Velvet Swing: Workshop

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about playwriting in the last year, it’s that seeing your work presented in front of an audience and performed by actors is one of the most amazing and also the most terrifying things in the world. I especially enjoy attending workshop of other people’s work because getting a look at what putting a show together and what the writing process looks like for others is fascinating and I personally admire anyone for sharing a work in progress with the (sometimes less than kind) public.

Savage Umbrella recently staged two nights of workshops at Bryant Lake Bowl for Velvet Swing, a work-in-progress about the life of Evelyn Nesbit, a performer who became famous after her husband, Harry Thaw, killed millionaire Stanford White, a patron of Nesbit’s who had also had a sexual relationship with her. Written by Alana Horton and Megan Clark, this workshop performance featuring Nayely Becerra, Antiona Perez, Jessie Scarborough-Ghent, Mickaylee Shaugnessy, and Leslie Vincent and included forty-five minutes of the piece so far. Certain actors played Thaw and White, while the ensemble all became Nesbit in all her complex incarnations.

Because this isn’t a performance, this piece isn’t a review but rather a look at this workshop and what I love about this process. Though the performance was only a small part of what the piece will eventually become, there was a bold look at what sort of story is being told about Nesbit – a look at what it’s like to be a woman, especially a woman who’s considered good-looking in America. Conversations in the talk-back and had by me after the show involved thinking about Nesbit as a sex symbol, someone who has star power and how the cult of fame can be dangerous, how the court room can turn on a young woman and make her the criminal instead of the victim (ie: look at Kesha, every woman involved in campus rape allegations, I could go on), and how women continually struggle between inaccurate dichotomies of being sexual and innocent. This workshop was the perfect thing to lure me into wanting to see more and I can’t wait to see where this work goes. I’m still overwhelmed in admiration for Horton and Clark to share their work with us and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Dancing on the Edge

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Source: facebook.com/theatrenovimost 

Language is a finicky thing. As I sit here writing this, I’m aware that my words to you are going to sound different depending on whether you know me or not, whether you habitually read my blog or are coming across it for the first time, whether you have certain expectations for theater blogging and so on. I’m personally struggling to find the right language to discuss the Twin Cities theater scene right now – there’s a lot of moving parts in my mind and I have a lot of contradictory feelings. So it’s more than fitting that the play I’m discussing focuses so much on language, translation, and how we communicate.

Dancing on the Edge is a new work by Theatre Novi Most, focusing on the relationship between Russian poet Sergei Esenin and American dancer Isadora Duncan (though I hesitate to use the word “dancer” as Duncan hated it and preferred being known as an “expressioniste of beauty”). Their relationship was passionate and turbulent. They fell in love quickly, even though they didn’t speak each others languages but loved each other for how their art reflected the world. Esenin abuses alcohol and Duncan is still tormented by the death of her children in an automobile accented. Esenin, played by Sasha Andreev, and Duncan, played by Lisa Channer, are complicated, beautiful, difficult and wonderful, moving constantly from empathetic to dislikable to extraordinary to mad. Sergey Nagorny and Katya Sepanov serve as narrators and important figures in the lives of Esenin and Duncan, giving a window into the lives of these figures who, in their words, drove people around them insane.

What’s most striking about this piece is how it deals with language. Characters who speak Russian to each other or speak English to each other are shown speaking in English for the audience to understand. But when Duncan and Esenin communicate, Duncan speaks English and Esenin speaks Russian. Regardless of whether we understand Russian or not (and I only known the handful of words my college roommate has taught me) we can still understand what is being expressed and hear the music in Esenin’s poetry in the language it was written in. When Lola (one of the characters played by Katya Sepanov) tells Esenin that she’d rather his words not be translated into English because they would lose their inherent beauty, we understand why she’s resistant to share his words. Likewise, having language that might be foreign for audience members allows for us to better understand how Duncan and Esenin’s relationship functioned as they couldn’t communicate solely through words. I love it all most of all because, as a writer, there comes a time where words can’t speak on their own and something more is needed. Through Duncan’s movement and the emotional honesty in this piece, something far greater is created.

As I was leaving the theater Thursday night, I passed by a couple, one of whom remarked, “Well, that was interesting.” I’ve lived long enough in Minnesota to know that often that’s a passive-aggressive remark that means one doesn’t know what to think or didn’t enjoy the work. As I didn’t butt in to ask them what they meant, I’d like to assume their language means something more than that ¬†– this piece is a lot of things, and most of all, it is interesting, sincerely so. It’s complex and doesn’t leave the audience with an either/or, black and white perception of this couple. They led complicated lives and had powerful art and this play does wonders capturing it all in two and some hours.

Dancing on the Edge is written by Adam Kraar and directed by Vladimir Rovinsky. It is playing for one short weekend at the Southern theater, now through September 10th. Show and ticket information can be found on Theatre Novi Most’s website.