Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Aesthetics and Uncertainty

I've worked with people in the past whose work would spontaneously take shape upon moving into a performance venue. No amount of meetings, planning, research, rehearsal, blocking would lead them to the same artistic product that being in the actual space and making it work would produce. I never thought I'd be one of those people - I am usually another type of person who plans out all meals a week in advance and creates ridiculous excel budget spreadsheets for herself. But working with Misha and Divergence Vocal Theater so far has been an exercise in being patient with myself and my apparent need to "make it work" next week in the space.

So many unknown factors come into play for this show. The space is a church, not a theatre. There is some lighting in the church but I don't know what / how much and we can't refocus it. I'm renting some stage lights, and I can get a general "plot" going for this but really, it will be a "these lights go HERE" kind of thing once we're in the space. The piece is song / dance / a little bit of spoken word, but without seeing it in person I can only get a rough sense of what it needs for lighting and video.

And of course there's the uncertainty involved in add me and video together.

This marks my fourth show designing not only lights but also projections. The first time - Rapunzel - I seriously edited in Final Cut Pro the way I play any type of fight game on the Playstation. I mashed the buttons until something cool happened. In a bizarre twist of fate that particular piece received some national attention and was invited to be performed in Prague. I had no idea what I was doing, but what I did worked for whatever reason. Maybe because I had no idea what I was doing?

I make a conscious effort when I'm doing new things to not try to hide the fact that I have no idea what I'm doing. Because of this I've half-adopted an aesthetic that's more "DIY," found footage-esque than clean and professional. That doesn't mean I won't one day need a more professional looking video design, but for now the projects I've been working on have allowed for this.

For Autumn Spectre I've been working on a number of short video pieces that will be worked into the performance. One piece in particular stands out to me - a girl in a white dress exploring a graveyard for four minutes or so. Austin actress Emily Tindall and my husband Travis came with me to the cemetery and just improvised from there. Later when I edited the video together to send to Misha, I said to Travis that he had done a great job of filming. He then watched what I had edited and said that I had used mainly footage taken unintentionally between "real" takes - like the camera swooping suddenly down to focus on the ground, or a random pan across a scene which allows us to glimpse Emily in passing before she's out of frame again. There's something almost more authentic to me in shots like those, though, as though that authenticity is lost by getting perfect images out of it. The imperfection implies another story that we're not told. (See previous entry on why I like to not have everything explained to me.)

The next big uncertainty with this video project will come on Monday when I arrive in Houston for the week. That's when we will take the actual performance Misha and company have created and see if the video actually works with any part of it. I have had ideas while editing these pieces, but theatre and design have both taught me that I need to be a little Buddhist about my work. As in unattached. For the piece above, I had listened to the music Misha sent to me several times and was flipping through images that really spoke to me until I found one of a face covered in twine. This picture meshed with a specific musical piece for me, and catalyzed the whole graveyard walk thing that we did (at one point in the video, Emily is seen with her head and face wrapped in jute). I edited the final piece with that song in mind, but the truth is that it might not work next week, and that's ok. Maybe a little scary, but ok. Maybe it will work with another song entirely. Maybe there's too little video, maybe there's too much, maybe it will distract. We won't know the answers to these questions until we actually see it and start playing with it in the church next week. It honestly makes the project more interesting and adventurous this way.
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