Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tara's Take on The Walls

What shall my blog be, that is the question. And that is the question that has me totally stymied.

Let me start by telling you this – I am a founder of Rivendell as well as the artistic director and, in this particular production, also an actor. We are currently in our third week of performances in The Walls which marks our first foray into the world of self generating work as a group of artists. It is a huge and exciting undertaking for our small company and we are so incredibly grateful to be part of the Visiting Company Initiative – which offers us much much more than just the perfect venue for this piece. I could write a blog post about all the amazing people at Steppenwolf who offer their wisdom, time and energy to mentor visiting companies.

This play marks a new era for Rivendell and is perhaps our most important production to date -- because it explores the often taboo subject of mental illness and more, because it is truly ours. We all bandy about this word “collaborate” but The Walls process offered us a unique opportunity to create something as a collective group of artists from the ground up. I know now that this thing called “collaboration” is not nearly as easy to accomplish as I once thought -- but truly magical in those moments when it all clicks. And inspiring. And it can make you a little crazy. So what better play to create as our first true “collaboration” than one that explores the blurry border between madness and sanity. That might be good fodder for a blog post, too.

A brief back story....Several years ago ensemble member Jane Baxter Miller walked into an company meeting with a book of collected first - hand accounts of women who were incarcerated in mental institutions. Jane thought this book was a terrific germ of an idea for a new play. She was right. These women’s personal stories inspired us to begin a five year journey exploring our own connections to the material and it's relevance to a contemporary audience. Company members engaged in a series of workshops and collaborators Lisa Dillman and director Megan Carney were brought in. Eight artists traveled to upstate New York to participate in a week long retreat at Bard College as part of Voice & Visions summer “Envision” retreat. Lisa wrote a first draft. Several more workshops happened. The Walls was borne.

So perhaps I should write a little about my own personal journey with this project…because it has been a wild ride. One moment it is incredibly exhilarating and then the next, beyond frustrating and absolutely maddening. But wow, am I ever grateful we saw it through to production. I hope we have a chance to produce it again and again - to hone in on what we learned from this production, refining and reshaping the piece alongside Lisa and Megan. This process of building The Walls has taught me much about the absolute generosity needed to create something as a group. It has enriched my life in remarkable ways and I am such a better artist for it. Plus I am having a blast digging deep within my soul to find my inner crazy lady (named Alice) then letting her lead the charge for a bit. I just love being straight jacketed and lobotomized four shows a week. I know that may sound a bit – well, off. But here’s the main thing I have gleaned from our exploration of madness - there is a beauty and joy inherent in letting go of these often self imposed restraints to be sane or normal, to tow the line. So right now? I can’t wait to get back to the theatre on Thursdays to step into my crazy or nutty, or insane, or whack-job, or psycho character’s shoes.

Besides, is Alice after all really truly “crazy”? And what does “crazy” really mean? Or maybe as one patron put it oh so clearly in my favorite comment so far “Aren’t we all just a little crazy”? Hmmmmmmmmmm. Maybe that is a good place to start. Or end.

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