You Will Make a Difference: a watch-and-play

Performed at the West Park Presbyterian Church

October 19-November 11, 2012, Fridays-Sundays

 

The performers:

 

First Actors: Stephanie Eiss, Martha Frances Williams, Tara Elliott, Laura Riveros, Jeff

                       Kitrosser, Derek Spaldo, Nicki Kontolefa

Second Actors: Rishika Mehrishi, Samantha Cole, Ben Lambert

Also: Shelley Molad, Jeremy Goren, Adam P. Murphy, Sarah Alden

 

The score (set down by Jeremy Goren):

 

First Segment – In the Sanctuary

 

Backlit into silhouette, the first actors begin on the choir loft balcony stage, playing two games as one: trying to maintain an exact equidistance between themselves and two others of the group and playing “the penis game”, which we modified to “the pagina game”. The actors begin these games in the empty sanctuary, so that they are already playing when the audience enters.

 

The second actors begin in the lobby as ‘ushers’, wielding flashlights. They help welcome the audience and walk spectators around the outside of the building to the side entrance to use the bathrooms before we begin.

 

The lobby lights are switched off, and the ushers, having divided the audience into two groups, lead in first one group, through the sanctuary, up the stairs and into the pews on the side balcony, stage left from the first actors and at as far a distance from the stage as possible. The second group stops on the main floor of the sanctuary and, putting their backs to the dais, stands facing upwards to watch the action.

 

Ben, on the balcony, uses a light signal to the first actors at which point they are allowed to find an ending for the game – one of them yells “penis” or “vagina”, and the group immediately moves into a wordless song to cover the transgression, as the group moves seamlessly into the next action.

 

Derek, Jeff, Martha Frances, and Stephanie search through their hands’ energy their partners, eventually pairing across the small square they form: Jeff with Martha Frances; Derek with Stephanie. Each person’s hands almost touching the partner’s, the group rotates slowly, singing, until Jeff and Martha Frances become oriented east/west, their hands raised in a bridge, and Derek, following Stephanie’s hands, passes under their arms. As this happens, Tara, Laura and Nicki run in circles around the group, sometimes changing direction, muttering. Tara and Laura stop USL. Nicki continues circling.

 

When Derek and Stephanie emerge, they orient themselves east/west DS, beginning to follow their hand-energy connection into a kind of silhouette pantomime. Martha Frances and Jeff move upstage, also east/west but back-to-back, where they slowly begin separating, trying to sense the connection with each other through their backs.

 

Nicki stops DSR. Eyes closed, hands up, she begins a kind of wordless dialogue between male and female sounds. She continues to allow these to move through her, until the female sound reaches an auditory level that causes Laura to silence her by breaking in with the stage directions from the excised scene (Act Two, Scene 2) from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible:

 

L: A wood. Night. A man in his prime enters with lantern glowing behind him. He halts. Holds lantern raised. A strikingly beautiful girl enters with a wrap around her nightgown. Her hair down. A moment of questioning silence.

 

Throughout this ‘scene’, Derek and Stephanie react in pantomime to the narration, sometimes ahead of it, sometimes following it; sometimes illustrating it precisely, sometimes more loosely.

 

T: He, searching. She does not move, staring at him. She, glancing about. He comes closer to her. Sits on log. Holds the lantern to her face. Sets lantern on ground. Sits next to her. She, pulls up dress. Touching her stomach. Sliding up her sleeve.

 

L: She kisses his hand. He rises, backs away. A wildness stirs in her. She utters a laugh. She laughs louder. He shakes her roughly. She is trembling, staring up at him.

 

T: Grabs him. He throws her down. She wraps herself up. She is backing away, raising her hand in farewell. She is gone. He is left alone, amazed, in terror. He takes up his lantern and slowly exits.

 

Derek crosses DSL. In an instant: Nicki hoots; Laura hits the bright, yellow footlights; Jeff turns and crosses downstage to the edge of the balcony, facing out, speaking immediately:

 

Proctor (Jeff): I must speak with you, Abigail.

 

Abigail (Martha Frances) (turning and crossing to Jeff’s side): How do you come?

 

They are now doing the same scene from The Crucible but using an edited abuse of the dialog. Throughout this sequence, at unplanned intervals, Nicki vocally signals Jeff and Martha Frances to jump among the three antiquated modes/acting styles/characters they have created. She is in control. They must react to her calls immediately. Stephanie watches Martha Frances, occasionally joining her vocally on her lines. Derek is trying to learn Jeff’s moves and modes as exactly as possible.

