Over the past four days in Los Angeles, Director Christopher Sivertsen and I have been working on “To Live, Darling,” with a fabulous cast: Cara Pifko (Réjane), Kerrie Keane (Mother), Joseph Will (Porel), Jason Denuszek (the Lover), Jennie Sheffield (Blanche) and Maria Policastri (Sage of Paris). We were also lucky to have dancer and choreographer Sophie Bortolussi (Sleep No More) join us for the first two days.
Our main goal in such a short time has been to get as much of the text as possible on its feet so that we can begin to see where movement, music, design and other elements can support and elevate the show’s story. Christopher has been able so some physical work with the actors, and begin to integrate some of the movement into and between the text to create the foundation for a whole piece.
There is a work-in-progress showing tomorrow night, Thursday October 11th, co-produced by Art viaCorpora at Art/Works in Hollywood. It looks like we’ll present what we’ve worked on for all of Act 1 and read scenes from Act 2 and the Epilogue. Should be a very interesting Q&A…
Two weeks ago some truly wonderful actors: Cara Pifko, Christopher Redman, Kerrie Keane, Nancy Dobbs-Owen, Eric Truehart and Kristen Marie Holly donated their time and lent their voices to a full table read of the play.
The most striking thing, listening to the post-reading feedback, was the intense (if not quite) war that broke about between the sexes. All the men a the table felt one way about Réjane, while all the women felt another. Having no sense I’ d written a feminist manifesto, it was really interesting to hear how the women were more sympathetic to Réjane’s choices in life and work.
Also great was the suggestion I shorten the title, and use “To Live, Darling,” which I wholly love. It was Réjane’s joie de vivre and quest for authenticity that make her worth writing about 92 years after her death.
Other jewels were mined from the wine-fueled post reading discussion, but they remain to be cut, set and polished for the stage.
An excerpt from “Work is Necessary To Live, Darling,” as the play is now titled, was performed as a staged reading for the infamous First Stage’s Playwrights Express festival last night.
Stellar actors Marguerite Moreau, Christopher Redman, Tom Elliot and Cara Pifko read three scenes from Act One, and an enthusiastic audience had excellent post-reading feedback. Réjane needs to remain authentic, yet be more sympathetic. They want to know what happens next. People are chasing play’s joie de vivre dragon, which attempts to mirror Réjane’s own. Most of all, this audience have left their couches and Olympic swimming behind to come to a tiny theatre in beautiful uptown Burbank. This bodes well for this show, certainly, and ART.
Download the Playwrights Express flyer.
Skype is the very model of a modern post-graduate model. TRP Dramaturg Tonia N. Sutherland is teaching a class called Archives and Performance at the University of Pittsburgh. From her class syllabus: “Performance is by nature ephemeral, and once it has occurred it transforms into something that is no longer there. At the same time, however, performance lives on in the memories of those involved, directly or indirectly, with creating the work, in the spaces and places in which the performance took place, and in the sources and traces they leave behind.”
I lectured her class on The Réjane Project research and how it has become the foundation of a new play. Born of in-depth and lengthy historical research, Be Real With Me (as the play I’ve written is now called) is original. Research has informed it, not dictated its story nor its characters. Be Real With Me is not a biography, it is based on the life and work of Réjane.
Réjane’s work was documented, though only as well as the technology of the Belle Époque allowed. Now, 100+ years later technology has obviously changed for the fancier, yet some of the difficulties of accurately documenting live performance remain. The discussion was lively and entertaining; if these young ladies are the future guardians of the performing arts, there is hope for us all.
June 5th was Réjane’s birthday, so with a cheers (first coffee, later champagne), Christopher and I sat down to work in her favorite country, Italy. Despite our best efforts to have the laziest of work sessions: poolside with a storybook view; surrounded by family including my two-year-old; and bodily laden with a Bacchanalian quantity of both food and wine, this short week was terribly productive.
