Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Not Exactly Out of Nothing But . . .

The age-old question for artists of all kinds has been, "where do your ideas come from?"

And then there's the follow-up: "how did you make that?"

Frankly, I'm more interested in the follow-up. I'm a process person and I love seeing/hearing how artists go about fulfilling their vision(s).

So you'd think I'd have some sort of understanding of my own process, would have paid more attention to how I go about things. But when I'm in the actual act of making something, I'm sort of in the act of making something and not paying attention to process.

As I made the recent performance out of eight poems by Jill Alexander Essbaum, this is highlighted for me by two events.

One was early in the rehearsal process. I worked a lone for a few weeks, moving about an empty space (either at Hope Stone Studios, where I had my HopeWerks Residency, or at at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, where I was graced with additional rehearsal space) and deciding how I wanted a particular poem to move, what shape or floor plan I wanted it to take. This was primarily an intuitive process, I think. Even 25 years ago, when I was directing my first plays, I made decisions about blocking fairly quickly and while I might veer off from the initial plan when I see something isn't working in rehearsal (or an actor is bringing something to the performance that requires a different pattern or I see a better picture to make with the actual bodies in space), once I set blocking, it's fairly well set. For better or worse.

When I set the last piece on my performers (of which I was one, which skews the process some, since I can't actually see the pictures I'm making), I found myself pondering my own process. On my bus ride home, I remember thinking, "How did I do that? There once was nothing, now there's this floor pattern and other movement that these performers didn't do. Did I make that? How? When?" I had a moment of wonder about that. I think I could reconstruct the steps and choices, but only with difficulty. My own process was obscure to me.

The second event was really a couple of events but the same one repeated. One was when Donna Meadows and I appeared on the local radio program, The Front Row. The interviewer, Catherine Lu, asked me how does one go about adapting poetry to the stage. It was a question that caught me off guard. I sort of stammered, "I don't know." That question was asked again at the after-show talk-backs. I was no more prepared to answer it. I think behind that question is some kind of surprise that one would attempt this, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the first to do it.

Again, I think I can reconstruct some of the steps in choices, some of which go back to when I first read these poems and saw images on a stage. Those images have been there a while and mostly, I just had to adjust them for the type of performance space we had. And I blocked out a floor pattern/path, and I figured out what pictures I wanted to make, and suddenly we had this thing that we just ran and refined until opening night.

I thought more about process this past weekend, at the Blue Rock Review release party. I'd had a short piece (people assure me it's a poem, so okay, a poem) accepted for publication in the journal and as I looked at it, expertly laid out, I remembered how hard I worked on it, how all the early drafts were a prose essay. I could never get happy with it and the Monday before the deadline, I set the essay aside and made a list (and, allegedly, a poem). I looked at it, decided that maybe this was the piece, emailed it off and they accepted it.

But I never set out to write a list/poem. Suddenly one exists, not only in my notebook, but in a journal that's being distributed hither and yon.

Do other artists find this somewhat mysterious. And exciting? But mostly mysterious?

I don't mean to be disingenuous with this pondering. I know there were hours put into both projects. I also don't want to imply that this mysterious process made something wonderful, because I always feel like things fall short of the idea in my head and need more hours, maybe even need more setting aside and starting over.

I'm coming to no conclusion tonight. Maybe I never will. I'm sure this won't be the last time I type aimlessly about process and the mystery therein.

There's something to unravel here.

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