OMG finds its feet!

March 4, 2011

OMG! March is our month! Our full team (minus our NYC correspondent Cesar) met for the first time in months last night, and we are beginning the exhilarating work of creating art (can we call it that yet?) out of the raw materials and “data” we’ve collected. We also discussed using this blog as a way to keep a record of ideas and images discovered via the rehearsal process, and to share some of that with readers. All of our core collaborators will be posting here within the coming weeks, so keep checking in!

Prior to rehearsal, Patrick and I discussed the importance of ritual as a unifying theme not only within our piece, but within rehearsals themselves. As we make the transition from “head” work (brainstorming around a conference table) into “body” work (getting up on our feet), we want to maintain a level of physical awareness and connection to each other. To that end, we began with some warmups led mostly by Veronica, just back from her directing gig in Arizona. Yoga! The numbers game! Zip-zap-zop! Poor Yael, a filmmaker in a room with all these hyperactive theater people. 🙂

With bodies now present, we dive in. I have a green gym bag overstuffed with books: mystical poetry, texts on religious topics, Renaissance and modern art books. I dump everything onto the floor (my poor 1920’s era copy of Eliot’s Four Quartets is taking a beating!) and we each take a few minutes to select a piece of text or an image which resonates. Going around in a circle, we all share in the “show and tell” style we’re now used to. What do you like about the piece you’ve chosen? What grabs you about it? Is there an image that’s usable? Veronica chooses a poem dealing with Freud, Patrick picks a mystical poem from Darshan Singh, Yael grabs a small bit of ee cummings text, and I find an image from Magritte called ‘The Tempest’, which Veronica gasps upon seeing – apparently she has the same image on a postcard, and is one of her favorites. (Rehearsal synchronicity moment #1!) We discuss what makes the image compelling: as the heavenly clouds cross over traditional boundaries into the everyday, there’s a beautiful blending of worlds. Might we use blocks onstage to create a similar effect? Could be. However, we will probably not use a fog machine. 😉

At this point Veronica is anxious to show us some video she shot while in Tucson, so we watch that for around ten minutes, and brainstorm about possible ways to incorporate video into our piece. The video (will embed here soon) is striking compositionally: Veronica happens to be filming a lengthy poem on a cement floor of a subway station; while she’s doing this, a homeless man interrupts her, and we watch the organic transition into Veronica asking him our questions. Both the setting and the honest reflections of the man (‘How do I define myself? I am an alcoholic.’) leap out from her computer screen. How to use any of this in the piece? No one’s clear on that yet, but there’s something in this for sure.

Our first “special guest” arrives: Gabby, a terrific local actress whose work most of us know, and we continue on with a staging exercise. Splitting into two groups (Yael/Veronica/Gabby; Patrick/myself) we select text from printouts of interview answers we’ve received from people from all over the country, the pages of which which I have scattered on the floor in the rehearsal room, and try to pair these up with images.  Over the next twenty minutes both teams create a piece, performing them for each other. (Allow me to give a shoutout to Jo and Tom of The Performance Corporation, who spearheaded the Swampoodle development week I attended in Ireland last month; as my primary experience with devised theater, I’m hoping that many of the exercises we worked with during that week, which I blogged about here and here, will help to inform the OMG process moving forward.)

The ladies begin with Yael standing, reading from one of the responses in sort-of loose “hippie” style; the piece then morphs into a Gabby holds a “knife” to Veronica’s head, which is positioned upside down to us. The staging is jarring in its brutality and confrontation. Gabby asks the questions repeatedly as Veronica shouts back “Prefer not to answer! Prefer not to answer!” (Which was one respondent’s answer to five of our six questions!) The inspiration for this image, the girls later reveal, came from the Caravaggio image below, ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac’.

Another bolt of synchronicity (#2!) is realized when I share about a terrific Caravaggio documentary I had watched that very afternoon. There’s clearly something in Caravaggio’s personality which resonates with OMG: Caravaggio was a brawler, a murderer even, who shocked the bourgeois by creating sacred art via the the most irreverent means, often incorporating his barroom friends into what were supposed to be sacred paintings. One story I remember from the doc is how he allegedly modeled the painting below (‘The Death of the Virgin Mary’) by using the corpse of a drowned prostitute as a model!

The piece Patrick and I devised was initially inspired by a response to the “what are you most proud of?” question, in which a new father first answers “My son,” then goes on to describe the process of watching his one-year old grow. With this in hand, I searched for an image, and the first page (synchronicity #3!) of a book of old photographs I opened up shows an image of a father baptizing his son in a pool of water, in front of a crowd of community members, ca. 1900. We pre-record the text onto my iPhone, set the “audience” in the same place where they’re located in the photograph, with us in line next to them, and silently act out the journey of a father bringing his son into the water for the ritual act of baptism. In a funny twist, we neglect to tell the girls to stay in the “audience section” and they follow us into the “water!” (And wow, I found the image online!)

Overall it feels thrilling to get up on our feet, especially given that we’ve been so involved with “talking” about our concepts and visions of what this piece will be. Beginning next week, the goal is to invite more and more artists into the room, adding elements like music and dance, even lighting, and see what comes out. As we pack up, Patrick assigns us “homework”: track where we overhear people (or even ourselves) saying “Oh my God!” during the course of the day. I’m writing this the following morning and already have two to discuss!

Keep checking in folks, and if you’re so inclined, please follow us on Twitter. Performances of OMG will take place the evenings of April 11, 12, 17, and 18, at Source Theatre in DC. We’re happy you’re here!

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