 

Proctor: Friendly.

 

Abigail: I don’t like the woods at night. Pray you, stand closer. I thought you would have come a great deal sooner.

 

Proctor: I had thought to come many times.

 

Abigail: Why didn’t you? I’m so alone in the world now.

 

Proctor: Oh, how you suffer!

 

Abigail: Why, look at my leg. I’m holes all over from their damn pins and needles. The jab your wife gave me’s not healed yet, you know. And George Jacobs comes again and again and raps me with his stick.

 

Proctor: George Jacobs lies in jail all this month.

 

Abigail: Thank heavens he does, and bless the day he hangs and lets me rest in piece again. I’m told they pray in jail!

 

Proctor: They may not pray?

 

Abigail: And torture me in my bed while sacred hymns are coming from their mouths?

 

Proctor: Then there is no good?

 

Abigail: Aye, there is one. You are good.

 

Proctor: How am I good?

 

Abigail: Why you taught me goodness, therefore you are good. It were a fire you walked me through, John. And from that day no woman dared call me wicked any more but I knew my answer. Oh, John. I will make you such a wife when the world is white again! You will be amazed to see me, a light of heaven in your house. Why are you cold?

Derek (approaching MF’s left side): Surely you know my wife goes on trial in the morning.

 

Jeff: Surely you know my wife goes to court in the morning!

 

Jeff tries to continue, but quickly cedes his role to Derek, moving to DSR to watch.

 

Abigail: Your wife?

 

Proctor (Derek): Surely you knew of it?

 

Abigail: Your wife? I thought you said you came friendly.

 

Proctor: Abigail, I have proof in documents that you knew the poppet were none of my wife’s, and that you bade Mary Warren stick a needle into it.

 

Jeff picks a place to reenter, saying the lines, but focused totally in an ‘attack’ on Derek, Derek still uses the text but engages face-to-face with Jeff. They have to find a way to fight and for one to win. Chaos erupts between Nicki, Tara, and Laura at this point. Martha Frances tries to hold the scene together.

 

Abigail: You will confess to fornication in the court? Oh, pretense, how it falls, but it falls.

 

Repeating her final line until the others have all stopped, so her final, “falls” comes in an otherwise silent room. All stop moving. A few sung notes. Footlights fade a little.

 

Jeff slowly reenters, crossing towards MF.

 

J: He is alone. Amazed. In terror. He picks up his lantern (crossing DSR as footlights slowly fade) and slowly walks away.

 

Silence. Stillness. MF internally moving back through the scene. Then she breaks SR, and the others run off with her. When they get behind the wall, they start singing the song adapted from the introduction to “Self Esteem” by The Offspring and enter into the SR balcony with Martha Frances walking straight ahead and the others dancing gaily around her. Once they disappear through the door at the opposite end of the balcony, Ben, Rishika, and Samantha wait for some moments, letting the silence settle in and maybe some sense of wonderment begin in the crowd. Then they begin to lead the crowd to the next space. The half of the audience on the floor of the sanctuary is led up the stairs, and the second half, from the side balcony enters in.

 

Second Segment – The Kitchen

 

In this segment, the actors begin wordlessly, in the same costumes as the First Segment, in great stillness and in freedom of who is on stage and when. This grows until the firmly-set, text-driven, active final scene of the segment in full ‘90s costumes. The rules of the game change with each section.

 

Doing Nothing: The actors take turns entering the space and trying to get comfortable physically against the surfaces, following their internal processes/dramas. They may lie or sit or stand on the floor, counters, cabinets, etc. They may open the refrigerator and some of the appliances, all of which have lights that shine when opened. No more than three people may be in the space at once. They enter from the door or the hallway in the wall behind the audience, the side door in the kitchen, and the US door, leading behind the real wall. They may also shift the day/night lights outside the side window of the kitchen. It is very dark here.

 

Throughout, the actors are changing parts of their costumes each time they enter.

 

Mini Scenes: Eventually, in this section, an actor will judge when to begin a mini scene. Once the mini scenes have begun, the actors cannot go back into Doing Nothing. But the scenes are not played realistically. The actors may not make eye contact with each other and must wait to speak until the words must emerge from them. These happen in different combinations of actors and in a different order each night, yet the text of the scenes themselves are set. Text from My So-Called Life.

