Thursday, April 17, 2008

Now That's What You Call Developing a Show...

Austin's Rude Mechanicals have developed a show about the legendary Method acting teacher Stella Burden. (A sort of weird doppelganger to the much more well-known Stella Adler.)

How to research this interesting figure from theatre history:

The story goes that Stella Burden hailed from Texas, and when she
decided to get the hell out of Texas, she put a map on the side of her daddy's barn and fired a gun at it, letting the bullet hole determine where she'd go. The Rudes decided to re-create this incident, with the idea of determining where they should go to do further research on Stella's life and work. With a map of the world tacked to some hay bales, each of the four local copads took a turn putting on a blindfold, grabbing a .22 pistol, and taking a shot.

Madge Darlington hit Papua New Guinea.

Shawn Sides also put a bullet in the South Pacific, in the Kiribati

Kirk Lynn shot Iceland. At least that was the landmass nearest the
bullet hole.

Lana Lesley shot Baghdad. "She literally shot the 'dad' out of
Baghdad," says Darlington. "But we had a rule that we not going to any contemporary war zones, adds Lynn, so she was allowed a do-over.

That is a funny anecdote, but the real refreshing part of the article comes here:

One account of Stella Burden's later years has her spending 13 Months in rehearsal on a A Streetcar Named Desire. By the time the Rudes open their workshop version of The Method Gun in December of 2007 they've been developing the play for at least that long, and there are still four minths until the play's premiere at the Long Center for the Performing Arts. Thought the workshop gets a bead on many of the ideas about Stella and acting and truth that the
Rudes have been investigating for so long, they feel it hasn't hit the bull's eye. In feedback sessions after the performances, questions were raised about the about the portrayal of Burden and her students. Audiences wondered why people would study with this woman? Were the Rudes making fun of her? Were they making fun of actors, of what it means to pursue a craft?

The intent of the project had not been to mock actors or the pursuit of the craft. That would be the Rudes mocking themselves, mocking the work they've doen and the collective to which they've devoted all their energies for a dozen years. They have a healthy sense of humour about themselves, but wouldn't ridicule that. So they went back into the rehearsal room and reworked concepts, bringing more of themselves to the piece, blurring that line between the actors who worked with Stella Burden and the Rude Mechs, finding a space wher you're pretty certain of the line between characters and actors, but
20% of you may not be sure.

This is instructive for theatre artists. Rather than only making, cosmetic changes, the group went nose to the grindstone to do some serious work under the hood. This is not really "development hell," and it is not a case of focus group overreaction. This is a group of artists, taking the feedback seriously, looking at it and realizing when there are legitimate problems that have an impact on the overall work and the communication of their vision. The mere production of the work was not the goal. The goal was to present the best work they possibly could.

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