Two Influences

I was 24 years old when it happened. It was a gorgeous day -- I mean really, really beautiful. The kind of advanced autumn day that is both bright and slightly cool and, once I thought I was relatively safe and had let someone know that, I sat in Central Park and watched the people go by. It was a fairly surreal thing to do but, then again, even the most common of things felt strange that day. I sat on a park bench just east of Sheep Meadow and watched as dozens of people in suits and carrying briefcases walked north through the park, no one particularly rushing, most people seeming slightly dazed, or even simply surprised, like me, that it should be such a beautiful day. This was before the twin towers actually fell down, you understand. That hadn't even occurred to me as a remote possibility.

Of course I can't say for certain, but I'd wager that any artist living in and around New York City on September 11, 2001, has lingering effects in his or her work thereafter. You wouldn't have to actively explore the issues or circumstances, or even the relevant emotions, to exhibit this influence. No, I see it coming out in myriad little ways too, without our even trying. Of course, many do try.

Friend Kate

often did in her work with


, but particularly in the last full-length piece she created with them/us,


. Directly or indirectly, we all had a profound personal experience, and we all keep returning to it in the hopes of making a little more sense of it . . . or at least of ourselves, afterward.

I have never quite tackled it head-on in my work. I did

some agit-prop theatre

that referenced the following war in Iraq, and I wrote a bit on it, even going so far as to start a play all about three people's personal lives leading up to the big day. (I still plan to return to that someday; feel it was a bit too big for me at the time.) I even fantasized a little choreography for a dance about it, and I am in


way a choreographer of dance. In fact, it's interesting to me that I took my creativity over the tragedy into dance, if but in my mind. I think there's a reason for that. I'm not sure, but it may say something about how abstract it felt at the time, unknowable -- just a series of visceral experiences that couldn't be ordered into anything particularly narrative or thematic. It felt, and I suppose it still feels rather, like an experience not meant to be understood.

It's curious to me, also, how profoundly I felt this year's anniversary. In previous years certainly I paused to reflect and (especially in the few anniversaries immediately after) even took some private time to remember and process and grieve. Yet this year, I was rather emotionally floored for a few days. I didn't know anyone personally who died in the attacks that day. Not that it's necessary to justify my response, but in seeking explanation there's no light to be shed in that direction, and what particular significance could the eighth year after hold? It was terrible, of course, and they say all New Yorkers have some kind of collective response around this time, our stress levels instinctively rocketing up. Still, this year seemed different, somehow.

I have an opportunity that's up-and-coming to make a show of my own. Actually, it's a commitment to provide a show for ETC's side stage program, Out On a Limb. When I submitted my proposal, I wrote about presenting something that explored a more intentional incorporation of circus and physical skill acts into scene work. That's something I've always wanted to see, and it seems the perfect time to explore it. It remains a very unformed idea, without even a story to back it up yet, and I find myself wondering if this could be an opportunity, too, to explore my responses to the events of 9/11. If it proves to be, it still won't be my focus or specific goal. Primarily, I want to fuse reasonably naturalistic acting with ecstatic and impressive movement.

An interesting personal coincidence related to 2001 is that it was the year that I met David Zarko -- now artistic director of


(not to mention the guy responsible for most of my professional acting opportunities) -- and in the same year was my introduction to circus skills. In many ways, it was the year-of-birth for who I am now as a creative artist, so it's bound to hold quite a bit of sway over anything I make. When it comes to that infamous day, I'm glad that in addition to all the horror and confusion, I especially remember what a beautiful day it was. There's something in this that comforts me.

The Greatest Show in Long Island City

Last night I helped set up, then attended, one of the best shows I've seen in a long time. It was the wedding of Friends Zoe Klein and Dave Paris, of Paradizo Dance fame, and it was quite an affair, both ambitious and intimate. Dave and Zoe put together a circus-themed wedding at a really cool venue in the LIC: The Foundry. Check out some pictures of the venue, then imagine that, with aerial rigging hung and a different circus-themed booth in every nook. As I said -- ambitious -- but with all the spectacle and performances, it was still a ceremony with its head on straight. One really felt that the best and most important thing happening last night was the union of two people with a special relationship. It was, in many ways, a far more successful and satisfying piece of theatre than I've seen in years.

