Friday, November 30, 2007

Juliana Francis Kelly in rehearsal

Messing around with Potatoland-like objects at home can be fun: a coil, a spirit photograph; unusual jewelry and an interesting dress.

Notes from a rehearsal:

RICHARD FOREMAN: Is this the fifth week?

STAGE MANAGER: Oh we’re past that-

We did two with you then two w/o you…

RICHARD FOREMAN: (laughing) Oh well those two don’t count-

STAGE MANAGER: Okay, this is the beginning of the fifth week.

…Actors on break: actress in a black crepe dress sleeping by a giant urn…

RICHARD FOREMAN: Which play had the giant blackbird pie?

TWO ACTRESSES: King Cowboy Rufus!

STAGE MANAGER: The blackbird pie is in storage upstate.

Four striking actresses in early 1930s dresses; just after the flapper dress first got elongated and someone invented the metal zipper: Sarah Dahlen, Caitlin McDonough Thayer, Fulya Peker, Caitlin Rucker. One actor: Joel Israel, looking like a malevolent Arrow Collar Shirt Man in a dark suit and a jangled stripe tie.

Break is over – actress on floor wakes up.

VIDEO: Japanese cast rewinds on film: a crowd descends the staircase

VIDEO CLOSE UP: Beautiful girl in a black hat turns her head

A light bulb in the video screen pulses then glows (like a hat pin, a pearl, a mystical navel)

SOUND: Old opera baritone punctuated by harpsichord



With florescent subtitles

RICHARD FOREMAN: Joel – move your feet more like “what are you doing?”

Then –

RICHARD FOREMAN: What is the term human beings used before they started saying “whatever?”

Some good suggestions. None quite match “Whatever.”

STAGE MANAGER: We’re going to keep going from here. The girls are going to stand up and twirl.

LOOPED VOICEOVER: Here is the end of part one-

Girls turn (not a full twirl) reveal three 19th century spirit photograph portraits (which is very moving suddenly – why?!)

In Japan a girl in a red dress crawls down a staircase


RICHARD FOREMAN: You’re going too fast; it doesn’t have to be even. (He demonstrates. Joel repeats.) Cover your ears; feel the vibration…. I think it would be closer to your ears… make head phones for yourself…(Demonstrates.) I think it’s impossible to do “wow” without opening your mouth a little….And then…when the thuds come (SOUND CUE OF THUDS) all beauty comes to tragedy”

--Posted by Juliana Francis Kelly

Juliana acted in Foreman’s PARADISE HOTEL; BAD BOY NIETZSCHE!; MARIA DEL BOSCO; and KING COWBOY RUFUS RULES THE UNIVERSE. She is currently on tour with Young Jean Lee’s SONGS OF THE DRAGONS FLYING TO HEAVEN (next stops: Berlin, Brussels, and Seattle) and can be seen in Marie Losier’s film, MANUELLE LABOR (created in collaboration with Guy Maddin) in Brussels, Paris, Stockholm, Montreal, Cairo, Lausanne, and Columbus.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Any Canadian growing up in the 80’s will remember a children’s show called The Polka Dot Door, in which, along with a plethora of multicoloured characters, real actors and regular sing alongs, there was a character called Polkaroo. Polkaroo only ever appeared on “Imagination Day”, and most specifically only when one of the “real” actors had left the room. Polkaroo would appear and would never say anything more than his own name. Then he would disappear, and just like the week before, the absent actor would return having missed Polkaroo’s appearance.
Now before you dismiss this tenuous link between Richard Foreman and a large polka dotted kangaroo playing the guitar, let me explain. I was sitting in rehearsal, very much wrapped up in my own problems, when I looked up and saw a scene that I had watched many times before. Sarah was standing upstage centre with a handkerchief over her face vigorously shaking two black sticks with jingle bells on the ends, while some melancholy French song played over a web of other sound cues. And suddenly I asked myself one of two questions that tech director Peter Ksander repeats frequently when at work, What am I doing here? (the other question being, Who am I?). Looking at the world that had been created onstage (and built to Caligarian dimensions), I was overwhelmed and it occurred to me that the hurt that we carry around with us, the injustices that we feel, are all so absurd. And it’s not absurdity in any funny sense, but an absurdity that stems from some sense of self-importance. Then I remembered something that Richard had said a while ago, when he referred to us, (presumably us being members of our present society) as “evolved, broken and stupid beings”.
I was, most definitely, having a moment. I’ve seen Sarah shake those bells since and it hasn’t had the same effect on me. At that particular point in time a meandering train of thought suddenly felt like it held some weight. Something emerged, and then like the Polkaroo, disappeared. I couldn’t put my finger on what had seemed so clear to me at that moment; it had vanished. And like the absent actor whose presence the Polkaroo always replaced, I’m waiting for that moment to re-emerge.