 

Real Scenes: Once Jeff enters, wearing his ‘dad tie’, Derek will enter and begin the next section of scenes. These are acted mostly ‘realistically’. Energy is higher, and actors have by now changed fully into ‘90s clothing. The lights are brighter. The order of the middle two scenes sometimes changes. Text from My So-Called Life.

 

When Stephanie enters and switches on the light, the rest of the First Actors enter from various places (side door, US door, wall door, hallway) and move directly to set spots on the stage, making a set lights-up on the way. They all click into their places simultaneously and the scene begins in earnest.

 

Ecstasy: (Text from The Crucible, adapted by Shelley Molad and Jeremy Goren.)

 

Mom (Laura):  Where did you get the ecstasy?

Angela (Stephanie): I didn’t have the ecstasy.

 

Mom: You will confess to this or I will take you upstairs and spank you, Angela!

 

Putnam (Nicki): This girl must be punished! She must be grounded and punished!

 

Angela: No, no, don’t ground me! I told him I didn’t want to do drugs, Mom!

 

Dad (Jeff): Jordan?

 

Mom: Then you admit it! Now, Angela, I know that when we make friends with the

wrong people it is very hard to break free. We are going to help you break free—

Angela: Mom, someone else was responsible for influencing those kids.

 

Mom: Who?

 

Angela: I don’t know, Mom, but drug dealers have many accomplices.

 

Mom: Do they?! Angela, look into my eyes. Come here and look at me. You want to be a good girl, do you not, Angela?

 

Angela: I am a good girl.

 

Mom: And do you care about your friends?

 

Angela: Obviously, Mom! I don’t want to hurt my friends.

 

Mom: And you love us, Angela?

 

Angela: Yes, of course I love you.

 

Mom: Now, out of respect for me—

 

Angela: I respect you. I respect you!

 

Mom: And your father—

 

Angela: I respect him—I respect Dad too!

 

Mom: Uncross your arms, Angela—open your mind and let us shed our wisdom on you.

 

Angela: Shed your wisdom!

 

Mom: When Jordan comes over does he ever come—with another kid? Perhaps another student in your school? Someone you know?

 

Dad: Who came with him?

 

Putnams (Nicki and Derek): Sarah Good? Did you ever see Sarah Good with him? Or Katie Osburne?

 

Dad: Was it a boy or a girl who came with him?

 

Angela: Boy or girl. It was…was a girl.

 

Dad: What girl? A girl, you said? What girl?

 

Angela: It was pitch black, and I---

 

Dad: You could see him, why could you not see her?

 

Angela: Well, they were always talking; they were always running around and carrying on-

 

Dad: You mean out of your school? High school students?

 

Angela: I think so, yes, mom.

 

Mom: Angela. Don’t be afraid to tell us who they are, do you understand? We will protect you. Kids can never overcome parents. You know that, do you not?

 

Angela: Yes, mom, I do.

 

Mom: You have confessed to straying from the path, and that speaks a wish to be successful. And you will be successful, Angela.

 

Angela: I want to be successful, mom!

 

Mom: You were put in our hands to realize your mistakes and own up to them. So speak truthfully, Angela, turn your back on that boy and fess up—fess up, Angela, and we will protect you.

 

Angela: Oh, please protect me!

 

During this dialog, Martha Frances has slipped out the side door, through the church’s true kitchen and out the door facing the audience. When she does, we can see the real kitchen behind her. She switches the stage lights out and the specials inside the sink and cabinets on, during Angela’s line.

 

"Dream Ballet":  S, L, MF, D, J, and N enter into ‘organic machine’ game, occasionally emerging into some set sequences and, occasionally, fits. MF and T transform the set, immersed in exploring the set pieces, interspersed with fits. They shift one kitchen wall and the SL cabinets into a slant and drop the high cabinets on the US unit, causing unnatural lights to emerge.

 

This lasts until a peak is reached, and then:

 

Mom: Who came to you with the Devil?

 

All but Stephanie: Two? Three? Four? How many?

 

MF switches back to bright lights. We have entered:

 

The Crucible:

 

Tituba (Stephanie): There was four. There was four.

 

Dad (Jeff): Who? Who? Their names, their names!

 

Tituba: Oh, how many times he bid me kill you, Mr. Parris!

 

Parris (Jeff): Kill me!

 

Tituba (rapping):

He say…

Mr. Parris must be kill!

