Saturday, July 19, 2014
No matter how well you prepare, in outdoor drama there is a critical factor that is under no human control whatsoever, and you already know what we're talking about: weather.
It rains frequently here on the hill and our stage, as you see above, is made of sand. The "eagle rock" set, visible in the top right of the picture, pools with water. There is also a cabin that rolls out on stage left, on which we perform on a flat wooden deck that becomes slick. Meanwhile, when that deck of sand is saturated, it turns into a muddy soup. For the fighters, it becomes dangerous. You don't even need to be swinging a war club or a saber to slip and fall. There are adjustments we make for rain, but wet is wet, and we must tread carefully while, at the same time, moving the performance at "rain pace."
"Rain pace" basically means speeding up the dialogue and whatever else can be sped up safely. Not fights. Not dances. And not scenes that are timed to recorded music (for instance, the scene in our second act, depicting the Trail of Tears.)
The show goes on in the rain. We have, this summer, canceled two shows: in one case, a storm knocked out all power on the hill, and in the other case management held the curtain until after 9:00 PM in hopes a lightning storm in a neighboring valley would move away. Lightning will cancel a show but rain will not. For the hearty patrons who stay, there are rain ponchos for sale, and a rain shelter from which the show can be viewed (though you mainly see the tops of actors' heads from up there).
There is a blue light downstage, visible to the actors but not the audience, that may be activated at any time if a storm is approaching. There is a similar light backstage. If the light comes on, we're at rain pace.
Moving at regular speed or rain pace, as it may, we are all sodden, cast and crew alike. Our shoes are wet. Wet sand is caked to our skin, smeared on our costumes and our own clothes. Wigs, masks, and microphones need to be protected as best as possible. It rained much of yesterday -- the show went on, performing for an audience of 136 stalwarts in a 2,000 seat theatre, fully exposed to the rain -- and it rained through the night and at this writing it continues.
Time itself seems to be moving at an accelerated pace. Time itself is an illusion, and perceptions of its speed have to do with where our attention is. Nonetheless, it is breathtaking to sit at the fire pit by our dormitories (when it is dry enough for an evening fire) and remember the date, to think more than two months have already gone by. In the two months plus that we've been on this hill, we've mounted a large-cast outdoor drama, workshopped a full-length musical that is in development, some of us (including me) have undergone 60 hours of stage combat training and gone through an examination process, and I've also continued to book and perform An Iliad. (This Sunday, I'm performing it in a tavern in Black Mountain. Click here for details and come by if you're in the Asheville, North Carolina area.)
Meanwhile, in just a few weeks here, two theatre friends back in Las Cruces, New Mexico have died unexpectedly: one of illness, the other murdered. Being so far away, there isn't the time or space to touch other friends and help each other digest such loss and confusion.
The blue light is on and we are packing in the projects, also making time every day to touch the dharma in some formal way -- often finding some quiet place on the hill for zazen, using chant to warm up my voice.
For the last month, I'm hoping to be a bit less industrious, always putting something out there, and to take in and listen to this land where I am privileged to spend some time, the Cherokee reservation and the Great Smoky Mountains. It is so refreshing to be in a different kind of climate, where rain actually falls from the sky so frequently, and it is not just a work-related problem but a natural function of a living place, a nourishing force that can also be a destructive force, doing itself blithely while human beings run around and call to each other through the fog.
[Image: Fight rehearsal on the set of Unto These Hills in Cherokee, North Carolina.]