Thursday, August 28, 2008

A new kind of angst

So far, every day of class has been wonderful. I already feel like old friends with my classmates in this very weird way. We are all very different from one another, and this will be a good thing. Today, however, I left class feeling angsty, but also with a new realization about myself and my work. The thing I have not realized is how much I care about Viewpoints and how all of the work that we have been doing for the last 6 years has really revolved around an exploration and study of Viewpoints in some way. Without setting out to, I have become a kind of authority on the topic, at least as compared to the other people in my class. Today Wendell began the discussion of Viewpoints. Without getting too far into this here, Wendell was married to Mary Overlie, who is credited with developing the idea of Viewpoints, and Anne Bogart was her student. Anne Bogart went on to continue to develop and change the Viewpoints into the language that I was taught, and the same one that I have worked with for so long. I have stars in my eyes for Anne Bogart--the way that she talks about theater, and the world, really resonates with me and inspires me. I feel that her work with Viewpoints has articulated it to a new level. I want to be open to Wendell's approach to Viewpoints, but after today's class I couldn't help but feel that Anne's version is more articulate, more specific, an evolution of what his work is, and ultimately more interesting to me. I knew from the get-go that this might be a challenge for me--to let go of what I know enough that I might learn from scratch, in a new way. But the truth is I want to study Viewpoints with Anne--I feel that she has taken his work to a new level and I want to be her successor in that. Perhaps this itch will be scratched if I go to her summer intensive workshop. In any case, it is frustrating to have to start from scratch with the study of something that I am ready to go deeper into, alongside the other students who have had very little training in this realm.
I have had a similar frustration with the contemplative practice that we are learning here. There was a time in my life when Buddhism intrigued me and I studied it a bit, but I chose yoga as the contemplative practice that fulfilled me, and I want to go so much deeper down that path that I feel frustrated at having to give my time to somebody else's path.
I suppose this is the nature of school--you do not make your own curriculum (unless you go to Evergreen!) and there will be times when you will have to learn something that doesn't interest you as much as what you would have chosen for yourself. I must respect that our ensemble needs this common base in order to work together, but I know today was not the first of my obnoxious hand-raising in Viewpoints workshop. Sometimes the student must challenge the teacher, and this seems to be my calling in life.
The exciting discovery is that I feel myself more and more ready to teach what I know, to understand the difference between what I am taught and what I actually believe when it comes to these crazy theater practices.
I have been so swamped with school and socializing with my classmates after school that I have not yet gone hiking, but I plan to take advantage of Labor Day weekend to do so. My body has been wrecked from an increase in biking and dancing and moving, but I love it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Theater geek-out

Since Jacob requested more descriptions of the fringe, this entry will be devoted to that, rather than all this personal anecdote stuff.
So far my reigning favorite is one of the first shows I saw, Three Sisters by One Continuous Mistake.
This piece captured everything beautiful, heartbreaking and profound about the original play but was so much better! The two men who star in this piece are what I would call perfect actors; completely in control of their voice and body. There was a third performer who played all kinds of different weird instruments and reminded me a bit of Ryan, and who also obviously had physical training and was doing some very controlled slow walking while he played at times. I found out after the piece that all three men are in the second year of my program, which makes me SO happy. So far of all the MFACP work I have seen, these guys are my dream collaborators.
Right after 3 Sisters was "From a Distance I can Say", conceived and choreographed by Jennifer Hicks, who is a graduate of my program and now teaches for the program. I wanted very much to like it, starred many of the second year students, and I don't know if it was them or the material they were working with , but I was much less impressed. Jennifer Hicks herself was a Butoh goddess, amazing to behold. She came out with crazy big hair and a tattered flaming red dress, and I suppose she was mean to represent a phoenix in an oil spill. I have never seen anybody be so still and yet take one's breathe away. She reminded me of Amber, also a stunning Butoh goddess in her red dress with crazy big hair. I wish Amber could have seen this piece and told me if it was any good. The other intriguing piece that I wish Fever could have seen was created by Barbara Dilley, who is the meditation teacher for my program and who also teaches the Red Square technique (this might ring a bell to any Fever's who are reading). I observed her class in February, and I remember then a student commenting that he didn't understand the difference between the work she was describing and Viewpoints, and she seemed to have little idea what Viewpoints even was. Apparently she is an old school Buddhist and theater artist, worked with John Cage and all that, and Viewpoints is actually younger than the methods she uses. You can read more about her piece at :
I really wanted to like it, and I did to some degree, but it felt much like watching an open Viewpoints session. It also felt like it was trying to do the same thing that Amber was trying to do with arose, only arose was much better. Apparently they warm up before each performance by flocking together for an hour!
The other pieces I have seen are more "traditional", and not worth talking about much. I am trying not to put too much stake in the work I have seen coming from MFACP graduates, because they are very diverse in their artistic sensibilities. Much of it is not my taste, but almost all of the graduates display immense talent for performing, physical prowess and vocal brilliance. Later this week I am taking a 4-day workshop with Ruth Zaporah (, which I am excited about, and then immediatley afterwards school will start. I will report back.