At last, Christopher and I were able to streamline and re-structure the script to support and inspire the visual feast this show will be. We also have, for the first time, a working title that may actually work: Be Real With Me. Taken from a lovely scene that is no longer in the show, the title suggest a lot of Réjane’s internal and external struggles. We’ll see if it sticks…
We are now planning a full tilt workshop and short preview run in the fall, so stay tuned and get your checkbooks ready! The requisite Kickstarter/Indie Go-Go-a-thon will surely soon commence.
From Paris, my entourage and I Chunneled our way to London to meet up with Christopher. My family watched Winnie the Pooh in our hotel room while I tubed off to North London. Nothing cuter than a toddler in a trench coat and I finally got to wear a scarf.
Christopher’s company, The Awake Project, opened a show at Jackson’s Lane in beautiful Highgate. It was wonderful to see the stuff of Christopher’s workshop: rhythm, gesture, song (and impishness) all work together so beautifully with writer (and RADA Director) Edward Kemp’s text. The show made me cackle, cry and become even more optimistic about work on The Réjane Project. The show moved on to Oxford and thankfully reviewers (liked the show as much as I did (Oxford Times and Daily Info, Oxford).
After the show, I got to see lots of people I hadn’t seen in a long time and meet some new ones. Over drinks and dinner, Christopher and I picked up a conversation we began in New York about fusing our teaching together in a workshop. For 13 years, I’ve taught Pilates and my work has evolved, living in a town filled with actors and being one, to focus on training the body so as to support, with alignment, creative and vocal expression. So much physical training is done in an effort to be skinny or fit with no regard for the body as a kinesthetic whole – especially with regard to the throat and neck.
In New York, I sat out a bit during Christopher’s Breathing Performer workshop and took notes about what I’d work on with each participant, given the chance, and why. The notes dovetailed very closely with what Christopher saw in their bodies, only from a very different, much more technical perspective. I think actors are often afraid of the technical, for fear their acting will become technical when really, good technique can be ultimately liberating. In London, we continued to discuss what our joint workshop could be and have since begun making plans to start teaching together.
Having the good fortune to be in Europe anyhow, I planned a week in Paris to meet people and do more research. As life goes, several of the things I had really hoped would come together didn’t and some even better ones did. Paris was sweltering. In October. (Sad, really.)
My daughter, 18 months, travelled with me again as did Stephanie, my mother-in-law (as the French say, belle mere). I met with Moulin Rouge Communications Director, Jean-Luc Péhau-Ricau, and toured their space. Jean-Luc was informative, lovely and very interested in the history of the Belle Époque, which, though not surprising, was heartwarming. I had just seen Moulin Rouge dancers perform at the Hollywood Bowl on my birthday in September, so the timing was à propos.
An historian who has been researching Réjane for 10 years and I had coffee. I got her perspective not only on Réjane’s work and life, but on why her story is being left behind. She gave me a lot to think about. I also reconnected with the Comtesse who now owns Réjane and Porel’s Hennequeville, Normandie house. She, her best friend, mybelle mere, my daughter and I all had ‘tea’ at the Hotel Shangri-La. (I use the term ‘tea’ loosely as Stephanie and I had champagne.) It was wonderful to reconnect with them and hear how supportive they are of the project.
A lighting designer-turned-writer I met two years ago and I also had coffee. Fabien Goiffon has been very generous in connecting me with the management of the Théâtre de Paris, which was once the Théâtre Réjane. I had already toured the space and seen a show there, which is when I met Fabien. I am in the midst of reading his play, Trait d’Union, with which I hope I can be of help. It would be interesting to create a periodic salon at home in Los Angeles featuring excerpts of French theatre, in part to cultivate a community of those Francophiles who are also in to theatre…
Paris is quite familiar now, and I’ve still never been to the catacombs or Versailles.
The four members of The Réjane Project team had never been in the same place at the same time before May. Christopher was in New York to teach a workshop, Adrien lives there, Tonia could take a few days off from her PhD (and own family), and I had enough miles. Together for the first time, we sorted through letters and photos, plotted a course for the project’s future, and Tonia began to archive and catalog materials in need.
