project? How much did we want to use it?

Here are two examples of student presentations on how we could use media for an interview about a girl who lost her Beanie Baby snail…

And an idea as to how an actor (Hannah’s finger) could interact with a projection on a screen…

We were greatly inspired by this video:

Tell us your story!

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

MISSING!

We need your help. As a devised piece about Provo, we are looking for stories about losing and finding in the area. If you have a story that you feel needs to be told please go to Facebook and like our page, Your Story for “The Cleverest Thief.” Post on our wall. And who knows? Maybe your story will end up in the show.

 

Now on Youtube!

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

We now have a channel on youtube for the Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief interviews that didn’t make it into the script, as well as other bonus videos about our devising process.

Come check it out at BYUCleverestThief and subscribe!

Here’s just one example of what you will find:

Putting Ideas into action

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

So far in the process we have been focusing on finding stories and putting them together into interesting theatrical moments that will engage the audience member and will explore how we deal with loss as Provoans.

One of the moments was created out of the idea of retracing steps, one of the first tactics we use once we realize something is lost. This moment called for a stylized dance to an original song in which actors search for something they can’t find over and over again in the same way every time.

However, we are actors, writers, and designers, not dancers so we invited choreographers to help us put our idea into action.

Here’s what we came up with:

Design and Dramaturgy

by Ariel Mitchell, dramaturg

This past week, our Gone Missing production team has broken into groups: Design and Dramaturgy.

The design team deep in discussion.

The designers will focus on how the show will look, how many screens we need, how we will use lighting, costumes, and projections to tell the stories of loss outlined in Gone Missing and The Cleverest Thief.

Some of the performance writers (Sarah Porter, Ali Kinkade, and Jenna Hawkins) putting a moment on its feet.

Meanwhile the dramaturgy group will be workshopping the moments we have chosen into a text that the actors can memorize and use. Basically what this means is that the four main writers will each take one moment we have chosen home. They will treat it as it’s own play thinking of traditional plot structure (inciting incident, rising action, climax) and write a draft. The next time we meet, they will bring it to class. The actors will read it and we will all give our comments and ask questions. The next night, the writer will take home a new moment (taking into consideration the comments given in class) and the whole process starts over again. We repeat this until we have a polished script that we can present at the end of February.