Monday, August 18, 2008

becoming a bit buddhist

Today was the first day of orientation. We got a travel coffee mug that says "Naropa", and breakfast for free! Or, as my father would say, "it was included in the tuition". Perhaps as an undergrad I would have found this kind of thing boring, but I was quite moved to hear the president of the university and others speak about what makes Naropa special. Most of the faculty and administrators who work at Naropa came from other colleges, where they were dissatisfied with the approach to education. Apparently Naropa was the first choice for 95% of the incoming students, so there was an appreciation and excitement all around for this place we will journey through together. I met a nice transpersonal counseling grad student who is from Portland and we sat together for a while. I think it was a relief to both of us to be able to talk about our beloved city--just to be able to say the name of a breakfast restaurant and be greeted with recognition was oddly satisfying.
Most exciting was my departmental meeting, where I met the 12 other students who I will be working so closely with for the next two years. We spent most of the time listening to Wendell (our teacher) talk about the program and I remembered why I have put myself through this heartache. He is a beautiful and articulate speaker, with a kind and gentle presence. He told us that in Buddhism there are 4 kinds of suffering, one of which is "alternateness", the pain of alternating. He explained that when he was first setting up the program at Naropa, he would travel back and forth between New York and Boulder, and it struck him when he was in Boulder that he experienced this pain of alternateness, because of the contrast between the intensity of the theater work and the freedom and easiness of the surrounding natural landscape. He would go out into the mountains after work and feel this in a way that he never did in New York. He encouraged us to go into the mountains anyway. I think perhaps I am experiencing this suffering of alternateness now; for everything wonderful that I find in Boulder there is something wonderful I am missing in Portland. Somehow I can't stop associating everything that is with something that was. I suppose this is the nature of homesickness, or experiencing extreme change.
I went to a show at the Shambhala Center(a mecca for American Buddhists, located in downtown Boulder) that was created by one of my faculty, and ran into a classmate -- a woman named Anna who just moved here from Greece to attend the program. We went out for beer and got along quite well. It was so nice to hang out with somebody my own age and converse, and I loved comparing cultures with her and hearing her observations on America. She says "the problem with Americans is that they are stuck in their image of themselves", but she says it in slightly broken English with a charming accent, and it is the most profound thing ever.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Never take a tapas recommendation from a frat boy

