Thursday, March 23, 2006

Our HUGE and CRAZY Project: Blog installment #4

What? Two post in three days? Surely not! Read on to find out the thrilling conclusion that began in the now classic "Our HUGE and CRAZY PROJECT Blog Installment #1" and continued in the equally iconoclastic " Blog Installments #2 and #3"...

So there we were over 100 pages deep in transcribed interviews. At this point we were already getting that "Shouldn't we be done by now?" sort of feeling and we still had to somehow shape these sprawling 100 plus pages into a managable, performable script. We had no idea how to go about it. We sat down with our director and after reading the interviews and tried to figure out how to crack this ethnographic nut (mmmm....ethnographic nuts...). And after many hours of brainstorming and talking things through we finally mapped out the throughline of the script and ended up with about 100 different note cards with different pieces and parts of the interviews and other texts we spliced in, written in different colored ink which we arranged, rearranged and then arranged again. It was at this point that it really hit me how how much this process is like making a collage. A little bit of this, a snippet of that all arranged and hodgepodged into place.

So then, our note cards numbered and in a coherant order we then made a massive 77 page script based on that map as a guide. It was a doozy as far as length and probably would have taken about 5 hours to perform...But then we began the editing.... and whoo boy this was crazy. It felt like I was back in school and had a huge paper or something to finish. And we had to work fast because we were hoping to get into rehearsal as soon as possible. In the end it took a week and a half of solid everyday work. There were some days where I literally worked from morning into the wee hours of the night. Like 14 hour days in front of the computer, cutting, copying, pasting rearranging shifting for hours and hours. For days my body had that nervous "Why are you doing this to me Ryan?!" sort of feeling. During this editing whole process Jacqui was amazing, picking up shifts for me in the box office, encouraging me when I was going crazy, she was great...(The reason I was doing most of this editing was because we decided that it would be easier for just one person to be in charge of this initially editing process because one person would have a better handle on keeping a consistent throughline.) And then finally 77 pages were whittled to 46 and then down to a manageable 25 pages. Whew! Also by this point we had figured out a title for the play: A Rattling Sound: Stories of Thorns and Helicopters. The title comes from a section of Ezekial 37, the story of the valley of dry bones, which we spliced thoughout the script.

And then...rehearsals finally began! This is where things got really fun. After all those hours with just words, words, words it felt like a treat to actually put the thing together on stage: blocking, character work, warm ups, creating different moments all the normal rehearsal stuff. It was cool. And to get to do it together was pretty amazing too. During all of this too we're working on all of the publicity, media releases, e-cards, posters, postcards...the whole shebang. (Here's the link to our online media release and poster if any of you want to read it)

So then finally towards the end of rehearsal all the technical elements came into the mix. It was so weird/cool, it really made it feel like "real" show if that makes any sense. Just to have a lighting designer, sound designer, and stage manager all enter into the picture with their different gifts and ways of looking at the play was great and it really took a huge weight off Jacqui and my shoulders. With our the last show we put up in the fall we had done everything as far as the tech and it was exhausting so it was such a relief to not have to worry about that for A Rattling Sound, not to mention the fact that their designs were also amazing.

So there we were...after months and months of work we had a show...and then last Thurday night...WE OPENED!

That's right two nights ago was finally the big night!

And everything went really well. After our final bows we went off stage and we were busy hugging and sort of dancing around ...when we realized that they were still clapping! So we actually went back out for a second bow, we couldn't believe it. The audience wasn't huge but the people who were there were great and gave us some really encouraging feedback. And we sunk into our beds that night with a tired but contented feeling, just thankful that we got to do this and that God gave us so many gifts along the way: getting to meet so many new people, hearing some really amazing stories, getting to work together and tons of other things that I'm sure we'll still be realizing for awhile...But that'll come later, for now we'll just concentrate on the rest of the shows we get to do. So wish us luck and pray for us if you remember!

(Cue triumphant music! Cue the release of many doves!)

(Cue Jon Stewart)

So...uh, thanks for faithfully tuning in to this little ahh...theatrical saga...ahh...feel free to fire any questions at our intrepid ethnographers that you have buring inside you: How are Jacqui and Ryan feeling about tonight's show? Will there be a video of this thing? What are the costumes like? What is their favorite pre-show snack? Is the current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon show as good as the early 90's original? Ask away and if they come to mind keep this couple in your thoughts and prayers...Oh yeah and don't forget [insert witty George Bush joke here]!

(Cue winnning, sardonic smile...and then...lights out)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Our HUGE and CRAZY Project: Blog Installment #3

And we're BACK!

When we last left our intrepid theatre apprenti they were on the precipice of vague challenges and undefined tribulations as they journeyed forward on their quest for oral history goodness. Continue on to read the penultimate installment of their adventure...

So there we were it was late fall, we had finally chosen a story for our piece and we had breathed a huge sigh of relief...little did we know about the months and months of work ahead of us. The first step was to get in touch with Joe, the double hip replacement surgery friend and his wife, we'll call her Jenna, and ask if they'd be willing to even be a part of our project...if they said no we were pretty much back at square one (or hexagon six, depending on what game you're playing).

