Diving into this year’s lab in Rome right after opening a show I have worked on intensively in the past 15 months in Berlin, I didn’t find it as hard or crazy as many of my colleagues have assumed. It felt more like getting into a hot bath after a long working day – the busy working brain reluctantly gets silenced as soon as the body gets in touch with the surface of the hot water. The sense takes over, the body slows down and the buzzing mind finally gives in, for a second. That being said, World Wide Lab has been everything but a comfy hot bath ever since our founding year, 2011 – “Stepping out of our comfort zone” to create work together every year is what we 12 directors from 9 countries have set our mind on. So where did that luxury second of relaxation come from?
We are in Rome! Um… this doesn’t necessarily sound relaxing. I even got hit by a cab in the craze of Roman traffic. Still, we are in ROME, a city that dazzles your eyes with beauty in every corner and numbs your ears with a language that does not seem to have any punctuation mark. After three years of New York City, this is a first for most of the native English speakers of our group to work in a completely foreign environment. But even for the other half, whose mother tongue is not English, it is still an experience of its own – to communicate in English, a foreign language in itself, to a group of actors, whose command of English varies radically and who performs in Italian, which is completely Greek to most of us. Exciting? Yes. Relaxing? Um…
Part of my training was very text-based but paradoxically, I have always directed in either German or English and never in my mother tongue, Mandarin. So I often get overly cautious about making sure language is being used properly in my performances and have never had the ease of just letting sentences flow. But somehow not being able to understand any word my Italian actors are speaking frees me in a certain way. I cannot connect to them through the actual spoken words but provided that we are on the same page about what we are trying to say with our piece, I quite often do not need those words to feel whether the moment is right or not, either. When the actors are clear, direct and honest about what they do in that very moment, a genuine connection, which goes beyond words, emerges.
But clarity does not just arrive, either. My co-director Jay Stern and I have spent half of our rehearsal time not only working on the Italian translation of our newly developed draft with our actors but also adapting our text based on their inputs and the continuous development of their characters. (Please see Jay’s blog post “translating” about this process.) Involving our actors in this adapting and translating process while we have little to no knowledge of the Italian language is definitely a new jump in terms of stepping out of our comfort zone. In a way, we are going even further with the spirit of World Wide Lab: A Directors Feast, which values co-directing, the sharing of responsibilities and the letting-loose of one’s own ego. This year, we have gone beyond ourselves as directors and invited our actors to share the authorship of this creative process. We don’t know where this will be taking us but it is ok not to know everything in advance, not to be in control all the time. As a matter of fact, it is liberating to be able to share this huge responsibility with some more independent creative equals.
So where did that luxury second of relaxation come from?
Except for our engaging actors being our creative partners, there are surely more factors which contribute to that luxurious second of mine: Thanks to Laura Caparotti and her production team, we are able to concentrate purely on directing this year. Thanks for the support of the Taiwanese Ministry of Culture, I am able to come at all and stay at a wonderful flat above the Spanish steps – I owe this to my dear friend Mr. Link, too! Thanks to my co-director Jay Stern, who shares the same working pace with me and has been amazingly attentive but New-Yorker-Like sufficient! Thanks to my forever collaborator Evan Tsitsias, who shared that “flying blue dress” moment with me, and a very special thank to Francesco Meola for sharing those hours in the emergency room with us and the amazing Risotto!
Can I have my award now?
– Chang Nai Wen, Taipei / Berlin