Just because it was around this time two years ago that we embarked on rehearsals for Photo Play at Dixon Place, here are a few exuberant images of the show, snapped by Steve Baird. Truly one of the most wonderful, intense creative processes I’ve ever been a part of.
If 2016 was the year of process: head-down, deep in the trenches, dump-out-your-purse, can’t-see-the-forest, who-knows-how-this-ends, let’s-see-what-sticks, 2017 was a year of unfolding. Making space. Trusting. Following through on promises I made to myself and my work. Not finishing things per se, but putting in the time and energy for underlying ideas to truly manifest. I realized that if I was going to figure out the best structure, the best ‘world’ for Photo Play to inhabit, I had to devote the time and focus to bringing each possibility to some level of fruition. I couldn’t just judge the options conceptually. I had to see them made manifest, then wade into each, try them on for size, choose your clunky metaphor.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was up to the task. I wasn’t sure I had the patience or the confidence to see any of the ideas through to even a third draft. There were so many possibilities crowding my head that I was afraid if I delved into any of them too deeply I’d get lost and not be able to find my way out. And guess what? That happened several times. More than several. I would be seized by an impulse that could carry me to the next scene or the next draft, and then…a moment of blankness, when I lost the thread of the story or the direction it was headed, and I had to stop, take a breath, and sometimes even speak the story beats out loud to remind myself of its shape. But having the experience of getting lost and having to pull myself together, pull the story back together, was useful. It diffused the fear, even the times I got lost and stayed lost and had to just walk away from the screen for a while. The scary thing happened; I allowed it to move through me – through the work – and afterwards there was a new draft. Or just a bunch of fragments, which was ok too.
This is the work of drafting: weathering waves of impulse and doubt, frustration and satisfaction. I should know this by now but I keep learning it, over and over.
2018 will usher in the next phase of Photo Play: a workshop presentation at Dixon Place on March 21st. This is something I have wanted and worked toward for more than two years, and again I find myself unsure I’m up to the task. But if I approach it as drafting, accept the inevitable doubt, fear, and new insight, I can find the way through by trusting that a path is there, even if I can’t see it.
One of the core ideas in Photo Play is that snapshots are like maps. We keep them safe in albums, spend time gazing at them, through them like doorways into particular moments the past. We trace our lives from there to here, and look deeply into the images for clues about who we used to be, and how we arrived in the present moment. I would love for there to be a clear map for this next phase of Photo Play’s creative development, but there isn’t. I can set goals, assemble a timeline and to-do lists, sketch an outline for the final script to follow, but the process will be collaborative and therefore impossible to predict. Though it makes me nervous, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Learning to trust myself is only meaningful if I can do it when the path ahead is muddy and steep, when the itinerary leaves room for the unexpected.
Space and time. Earlier this year I decided that’s what I wanted for Photo Play. In pursuit of my goal to develop it into an evening-length work, I thought about what I would need. Money is nice – and necessary in the production phase – but for right now, what I really want is dedicated physical work space, and the time to create. Beautiful luxuries for any artist. Either of them by itself is rarely enough: a room of one’s own is no use unless ‘One’ has the time to use it, and time is useless without a place to go, to escape from everyday obligations.
So I tossed out some nets, and the first opportunity has been caught: a writing residency at Holes in the Wall Collective in the first week of May. Though brief (4 days!), it will be just the thing to jump-start the next phase of my work on Photo Play: a place to focus sustained attention on its architecture and narrative through-line – something that has been sorely missing from the process so far.
I am both excited and terrified of this gift. I think every artist with a support job is always holding a little of herself back, in the struggle to locate the energy it takes to keep the mechanics of life humming along. But this will be a chance to see what happens when every bit of energy is aimed at creativity. What a leap of faith, and again, what a luxury.
For now, I prepare. In the interest of coming to work “with my pockets full”, as a teacher of mine once advised, I’m plotting like a squirrel before winter about what to bring to the residency and how to spend my time there.
In addition to physical necessities, I will bring:
– An openness to impulse
– A dedication to the value of structured time
– A willingness to let go of what does not seem to be working
I will leave behind:
– The need to know about every breaking news item as it breaks
– The obligation to loved ones and how they will fare without me
– The worry of “what if…this doesn’t turn out like I hope/ the work has no merit/ the narrative architecture I identify isn’t compelling”.
Better get packing…
A very belated post of some images from the maiden voyage of ‘Photo Play’, an original performance piece I wrote and developed in September of 2015 with a stellar cast of theater artists. ‘Photo Play’ asks questions about our human preoccupation with photographs – how the experience of being photographed and seeing images of ourselves shapes our identities, and – especially since the advent of digital photography and social media – how we use images to shape our identities in the eyes of others. In 2016 I’m hoping to develop the piece further, whether into an evening-length performance, an immersive performance/ exhibit, an interactive installation, or some combination of the three. Stay tuned!