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Thursday, February 13, 2014

View of the Landscape: Set Designer Peter Ksander

My title is “set designer” which is an odd responsibility when the piece has been conceived to be site-specific.  My work has really been about about understanding what’s possible in the space and working to not obscure it’s essential components. The limits of the space are crucial to the piece. This is the fourth show over the last eight years that I’ve designed for H2M.

It’s setting up that sense of being a visitor that I’m interested in. I continue to come back to the image of the away team locker room, when there are not enough minutes left on the clock and the crowd is hostile, or at least rooting for the other team.  It’s the geography of being a visitor and slightly unwelcome and yet you are being asked to present your finest work.  It’s a charged environment.

Super fun to work in the Peninsula Park Community Center.

Peninsula Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary and has a bunch of great photos and information hanging in the lobby. They also have audio tours about its history that you can borrow from the front desk during their open hours, and are a hidden treasure trove of great classes and programs for all ages. Come to the show early, grab a catalog of upcoming classes, and check out some of the history of this amazing community resource. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

View from Behind the Table: Jessie Drake, Dramaturg

PEP TALK rehearsal at Peninsula Park Community Center's West Gym

The reviews are coming in, many of you have seen the show at least once. We thought you'd like to get a peek behind-the-scenes and hear from the team that helped bring our latest show, PEP TALK, to life.

Jessie Drake has been Dramaturg for Hand2Mouth for 2 years. Her credits with the company include Something's Got Ahold of my Heart, The Left Hand of Darkness, and PEP TALK. Here are some thoughts from her about her role, inspirations, sports vs theatre, and audience participation. Enjoy!

I'm the team dramaturg, which for devised work means I record all new material that enters the room in video and text, create a reference library of that material, and work collaboratively with the ensemble to shape the script. For Pep Talk, I've also taken a new role in community engagement--establishing relationships with several youth organizations in Portland to introduce and engage the youth with our work, and then incorporate their ideas and responses back into our process. 
An important part of my job as dramaturg is to put myself in the place of an audience seeing this work for this first time, to react honestly, to identify what moments are uncomfortable in a bad way vs. a good way and what moments are really working for an audience and why. It's like writing a mysterious illusive formula---the moments should feel spontaneous, earnest, true, connected, but not ever out of control, patronizing, or overbearing. Great portions of the show can and will be totally swayed depending on an audience member's responses. I hope for bold, honest, perceptive audience members. It will truly be a different show each night, and in my mind, having an opportunity to make a piece of that show as an audience member is a special privilege.
I love the YouTube videos of Kid President--a major inspiration. His viral success is testament to the fact that people are really hungry for some pure positivity. Great pep talks are not made of sophisticated rhetoric, they are basic truths spoken honestly with a bit of humor (or a bit of anger). On that note, Coach Jim Mora is another favorite--he is famous for getting so angry at a loss or a "piss poor performance" that he just goes off in these epic rants that build from his disappointment of a team not doing their best. Really funny, but also a really strong motivator. 
I don't watch sports, I rarely play sports, and I'm somewhat confused by hardcore sports fans. I remember one night on my way to rehearsal, driving through the Rose Garden on the night of a Blazers game, traffic was at a dead stop, masses of people were dressed up and yelling and the energy was so amazing, the anticipation so high. I thought dammit, wouldn't it be incredible if our theatre audiences behaved like this? Wouldn't it be exciting if instead of sitting politely for two hours and then clapping at the end and saying a few words at a talk back, we were inspired and encouraged to get loud, get invested, obsess over detailed action by the "players" for days after...you get it.
Pep Talk reveals the many similarities and differences between the worlds of sports and performance. It's a question really--can we theatre artists bring the rules and atmosphere of a Blazers game, of a halftime locker room pep talk to the "stage?" Can we create it authentically? 
It makes theatre audiences pretty nervous and resistant, this rule breaking. I think that's a good thing.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Time to meet the coaches!

PEP TALK opens next week at the Peninsula Park Community Center in North Portland. 

Coach Speer

Coach Leddy

Coach Hayden

Coach Hammond

PEP TALK: January 22 - February 16 | Four Coaches Looking for a Team.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Cast Responds...

We asked the cast of 8 (plus director Jonathan Walters) to answer some questions about the rehearsal process of The Left Hand of Darkness thus far.

