Our Book Festival show in October, 2019 was the first opportunity we had to show off our recently purchased sound system. We were thrilled beyond words to learn not only how well it worked, but how much it made a difference for show attendees to hear every word and for us to experiment with special effects. The generous donations of our audiences through the last few years, combined with the commissions we earned from a number of performances allowed us to buy equipment that amplifies dialogue in ways we only hoped we would one day be able to do--even whispers!
Thanks to all who have supported us and made this purchase a reality!
Here we are learning how to make our system operate successfully! It was challenging, but worth all the effort when we saw the delight on even more audience member's faces as they heard all the stories we were telling.
But, as I read this time, I am looking for little interactions between people, perspectives that reveal a small part of the story, or ways in which I can take snippets of the story and use the text to bring the book to the stage. I think about portions of the text that I could easily translate into lines for our actors, what would be easy to portray while being highly engaging for the audience, and how the resulting skit can be a true representation of the author’s work.
Sometimes, because the writing is so touching and relatable, I get swept up into the story and forget that I have an additional job to do. I end up going back through the text more than once, but that is enjoyable too!
As I read on, I don’t know if this book will become part of our performance in the fall as there are many steps to our process. ecWIT works together as a team to read through all of the book options and make selections based on which books speak to us and which we feel we can develop into solid showpieces that will both entertain and promote the books we will represent. When we feel we have a text we can work with, we reach directly out to the author(s) to see if they would be willing to allow us to use their work in this way; we fully grasp that a book is the authors’ artwork and can be a very personal expression that we would never adapt into another art form without permission.
When we have author approval, one of our ecWIT members will take the lead and director role on a specific book. She will pull the portions of the text and develop a mini-storyline with actor roles, lines and stage directions. As we gather at our weekly meetings, we all contribute to refining the skits and then the ecWIT member who is leading the process will cast the parts and rehearsals can begin in earnest.
When I joined ecWIT last year, I stepped into the group at the end of this creative process and so participated only as an actor. This time, I am very excited to start at the beginning! Stay tuned and mark your calendars – ecWIT will be onstage at the Pablo Center on October 26th for this year’s Book Fest!
including endless word-smithing and that's where we strive to communicate character portrayal as thoroughly and thoughtfully as possible.
Rehearsals follow, and casting seems to be far less challenging than in traditional theatrical settings. Simply put, if one of our goals is to create interesting and believable characters, we all seem to enjoy playing all the roles that are written. Finishing touches are eventually incorporated so that any movement of person or thing is completely planned, and line delivery fits the role, style and pace needed. It is at this stage that we each seem to find the most joy. We appreciate all the steps and hard work which eventually led us to the finishing touches, but knowing that somehow, we could create something that never existed before is incredibly satisfying.
We also love performing professionally scripted plays, but those that are "home-grown" have a very special place in our hearts. We feel so lucky to have found an art form that allows us to emphasize characters and story--not bells and whistles of traditional theater, and to be able to transport our work to spaces and people who want to see it. Please don't misunderstand--we LOVE the bells and whistles of traditional theater--but as ecWIT performers, we simply choose to put our energies elsewhere, and have learned that audiences truly enjoy using their own imaginations to provide all the visual elements they need.
When a few of us originally gathered to talk about the struggle of being cast in local productions as women "of a certain age", we quickly released our frustrations because we figured out we could create our own opportunities. We knew how to write, how to create characters, and how to put shows together. We began by reading scripts of all kinds and learned how much we loved playing all roles, many of which we knew we could never be cast to play. When we eventually committed to performing some of the pieces we were reading, we researched the art form of dramatic reader's theater (DRT).
As a former forensics coach of more than 30 years, I can attest to how much I didn't enjoy coaching the reader's theater event. The event rules said that my students couldn't interact with one another, and to me, that was the whole point of teaching them anything about acting.
Luckily, our group learned that DRT demanded thoughtful and thorough creation of characters who DO interact with one another, despite having a script in one hand. It became normal for all of us to hear in virtually every show we did-- "I never even saw you were holding a script!" It felt as if our audiences were truly connecting with the characters we brought to life, as there is no distraction from costuming, make-up, props, or lights. We found we loved making them care about the stories our characters were telling.
Further research led us to the work of Jerzy Grotowski, a successful Polish theater practitioner known for his intense actor training. Posthumously, he is recognized as one of the great directors of the modern theater and a significant innovator of the experimental theater movement. He placed emphasis on the skill of performers and creating the relationship between actor and spectator. His goal was to create non-commercial theater which would never compete with film or television.
This is what we hope to do in every show we create using the dramatic reader's theater art form. The conversations we have with audience members are proof that they leave thinking about the stories and ideas we've shared. We also love that we have been privileged to bring shows to venues never before having had live theater. After all, we can carry in a few stools and music stands and turn them into just about any set piece we want.
Are we doing "real" theater? We think so. So do the local authors whose work we have brought to life, and the playwrights who have graciously allowed us to perform their published works, and the organizational leaders who continue to reach out to us to put together an event. Even better, our audiences tell us they think so. And even better than that--we're definitely not doing fourth grade reader's theater!
Tuesday 9/18 was our first of six two-hour evening classes. Our instructor is Arthur Grothe, who teaches theater at UWEC and played firefighter Bob the One-Eyed Beagle in Michael Perry’s stage adaptation of Population: 485.
Thirteen of us wandered into the acoustically bouncy “rehearsal space” Room 322 that evening, awe-struck by its panoramic view of the Chippewa River afforded by massive windows.
Over the next two hours, we got acquainted by playing warm-up and break-down-barriers games like “Mirroring” (pair up, one leads, the other mimics their movements) and “Hotseat” (one at a time we sat in the chair facing everyone else who peppered us with any-question-at-all).
As Arthur said, we need to learn to trust those with whom we’ll share the stage. And, the hardest and most powerful thing we can be on stage is: vulnerable.
When I got home, I made a list of everyone’s names, from memory, and wrote down a few notes about each based on their answers to “hotseat” questions. My impression, so far, is that getting to know these people, and interacting with them, is going to be the biggest gift of this experience.
Acting Class Journal: Part Two – OWNING THE TEXT
At the end of the previous week we’d been handed a 16-line “Contentless Scene”* for two speakers, A and B. Half the class was instructed to learn the A lines and half the B lines.
This week, we returned to class exhibiting a variety of degrees of memorization, but it was ok to have script in hand when we ran the lines. Professor Grothe then led us through several exercises. Just so you get the idea, these 16 lines included:
A. How’s everything?
B. Fine, I guess.
A. Do you know what time it is?
B. No. Not exactly.
In one exercise, we were paired up and asked to create content for the lines and “act” them accordingly. Each group took a turn, portraying such things as:
Sue Fulkerson, Sara Bryan and Ann Pearson