Mr. Parris no goodly man,

Mr. Parris mean man and no gentle man.

And he bid me rise outa my bed and cut your throat!

But I tell him No!

I don’t hate that man.

I don’t wanna kill that man.

But he say…

You work for me, Tituba, and I make you free

I give you pretty dress to wear and put you up in the air

And you gone fly… back to Barbados            [Devil, you lie!]

And then he come one stormy night to me

And he say, I got white people that belong to me

And I look and there was Goody Good -- and Goody Osburn.

 

MF, rushing down to S and rapping in her face, forcing her up on the kitchen island and into a fit, then taking the stage.

 

Abigail (Martha Frances):

I want to open myself!

I want the light of God

I want the sweet love of Jesus!

 

I danced for the Devil

I saw him

I wrote in his book

I go back to Jesus; I kiss his hand

 

I saw Sarah Good with the Devil

I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil

I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil

 

The group, minus S who continues her silent fit, all joins in vocally and physically into a wild rap, in high energy, a convergence physically and vocally into “With the Devil! With the Devil! With the Devil!” which cuts off suddenly, Laura turning back to the realistic lighting and Nicki beginning a loosely structured realistic portrayal of the two suburban families, heading out to Olive Garden and the movies. Stephanie continues her silent fit on the island, unnoticed by the rest. They exit SR through the double doors into the stairwell. S finishes her fit, sits, experiencing what’s happening in her body.

 

Derek reenters, crosses to the island, opens the DS cabinet revealing a large television. He puts in and plays a VHS tape, then crosses to the SR pantry and opens it, leaving it open, with light shining from it, before exiting again through the doors. He and the other First Actors make their way downstairs as the following happens: They first come into touch with whatever impulses are happening in their bodies and become present to them, beginning to gently follow them and connect with each other energetically as they descend the stairs.

 

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, the video plays: Footage of a news report on the Liberian Civil War of the ‘90s plays underneath the audio of the theme song from Friends. Cuts to a few seconds of Jeff Buckley between songs, in concert, with a towel over his head, unrecognizable, all but silent.

 

Stephanie slides across island, switches off the kitchen lights, and exits through the pantry.

 

Video cuts to President Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” remarks, altered to include the text (voiced by Adam):

 

“Now, I have to go back to work on my state of the union speech.  And I worked on it till pretty late last night. But I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m gonna say what to do. I need you to stand up and follow that young woman. The one who just left. I need you to stand up and follow her; never leave the path; never. You need to get up and follow, and I need you to stick to the path after you walk through the pantry. Thank you.”

 

Video cuts to a short clip from the video to Gin Blossom’s “Allison Road”, in which the camera moves behind a playing television. Jeremy enters kitchen and motions audience to follow him, exiting through the pantry and down the stairs. Video continues – footage from My So-Called Life, Angela wandering through the squat in the Christmas episode, 2Pac’s “Hail Mary” comes in on top of the video.

 

The Descent – The Bedroom

 

The spectators follow Jeremy down the stairs to the landing, strains of Bush’s “Glycerine” rising up from below. They approach the bedroom, where Stephanie lies on the bed, the song playing on her stereo, purple lava lamp on. Some audience can see down into the bedroom from the stairs, some on the floor of the bedroom, others can’t see. At an unset signal from Jeremy, Stephanie runs out the door and down the stairs. Jeremy leads the spectators through the bedroom and down the next flight of stairs into the basement.

 

Third Segment – The Basement

 

First Chamber (The Blue Room)

Jeremy leads the spectators into the first chamber, instructing them to stay on the path – a line of glow-stars that runs along the edges of the room to the opposite door, where he stands, barring the way. The First Actors are already in the midst of an action in the room when the spectators enter. They are playing a game in which they all follow some impulse of sound and movement, which keeps morphing into others; there is no leader and they follow themselves as a group, staying attuned to the slight shifts and changes. They are otherwise restrained only in the space given them, a corner of the room and a straight line into the audience. At some point, a sequence of several dramatic actions emerges. During this, three of the First Actors drop out, one at a time, and approach Jeremy at the door. He lets each through in turn – Stephanie, Martha Frances, and Derek. The pass into the next room, where Second Actors are already in the midst of an action. Jeremy then invites the audience to ‘pass through’, reminding them to ‘follow the path’. The remaining first actors continue until after the last of the spectators has passed into the second chamber. They then go back out the door from which they entered and go upstairs.

