The Work in Progress: Part 1
Written by: Ryan M. Sero
“You have to come and see my show,” is the mating cry of the artist. You can hear this yelled on street corners during every Art Crawl and every line-up at the Fringe Festival. This is the basic element of the indie theatre beat, artists who need you, the audience, to stay still for an hour (or more or less) and take in the thing they have made.
The most basic elements are word of mouth, press releases, previews, reviews, flyers, and posters, and that foghorn blast, “You have to come and see my show,” spoken as a plea, both for the welfare of the performer and for the welfare of the audience member; the artist knows that you might miss something special.
There’s another way to let people “in” on a show’s merits, to show them more directly that something special is going on. Many artists document their process – they record (somehow) their behind-the-scenes work – and use this document to show patrons (you – yes: you!) what they stand to miss out on.
Over the past few days, I’ve been speaking with some of the companies involved in the Frost Bites about their documentation and marketing and what that means for their process. This is “part one” of a two-part blog where I talk with four of the Frost Bites performers. In this instalment, I talk with Alyssa Nedich and Jeremy Freiburger about their process documentation and how they market their shows.
I spoke first with Alyssa Nedich, choreographer for the show Deva. She has been using social media to disseminate videos of her team at work. As useful as this is for marketing, the clips are originally created during rehearsals for another reason.
“We always document so the dancers can look back at videos for references outside of rehearsal. Also I keep all videos I film of rehearsals in case I ever want to bring a piece back for something in the future.”
Nedich is focused on using these clips to improve the work – that comes first. Any marketing acquired through this documentation is the cherry on top. “If someone sees one of my 15 second clips that we share and sees how talented the dancers are and it inspires them to come and see us, that’s excellent!”
The clips themselves are short, usually fifteen seconds long. That might not seem like a lot, but after watching a bunch, the information conveyed is massive. Even though a full sense of the piece’s arc cannot be gleaned, a viewer can quickly see the talent and effort being put in here. These women are working hard and creating something very interesting. They’re well worth watching and really show some intriguing work.
Nedich tells me the clips are used to fine tune the piece moreso than completely reshape it. It’s rare, she says, that she re-choreographs the work based on these videos, but says that the video clips do affect the work, allowing her and the dancers to hone and fine-tune their piece.
The choreography starts with pen and paper. Nedich writes it all out, plans the whole thing first, and makes sure that everything works on paper before setting out to finalise her ideas, which aren’t necessarily those first “on paper” impulses. “Sometimes we start with one thing and go completely in another direction, it happens, but I tend to go in with at least ideas on paper.”
She says she has been listening a lot to music from a specific artist (who she doesn’t name) which has influenced the piece she’s working on for Frost Bites. She listened to music and crafted a storyline through her movement choices, but she says that each process is different. “Sometimes I start with movement first and develop a story afterwards, but in this case the music really spoke to me and shaped a storyline.”
The show is performed “in the round”, meaning that audiences will be on four sides of the performers. Nedich tells me that this brings its own special challenges. “I have never worked on a piece that moves and changes shape so much because I am used to a traditional audience all on one side of the performers. …[the show] consistently has to engage 4 sides of an audience rather than just one. We had do a lot more moving, a lot more changing directions, which is definitely new for me!”
Deva “refers to spiritual forces behind nature,” and Nedich says it is “…a really magical piece…unlike anything I personally have seen in our city,” and she encourages people to see the piece and to “Allow themselves to be engulfed in just how powerful dance can be!”
Jeremy Freiburger is the chief connector and cultural strategist for CoBALT Connects, a company dedicated to making connections in the creative community. His piece with Frost Bites is called NOW (Here),a piece he says he made after getting “distracted for fifteen years with administration.” It’s a three-minute piece whose description on the Frost Bites site quotes Sufjan Stevens lyrics, which you gotta admit is already making you want to read and see more.
Freiburger has been posting pictures of a simple neon sign, which reads, simply, “HERE”, in various places throughout Hamilton. I ask if it’s an ad campaign or a document of the work and he says, “It’s kind of both. …I’m playing with the idea of being site specific – here, in a spot. …This ties to my other work where I do a lot of cultural mapping.”
So the different locations are to engage directly with the work and to dig into the themes as well as to advertise. Freiburger seems interested in engaging directly with the audience, too.
“We’re always asking people where are the places of importance to you – what does this place mean? I’m also keen to talk about how social media is constantly telling us where to be. This event. That cool bar. So this idea that people are curating our sense of place and the idea of ‘here’. So the @HERELight twitter thing is a bit about documenting the work, but also about posting places that may or may not have ‘value’ and seeing if the audience has any thoughts. Some people think I’m “curating” – posting cool places. But some of the places are a dirty pile of snow. Some abandoned furniture in ditches. Some are cultural hot spots and condo conversions. So it’s a mash-up of stuff. I let you determine if it has value to you or not.”
That’s a big conversation to start with just a single word. Just by posting that word, “HERE”, Freiburger is engaging and questioning, he’s thinking about both his piece and how to talk to a whole community out there. He won’t say much more about this document/ ad campaign, only adding, “I just want people to contemplate the spaces – no prescribed conversation or value. Just a place and a word.”
Freiburger says he is focusing on the moment the audience is “here” with him, his play is about that exact moment in that exact space, which is a fascinating and arresting idea, one which doesn’t see a lot of play in Hamilton. We get a lot of theatre, but something like this, so focused on the here and now is unusual for us. This stems from his connection with the building itself. Yes, Jeremy Freiburger has history with the Cotton Factory; he tells me he used to work there and, in consequence, he found while developing this piece that, “After spending so many years working in that specific building there are simply too many spaces and too many memories, sense connections for me to make a piece about any one of them. So I’m focusing on the very moment audience is here with me”
His final thought he leaves me with about the piece:
“The show is as much about [the audience] as it is about me. Hopefully we have a moment together.”
That has always been what makes me go and see theatre, by the way, that “moment together”. When that happens, it’s magic. These are plays clearly about connection. They will be radically different shows, I’m certain of that, but both are trying to reach out and make a connection with an audience, bring an audience into a particular space, give them a particular experience, unique and unobtainable literally anywhere or any-when else in the world. These shows are being built specifically for The Cotton Factory on the nights of Frost Bites, and that is what makes them unique and what will make them, ultimately, powerful.
Frost Bites takes place from Feb 11-14, 2016 at The Cotton Factory, 270 Sherman Ave N.
CLICK HERE for more info.
Ryan M. Sero is a playwright, actor, and artistic director of Make Art Theatre. He lives in the North End with his wife Jody and daughter Pippa.