Inaugurally Blogged! Ep. 1 of a Tallgrass Sojourn

Hi there!

I’ll try to keep the introduction short & sweet. My name is Jake. I’m one of (hopefully) several Grey Room and Tallgrass Gothic members posting here, on the production blog, updating the public on Grey Room’s latest production, Melanie Marnich’s Tallgrass Gothic. I’m the director. Are we up to speed?

What I’m interested in especially in this process is the amount of transparency I can bring to it. Directorially, I’m inclined towards it because I don’t like withholding information or putting a stopper on conversation, though I’ll consent to the fact that it’s necessary sometimes, but as far as this experiment goes, it just seems right to try and bring you as unfiltered a response to the process of putting up this beautiful, beautiful play as possible. At the end, what I hope for is a catalog of successes and failures, of things to take away from the process, and our own sort of gonzojournalistic serial about putting on a play out of college under your own steam. NYU prospies take note and read on – this could be you in four years.

“Paint, make music, tell stories: if your possession of the Holy Grail cannot be mistaken for God, it is its inheritance, its return – a sort of return – even if it grows drunk on profaning him.”

There is an enormous amount of underpinning of belief, faith, prayer, judgment – all these thickly religious undertones in Tallgrass, and almost none of it is discussed. Marnich’s writing is obscenely lovely, and so careful as to make you hold your breath in certain passages, even just reading them alone, and when she does bring God, or Prayer, or Judgment back into the conversation, with the exception of a couple of poignant church scenes where the main action is not the text of the prayer but the subtext, it lights up the scene like a recently-struck match, then putters down to a slow burn that quietly saturates the rest of the dialogue. It’s gorgeous, and it’s moved me to pick up some writing on the power and purpose of belief, namely Julia Kristeva’s “This Incredible Need to Believe,” which though it has thrown me with how thoroughly Freud-y it is, is dropping some fabulous points of inspiration my way, including but not limited to the quote above. Kristeva is claiming that all questioning (which is to say, the very process of creating speech and language) represents a need to believe, by way of its being essentially a declaration of belief. “A question means I believe I can know” is what I wrote in the margins today, and I think that’s right, though with texts like this I could be comPLETEly off the mark. I meant to email a professor about it. I’m more excited, honestly, to start James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room,” from which Marnich takes her epigraph for the play. I think it’s going to be more to the point: Eden, redemption, a yearning for salvation…

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Auditions are this week. Ignore the poster. Thursday, if you’re interested, and you can look at the event here on facebook and email Matt Davis at hellomattdavis@gmail.com for sides and a timeslot. We held inner-company auditions earlier this week and will be casting the majority out of the company, which I’m into of course because I really hope we can begin to learn how to make an ensemble with this play. We’re all from the Atlantic Acting School, and I guarantee you that at least half the people in every company that comes out of that school wants to be the next Atlantic or the next Steppenwolf or something and I am no different and I will confess that right away. It just ain’t as fun to work unless you’re workin’ in an ensemble. That’s what I’ve got to say about it. I kept catching myself in early auditions wanting to give notes and work on the play as opposed to analyze the actors or compare them to one another. This is why it’s helpful to have other people in the room to keep me on track. I was caught off guard by how terrific the text sounds when it’s on its feet – the auditioners had to pick a partner and perform a side together, so the whole thing was an exercise in a full scene that felt really exciting and started the work of drawing the life out of the text. The new round of auditions will just be cold reads. That just makes me look forward to callbacks more.

All actors (and despite my best efforts I am an actor too) should cast something sometime. On the one hand, it’s good because it teaches you little things to avoid – certain habits, attitudes, the need to make clear and exciting choices and show you can put your weight behind those choices… but on the other hand it’s good because instead of getting up and hoping fervently that everybody in the room likes you, instead everyone wants to please you and if you’re anything like me that’s a whole lot of fun.

Jake

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[i’ve been listening to a whole lot of Horsefeathers, upon the recommendation of Hannah Hartmann, our stellar composer. Listen to “Fit Against The Country” here or on Spotify.]

[also, you can support Tallgrass Gothic and Grey Room too anytime you like by going to http://www.indiegogo.com/greyroom-tallgrass/ and making a pledge! There are all kinds of perks and I’ll love you forever I promise.]

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