Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Tech Week for Camenae Ensemble’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, Part One.
I remember how, in high school, Tech Week was always referred to as Hell Week. Sometime in college, everybody around me started calling it Heck Week. By the time I hit Chicago, it was Tech Week. I don’t quite know why this evolution occurred, unless it was some subconscious desire for things to sound more professional in direct proportion to the quality of your production. However, considering that the field is filled with people who break out into cold sweats when somebody says the word “Macbeth,” I don’t know that it’s necessary to apply such standards to basic production terminology.
But I digress. Already.
Chloe and I had a brief discussion, once, about the danger of the Neo-Futurist aesthetic for those of us in the ensemble who occasionally do more conventional theater on the side. Essentially, after spending a significant amount of time in TMLMTBGB playing oneself onstage, making a concerted effort to never suspend the audience’s disbelief, you find yourself taken aback by the illusion of “regular” plays. A part of your mind sees the actors onstage and says “That’s not real. He’s faking. He’s totally faking. I don’t buy it.” Since another aspect of our aesthetic is deconstruction, this means you also find yourself peeling back the sets and props and everything else, doing shows that are as much about the act of performing as they are performances themselves.
As part and parcel of that, you find yourself having the same problem when it’s your job to create and embody a character who isn’t you.
Last night was our first runthrough in full costume. Our director has elected to keep the setting for Dido as Marlowe intended–ie, instead of modernizing the piece or creating some sort of timeless hybrid as Julie Taymor did for Titus–that means that we’re wearing outfits that recall the Trojan War and its aftermath. For me in particular, this means I’m wearing a skirt, cape, and chest plate, in addition to various gold armbands and crown. There’s leather laces and bows and quivers.
So I performed the show last night in costume, and I.
Every. Line reading. Out. Of my. Mouth.
Because I was up there trying to dig into the work I’d done for the past three months, the seething jealousy, the sense of entitlement, the frustration and insecurity, the indecision, the various other elements of Iarbus that I’d been buffing and polishing and was itching to display in front of an audience, and I couldn’t locate any of it. Every time I tried to get there I found myself blocked by the inherent sensation that I was wearing a costume–not the everyday garb of the long gone king of Gaetulia, not my everyday garb, but a costume.
Part of the problem, to be fair, was that my costume is going to require minute adjustments in order for it to hang better on my frame, so some of my discomfort was in part due to the concern that at any moment I was going to trip over my cloak or that my breastplate would go sliding down my torso.
And another part of the problem, in terms of my acting, is that we haven’t had our titular character available…Alex, playing the lead, has been in Montreal, sorting out the particulars of her immigration status. Yes, the United States government decided to finally take care of her situation the week before we open.
(I can’t really blame this on Bush in particular, but it doesn’t endear me to him or his administration any further.)
As much effort as the stand-ins have been putting forth, Alex has been the one working the character for lo these many months, and I’m used to that chemistry and security. I couldn’t work myself up into quite the outraged indignation for this actress who wasn’t really Dido, especially since I was always aware that Alex would be coming back.
Tonight I get to try again. Alex will be back tonight and the costume should be fixed, so if I’m still having trouble, it’s all on me. I fret that maybe I peaked too soon, that maybe I just got too used to rehearsing in street clothes, which is what we perform in for TML–that Iarbus only lives in my T-shirts and jeans.
At the same time, I know I’m fretting. I’ve deconstructed my own anxiety, yet again, and found that there is nothing there but poorly written melodrama.
There’s still work to do; I need to always keep in mind that I am up to it.