And here’s why...
Three weeks ago, I felt that familiar “sense of ensemble” when…
…during technical rehearsals for a play that I was producing, I got naked and rolled around in brown paint.
One word… momentum.
Mo Geiger and I have been working on a particular play, Butoh Electra for the last three years. She is a designer… and a gifted one at that, someone whom I have been utterly blessed to know and with whom collaboration comes like cake.
The problem was this… Christian, as fight choreographer had created some absolutely elaborate and beautiful fights for which our company’s stock 10x10 martial arts mat happened to be essential. And our director… disliked the way it looked. To be fair, everyone disliked the way it looked. It stood out like a sore thumb from all of the other scenery which Mo had designed and carefully built within the space.
What could we do to disguise or mask the blinding ugliness of this giant black square?
We had previously (and briefly) discussed painting the mat, an idea which I shot down immediately given that it would invalidate our warranty and potentially limit its future usefulness. However, at this point it seemed like the only option.
Mo suggested it. I reluctantly gave in. The only paint we happened to have handy was that same Mark Twain brown which covered the floor of the entire playing space.
It was perfect.
Mo rolled up her sleeves, dipped her bare hands in the stuff and began to smear it across the unsightly object. Christian rolled up his pant legs and did likewise with his feet.
I sat by.
Then they suggested I join.
“What about my clothes?” I laughed. “The only way I could possibly is if I was entirely naked and dancing butoh in the paint.”
“Do it.” Mo smiled.
Within the next half hour, I had danced butoh naked (as is somewhat customary) for the first time.
Mo said that my sacrificial dance was a true “blessing” upon the space.
The mat was thoroughly camouflaged with paint from our communal effort.
Before I knew it the three of us were driving home, safe in the knowledge that the theatre now looked and felt… ready… ready for the resonant and ritualistic magic of our particular play to take hold.
One of my favorite speakers on leadership, Dave Ramsey, says that “Momentum = Focused Intensity over Time and multiplied by God” - People who are able to sustain a high level of intensity over an extended period of time can appear hugely momentous and successful with even a little help from the infinite.
I believe the same is true of groups. Mo is a designer. I am a director/producer. I see her every few weeks if I’m lucky. (Sometimes it’s months.) By contrast, I see the actors with whom I work on a daily basis. I see them intensely. My relationship with Mo has evolved over time. She has literally been creating designs for Butoh Electra for the last three years. The longest any single actor has been working on the show is a year… tops. Some had only known about Butoh Electra for little over 4 months by the time we opened in Brooklyn this year.
So… can designers be a part of your ensemble?
If on one hand you define ensemble as people who work together over an extended period of time, then quite obviously… Mo is a part of my ensemble.
If on the other hand you define ensemble as people who see each other every day, then… probably not.
If, however, you define ensemble as a momentous force – a quality that amplifies the creative efforts of an individual with god-like power – then EVERYONE… from the actor I’ve seen every day for the last three months, to the designer I’ve seen on a monthly basis for the last three years, and even – with a little help from God – the stage hand I hired last week who works intensely on my show in his own way, EVERYONE is a part of my ensemble.
It is my responsibility to lead and to guide them well.
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Question: What else makes "ensemble" a momentous force in theatre as you know it?
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