Back to Basics

We're performing at COOL NY 2011 this weekend.  (White Wave's John Ryan Theater, 25 Jay Street, Brooklyn.)  The performances are on Saturday night at 9 pm, and Sunday at 6 pm. Admission is FREE.  

l-r: Mark Peters, Robin Gilbert & Charles Hinshaw in rehearsal for our COOL NY performances.

l-r Debra Zalkind, Erin Ginn, Charles Hinshaw, Rebecca Whittington

l-r: Robin Gilbert, Carlos Fittante, Charles Hinshaw (on floor)

Foreground: Robin Gilbert & Carlos Fittante, Background: Mark Peters, Erin Ginn

Our COOL NY performances are providing us with some interesting new challenges.  Since this is a festival with a lot of dance groups following each other quickly in performance, we are limited in what we can do technically. There is no time to hang a white curtain onto which we can project our video, and if we use a projector in the very intimate theater, it can't be hung high enough to avoid splashing video onto the dancers. So I've chosen not to use our video in this performance at all.  But without our "moving set," we have to get things across to the audience in another manner.  So we're reverting to the "tried and true" -- using more live onstage action in this production.

In addition to "Natasha's" dialogue changes (discussed in the last post), there was still a lot of confusion in my mind about what on earth was going on in the opening, when the video could not be used to "explain" it.  A dead body had to somehow appear onstage, then a dictator had to be murdered when a coup d'état began, not to mention we had to inform the audience about a few wars along the way (done in the video with quick news flashes).  I decided to make "Boris" the narrator throughout, and also used him to commit the murder -- so that the dead body was where we needed it, when we needed it.  

Without the video, the cast also had to handle some real props (a stuffed animal, for instance) instead of having them (squirrels in the park) on the screen.  One of these props inadvertently gave me another joke. Debra, sweetheart that she is, was nice enough to offer to go shopping one day for stuffed animals.  She couldn't find a squirrel and came back to rehearsal with a skunk that looked somewhat like a squirrel. Debra's character, "Natasha," has Alzheimer's disease, so when Debra put the skunk on the floor and said, "Hello, little squirrel," this seemed just right to me! 

Above l-r: Carlos Fittante, Rebecca Whittington, and Debra Zalkind, along with the skunk that is playing the role of the squirrel.

"Natasha" is about to poison her furry friend as Liz Deutsch, our wardrobe mistress, looks on.

It will be very interesting to follow which changes make the work stronger than it was before, and which should be scrapped as FUNDING THE ARTS continues to evolve.  -- Felice Lesser



The cast for our COOL NY 2011 performances:  l-r Debra Zalkind (Natasha/terrorist/Jane Edgar-Hoover), Charles Hinshaw (Kevin/terrorist), Mark Peters (Boris), Erin Ginn (Maya), Carlos Fittante (Robby), Robin Gilbert (Lu), Rebecca Whittington (Margot)

Robin Gilbert and Carlos Fittante in the opening pas de deux.

Carlos Fittante and Erin Ginn


We are now in rehearsal for two performances of the first 10 minutes of FUNDING THE ARTS at White Wave's COOL NY 2011 Festival (John Ryan Theater, 25 Jay Street, Brooklyn) on February 5th at 9 pm, and February 6th at 6 pm. Admission is FREE. Orginal cast members performing include Robin Gilbert, Erin Ginn, Charles Hinshaw, Mark Peters, Rebecca Whittington, and Debra Zalkind, along with new cast member, Carlos Fittante, in the role of "Robby."  

These performances are providing new challenges.  How do I include various cast members (i.e. Debra Zalkind, Robin Gilbert), whose roles ("Natasha" & "Brooke") are not in the first ten minutes of the piece? For Robin, it was easy -- give her another part.  As Ezlimar & Jose are no longer in New York, the role of the ballerina "Lu" was open, and Robin was just perfect for it.  So she and her long-time partner, Carlos Fittante, are performing the leading roles in this production. Debra, too, picked up a few additional parts (a terrorist, Edgar -- now called Jane Edgar-Hoover), but her "Natasha" was such a tour de force, that I wanted somehow to include it. So I rewrote the beginning of the script and had "Natasha" open the story with a monologue.  I think this version may be stronger than the original, and may keep it for the next production.  I also added dialogue for "Robby" and "Lu" that helps clarify their opening scene, whereas the original was done in silence. The reshaping of FUNDING THE ARTS has begun!

We hope you will be able to join us at COOL NY 2011! -- Felice Lesser


The Aftermath


Above l-r: Ezlimar Dortolina and Jose Edwin Gonzalez against a background of video in FUNDING THE ARTS.


So how did it all turn out? 