 

Second Chamber (The Red Room)

Ben, Samantha, and Rishika have been in this room performing for some time before anyone sees them. They are engaged in an activity called “looking for the key”. Essentially, they are existing and moving in the room, searching out combinations of actions that might ‘unlock’ the closed door at one end of the room. As if in a dream – or a video game – they know there are some kind of natural laws in this small universe different from our own but logical in their own way. They interact silently with the features of the room, including the three exposed red light bulbs and the resultant shadows and the zig-zagging path on the floor that connects the two doors. There is great restraint.

Just before the audience enters, Rishika takes up a post at particular point on the path, towards the door opposite the one from which the audience will enter. She serves as a temporary barrier to the spectators’ passage. MF, D, and S join in the main action, playing on all four sides of the spectators once they have entered the chamber. At a cue in the sound score, playing from a location buried under the large pile of junk that looms in one corner of the room, the game changes.

The actors search out pairings, which vary from night to night. After the pairs form, they arrange themselves in a particular formation between the audience and the door ahead of them. The members of each pair face each other across the path and, linking opposite hands, proceed to play a kind of fencing game, using the index fingers of the clasped hands as their swords. They speak plainly popular catch phrases and famous commercial slogans. At the appropriate point, Shelley opens the closed door from the outside, and Rishika tells the audience they can now pass through. The actors continue playing their game as the audience passes under their arms and out the door.

 

Third Chamber (The White Room)

The spectators enter the next room, which is lit by a white fluorescent light face down on the floor at one end of the room. They walk along the path, flanked by the actors’ heashots peering from the walls. They pass through another doorway where they encounter Shelley who holds out a length of string from a ball and a pair of scissors. One by one each member of the audience – and the actors who have joined the end of the line – cuts a piece of string, takes it with them, and proceeds up the stairs.

 

The Ascent

 

The spectators and actors follow the glowing, black-lit path up the stairs two storeys, and into another room.

 

Fourth Segment – The Living Portrait Gallery

 

In this room the path begins to birfurcate and then fades away. Several of the First Actors are spread around the room in very dim lighting, holding candles and speaking without pause. They had begun with just unceasing moving sound, which became stream-of-consciousness words. Some of the actors who had ascended with the audience join in when they arrive. A different group of seven works each night.  Jeremy then gives each actor a topic around which to continue the unceasing talking. Usually they all receive the same; sometimes some do not get topics; sometimes all got topics but different ones. These included: What is your experience with the American dream? How did you get here? What are you searching? Here, no one tells the spectators where to stand or whom to listen to.

 

This is the same room as The Kitchen, but the audience as reenters from a door opposite the one they exited previously, experiencing a space transformed. The house wall that had been behind them in The Kitchen has been taken apart and cleared, allowing them to experience, for the first time, the full expanse of this very large room with a very high ceiling. What have been the risers the audience sat on during The Kitchen have transformed into tables, now arranged in an open-cornered rectangle at the mouth of the kitchen proscenium. At the start of the scene the room is barely lit – by the path, the actors’ candles and a scattering of electric votive candles around the room.

 

As the actors talk, eventually Jeremy turns on small house lamps around the room and the actors begin to drop out from talking and join the crowd, listening to another actor. This starts with those stationed closest to the door the audience entered and proceeds into the room. By the time the lamps are all on the audience is gathered around Derek. He figured out how to end his talk differently each night (often in silence) at which point Nicki switches on the overhead chandeliers in the high ceiling.

 

Fifth Segment – Food and DancE

 

Immediately, all actors reprise the LaLaLa Offspring song, some inviting the crowd to gather around the tables as others actors go to the kitchen and emerge with trays of ‘bites to share the moment’ (so-termed by chef Anne Apparu). The actors improvise a brief pre-eating ritual, usually taking the form of a kind of ‘here comes the airplane’ to their own mouths. At the moment of biting, the music begins, on most nights played live by fiddler Sarah. Then actors dance in some approximation of appropriate social dance to the music, and some spectators join. At some point, the music stops. People leave when they choose.

(On the last weekend, the actors danced in three groups, two at a time for the first three songs, rotating groups on each one. This final sequence was altered on nights when there was a sit-down meal. At the first meal, recorded music played during dinner, and there was no dancing. At the second, we had music from Sarah and dancing, then dinner.)

 

 

 

Devised and directed by Jeremy Goren

Produced by AliveWire Theatrics

 

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