ZdG Busking Workshop Days Six & Seven: Busking Heaven

It's remarkable how things come together for a show. One of the more brilliant moments of the film "Shakespeare in Love" is a line bestowed upon Geoffrey Rush's character of Philip Henslowe, as an explanation for the bizarre and spontaneous nature of the way in which shows seem to pull themselves together: "I don't know. It's a mystery."

I don't think it would be an overstatement to say that the classes leading up to our debut at La Festa Italiana were increasingly tense. The students, for the most part, really didn't know what they were going to do with themselves for three hours of improvised performance. Some were thrilled and eager; most seemed suspended, waiting for some kind of intervention from above. At the same time, we as teachers (and, more relevantly at this time, collaborators) allowed our workshop sessions to become rather less structured. We had to, which I found very interesting. It was time to let the students take more direct charge, to communicate with them on a level of equals. Even as we prepared them in the last hour before entering the liveliest stage of all, it was more a projection of authority and leadership than the actual stuff. It was their show. We were now just players in it.

One of the last "taught" segments of the workshop was demonstrating aspects of solo performance and bit development. I performed my clown for them (not to great effect--I was feeling very drained) and a greenshow bit from way back during my days at Porthouse Theatre. Then Dave and I encouraged them to perform special skills one at a time. It was a very good transition into their situation of the next day, choosing people one at a time to hold their own on stage, and helping them see what material they had to use in creating something diverting. Some used skills they had already learned, most resorted to creating scenes out of their developing relationships with one another as characters. It was good, and a good way to end the workshop of the night before we convened at TNT to brush up and perform. Both terrifying and uplifting.

The next day so much happened that it's hard to relate. We warmed them up with improvisations out and in character, and David Zarko came in to give notes on each character (most of his notes consisted of encouraging everyone to broaden their characterizations physically). At the same time, Heather and Sam arrived to observe our foray into performance. Erin would arrive during the festival, nearly completing our cast for

Prohibitive Standards

. From the rest of the day, and our experiences of the entire week, we would that night choose four students to join our cast. For the time, however, as Dave and I suited up and joined a family (he a Verdeloni, I a Rossolini), there was only the huge endeavor before us. We would walk down a street in character, into a teeming crowd of unsuspecting Italian enthusiasts, and start a fight.

Start a fight we did. As we entered the town square, already attracting attention with our bizarre costumes and shapes, the families formed two groups and we began the argument: OUR restaurant is better; YOU stole everything good you know from US. It had been agreed that we would stick to larger groups until everyone had gotten more comfortable with the walkabout, but it seemed to me that, as they dispersed to dispense red and green ribbons amongst the crowd (we SO didn't make enough of those), everyone took to wings. I didn't see a fellow performer for nearly a half an hour, and I worried they were huddled somewhere, avoiding the show. I couldn't have been more wrong. Every single performer took to the show like they had been born in character. It was beautiful. I only wish I had been able to observe more--being in character myself ("Uncle Bruno"), I couldn't rest for more than seconds at a time. In fact, after two hours Heather approached to gauge my feelings about wrapping it up an hour early, feeling we had more than accomplished our task and that energy was waning. I couldn't have agreed more eagerly. Busking, truly, is a sport for the young.

We concluded in a spirit of relief and excitement. It seemed everyone had a remarkable time, and I made sure we gathered in the cabaret room at the theatre for stretching and debriefing. It was marvelous to hear everyone's stories from the day, good and bad, because everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves and have learned something genuinely new from the experience (I being no exception to this). Finally, we had to say goodbye, and it was mostly sweet, since everyone felt accomplished and most were off to other Labor Day festivities. The bitter came when I had to acknowledge that only a few of our groups of eleven would be continuing on to do the show. It was necessary, to nod to the transition as we entered into it, and I hope everyone perceived how grateful I felt to all of them for their work and daring. I'm honored to have had the experience of each of them in my life.

That night we selected our four, and now we have the full cast. The week of training in the inimitable Zuppa del Giorno style begins next, and our college students are not the only ones to receive the benefit of it. Three professional actors in the this project have no idea what to expect either. And, frankly, it's been a year and a half since Heather and I have put up a full Zuppa production, and some three since we've done so with David Zarko.

So there's a lot to (re)learn.