Over time, I have made some rules for myself as a creator of things. This isn't because I'm some psychic genius who has always known which way to turn—OH NO—instead, these rules are the results of failures and disappointments and shitty performances and massive financial losses. So you'd think I would trust these rules at this point. Except recently, in the creation of my newest show, a site specific immersive comedy spaghetti western called WESTWARD HO'S, I've broken a shit ton of them. Here are just some examples of the rules I've triumphantly broken.
1) DON'T PERFORM OUTDOORS. This is one I learned in 2010 when I took Butt Kapinski outside and built a street show in Brooklyn, in which audiences met me on a corner and proceeded to basically walk around the block, meeting scenes and having experiences along the way. In theory it was actually cool, and actually, I think the audiences enjoyed it. But I didn't, so much. I was used to a certain energy and focused attention in the room. Take the ceiling away, there's too much competition with the cosmos, or whatever it is. Performing outside wasn't as fun for me. Lesson learned.
Except not at all. Now I've mounted an ENORMOUS show in an outdoor ampitheater. Why did you do it, fortheloveofchrissmas. See, I've known for years that I wanted to make a spaghetti western show. I visited the Lookout Arts Quarry last summer, saw The Saloon—a gorgeous little mini-Old West town built in the round, surrounded by trees—and knew immediately that it was the place for my new show. Another theater-maker-friend-of-mine came to visit and saw it too and said, "You can't NOT make a show here." IT'S THAT AWESOME.
But it's outside fortheloveofH-E-doublehockeystick. Yes it is. But there are indoory parts of it. Sort of. But you're right. I know.
2) DON'T MOUNT A FULL-LENGTH SHOW FIRST. This came from what I experience as success with the Butt show. I started with 5-7 minute bits, and worked it up to 15-20, then 45, then a 60-70 minutes. It developed over years, with lots of audience response along the way. So the character felt "experienced" even when I debuted the full-length show. And I had the confidence of having done the character a lot. It was all very organic and gradual and good-for-you-Deanna-pat-pat-pat
except who has time for that shit anymore? I mean, I still think that people just starting out doing shows should work that way, ABSOLUTELY. I still think I should work that way. Except I'm mounting this huge new show as a full-length extravaganza. Right out of the gate.
The semi-good news is that we've performed a 30-minute chunk once, and a 5-minute chunk twice. And those went very well and definitely helped the overall process and the performers' comfort-level. So I guess it's a tiny bit better than full-on-rule-break-suckshit. But, really, if I were doing this 100% by my rulebook I'd have done "workshops" of it where we tried out sections and served hot cider and called it a day.
Not doing that. Biggest show I've ever done. Catered dinner. Drinks. A Band. 10 performers. Myself. Humongous. Could go horribly wrong. Or...
3) DON'T BE IN A SHOW YOU'RE DIRECTING. I know there are theater schools out there that promote director-less models of creation, and I get it—directors usually charge for what they do, and if you're a theater company with no money, dot dot dot. And of course I'm a director so I'm biased but seriously friends when a show doesn't have a director you can TELL. Fascism is good in theater. It's good to have someone outside the work, seeing what the audience will see, and having opinions about it. And I love being a fascist! I love being the big bad authority so the performers can just relax and wear only one hat: their adorable vulnerable performer hat made entirely of skin and instinct.
Except this time I'm in the show that I'm directing. I'm playing a narrator, which is of course how I justify this gross indecency to myself and my cast. And I am really enjoying my role, and people are laughing. But still.
4) DON'T GET IN BED WITH CO-COLLABORATORS ALL-AT-ONCE. This is similar to my rule of not mounting a full-length show before doing small bits. Start collaborating with others to make a 10-minute bit so you can learn how each other works, then if it goes well you can develop more. And if it doesn't go well you can shake hands and part not having invested your left kidney in—if I may mix a metaphor here—a sinking ship.
Yeah, so I didn't follow this one either. First of all, there are 10 other people in the show. A lot of them are working together for the first time. Some of them I've had in workshops over the last few years, some of them I just met a few months ago. The truth is, though, none of them were strangers to me. They were all friends, former workshop participants, or friends-of-friends. Still, I guess it was risky.
But it's really gone surprisingly well. We seem to be as in sync as a cast this size could be. I mean, it is a really beautiful group of humans and I'm basically crushing on all of them, not just because they do what I say, but because they're intuitive and creative and fun to work with. Maybe I got lucky. Whatever, I still think Rule #4 is a great rule. Follow it, not me.
So there you have it. I'm not necessarily proud of all the rules I'm breaking to make my new show. On the other hand, I'm fiercely proud of all the rules I'm breaking to make my new show. It's great to have rules. It's great to break them. Much learning will ensue.
There's a showman in San Francisco that I admire, name of Chicken John. Chicken John has an elaborate graph he's created to show a concept rather dear to my heart: it is only the art that could be a complete shitshow which has any chance of being divine.
I'm doing it. I could fail miserably. So could all my co-collaborators who have trusted me so much.
But I kinda don't think we will.