One of the biggest things I’m learning about working with a large directors’ collective is negotiation.
Three groups rehearse at Irondale during each time slot, which means that three directors need to negotiate with each other about sharing the physical space and moderating the volume. We also share actors which means directors negotiate with each other about splitting an actor’s time if their rehearsals overlap. Now, we are negotiating the final order of the pieces for the showcase and how to transition from one piece to another gracefully. We need to lead the audience to a new performance space for each piece or set up chairs without breaking the flow. Fortunately, every ‘problem’ that emerges is inevitably thrashed out during our lunch and dinner meetings.
A church converted into a theater, Irondale has a magnificent performance space with an upstairs balcony that offers inviting spaces framed by stained glass windows. David Armanino and I are performing in The Breakfast Variations, a devised piece directed by Evan Tsitsias, which happens upstairs in the kitchen/cafe space. It’s been both challenging and rewarding to be an actor and director during the Lab. “Your face is ‘neutral’. Walk me through what you’re thinking right now and show me what’s going on because I don’t see what’s happening for you!” I have to do the dreaded ‘inner monologue’ exercise and exaggerate the emotions on my face. I’m learning to be less shy as an actor and focus on what my character, the mother, wants from her son during that particular moment in their breakfast ritual. I have to take my own medicine as a director.
Evan T. and I are also collaborating as directors on Burqavaganza, a provocative political satire by Shahid Nadeem which was banned in Pakistan. Doing such a culturally-specific piece with a non-South Asian cast that doesn’t necessarily get the cultural and political implications of the piece has been a fascinating process. Playwright Shahid Nadeem intended to use the burqa as a theatrical device as well as a symbol for a society that covers up the truth. Naturally, the play ruffled a lot of fundamentalist feathers. In it’s World Wide Lab incarnation, the burqa becomes a symbol for lies, hypocrisy and oppression in a wider global context. It’s been extraordinary to distill and layer this full-length play into segments, songs and images that convey it’s theatricality in a non-linear fashion. Boal exercises led by Evan T. and Commedia exercises lead by Laura Caparrotti have lent themselves very well to experimenting with this piece. Collaborating isn’t always a piece of cake, but it has certainly opened up new pathways for directing Burqavaganza when I return to San Francisco.
— Vidhu Singh, San Francisco / New Delhi, India