The whole shindig didn't start until 5:30, but I sprouted up around 1:00 in promise to help Zoe pull it all together. I found there Friend Tiffany Kraus, of Kirkos association, which was a very welcome reunion indeed. I also found Friend Cody suspended from the rafters on white fabric -- she was scheduled to perform that evening, after the ceremony -- and it began to occur to me just how much of my former circus life might revisit me that evening. This is not necessarily all good, as I did more circus at a time when I was somewhat younger (read: a whole lot stupider). Nevertheless, I was excited by the prospect. I miss my days of regular ceiling-hanging and handstand-failing. Tiffany and I threw ourselves into candle placement, sunflower trimming and chuppah building, and the time flew by.

One of the splendid things that Zoe and Dave requested of their guests was that everyone dress in exuberant colors, along a specific circus theme of their choosing. Suggestions included ring master, trapeze artist, elephant, side-show denizen, etc. As things got under way, a completely various assortment of characters rolled into the place, some simply a little on the colorful side, others costumed to the nines and, of course, many genuine circus sorts didn't even have to try. Dave and Zoe themselves dressed in performance clothing for the ceremony, rather than a tux and gown. You might imagine this made the whole thing a boisterous occasion, and it was, but also very friendly, very communicative. Friends Kate Magram and Bronwyn Sims (Actor ~ Aerialist ~ Acrobat) were in attendance, too, bringing the total Kirkos number to five. It was, in brief, unexpectedly meaningful in a very personal way.

The most impressive part of Paradizo Dance's work for me is the way in which it blends Dave and Zoe's backgrounds and enthusiasms to create really flavorful performance that just about deserves its own category. Dave has been a competitive salsa dancer for years, and Zoe a more modern dancer and acrobat, and together they do inspired partner routines that are big on lyricism, lifts and lusty lunges (consonance is my big contribution). If you haven't seen any of their video, do. Even if the picture quality is poor, you'll be impressed within ten seconds. In fact, the movement and stunts are so impressive that it takes one a while to appreciate that everything is working on a higher level than that, that the grace of their movements is connected to specific emotion, choreographed with pleasing synchronicity to musical accompaniment. In other words, they've learned from each other's craft and used all of it to bring out a clear, urgent and rewarding communication with the audience. It's just lovely. That aesthetic is one they share with their friends, as was proven by the performers there last night -- dancers, aerialist and juggler. Paradizo Dance ended the evening's performances with a duet of their own. Needless to say, it brought the house down.

What was more impressive than the lifts, tricks and decor, even more than the example of a successful and happy life lived somewhere on the edges, was the way in which Zoe and Dave are so at ease, so at home with that life. It was a beautiful thing to witness, a public acknowledgement and demonstration of that agreement, that accord. Weddings are funny, in that no matter what your aesthetic or priority, they're invariably idealizations of your life. You work pretty damn hard to make them a concentrated dose of the goodness you wish for yourselves, and that others hopefully will wish for you. So, like theatre, they're not real. Oh God, how we'd hate them if they were.

As unreal as they may be, still, they are very, very important.


Next week I'll be performing a show twice daily down at the World Financial Center, under the auspices of

The Women's Project

. The show is called

Corporate Carnival

, and is much as it sounds -- a sort of carnival (though more circus) celebration (though more satire) of corporate America (though more capitalist America at large). It will be performing in the

"Winter Garden" section

, May 14 - 16, showtimes at 1:00 and 7:00, and the 15th thrice, the previous times plus a 4:00. We earn our money over there at The Women's Project, fo' sho'.