Thankfully, though after some frenzied emailing they were on board as were David and Lee, the woman from Boston who had just gotten cochlear implants. So they were willing but we still had to do all of our interviews. "Oh that'll be the easy part," we naively thought. As it turned out we were really busy at the theatre, this was during the fall right around the time I was in The Elephant Man and all of a sudden our fall turned into December. And December ended up being crazy with the Christmas show, and then as it inevitably happens, the holidays were crazy for everyone so it proved to be almost impossible to schedule solid blocks of time to sit down with people and have them share their stories. In the end, it was around the second week of January before we had a chance to catch our collective breaths and almost immediately my and Jacqui's collective hearts began to beat nervously...we were running out of time!

At this point I should also mention that other people had now come on board with our project. As we told more people about what we were doing there were others who had similar medical experiences or knew someone with an amazing story of recovery. By January we had a cast of 10 characters:

*Joe and Jenna-double hip replacement
*David and Lee- deafness and cochlear implants
*Jacqui's brother, Mike, a high school friend of Joe and a close friend of David.
*A young man who contracted rare flesh eating disease and went into surgery thinking he was going to lose his leg.
* A woman who struggled for years with clinical depression.
*A young actor who dealt with Crohn's disease for years and then within a month of Joe and Lee's surgery underwent surgery to remove his colon.
*A guy who sprained his ankle really badly and then had God heal him while receiving prayer.
*A 58 year-old pastor and professor from the University of British Columbia who had chronic migraines since he was a boy and who's son also fell off a 120 foot cliff and was in a coma for 30 days suffering brain damage.

So we had a TON to do and as can often happen when people are motivated by personal nervousness we embarked on a frenzy of productive activity. We knocked out about 5 interviews in a week and then slowly picked up the rest over the next few weeks, some in person, some by phone. So there we were breathing another sigh of relief. WHEW!...however then came the dreaded word that would plague our days and nights for the better part of three solid weeks: TRANSCRIPTION! (DUN-dun-DAAA!)

There is some amazing technology out there right now. What it does is takes recorded human speech and turns it into text with about 98% accuracy, just incredible...MAN WOULD THAT HAVE EVER COME IN HANDY IF WE'D HAD IT! But alas it costs about 300.00 dollars and we didn't have the funds so it was up to our four ears and 20 fingers to take all of the words that had been shared with us and write them down. IT WAS INSANE!

Imagine hours and hours of experiencing moments like "Dang it! Did he say 'It was a really amazing thing'? OR 'It had a very definite ring'?" or going "Was is 'Um, and then, like, um yeah, maybe...'? OR 'Ah, well, like, er, yeah, well, maybe'?" It took SO LONG to do. It bordered on depressing us. Having to listen so intently and then spending like an entire hour typing only to find that you've only done half a page. We were typing and listening to tape for such long hours that our brains hurt. We never imagined it would be so tedious and time consuming. Finally, in the end after all of our hard work we had over 100 pages of single spaced interviews. And then came the enormous challenge of turning those 100 plus pages into something that resembled a performable script...

(cue tense violins "weee-ooooo, wee-ooo, we-oo!")

(Cue George Clooney):

Will our heroes survive or will the task of sifting through mountains of paper consume them in a sea of despair and confusion. How much sleep will they lose? Will there be tears of sorrow or tears of joy?And how many buckets of each? Will there ever be a way to turn booty dancing into an acceptable form of formal greeting? As usual find out the answers to these questions and more next post!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Our HUGE and CRAZY Project: Blog Installment #2


Welcome back folks! Last time we were with our theatre apprentice heroes, a thin ray of hope had pierced the dreary confusion that had stubbornly been plaguing their ethnographic project. What was this mysterious ray of creative light? Read on to find out...

So there we were it was mid-fall and we were still without a suitable story for our big project. Our brains were churning, churning, churning hoping to find the gem that would somehow be a perfect amalgam of social relevance, compelling story, and something we were passionate about. We wanted something great but everything we were coming up with was either boring ("Hey I know, let's interview slew of white collar accountants about their day to day struggles with the decimal! YES!) or inaccessible ("I've got it Triple Axel of Pain: Tonya Harding, 10 years later."). When suddenly we realized that there were two amazing stories happening right in front of us.

Mike, my brother in law has a best friend. We'll call him Joe. Joe is 27 and since he was 15 he has struggled with chronic arthritis in his hips. When it was bad he couldn't walk at all. For years he thought God was going to heal him and take this pain away. He prayed, and waited and prayed and waited.

It got worse and worse and finally it just got to be too much. He was in pain all the time and it was affecting him as a dad. He has a two year old daughter and as she was learning to walk he was losing his ability to walk. She was going to start to run and he wasn't going to be able to chase after her. So at 27 he went in for a rare double hip replacement surgery.

