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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.

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