The “Valse Réjane” was unearthed, and Adrien and Michael worked it out on the piano. A cheerful waltz, it will hopefully make its way into The Réjane Project show. Adrien, Michael and I also had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Philip Wilson, Réjane’s grandson and their great-uncle/uncle. Seeing the twinkle in Dr. Wilson’s eyes was like seeing Willie all over again; meeting him was an honor.
Christopher, Adrien and I were also plied with wine and cheese by Rehearsal Club alumni. Réjane’s daughter Germaine (Philip and Willie’s mother) was President of the Board of the Rehearsal Club (RC) for many years, and they have been very supportive of TRP. The RC was the basis for the play and film “Stage Door.” Christopher taught his Breathing Perfomer workshop in Brooklyn, which I very happily took. Oliverio Papi from Au Brana served as his assistant.
Thankfully, my parents came up from Maryland to help mind my daughter. Even so, the struggle Réjane faced in trying to be a mother and do, not even her best, but anywork became all the more evident daily. While Réjane’s emotional struggle in the play requires almost no imaginative leap these days, actually writing the piece – and even more so, accomplishing the other ten bizillion things required to launch, fund and produce an independent art project – sometimes feels nigh impossible.
The day after R&D-dux, I flew to meet Tonia in Seattle to present our paper at the 2010 American Society for Theatre Research/Theatre Library Association/Congress on Research in Dance. All about how our Réjane Project research informed the creation of a new work, we wrote and presented “Madame Sans Genre: A Unique Collaboration Between Artist and Archivist.”
The paper was well-received and is available by request. (Madame Sans Genre, by the way, is a play on the title of Réjane’s most famous role and play, “Madame Sans-Gêne,” which translates to ‘Madame Who Gives a Damn?!’) Our presentation featured slides and was recorded for podcast, though I’m still tracking down a link.
Tonia, who is working with performing arts archives as part of her PhD at the University of Pittsburgh, is incorporating her work on The Réjane Project into her program. At the Seattle Public Library, we found an original edition of “L’Oeuvre,” a magazine edited by Réjane’s colleague, Aurelien Lugné-Poe.
We geeked out. And, having just finished a week of intensive script overhaul with Christopher, I kept running to the hotel to write a new scene or weed-whack an existing one, all while wrangling my now 8-month old daughter. Thankfully, my husband Daniel was there and we even got to see a bit of Seattle for the first time.
I continued writing, albeit at a pace slowing in inverse proportion to the growth of belly. In my third trimester I found it physically impossible to create anything but the baby. Cliché maybe, but true. I felt like my work was going the way of vanilla cokes, the dodo and everything being Jake – that I’d never be able to work again, or even want to. At least I had some real insight.
Somewhere amidst the fog of late-pregnancy, Tonia approached me about writing a proposal for an academic paper for a fancy academic conference based on our Réjane research. I agreed, we wrote the proposal and then I slept some more.
I had my baby and, it was crazy, but within 24 hours the creative juices started flowing back north through my brain. I had to type one-handed while holding my new daughter, Ridley. I also learned to make coffee one-handed.
The proposal Tonia and I wrote was accepted and we set to work writing our paper, “Madame Sans Genre,” about how our historical theatrical research contributed to the creation of an original work. The Réjane Project made it to second and final rounds for several grants, but the most successful fundraising continued to be private. Still, enough funds were raised to support another week of R&D in Los Angeles. So I wrote a lot, academically and artistically, to make two impending deadlines.
When Christopher arrived, he and I worked tête-à-tête on the now full-length script and drinking a lot one-handed coffee (that’s a lie, he helped). We made a lot of headway on the script, especially Part II, so we invited original workshop members Garth Whitten and Cecilia de Rico to read aloud with us over snacks and more coffee. We recorded the reading. Enough about the play worked well that we brainstormed about development, but there was some work to do on its infrastructure.