Thursday, June 19, 2014

Finding Light in the Darkness: Developing A Completely Original Play

Imagine a world in which the sun has stopped working. Could you live without light? Would you brave the dark unknown to save someone you love? These are the questions at the heart of Light: A Dark Comedy, the bold and visionary new play currently being developed by New Victory LabWorks resident company Shoehorn Theater. For the past year, the artists of Shoehorn have been hard at work creating the story of Moth, a brave 11-year-old girl who lives in a society lit only by the dim light generated by its citizens and their contraptions called “Dim Makers.” Their biggest fear is contracting “The Sleep,” which dooms its victims to spend the rest of their days in the dreaded Slumber Yards. When her mother is felled by “The Sleep,” Moth must venture into the unknown to save her and seek illumination.

While Light: A Dark Comedy is reminiscent of other fantasies set in dystopian societies, such as City of Ember or next season’s Lionboy (Complicite, New Victory 2014-15), Shoehorn’s story is completely original. Without having a previous text to adapt, the company has been working hard to construct a compelling tale set in a world very different from our own. At the same time, they developed an exciting way to bring the story to life visually on stage.

The company’s four co-founders (Adrienne Kapstein, Tami Stronach, Robert Ross Parker and Greg Steinbruner) are all trained in a performance style known as Lecoq (named after Jacques Lecoq, famous for his physical theater, movement and mime techniques). Throughout the script development process, Shoehorn artists have been up on their feet, physically constructing the most interesting ways to tell the story using their bodies, objects, puppetry and light. And, as they are one of our LabWorks Residents this year, we were delighted to see this show take shape.

Light (or the absence of it) provides one of the most challenging theatrical questions to solve: how do you depict a completely dark world that's lit only by small contraptions called “Dim Makers,” while allowing the audience to actually see the action unfold? The artists have been wrestling with this question, both in terms of the story and in the staging. We watched as the artists asked themselves questions like,“how do the inhabitants of this world see one another and generate their own light?” And, "how can we create props that the actors can use to light themselves and their action?”

Typically, plays are presented in a “reading” format in front of audiences while they are being developed. This means that the actors stand at music stands, holding their scripts, and read their lines (along with the stage directions) so that the audience and the artists can hear the play aloud. Given the unique visual world of Light: A Dark Comedy, it would be very challenging for the artists and the audience to really get a sense of the play from a traditional reading. Luckily, the New Victory LabWorks Artist Residency Program provides artists with the tools to develop new work in exciting ways that don’t fit the mold.

This week, Shoehorn will move into The Duke on 42nd Street for an intensive three week development and feedback period. During this time, they’ll use theatrical light, props, costumes, and puppetry to stage a “first sketch” of the show. This will allow them to see their ideas in action, and most importantly, invite an audience of kids and families into their process to get vital creative input. We look forward to seeing what ideas audiences will illuminate after their first sneak peek at this exciting new play!

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