The show itself is interesting to me for a return to collaborative creation and my status within it. I'm one of a sort of inconsequential chorus called "The Temps." We burst through between main acts with commercial-like interruptions, and supplement the other actors' "scenes." We're also on stage even when we're "backstage," owing to the nature of our staging the show in an open area, and we're all responsible for developing a "greenshow" act. Greenshow acts are sort of a roving warm-up before the main stage begins, especially useful in this format because they get people's attention by adhering to a busking style. So we're doing all that (see above "fo' sho'"), but our additions to the show itself are not necessarily especially skilled. I'm stilting for one commercial, but for the most part the Temps' contributions aren't particularly physically demanding. In spite of the many circumstantial similarities between this project and the work of

Cirque Boom



(particularly Cirque Boom's

Circus of Vices and Virtues

, in which I played a stilt-walking businessman), they're very different in that regard.

I've had to create a lot of self-generated output recently. So much, in fact, that today I began to worry for the first time if I wasn't just recycling and regurgitating. This is due in part to hammering out an outline for a potential performance piece (pah pah pah) for Italy, under the auspices of

Zuppa del Giorno

. I took the three archetypal clowns we portrayed in

Silent Lives

, and bits and sequences from all our shows (Zuppa-related or no), added a dash of some of my favorite stage conventions and voilà! A . . . show! Of sorts! I kind of hate it! But the idea is that we'll all get into a room together soon (somehow) and develop it, or something that doesn't resemble it in the slightest. Not sure which one I'm hoping for at this point.

Sludging through this effort reminded me of working on my clown film (see


), in that I was writing out actions more than words, trying to tell a story through humorous, true deeds and bits. It was also reminiscent of the film in that I was frequently stuck, trying to figure out how to go on from a given point, and I've been feeling pretty stuck on the film script as well. It seems that once Our Hero (this is what I've been calling the clown character in the script) gets out of Central Park, I have very little direction for him. And now, after a couple of weeks of contributing to generate original scenes for

Corporate Carnival

, I have to develop a greenshow act for it, and I'm drawing blank. It's a little like I've run out of gas. Cough! Cough! Sputtterrrrr . . .

Yet on Sunday (see


), with eager and communicative collaborators, the ideas were flowing like gasoline in the 1990s. Perhaps what I need to do is engage in dialogue with someone who is inclined to be energetic about this kind of thing. Perhaps, too, I need to just get out of my mind and into my body. That was definitely a key element in Sunday's successful creation. This block may be entirely symptomatic, in fact, of a period of relative creative isolation of late. I started writing the clown film when I was between day jobs, and there were no theatre commitments, and very little energy on my part going into find them. At the time I viewed my individual effort as reclaiming a little of my work for myself (as part of my process of dealing with letting go of

As Far As We Know



]), and so it was. Yet it was also a retreat.

That's the nice thing about work. As long as you're doing it, you're working.

Such Great Heights

Yesterday was a Sunday, and I've relished those Sundays in the past few years that allowed me to sleep in, do a crossword and generally rock the low-key rockin'. I generally hate to rehearse on a Sunday night. Someone always wants you to. It's driven by desperation, largely. The scale of production I generally work on in the city doesn't pay one enough to quit his or her day job, so the folks managing schedules are confronted with a barrage of money-making conflicts. No one wants to rehearse early on Sunday, because of God. Also, because it follows too close on the heels of festive Saturday night. So someone invariably suggests Sunday night for rehearsals, and I invariably have to say, "Oh yeah, no, that's my knitting-circle night," or some such. Yesterday I had a rehearsal at mid-day, which was okay. If the trains hadn't been wearing their special helmets, I might have even made it on time.

Cirque Boom

has been requested to perform at a




, and I and three other performers were requested by Ruth Juliet Wikler-Luker to participate. One

Ms. Cody Schreger

is joining me for acrobatic duets, largely of the standing variety, owing to the constraints of the space. True to Cirque Boom form, we're playing energetically eccentric characters. I'm playing a tormented, mute poet, immigrated to America some years ago in a quest for a new love; Cody his first lover from "The Olde Country," venturing to America for the first time in the hopes of bringing him safely back into her embrace. This is all an elaborate excuse for flamboyant gesture and expressive acrobalance. We met yesterday in an apartment/studio in Brooklyn to refresh our (read: my) memories and choreograph.