Joe and Mike have another friend we'll call him David. David's wife, we'll call her Lee started to lose her hearing when she was 10 years old. By the time she was in college she was completely deaf. Interestingly she and her mother became Christians about the same as she started to lose her hearing. So, for her mother especially it was all tied together: Her deafness, God's healing and prayer.

Because of Lee's specific type of hearing loss the first thing she lost was speech, so communication with the world just sort of broke down. She could still speak and lip-read but it took 100% of her concentration so it became really draining. After marriage it just got harder and harder to live her life like she was used to. With the possibility of a family now she was faced with the reality that she might never hear her kids. She was discouraged, exhausted and had a lot of questions about the future.

Around this time, crazily enough she met woman at her work who like her had lost her hearing at a young age but who had recently gotten cochlear implants, a relatively new technology, which had restored her hearing. Prompted by this woman's story and the circumstances of her own life Lee got more information and eventually scheduled surgery of her own.

In the fall of 2005 these two surgeries for these two friends took place less than 10 days apart.

These stories and others like them became the focus of our project.

After brainstorming more we decided that, using Joe and Lee's surgeries and as a focus, our project would deal with among other things healing, God, medical science and prayer. In a notebook we scribbled some brainstormed questions:

What is a miracle?
What is God's relationship to medical science?
What happens when healing never comes?

So there we were. We had some amazing stories, something we felt passionate about and connected to and some questions that we hoped would get people talking and asking questions of their own.

Whew! We were excited...but we had no idea the struggles and challenges that would face us as we attempted to put this thing together.

(cue even louder and longer dramatic music)


(cue a different, even more charming announcer)

Join us next time to hear about these vague struggles and currently ambiguous challenges! Will our heroes be able to press forward and do ethnographic justice to these amazing stories? Will they collapse under the weight of their project? Will their marriage withstand the strain of creating artistically together? What is a healthy tasty treat that the whole family will love? Find out the answers to these new questions and more on the next chapter of Our Huge Crazy Project: Blog installment #3!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Our HUGE and CRAZY Project: Blog installment #1

I'm tired today. This past week has finally caught up with me. It was a doozy. I'll explain, though I should probably start at the begining...

When Jacqui and I first decided to come to apply to come to Pacific Theatre they ask what type of apprenticeship we wanted. It's really great because the apprenticeships are really geared toward the interests of the people who come. If you want to direct you can direct, if you're an actor they let you act, if you want to design they'll find a way to plug you in or if you want to do a delicious mix of everything, heck that's cool too. So anyway as Jacqui and I were applying the one thing we knew for sure was that as a part of our apprenticeships we wanted to compile a show and perform it.

I say "compile" because one of the types of theatre we're most interested in is called ethnography or oral history and you don't really "write" plays like this, at least in the traditional sense where everything is coming from your brain/imagination and your brain/imagination alone. Basically the process of creating an ethnographic play looks sort of like this. 1) Interview people 2) Write down the interviews word for word 3) Take your stack of interviews and cut them together into a script. It's sort of like a documentary film but for the stage.

So for the last 5 months that's what we've been doing.

It's been crazy.

When we first got here we had no idea what we wanted our play to be about. Initially we decided that we wanted to do sort of a slice of life sort of thing and interview people from every demographic in Vancouver and have the show be about life in the city.

We were excited but then we attended a playwriting workshop and realized that while life in the city is interesting it lacks a solid central story and to loosely quote the guy who was doing the workshop "Plays need to have a story!" So it was back to the drawing board.

Now when you're choosing a topic for your ethnographic play (Which is a common dilemma...Seriously. It's getting to the point where I can't even order a coffee anymore without having the guy behind the counter choose a topic for his ethnographic play right in front of's becoming quite the global problem!!) there are several ways to approach choosing a topic.

You can:

1) Pick an event and then get lots of different people's reactions to it or to tell it from their perspective ( "Well I was at work when the aliens attacked and hoo-boy!")

2) Pick a topic or current issue and ask people about their opinions on or their experiences with said topic ("I've never much cared for broccoli and I'll tell you why. It all started when my Aunt Crab Apple came to visit in the summer of '45...)

3) You can pick a certain group or community of people and try and tell their story ("You know being a member of the Kool-Aid fan club has been quite a journey for me...)

or 4) A mixture of any and all of these. ( My Aunt Kool-Aid had just visited the aliens when the broccoli attacked. At the same time Crab Apple '45 was just becoming a member of the hoo-boy fan club!")

So there we were mid-October no topic to be found. We brainstormed and then brain tornadoed but still nothing. Then it hit us. Right under our creative noses we had two amazing stories unfolding in front of us...

(cue dramatic music)


(cue charming announcer)

Tune in next post to find out the thrilling conclusion to our theatrical heroes' story. Will they finish their play? What were these mysterious stories? How do you make an ornamental shoe box using only ornaments and a shoebox? For the answers to these questions and more tune in next time for Our Project: Blog installment...#2!