I was digging through our "text vault" today (a vast and labrynthine facility located 6 miles beneath Lake Norman) and found a blog post written by our dear friend and colleague Biniam Tekola. He wrote this post in the aftermath of our tour to Burning Coal Theatre in July. So without further ado I present to you: the lost blog of Biniam Tekola. -MC
For me, explaining "devised" theatre to someone not familiar with the theatrical process is a little like telling a long story—badly. I start off by describing a more open rehearsal process whereby improvisation and collaboration play a larger role in the finished production (if it ever is, in fact, “finished”). One can see their eyes glaze over and I back up, saying, ‘Well, in the more traditional rehearsal process staging and dialogue have a rigidity or at the very least…’ and as the blank stare settles and they let out a half-cough or shoot a distracted glance to the air beside me I usually resort to, ‘It’s weird and shit’. It’s weird…and…shit.
Truer words were never spoken. But if I had to elaborate I’d say that devised theatre falls under the umbrella of experimental theatre. And so the recent tour of Mums to Raleigh can certainly be seen as two weeks in the lab.
Just like any other experiment we had our own hypotheses:
× A costume change can be executed quickly within a pitch black body bag.
× As the show deals with secrets it is not only a natural conclusion to play “Never have I ever” with the audience, it is practically a requirement.
× There is always a good reason to play “Patches” by Clarence Carter.
× Inspiration for choreography can originate through line, form, breath and speed. But more importantly, inspiration can come from the dance fails of little children.
And just like any other thoughtful experiment there are foreseen and unforeseen results. The Politheatrics Theatre Festival at Burning Coal afforded us the opportunity to put our hypotheses to the test and as it happens, most of the results were expected:
× Costume changes in a body bag are not ideal if you’re on a time crunch but it does offer some abstract shapes to amuse the eye of an audience member with a short attention span.
× While playing “Never have I ever” is a great excuse to pound a beer on stage it almost always leads to me taking my pants off in the dressing room after the show.
× There is, in fact, a specific time to play “Patches”. Most people refer to this time as “Now” and “Forever”.
× Barishnikov, Cunningham, Graham—all talented in their own right, but it seems that for our purposes “Stairway to Stardom” contributed to the tone of the work like the warm PBRs contributed to my indigestion—immediately.
As far as the unexpected results of our experiment goes I have to make comment about the wonderful support provided by Burning Coal, the other theatre companies, and the friends and family that made the trek. Burning Coal provided us with more than pleasant accommodations and facilitated discussions between the practitioners. In addition, Jerry Davis and Burning Coal cultivated an atmosphere whereby theatre companies were encouraged to attend each other’s performances—and they did! It was wonderful to actually interact with other theatre companies which oddly enough doesn’t really happen at theatre festivals as often as one would think. But it was an absolute pleasure to become familiar with Haymaker, Neutral Ground Ensemble, Community Garden, Force/Collision, and Awkward Elephant. Looking forward to continuing dialogue with other creative and capable artists.
The overall experience was fantastic. It was inspiring. It was theatre camp. It was the type of theatre that I feel not only drives people into the seats but provokes them to jump out of their seats. It’s the type of theatre that refuses to anesthetize and encourages irreverence towards traditional theatrical concepts but remains reverent towards the craft itself. It’s my kind of theatre. Why? Well, because it’s weird and shit.
There is something here that I am trying to learn from.
It's been so long since last we spoke! There is a lot of really exciting stuff for us to talk about. Too much really to cover in one blog post, so we'll have to wait til later to talk about New Orleans. And our upcoming late night residency. And our new show, Bohemian Grove. And...you get the picture.
First Things First.
The Democratic National Convention.
It's going to be intense. There will be motorcades and news cameras and high priced call girls. And there will be theatre.
Your Dearly Beloved Machinists are hard at work on a number of projects...top secret projects.
For Real. We actually can't tell you about them. BUT we can encourage you to brave the crowds and make a point of being at the following places in the afternoons next week.
Packard Place (Church St. between 4th and 5th)
Brevard Court (the little euro-quaint alley o' bars on S. Church)
5th and Tryon
7th Street Market
If you are there and you keep a weather eye open, you may well experience a spontaneous eruption of Dance, Spoken Word, or The Machine's patented brand of satirical slapstick surrealism.
If you just can't be bothered to head downtown than please join us at Snug Harbor in Plaza Midwood on Sunday and Monday nights from 8pm on, as our partners The Quasimodo Project host The Third Party. We'll be there holding it down and excercising our rights. It's Gonna Be Sweet.
AND....We've got something else planned for the Convention that we can't wait to tell you about!
We're thrilled to be hosting our buddies from Durham, Haymaker, for a performance of their short piece What's that Cost: The Federal Budget and You.
It's a really cool and insightful piece of investigative theatre and it was created right here in North Carolina! We hope you'll come check it out. It's at CAST (2424 N. Davidson St. ) so you know that the space is rad and there are great local beers on tap. What better way to spend a tuesday evening in September?
for more details about Haymaker's performance check out our home page!
Our next Tour Talk contributor is a relative new-comer to the Charlotte Scene. In the last year, Scott A. Miller has been a busy boy on Charlotte stages. He is an actor, a writer and a lover. He rocks a mustache like few can and, as of a few days ago, has taken a gig traveling the tri-state region bringing delight to children...with his mustache. Scott was a writer on this latest iteration of Mum's the Word and came up to Raleigh to check us out and enjoy some of the festival. You'll see him with Machine again real soon, participating in Operation: Super Secret Radio Project.