today. And it is a

good pain


Approximately three years ago,


, a circus-theatre-et-al. troupe I was a founding member of, effectively folded. A little while later, Ruth of Cirque-Boom fame left the country for a year. These were my two core sources not only for "acro" exposure and practice, but for my expressive physical activity in general. In the intervening years between then and now, I've kept busy and tried to apply all I learned between 2002 and 2005 to other shows I've worked on and in workshops I taught. I worked so hard at that, in fact, that I had come to believe that I was maintaining my practice sufficiently, if not with as great rigor or regularity. It's amazing how complacent a person can become if he or she only wills it to be so.

I've written here before about the good ol' days of my acro career, when I was young(er) and doing handstands in the corridors of my day job with

Friend Melissa



). The emphasis of that writing was craving a return to that level of activity and physical maintenance, which has been a strong desire for me as well. What I learned from Sunday, however, is that part of the reason that's been so difficult for me is that it's been all me. I mean, not


me. On the occasions when we're working on a show together, Friend Heather and I train in acro a bit, and Friend Geoff and I both have a love/hate relationship with jogging, etc. What I mean to say is, I've discovered I've been missing more than the exercise. Last summer I worked myself into a muscle-bound frenzy (not so's you'd necessarily notice, mind you) for my part in

As Far As We Know

, but I wasn't building anything but myself, and it faded.

Sunday's rehearsal was even in a space that reminded me of

Friend Kate

's loft, where Kirkos met and tumbled about. It was in a, shall we say, less-developed section of Brooklyn, in a converted space with plenty of raw-lumber beams and old factory floorboards about. We climbed the stairs, removed our shoes, laid mats and started warming up. The warm-up wasn't just to loosen our joints, or "awake" our physical sensitivity, it was serious -- stretching out and warming up muscles and tendons that would soon be asked a lot of. We took our time, chatted, doped one anothers' stretches if they looked good, as a group will when they've worked together before and don't need to acknowledge social conventions. After a good, long warm-up, we began.

I'll skip the details of development. Suffice it to say that we choreographed quickly, everyone throwing in ideas and interpretations. Within minutes, I found myself performing tricks I had forgotten I'd known, and doing some I hadn't been able to do years before. The sensation was incredible. I'm not at this time in the greatest shape of my life, but working with an experienced acrobat like Cody made everything easier, and it does seem as though I've gotten stronger in some regard over the past few years. Though, by the end of the two hours, I was definitely quite winded. And, as I put it above, I



All this leads me to conclude that it's past time for me to be regularly involved in this training again, whether I can find a group to join, or have to start one myself. The common approach for most of my acro friends of late has been to team up with someone who they can count on, train and prepare for performance opportunities with. And that's well and good, and works great, but I need a group. I need a community that can sustain itself even when I'm off in Italy, applying the skills from that group to my commedia dell'arte work. And it may be up to me to form it.

We may even have to meet on Sundays.

Three's Company

This entry is not about the formative experience that watching the above-mentioned situation comedy was for me. Nor is it about using proper punctuation in titling. It is, however, about company. Or rather, companies. Or rather, theatre companies. And threes are just funny, as any self-respecting reader of this 'blog by now knows.

I have been a part of several start-up theatre companies at this point, and I have been in-on-the-ground-floor-ish of several original shows, the which is a bit like being a part of the beginning of a repertory company (just one that is guaranteed to disband at some point [probably a month or so from the first rehearsal]). I'm sure there are many who have been a part of more over the course of a decade, but I've had my share. A brief history:

