Three years ago I had the honor of working with the World Wide Lab, an international group of Lincoln Center Director’s Lab directors, during their first of two years at Irondale Theater in Brooklyn, NYC. I was floored to be invited into their process as an actor, spending eight to nine hours a day in a gorgeous, renovated church collaborating and creating with some of the most incredible, insightful and passionate human beings I had ever met. Every director had their own piece to develop, and other directors would, then, contribute feedback and ideas for the other pieces. Each directorial insight in rehearsals created a unique and beautiful product. My professional and personal peers who attended the showcase were floored by the experience of being our audience, and I frequently spoke fondly of my time with the Lab in the years following.
When I found out the WWL was heading to Greece, a country and culture for which I have a deep passion and unexplainable connection with, I asked if there was room for an American with limited Greek-speaking abilities, and a go-get-’em attitude who could move well. Luckily, there was.
I think my exact words to my mother upon my departure to Syros were: “I am petrified.” There was no script to prepare, I had never done any significant travels alone, I could string enough Greek together to say “horse,” “flower,” “Where is the bathroom?” and “thank you” in a loop (okay, I knew a little more than that), I was told I would be the only non-Greek actor and worried I wouldn’t be able to communicate or be accepted, and I had to LIVE with these people who I didn’t know.
The rehearsal process in Syros was quite different from the one I experienced three years prior. Instead of multiple pieces spearheaded by a single director, there were only a few pieces and they were directed by groups of directors instead of a primary individual. That means I had more than one voice to listen to in the room, more than one set of directions to take into consideration, more than one viewpoint to process, and more than one person who could answer my questions. That, alone, could be a recipe for confusion and miscommunication. Now, let’s throw in the multiple languages and a script in a language only a few knew and YOU’VE GOT AN ADVENTURE.
For all of its variables and intimidations, this WWL 2015 in Syros experience was absolute magic. During our rehearsals in Brooklyn I had two separate lives. I would leave rehearsal and be sucked back into the madness of NYC survival. I was an actor in separate works, communicating separate ideas with separate people, and when we reached the end of the rehearsal day I, once again, became a separate human being with a separate life.
This year the actors, directors and designers lived, rehearsed, ate, studied, partied and relaxed together, day in and day out, providing a unique, necessary and invaluable experience. Even after eight hours of rehearsal, we all wanted to keep going. We wanted to spend another hour practicing our music, analyzing our scripts. At dinner, we talked about rehearsals and ideas, at the beach we memorized lines and asked our directors questions as they occurred to us. Rehearsals and the pieces felt cohesive. This time, the work everyone was creating was part of a larger theme and had a flow, one which carried into our lives outside the rehearsal room. It didn’t feel as though each piece belonged to a director, but to groups of directors who shared their input and vision equally.
Many notes and ideas had to be translated multiple times, both in rehearsal and out, in order for everyone to be on the same page. Often one party or the other would be left in the dark, but even in those moments I found it didn’t matter much. We all developed a sort of universal understanding, so that even when the words didn’t make sense, we found a way to work together and keep progressing as a unit.
I felt accepted and encouraged within my new Greek family. My fellow actors made sure I didn’t starve at meal times (thank you for all of your cooking, Aristea), kept me properly caffeinated (this goes out to you, Katerina), applauded me every time I strung together a Greek sentence, went out of their way to befriend my mother all the way in the United States (Thanos, I guess we’re related now), insisted on helping me repeatedly with my lines (Penelope and Stavros, I swear one day I will say “feast” perfectly), warmed up with me before rehearsals (I’ll be able to do a handstand next time we meet, Eirini) and translated their conversations for me so I would feel included.
Syros provided a beautiful opportunity in time to connect with people as they were in that moment. I never had to rehash my whole life story for someone to feel they understood me. It wasn’t until my last days on the island and in Athens that I discovered how similar we all were as bits and pieces from our “normal” lives emerged in conversation. At least four of us were going through very similar transitions, down to numbers and situations. We all helped each other through something, to achieve something without realizing it until it was ending.
I have been so inspired by those I worked with in Syros. Everyone who was a part of the WWL 2015 is a go-getter. I was riveted by the stories of my fellow actors’ theatre companies in Athens, in awe of the work they create and the passion they possess. They are all business savvy and book smart, and even as I sit here in my apartment in New York City, I am still being sent lists of movies to watch, plays to read and music to listen to. Not only was I challenged as an artist and a person through the rehearsals with the WWL in Syros, but I am still being challenged as an artist and a person through the people I formed such quick, close bonds with on that island. They make me want to work harder, be more appreciative, and to strive for both myself and others.
We were a part of something bigger than our individual selves, a part of something important. We were collaborating both artistically and in life. There was no separation between the two. To me this is what the World Wide Lab is about at its core: A group of people who come together, eliminating ego and a sense of ownership, and connect with one another to create something bigger than our individual selves. It was a dream and an honor to be able to work with the directors of the WWL once again, and I will be forever grateful they invited me to take part in their process.
— Tali Custer, New York City