NET's Micro-Fest in Los Angeles

Saturday, December 18, 2010 Leave a Comment

Readers of this blog may remember the profound impact the 2009 Network of Ensemble Theatre's Conference had on the thinking of myself and fellow attendee Heather Cohn. So we were thrilled to attend Micro-Fest LA, NET's mini-conference on new play development in Los Angeles from December 3rd-5th. It was indeed a jam-packed 3 days - what follows are the recollections I keep several weeks after.

FRIDAY, December 3, 2010
We began with a welcome from the ever-wonderful Mark Valdez and continued with presentations from a psychologist looking at creativity and John Malpede of the Los Angeles Poverty Department.

"Loose and tight" was how the psychologist described the brain's creativity, saying that creative activity was not confined to one side, but required a focused relaxation that allowed unexpected connections to be made on the right and then articulated by the left. This makes stress the great enemy of creativity; a heightened playfulness is required to summon the muse.

Malpede's speech was moving because of the clear impact LAPD continues to have on a community afflicted with poverty. Malpede's conversion from East Coast performance artist to West Coast missionary reminded me of John O'Neal's move from NYC to the the South to form Junebug, and struck again that chord of uncertainty of my own work here in theatre-stuffed NYC.

The night ended with a performance of Clown Town City Limits by Two Headed Dog. It was clowning by way of Sam Shepard, and while I loved the tonal dissonance of the piece, I wish their had been more consequences to the characters' actions (my own aesthetic baggage, yes). After a brief talkback, there was a party we were too jetlagged for, and we rested up for day two.

SATURDAY, December 4, 2010
I started with a Dramaturgy workshop (Heather went to movement) where I was given the great gift of Elinor Fuchs essay, Visit To A Small Planet. These questions approach a play as if the dramaturg is traveling to a new planet, with its own laws of physics, social structures, and ecosystems. There are no accidents in the world of the play, and through a series of questions, the unique ways the world works are brought to light. But this essay deserves its own post, so I will leave it for now.

We then were treated to 10+ minutes of physics which, as readers of this blog know, I could have easily wished to be 10 hours. It was pretty basic stuff, but he approached the second law of thermodynamics in a way that was new to me, and conceptually very helpful (again, probably a separate post).

Then we were up on our feet, brainstorming what made an ensemble structure's approach to developing new plays unique. There was a flurry of exciting ideas that now live on paper, and I look forward to NET sharing those with us!

Next up was Clark and I Somewhere in Connecticut by Theatre Replacement. I loved this play: a rabbit-suit wearing man describes his obsession with a suitcase full of family pictures he finds one night by a dumpster. His increasingly obsessive quest to understand these strangers leads to legal consequences and a beautiful reversal near the end of the play.

Obsessive love is something that has always fascinated me dramatically; the need to control the beloved's story, however benevolently, is almost always catastrophic; except, in this case, in the instance of pets; which, while sometime master of their own actions, have less agency to change the stories we invent for them. The obsessive purity of a central character's love of her pet dog is mirrored in the narrator's obsession with the photographs; for all the staging's whimsy, it is an unsettling piece that makes you look at the strangers you call family in your own life. The rabbit-suit device may have blunted the emotional impact of the play (the actor's face was obscured by the costume a lot of the time), but that didn't prevent the performance from moving me (and thinking deeply about it after).

We then saw two short Art-Bursts: the energizing krump and spoken word performance of Buckworld, and nightmarish dreamscape of Sadam Hussein set to the music and voices of Killsonic. There are more ways to make theatre than are dreamt of in my philosophies.

And there was more theatre to come: at 8PM, we saw two performances, The Ghost Road Company's Stranger Things and Post Natayam's SUNOH! Tell me, Sister. I responded most strongly to the second piece, especially the haunting second dance which featured a woman made featureless by fabric over her face and body, dancing to escape and transforming the fabric into wings. Heather and I both walked away thinking of possibilities for Ajax in Iraq and Menders...and then collapsed asleep.

SUNDAY, December 5, 2010
The last day began for me with a group discussing Culture & Creation (Heather went to group talking about Space). I attended this group hoping to learn tactics for successfully building a collaborative community of cross-cultural artists to bring into Flux Sunday, but time kept us mostly conceptual.

Then, there was a truck, and this truck had pancakes. 'Nuff said.

At 1PM, we saw our final round of performances, Critical Mass Performance Group's Untitled and Watts Village Theater Company's Clover and Cactus. I loved the first piece: I don't think I've ever seen excellent traditionally naturalistic acting merged so seamlessly with a poetic staging before. Devised work often leaves me feeling removed from the heart of the play, but grounding the more abstracted peregrinations of the piece with really detailed, nuanced human conflict and change gave me a way in. I wish I could see what happens next with this play in development!

And then, after some parting words, we packed and went our separate ways. I'm looking forward to the synthesis of all the ideas and energy generated by these busy three days. Thanks to good people of NET!