  1. Just after junior high (which is 7-8 grade in NoVa), my drama teacher at Lake Braddock started his own summer theatre camp, producing children's plays he had written, which were mostly adapted fairy tales or adaptations of existing plays. I attended two summers, the first two, and looking back I'd say it was safe to suggest that he had very little idea where to begin. He just began, and it was begun. As far as I know, that "company" disbanded when he switched to teaching high-school theatre at a different school.
  2. In high school, every show was like a company beginning and ending, in the compressed nature of intense teenage experiences. The one we really felt we owned, however, was our competitive improvisation troupe. That one ended, for me, in graduation, but as far as I know continues on through the years at good ol' James W. Robinson.
  3. In college I fell in with a group which eventually came to be called Lacquespace (sp?) Enesmble, or Theatre, or Productions, or something like that. It was essentially formed from the frustrations of a writer who wasn't getting what she wanted from the curriculum and actors who were tired of not get cast, either for grade restrictions or simply because they went unnoticed. The group put on several well-meaning, hard-working productions. I acted in the first and wrote something for another. At a class meeting (read: me: geek: I was '99 theatre class president), I suggested that we needed to get involved to keep Lack-space alive after we garduated, and the woman who got it started misinterpretted it as an attempt to wrest control from her. Still, I believe it continued beyond our departure. When I graduated, a younger woman was at the helm, steering it toward geurilla theatre.
  4. It took me a while to get settled, upon graduating college and moving to New York, and for some time there was no possibility of knowing enough people to strike up an organization. Then, about a year into my residence, the seeds of two such start-ups were planted. From the group that produced a show entitled Significant Circus would eventually come the circus-theatre troupe Kirkos, and from my work with David Zarko on a farce entitled Der Talisman I would come to be included in the formation of Zuppa del Giorno, the contemporary commedia dell'arte troupe. Kirkos enjoyed a few years of productivity, but now exists more as a talent-funneling organization than anything else. Zuppa del Giorno, of course, is still going strong in Scranton--as well as annually in Orvieto--and for that I am grateful.
  5. UnCommon Cause (formerly known as Joint Stock Theatre Alliance) began the process that would eventually become As Far As We Know almost four years ago, and nearly three years ago I was invited to join it. This does not a company make, but after two-odd years of working with a group on a single project, one does develop a certain sense of family.

Recently I got an email from Friend Nat, one he had sent to about a dozen theatre folk he is familiar with, testing the waters for the enthusiasm people would have for starting a theatre company. Shortly thereafter, Friend Avi contacted me about the possibility of collaborating together (in spite of his current busy-ness with grad school) on a script or show. Avi and I have already met and agreed to do mutual research. Getting together with Nat (Hi, Nat!) is like trying to barter for clothing in a refugee camp (totally a mutual difficulty [Hi Nat!]). Finally, prior to both offers, I was contacted by David at The Northest Theatre about the possibility of joining in an effort to set up a resident theatre company there starting next season.

For most actors like me--that is, who dig "straight" theatre productions and are of not-too-great fiscal ambition--the idea of becoming a part of something like a permanent company is awfully tempting. "Repertory" theatres, as they are often called, are scarce in America these days, at least in comparison to how many there used to be. Now, every actor is a sort of "free agent," every theatre an economic liability that relies on celebrity draw and its elder community for staying afloat. (You notice I'm not backing this up with anything--this ain't wikipedia--and you are free to disagree.) A company, or even a single venture, with any staying power (and staying-with-me power) is very appealing to me. This is part of why "university theatre," or the track of going back to school, teaching and eventually getting tenure, is so sought after. It occupies more and more of my thoughts these days.

However, I am also a little gun-shy about starting something new, about doing it all over. That's understandable, I think, given one perspective on the past twenty years o' life. In some senses, how far have I gotten? Where am I now? Many people--myself occasionally included--look at my life and wonder at why I should be in such an insecure, unestablished place at my age. It's not uncommon for me to be written off in a lot of people's opinions as anything from undisciplined to inconsequential. Ah: But. In the past twenty of my years--and especially in the past ten--as an actor and creative collaborator, I have had experiences I wouldn't trade for a 41" flatscreen TV. Through all the beginnings and endings, misunderstandings and perfect chemistry, I've created my own work in little communities of people who care, and it has made me a better person. I have no doubt. Whatever is the next, best choice for me and my life, it will be a choice that leads me to as much of this sort of experience as I can handle.

Take a step that is new, y'all. Take a step, that is new . . .