What are you most intrigued by (in working on LHoD)?

Jonathan (Director)*: The Left Hand of Darkness supposes a world remarkably similar to ours, except with two or three major, impossible, details changed.  Most important is that in the world of the novel, and the play, all the people have the same gender.  This change of one impossible fact, allows our imagination to be set free, we can suspend disbelief and enter an imaginary world, and see ourselves, and how we view and treat each other here in America, in a brand new light.  By using our imagination on stage, somehow, by flexing that muscle in our mind, we really can view men and women in a completely different way.
Damian (Genly): The language. It's almost classical at times, filled with intriguing rhetoric and beautiful poetry.
Allison (Estraven): The epic-ness.
Jason (Ensemble): I am very intrigued by telling such an epic story, through the lens of 8 actors. Playing a variety of roles is nothing new, but having multiple characters within many scenes is proving to be very exciting.
Lorraine (Ensemble): the impossibility of putting so huge a story on the stage.
Liz (Ensemble)*: I am intrigued to wonder if we can pull it off; really making the world of the book believable on stage.  And I’m intrigued with taking a director's dream outside of others dreams and supporting that fact...not believing at times but being inspired because there is a sole vision of just love for this book.

What are you most scared of?

Damian: Having to create a world that is unlike my own. It's exciting because of the numerous possibilities, but scary at the same time because of the numerous possibilities, haha.
Allison: The epic-ness.
Jason: Not scared, but wanting to present the honest essence of Ursula’s novel and yet give it the life it needs on stage is daunting.
Lorraine:  Putting so huge a story on the stage. (Who do we think we are??!)  As an actor, I'm most scared of how committed to each strange moment you, we, I must be… this is a completely different planet, okay! :) It's fun and it's scary, a little chaotic, and gaining a depth of feeling with every chaotically passing day. I'm having fun. I remain curious.
Liz*: I am most scared of nothing...it will be what it is. (and memorizing lines that I would never say in a normal context, so my brain is having faulty wiring!)

What are you most challenged by? 

Damian: Memorizing parts of the text. Being able to own these foreign words and make then role off the tongue.
Allison: The epic-ness.
Jason: De-gendering is big challenge. Doing it honestly and without a wink or camp is something that is, for me, the biggest challenge.
Matthew: Most challenging part of working on LHoD is losing my sexuality. Trying to find a way to be a neither this nor that. If I tried to just walk and talk like a woman, that would miss the point. I'm trying to find a way to blend the two, alternating between masculine/feminine, within a single scene. The voice is another difficult thing, mostly because I have a darker, deeper voice, so I'm experimenting with ways to lighten it, give it more breath, bring the pitch up without making it sound forced. I'm hoping some of the costume design can help me with getting me closer to the female end of the sexual spectrum. 

Collaboration: How is it different working with Hand2Mouth if you're used to traditional rehearsal schedules (like Portland Playhouse) or vice-versa? 

Damian: There is a lot more of a devised aspect to the rehearsal process. I find that the actor gets more of an input in regards to the final vision of the piece. At the same time, it requires the actor to do more text-based preparation in order to give the adequate time needed for ensemble work.
Jason: The emphasis on movement and strict choreography is a change. The idea that when character work arrives, the actor is the lead with choice from which Jonathan will direct is both flattering and nerve-wracking. He really expects you to have bold and firm choices. He gives you freedom to explore and then partners with you on that journey.
Liz*: This is what I have loved the most! It is really important to have new energy as a human being and as an artist.  New energy brings new relationships and new love...and quite frankly new self esteem.

How do you think the devised method works in LHoD's favor when telling this story? 

Damian: Because the ensemble plays such a key role in communicating the story, the devise method is beneficial because it focuses more on building that strong connection that is needed for an ensemble to be an ensemble.
Allison: Ursula LeGuin said: "It is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception and compassion and hope.” And, therefore, we need all the imaginations we can get! I think working in a collaborative way is the only option to transform this epic tale into a live theatre piece...it requires a collective to become fully realized. 
Liz*: I cannot answer... that is for me to answer after the show, but I have loved meeting everyone and believe that this is always the future of theatre. Ursula has brought great minds together and it is a big endeavor...If it will succeed, that is up to the audience and the writer that made it happen. I am very humble at this point.