--Liz Peterson, Production Intern

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Today something changed

Richard introduced a new working system for the light and sound cues. Usually he would pause the rehearsal when he wanted a change and then would add or cut a light or sound cue. Then Brendan, the stage manager, and Travis, the sound engineer, would immediately adjust the cues. However for me it always felt like an interruption in the creative process of the performance because sometimes these adjustments would happen every three minutes.
But today Richard introduced a new method, which makes it possible to rehearse longer sections of the play.
If Richard feels there should be a change in the cues or in the actions of the actors he will shout out "stop". Then the videotape will be stopped and the actors freeze. The video engineer, Eduardo, shouts out the timecode of the tape and the director's assistant notes it down. "Continue", and the play starts exactly at the moment where it stopped. This whole action only takes a couple of seconds and allows the actors and the director to keep up the creative flow.
After a bigger section is rehearsed, Richard takes his notes and tells the crew his new changes, while the actors have time to relax, look at their notes or take a sip of coffee.
For me as a spectator and stage manager's assistant, his new method makes it more relaxing to watch and to understand his way of directing.

--Michaela Schultz, production intern

Friday, November 16, 2007

Guest Blogger George Hunka Pays a Visit

“I don’t write plays anymore,” Richard Foreman says while rehearsing his new show, Deep Trance Behavior in Potatoland, due to premiere in two months’ time from this chilly November afternoon. Now he culls his texts from notebooks that he keeps daily, and instead of crafting line readings and psychological conflicts during rehearsals, he crafts moments.
And it is a craft like any other, but the peculiar materials he’s working with are time and space. The thing is, both are filled with all these objects: words, video, blindfolds, people, large black knots, and in this production two miniature grand pianos (the set has been fully-built for a while now). All are in undoubted evidence during the process (Foreman rehearses each show for several months before it opens), which also includes a row of interns, all the performers in full costume, wires and sound boards and texts, mounted for convenience on stiff white paper. Foreman, during rehearsals, sits in the middle of the audience on an office chair with arms, lists of sound and light cues and the text itself at his side; to his left sits his stage manager, Brendan Regimbal, cheerfully (at least he’s cheerful this Sunday afternoon) calling the cues, making notes, keeping track of the endless details from behind his own tech boards. A video engineer sits directly before him, a light technician to his left, a sound technician to the right.
“We’re starting from 37:05,” Brendan yells out, referencing the place in the video from which most of the stage production takes its cues. “And roll video!” As the video (completed months ago; it doesn’t change much once rehearsals begin) begins to move on two screens above the playing area, the cast goes through its choreographed motions. In this scene, four elegantly-dressed women are manipulating vases holding large Styrofoam balls; an elegantly-dressed man is trying rather unsuccessfully to make contact with them.
Foreman stops the proceedings. “I don’t like those Styrofoam balls any more,” he says dourly. He sits for a moment then brightens. “Knots! Yes, knots painted gold!” Everyone breaks into laughter, including Foreman; knots play a large part of this particular mise-en-scene, whatever they may mean, and this will introduce another echo of the motif (it would seem almost Wagnerian if there were some precise theme connected with it, but there isn’t) apparently without reason. But it does echo the black knots that the women are manipulating; this seems good enough for now. Brendan makes a note to have some gold-painted knots made to be placed into the mouths of the vases, and the rehearsal continues.
Although Foreman’s shows have been becoming technically more complex for years, during rehearsals he spends a great deal of time with the actors, but his instructions to them are far more biomechanical than Stanislavskian. He tells one actress, “Look up as if you’re saying, ‘I want to be a part of this!’ And then you see that you aren’t, and you’re hurt.” Nor does Foreman hesitate to leap from his chair onto the stage to demonstrate the movements he wants the performers to make. Then, of course, there are those moments in which the movements remain undecided so far. “Do you want me to move to the left or to the right?” an actress asks. “I don’t know,” he says, asking her to explore both possibilities. However, Foreman never gives more than rough outlines of gesture to the performers. The actors and actresses perform, interpret his suggestions in their own movements: they do make them their own, stylize them with their own physical instincts.
