Rhythmic Circus has arrived to The New Victory this week to fill the stage with dance and music, but have you ever wondered how such a show gets created? This season, a diverse roster of New York-based artists will be creating original projects right here on 42nd Street as part of the New Victory LabWorks Residency Program and we’ll be taking you behind the curtain and into the rehearsal room for a sneak peek at the artists’ process.
First up: Parallel Exit, the hilarious and charming physical theater company, last seen on the New Vic stage in Time Step. They’re back with us to create a brand new show and Artistic Director Mark Lonergan took a break from rehearsal to chat with us about their process.
Mark Lonergan: We’ve been focused on two specific tasks: to generate ideas and material for the new show, and to solidify a collaborative process as a group. While our work has always been collaborative, this is the first time we have had every company member in the same room at the same time for the beginning of a new project, and we wanted to take advantage of this unique opportunity to create a process and project that would truly represent our work as a company.
JSC: How would you describe a typical day in rehearsal?
ML: It’s been a combination of sharing inspiration (anything from paintings to video clips), creative brainstorming, and generating scenes or bits on our feet. The emphasis shifted day to day, but every day hit upon these three areas in some way. Because we are a physical theater company that does not work from a typical script, there was a great deal of improvisation – sometimes on specific characters or scene ideas, and sometimes just to get the group into a creative frame of mind. This opportunity to have time and resources focused exclusively on creating a new work (with no imposed deadline) is a great luxury for us.
JSC: You mention sharing inspiration - what is inspiring you right now?
ML: I’m equally inspired by Arcade Fire dropping huge colorful balls onto their audience as I am by Louis C.K. walking through his own crowd on his way to the stage to start his stand-up act. The idea that in a live performance, we are all in it together – there is no separation between the artists and the audience - gives me faith in the future of live art. It’s much too easy to stay at home, stream a movie on your tv and cut yourself off from the world around you. But smart and creative artists are generating reasons for people to leave their homes – not just because “the work is good” - but because they have found ways of inviting their audiences into the work, connecting with them on a personal level and providing a truly unique experience.
JSC: What new ideas are you experimenting with as part of your residency?
ML: The buzzword for the past few years in NYC has been “immersive.” Quite a few shows have capitalized on the idea of allowing audiences to participate in the work they are watching. That kind of show is not quite right for Parallel Exit, but the idea of surrounding an audience with a live experience is something we are definitely experimenting with as part of this residency. It’s something we’ve never attempted because our work has always existed in a proscenium setting, but I’m very interested in seeing how this particular group of artists can connect with our audience in a new and exciting way. Seeing that type of work at The New Victory Theater the past few seasons has really opened my mind up to a whole new way of approaching Parallel Exit’s work, and I’m thrilled to be experimenting in that direction.
JSC: What were the biggest discoveries you made during the process?
ML: The speed in which our ideas evolved was quite surprising. Our first discovery was the value of limitations – in our case, we limited ourselves to a very small range of props. This led to an improvisation session that yielded pages and pages of material, and set us up for an even bigger discovery: a context and environment for the entire show. Our process of discovery was definitely organic – not a word I would normally associate with us, as we live in NYC, a city focused on product and results. But the residency allowed us to breathe, to listen to each other and to play. I can’t express how important this was for us. To give ourselves permission to experiment, explore and even fail – these are not words normally associated with New York City in 2013. It often feels as if it’s too expensive to “explore” art in this city, as if that’s a luxury confined to an artist’s commune somewhere in the woods. To have that opportunity in a studio in the heart of Times Square was thrilling.
JSC: What are you going to explore when you come back to rehearsal?
ML: We are hoping to jump into the show with full force. Over the next few months, we’ll be creating a rough outline of the events and characters within the show and then generating material on our feet once we return to rehearsal. We will have three full weeks to explore this material – a lifetime for us – and I hope we’ll be able to share a rough draft of the show for audience feedback. We’ll take all of the ideas we’ve generated and hone them into a working version of the show, exploring the material and potential audience interaction. I can’t wait!
This blog was written by Jonathan Shmidt Chapman, Associate Director of Artistic Programming