The direct feedback from the audience and from the people who attended our "Meet the Artist" events was extremely positive, and it's very encouraging and satisfying to hear comments from strangers like those I heard. And we received a very nice review on Eyeondance.com. (You can read it via a link on our PRESS page, as well as see clips from the work on YouTube via a link on our VIDEO page.) But as Oscar Wilde said, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." And that was surely the case here.  I wish THE NEW YORK TIMES had come and reviewed the work. But unfortunately the TIMES critic never arrived. A TIMES photographer was sent to our Dress Rehearsal on Tuesday, and a dance critic was scheduled to review Wednesday’s Opening Night, but at the very last minute, the critic e-mailed to say she would not be attending due to financial cutbacks at the paper (so ironic and in a sense so very apt in terms of the subject matter of the piece). And without the "buzz" that a review in THE TIMES garners, our audiences remained smaller than I would have liked during the remainder of our run. I’m reminded of the scene in FUNDING THE ARTS where Lu and Robby finish a brilliant performance, and hear no applause. Robby remarks that instead of coming out to see them – the world’s greatest ballet dancers – performing live, people are all at home watching "Dancing With The Stars."  Lu responds, “But this IS Dancing With The Stars.” Which brings us to the subject of whether or not we are now witnessing the beginning of the end of live performances as we know them. Will the same technology that allows a small dance company to mount such an ambitious production ultimately be the thing that kills off live theater? Will interactive performances replace the traditional way of actors performing in front of an audience? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how the arts develop in the next decade to find out.

I did learn a lot by bringing FUNDING THE ARTS to the stage. I think the most important lesson was that if you want -- if you need -- to do something, you must just go out and do it. Do it yourself. Do it any way you can. Don't let the fact that you don't have the resources you'd ideally like, stop you. When I first began work on this project I approached some well-known cartoon animators and asked them if they'd participate. They said, "This kind of work will cost you $5000 -- per minute!" (Being that the work was a ninety-minute piece... well, you do the math...) Obviously, at that point I was forced to find another way to realize the animation component of the project, so I went off on a tangent into animation, which I never would have done, had the animators simply said "yes." So don't let anything or anyone stop you. If you have to do it, you will find a way. -- Felice Lesser


The Performances

Producing this work was a huge artistic achievement for our company. With our largest cast ever (15 performers – eleven live, and four on video), a full-length script, live dance, video, and computer animation, we presented six performances at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Following three of the performances were "Meet the Artist" events (sponsored by the Experimental Television Center), and a 35th Anniversary Party was held on Saturday night. Foundation/corporate contributors included The Harkness Foundation for Dance, The Puffin Foundation, Freed of London, the Rebecca H. Rawson Charitable Trust, and others. 

Above l-r: Robin Gilbert, Djassi DaCosta Johnson, Mark Peters, Debra Zalkind, Erin Ginn, Ezlimar Dortolina, Victor Oniel Gonzalez against a background of animated dancers created with Life Forms.

Above l-r: Ezlimar Dortolina, Mark Peters, Jose Edwin Gonzalez, Erin Ginn, Rebecca Whittington (and a background of Life Forms animations)

Above l-r: Charles Hinshaw (on floor), Ezlimar Dortolina, Jose Edwin Gonzalez, Mark Peters, Debra Zalkind (with a background drawn with Motion)



The Final Steps

This is the part of the process that is probably the most fun -- seeing the performers bring your work to the stage.  I could really begin to see the "living cartoon" -- how the combination of all the different elements -- the live cast, the script, the projected video & animation, and the choreography would come together in performance.

As the last step before entering the theater next week, we projected the video onto the walls of the rehearsal studio, so that the cast could get a better sense of the scale and actual size of their "sets" and "props" and how they would need to work with them. For instance, the television on the moving cart in the first photo gets pushed across the stage in the play from time to time.  Having the full-scale image in front of the dancers allowed them to time how long it would take, so that the pushes could be more realistic and accurate.  In the second photo the live dancers on the right (Erin Ginn, Victor Gonzalez, and Ezlimar Dortolina) needed to time their own choreography with exactly the same choreography done by the 25 or so animated dancers on the screen behind them.  In the fourth photo Mark Peters needed to kick a "cartoon figure" off the stage at the right time.

Everything is rehearsed and ready, the costumes are being finished, and the only thing we need now is YOU, our audience!  We look forward to seeing you in your seats next week as the curtain goes up on "Funding the Arts." -- Felice Lesser

l-r Ezlimar Dortolina, Erin Ginn, Jose Edwin Gonzalez, Rebecca Whittington

l-r Mark Peters, Debra Zalkind, Erin Ginn, Victor Oniel Gonzalez, Ezlimar Dortolina

l-r Mark Peters, Jose Edwin Gonzalez, Ezlimar Dortolina, Charles Hinshaw

l-r Ezlimar Dortolina, Jose Edwin Gonzalez, Debra Zalkind, Mark Peters

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