Producing Without A Net
Last spring, in a highly unusual artistic leap of faith, Peter DuBois made an offer to Gold Dust Orphans mastermind and Huntington Playwriting Fellow Ryan Landry: the Huntington would give Ryan a production slot to do whatever he wanted. With little time to waste, Ryan got to work, handing in an early draft of the new project about six weeks later.
The resulting play (though the word "play" hardly seems to contain the exuberant clash of the ridiculous and the sublime happening on the page) is "M", a fantastically funny and astonishingly challenging deconstructed adaptation of the Fritz Lang movie of the same name. Since this is a new play, we've scheduled a series of developmental readings and workshops where the artists working on the production read the play together and discuss what works, what doesn't, what should change, and what shouldn't. All last week, a cast and crew of twenty (including a puppeteer) spent their days in a workshop designed to help sketch out the free-wheeling, physical flow of the show.
It was a crazy week.
Ryan's aesthetic trades in highly theatrical mash-ups of cultural touchstones. In his Gold Dust Orphans productions, the veddy, veddy highbrow meets the verrrry, verrrry low. For five days, Ryan, director Caitlin Lowans, the cast, and a whole phalanx of dramaturgs worked scenes, listened to read-throughs, incorporated rewrites, and talked, talked, talked. True to Ryan's idea that "the lowest form of comedy and the highest form of struggling with our existence can come together on stage," these discussions have teased out the deep existential panic that underlies the more farcical elements of the play.
Best of all were the hours the actors were up on their feet, experimenting with style, timing, and physicality. Ryan's dramaturgy has deep roots in the high camp style of The Theatre of the Ridiculous, rather than the staid psychological realism of most new plays. This means that more than with most rehearsal processes, the actors have been finding the play with their bodies, transforming from one character to another via posture and voice. Landry likes to remind us that the world of the play "...is not an essay; it's music."