Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Studio Series May Make You Wanna Jump Back and Kiss Yourself! by Amontaine Aurore Woods

In 2009, I began writing a new one-woman play. I also decided that year to apply to perform a 20 minute excerpt from it for Freehold’s Studio Series. Having performed in the Studio Series before, I knew that it was an effective tool for moving forward in a supportive, intimate, and dynamic environment. I was excited (and a little nervous) at the prospect of taking my piece from page to stage (as we say in The Biz); a crucial step that is rife with challenges.

I worked with director, Tikka Sears, on the project, as I have with several of my other one-woman shows. She’s the bomb (in the best possible and least violent connotation of the word)! Working with her and getting the piece up on its feet is always a highly transformative process, and entirely different from relating to words and ideas on a piece of paper. Now it breathes air. The characters begin to inhabit my bones, speak with my tongue. The situations become real and palpable. The steady drip, drip, drip of the adrenalin fuels the engines, and the pressure of knowing that you will soon be sharing the work with an audience arouses, stimulates and basically, at last, gets your butt in gear.

Bringing new work to an audience is risky business for a person like me, one who is sensitive to criticism. I do not relish critique. But … I ain’t dumb either. I am experienced enough to realize that honest critique is a necessary element to success.

Sometimes in my personal life I hesitate to speak my mind for fear of the repercussions. But as an artist I am driven to bold truth telling, to giving voice to issues and situations that live in the silence, the darkness, or on the fringes of our culture.

When I had the idea for this play that would eventually be called Free Desiree, I wondered how a show that had as its backdrop the revolutionary socio/political dynamics of Black identity in the 1970s would be received. I find that until a play is performed in front of an audience, it remains something of a mystery. One can rehearse in isolation until the cows come home (or ‘til Brad Pitt gets ugly, for those of you that prefer somewhat shaky invention to folksy cliche). But you’re operating in a bubble until you put the stuff out there and experience the dynamic interchange between audience and performer. The nervous giggles or outright laughter, the sighs and little gasps here and there, the silence, are all telling. The fresh viewpoints and clarity gained from feedback become precious tools for charting the path through rewrite and rework. In my case, the audience responses infused me with new energy and encouraged me to keep developing the work.

In 2010, I received a Creation Project performance grant from the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas (CD Forum) to continue the development of the show. This allowed me to finish the writing and an opportunity to workshop another excerpt. In 2012, I received a grant from the Puffin Foundation, which assisted me in presenting the now 75 minute full-length production for a successful run in Seattle and on Orcas Island. Free Desiree will get a facelift in 2013 with a new multimedia component thanks to my receiving a City Artists grant from the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs. My goal is to tour the show nationally in 2014 and beyond.

It’s been a long and passionate journey with this particular labor of love. Without opportunities, like the Studio Series, which gave me the initial platform to experiment and present the seed of the idea, it would have been much more difficult to take the work into full development. Over the years, the Studio Series has served me well as a container from which to explore, experiment, discover and refine my art. Thank you, Freehold! My appreciation floweth over. Now … excuse me while I kiss the sky.

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