Any ambition I had to keep a lighter schedule while in Boulder has quickly gone by the wayside, as I have booked myself at least 25% more things to do than I can actually do already. Luckily, most of these things are shows that I want to see, and I can miss a show without anybody noticing. Tonight was my first night house managing for "Sex Lives of Teenage Girls", a show created by MFACP graduates that weaves interviews with teenage girls and parents and presumably a woman who studies such things, into a short performance that takes place in a public restroom at the performance center. My job is to cram about 25 people into this tiny bathroom and then shut the door, leaving them in complete darkness. A typical day at the theater.
The break down of this complicated site-specific (or as Jonathan Walters taught me was the hip new term, "site relevant") piece, made me late for the 9PM show I was going to see. I haven't had a drink in several days, and while I don't like to think of myself as an alcoholic, I thought it was due time for a martini. I stopped by the local tapas bar while waiting for the next show, and sat by a lovely fountain in the courtyard. So far my observation of Boulder-ites has left me with the impression that at least a third of this town is composed of the cultural sub-group "frat boys", or as Joel calls them, "Bras". Not like the women's garment--just think of a surfer dude saying "bro". Anyhow, I think my waiter was dangerously close to falling into this category, but I asked him for a recommendation anyway, and he veered me away from the scallop ceviche and convinced me to order empanadas. To make a not very long and rather boring story short, though my martini was excellent, the turnover pastry was almost all dough and reminded me of the Pillsbury croissants in a can.
Next was on to the magic show. There were only 7 audience members at this 10:30 PM performance on a Sunday night. I wouldn't have been there myself, as it didn't look like "real" theater, but what else did I have to do? It turns out that this was my favorite fringe experience so far. This fellow demonstrated what I believe to be true psychic powers--that is, a mental capacity far beyond the average human who has not studied at such things. Several of his demonstrations were beyond anything that I could guess at, and at the end he did show us a magic trick that is based on memory, that was still astonishing. He essentially memorized a half deck of cards in 15 seconds, and accurately determined which cards he had seen and which he hadn't in almost as much time. I once met a magician on the Bread and Puppet farm in Vermont, who I believed for a moment had actually read my mind. Of course, the first step to being a magician is to have charm and confidance--these are the kind of people that were either going to be magicians or cult leaders. This fellow asked me to think of a verb, any verb. I thought of "running", which was something I did regularly at the time. He guessed "running". He could have left me hanging, believing fully that he had read my mind, but he revealed the only trick behind it--that the majority of people say "running". He does get these guesses wrong from time to time, but he still wins over the majority, which is all a magician can hope for.
SO, was the magician I saw tonight using such tricks, predicting everything that everybody would do because we are all just sheep, or pre-programmed androids? Perhaps. I would like to think that it was fate. And the amazing powers of the human brain to remember, even things that haven't happened yet.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chapter One: The Heroe's Journey

I have arrived in Boulder and there is a ceaseless rain pouring from the grayest of skies. I am not sure if this rain is meant to make me feel more at home or more homesick, but I could do without it. Everyone here promises me that it never rains, and this is some kind of freak incident. This adjusting time is hard, but my heart was warmed the other day listening to the opening lines read by Joseph Campbell on the cd recording of Power of Myth:
"We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known--we have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, ,we shall find a god, where we had thought to travel outward, we should come to the center of our own existence, and where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world."
Perhaps it is a stretch to compare going to grad school with the hero's journey, but that is how it feels to me. Positively heroic, to have left my beloved home, fiance, cat Amos (aka "Mr. Bun Bun"), theater company and all things known, to voyage here to a land surrounded by Republicans of the reddest kind, a place where I know no one (though that is quickly changing), a place where I can change my destiny. This is why I love the line "where we had thought to travel outward, we should come to the center of our own existence". That is what I am doing here, and it is surprising how scary and sometimes lonely it is to travel to the center of one's own existence. It is an easy trip to avoid if you keep your life full of lovers, friends, work and play (or for some, drink and drugs, television and internet), but we all must make it eventually, maybe multiple times in this life.
I am working on two shows in the Boulder Fringe Festival, which just started last night. I am a bit terrified of fringe festivals, full as they are of one-person shows and completely un-curated performances. It is a bit of a Russian roulette to go out to these pieces. I know, I know, all performances have something to teach, yada yada. But given my experiences during the TBA festival (a place where your chances of seeing the best performance that is happening today are much greater), where I grow tired after about 7 days of constant stimulus, I know I must be moderate in my viewings or I will have no patience for even the good stuff by the end. I am intrigued by this fringe festival racket, however. It seems to be well attended and the artists get to keep all of the proceeds from their ticket sales. Could be some one-woman shows in my future...