During a break, he shows me a large folding black board from which he works: there are pasted in it columns of numbers and three- or four-word descriptions of the cues these represent; often, they’re sound loops of a few words or sentences from the text. “We make jokes that it’s like a Chinese menu, and I guess it is,” he explains; during the rehearsal he’ll say, “Let’s try 204 here,” and the sound technician can instantly call up the cue and play it through the speakers. “One from column A, two from column B … and we see what we end up with,” he laughs.
And sometimes he is not laughing. He stops the rehearsal at one point and says, “What is that?” He seems to be the first to hear a low bass thrumming rhythm shaking the theatre. He sends producer Shannon Sindelar to investigate; she returns to report that a bass guitarist has been practicing in a nearby room. He has been told to move further away, and Foreman begins the rehearsal again.
“Things like that still bother me, and I try to find ways to fix the problem,” he tells me. For this particular show, he has been running a recording of John Cage’s Europeras, made up of various sound elements arranged by chance, through the performance (Foreman claims to be coming to a new admiration for Cage’s achievement); then, odd outside noises may not seem so invasive. But Foreman’s face falls. “It doesn’t work.”
By 3:00, the rehearsal has been going on for five hours (with a half-hour break for lunch); this continues six days a week; and the hours can be hard, calling on intense attention to detail from both performers, designers, the stage manager, the cast, and Foreman himself. Once an hour or so, Regimbal calls a “Stop and write,” when he joins the cast on the stage to help them annotate the changes that have been made into their scripts. But there’s an ease that’s been engendered among the theatre practitioners. Foreman chats with the designers and the invited visitors during these breaks; there’s a lot of laughter; to a visiting pianist, he jokes that she should do a concert on a raked stage, from which the piano (and pianist) slowly roll into the audience.
Today, Foreman and his collaborators have been working on a five-minute piece of the play, carefully designing each individual moment – but what’s surprising is that each individual moment leads from and to another. In crafting this time and space, the rehearsal process finds not only a few minutes here and there of importance – suddenly, you realize, each moment itself is uniquely important, not only for itself but for the ways in which each connects to another. The director, cast and crew seem to be creating sentences of time, word by word, and this reminds me of Georges Bataille’s discussion of the quality of language in finding connections within itself. “Ever since sentences started to circulate in brains devoted to reflection, an effort at total identification has been made, because with the aid of a copula each sentence ties one thing to another,” he wrote. “All things would be visibly connected if one could discover at a single glance and in its totality the tracings of an Ariadne’s thread leading thought into its own labyrinth.” During Foreman’s rehearsal process, that labyrinth is explored, the rehearsal process itself that thread; and who could know, even with all the indexed sound and light cues, all the decisions made by the placement of the performers’ bodies, what might lie around the next bend in the labyrinth?
It’s just after 3:00 and time enough for one more hour of rehearsal. Regimbal and Foreman take their seats in the audience, the cast stands and waits again to take position – for Regimbal to call “Roll video!” – and Foreman takes up his Chinese-restaurant menu of cues. He tells the cast that he’d just been describing it to me that way, and they laugh with recognition. One of the actresses says, “You can order up a pretty interesting meal from that.” And Foreman responds, “And if you really know the chef, you can order stuff that’s not on the menu.” Regimbal places his hands on the lightboard, says, “Are we ready?” and the rehearsal commences again.

George Hunka is the author of the blog Superfluities Redux.
For more of George's writing on past Foreman productions, read his entries