*Hand2Mouth Company Member

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Voice, androgyny & gender

We've been busy rehearsing Left Hand of Darkness (our adaptation of Ursula K. Le Guin's epic tale, which we are co-producing with Portland Playhouse). 

The story takes place on the planet of Gethen, a place where human beings are neither female nor male and society is not defined by sexual difference. So as you can imagine, gender and androgyny are coming up a lot -- particularly how singing and speaking relate to gender.

We have done a lot of vocal work in Hand2Mouth over the years, but we've never focused on the "maleness" or "femaleness" of our voices especially. So it's been fascinating to see what happens when you take the same notes in a song, but sing them through one time "as a man" and then "as a woman." Or have a man sing the high harmony part that a woman might normally sing, and have a woman sing a low drone.

In light of this, we were digging this post we came across today, about androgyny in speech and singing, which is full of interesting ideas about voice & how it communicates maleness, femaleness and everything in between: 
Pitch is not the only signifier of gender – intonation, speech patterns, range, choice of words and degree of chest resonance are all factors. If we’re in that overlap then the way they speak, like an accent, is what causes people to read their voices as female or male.
One of the best parts about this post is its list of "androgynously toned singers" to mimic -- what a fabulous resource! Singers like Tracy Chapman, Antony Hegarty, Mama Cass, Nina Simone. This got us to thinking: who are some more singers who sound either androgynous or the "opposite" of their gender (whatever that means)?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

H2M and The Greek.

EMPAC was my first residency and I don't think I was prepared for that type of immersion. 15+ hour days? Yipes! But in the end the tech was there and the script and structure was there (big ups to Sarah Gancher!). Honestly, though, by the end, there wasn't much of my mind there. Let's just say I'm glad to be home and resting peacefully.

One of my favorite (and harrowing) moments was our brief showing for invited guests and fellow resident, Dimitris Papaioannou, who was working on his new piece, Primal Matters. Papaioannou is a Greek avant-garde choreography who choreographed the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. He had some amazing input for our show and talked to us about the use of the "ridiculous" in our piece. Such a gracious and insightful man. We were all lucky enough to see his work and help him in return with our comments. Something that was very moving for me was to hear his own frustration with his work and where he felt it was failing. To see such a well established artist have doubts about his work put me at ease with the doubts that I have about my own work with Hand2Mouth. It help me recognize what it means to be an artist and what comes with the territory, that we will always have those moments of doubt and they are what push us forward. I am thankful to EMPAC for creating an environment where an exchange like this could occur. 

On a side note, the perfect storm that created EMPAC's coffee shortage while we were there was having a Greek choreographer and a Portland, OR performance troupe at the same residency. See you in NYC!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I am still reeling a bit from our experience at EMPAC, which was exhilarating and focused and intense and giddy and grueling all at the same time. I think the show took like 999 quantum leaps forward but I also think I might have dreamed the whole thing.

Speaking of dreams, probably the weirdest aspect of spending 15+ hours a day immersed in a creative project is the fact that in the hours when you're not working, you're dreaming about working. One night Jonathan's snoring woke me up, but not before I started dreaming that his snoring was the beat of the song we'd been working on for hours earlier that day. When I did wake up, I gently shook him so he'd stop snoring, and he started muttering, "Chekhov! Chekhov!"


Here are some pictures:



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On our way to EMPAC

A few years ago we started hearing about this pretty magical place in Troy, NY: The Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. Word on the street was the theater spaces were filled with the most amazing technology available and they were inviting artists of the highest caliber to create and finish work with resources never before imaginable.
EMPAC: that's 220,000 sq ft of theater magic waiting to happen.
And now, in the year 2012, Hand2Mouth is honored to be one of those select artists. After more than a year of work on Something's Got Ahold of My Heart we are so excited to tech it out and spend long, focused hours readying the show for premiere. We also do not mind that our names are listed alongside folks like, oh say, Laurie Anderson. Yeah, that does seem pretty nice.

In addition to a two week residency (November 26 - December 9), EMPAC is also giving us a cool $5,000. The cost, as you can imagine, of bringing 10 artists (from three states!) to Troy for two weeks is well in excess of $5,000. So we created a Kickstarter campaign are turning to all our friends, family, peers and more to help us raise another $5,000 and make this whole thing real.

If you can, please support this campaign by giving or sharing our video. We know it will take the support from our whole community to make this happen.