Scott (Center) with J-Slau and Peter Smeal in Charlotte Shakespeare's The Tempest.
I'm new to The Machine. I hadn't seen any earlier Machine productions before Mum's The Word at Burning Coal's PoliTheatrics Festival in Raleigh last weekend. And even though I had read the working script for Mum's, the show--the entire evening at Burning Coal for that matter--defied and exceeded my expectations. In lieu of describing the whole shindig, here is a brief list of revelations, affirmations and possibly a few lies inspired by that evening:
1. Preparing to watch something you had a hand in writing is a frightening experience.
2. Hearing the sound a transgendered fairy bird woman makes is a frightening experience.
3. There are some brilliant and talented people making theatrical art that so very many people won't see.
4. There are some brilliant and talented people, who happen to live and work in Charlotte, making theatrical art that many more people really need to see.
6. It's super nice to pay $5 to see a show for which you'd gladly pay at least five times as much.
7. Don't let your jeans sit in the washer too long on a hot day before drying them or you will surely end up with musty jeans.
8. I suck at audience participation.
9. Choreographed Air Piano should be it's own art form.
10. Some strange Animal Masks are at one hilarious and terrifying.
11. Watching and listening to people who absolutely love theatre talk about theatre is a happy, beautiful kind of thing.
For our next installment of Tour Talk, we've enlisted the lovely, lively and quick witted Caroline Bower to put pen to paper. Caroline played Mrs. Smith in Machine's first ever production: Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Soprano. She is playing Lois in our summer/fall Mum's the Word dates and is creating a weirdo teenage ghosthunting hillbilly boy named Skeleteen for our new work in development: Bohemian Grove (the psychopomps). She is a very smart lady and wrote us an Acrostic about her experience on tour.
Made new friends.
Achieved some goals.
Crafted a little swag. (buy a tshirt please)
Had a few beers…onstage.
Nerded out on others’ shared work.
Entertained at the clurb.
Originated a sequence of stolen choreography.
Never have I ever.
Taken wonderful care of. (by Burning Coal)
Out of town ya’ll!
Urban Garden, Force/Collision, Neutral Ground, Awkward Elephant & Haymaker.
lets do it again. soon.
We're back in Charlotte after a very cool week of performing at PoliTheatrics and I thought it would be cool to do some guest blogger action to reflect on our experiences in Raleigh. In the coming days we'll be hearing from a variety of Machinists and our colleagues who were with us on tour. To kick us off, I am pleased to give you Kelly Nicholson, who formally serves as our stage manager for Mum's the Word but who is actually sort of the special sauce in the work that we create. a cool, calm, collected presence in the room who makes it all happen and at least once daily utters wisdom that changes the work for the better. Below you will find some of Kelly's thoughts on our recent adventures in the Triangle.
Hello! We've just finished up our productive, rockin’, super fantastic, victorious experience at Burning Coal Theatre’s Politheatrics Festival in Raleigh. It was a victory in so many ways. Let me tell you of our victory:
Machine met groups that are doing work that is so similar and so different than ours.
We got to see a great variety of performances. We saw shows from force/collision of D.C., Neutral Ground Ensemble of New Orleans, Durham's Haymaker, Awkward Elephant from Pittsburgh, and we finished the festival paired with Urban Garden of Raleigh. Very different performances but all of a similar spirit.
Machine got to be part of the conversation.
Matt was on the panel for one of the forums on the process of devised work. Both in structured talk backs and the unstructured post-show meet ups, there has been a great exchange of ideas about the process of creating original work. Hopefully we’ve made connections with some folks that we’ll meet up with again!
Most importantly, Machine took a show out of town.
And got to share our work with a whole bunch of people who didn’t know us before, and a few who did. Now we won’t be stopped! Todd, Lois, and the Kid will continue to amuse and horrify audiences!
Thanks so much to the Burning Coal gang for putting on a great festival!
We're performing our original work Mum's The Word at Burning Coal Theatre Company this week. We opened today and had a ton of fun doing the show and meeting Durham, NC devising company Haymaker. Below you can see some pictures from this morning's tech rehearsal. Enjoy!
Good God, Todd, He's magnificent!
I'm not some spoiled weirdo.
Fish don't seem to be biting today.
Y'all, it has been a pretty intense two years. People Died, People Got Born, People Got Weird and People Got Saved. All in a day's work, right? Well enough of all that. What I really want to tell you about is what we've got planned for the future! But we don't want to bombard you with too much all at once so for now...just a taste of what we've got in store. Be sure to keep checking back in for updates!Mum's The Word on tour!
-Our satirical and surrealist experiment in race, global politics and pill popping is back in a revised form and hitting the road. We'll be performing next week (July 1, 6, 7, 8) at Burning Coal Theatre in Raleigh as part of their first ever PoliTheatrics Festival of Devised Theatre. It is gonna be rad.
We'll also be taking the show to New Orleans in November, and doing late night showings in Charlotte during the DNC in September. We'd love for to come visit you too, so let's talk about how to make that happen!PoliTheatrics Festival of Devised TheatreThe Psychopomps!
- We're hard at work on our newest creation: a bizarre love story that witnesses the bond between a faded poetry professor and a hooker with a heart of gold. Add a raggamuffin ghost hunter and his magic talking cat to the mix and ship them all off to the underworld and you've got a recipe for most excellent disaster. An invited sharing in February of this year was a great success (and lots of fun!) and we look forward to more events like that in preparation for a premiere in Spring of 2013.