Tuesday, July 31, 2007

...And we're back!

At some point I would love to do an in-depth trip report on our visit to New Orleans and the ATHE conference, but I fear it’s impossible. The best I can do at this juncture is simply hit the major highlights of the experience…

Fortunately, Lisa and I landed on Monday and had two fun-filled days to do nothing but enjoy the French Quarter with our friends and old VCU alum, Boone and Chandra. We had a “big ass beer” on Bourbon Street, some gumbo, some Po Boys at Johnny’s, a muffeletta at Napoleon House, some rabbit at Olivier’s, some hurricanes at Good Friends and enjoyed a jazz band at some club I can’t remember. They also took us out to eat at Nola, Emeril’s restaurant, and the food there was delicious—and the plates were huge which was unexpected for such a high-scale eatery. Boone and I even had a chance to play an earlier morning round of golf at Audubon. He kicked my ass, but I blame my mishits and poor putting on the humidity.

Then the conference began on Wednesday night with a rehearsal for the New Play Development Workshop. I was working as a dramaturg for a ten-minute play called “Cellmates” and met my director, playwright and actors for the first time to do a read-thru and discuss the play. More rehearsals followed, throughout the week, culminating in the final showcase Sunday morning, which I unfortunately had to miss because of our plane ride back. We were in good shape, in no small part to our director, Pam, and the actors, especially Boone who jumped in as a last-minute replacement.

The Dramaturgy Debut Panel paper was my most pleasant surprise. I should’ve been a lot more nervous since I was presenting at this conference for the first time, but maybe the alcohol induced evenings prior calmed me down. Despite an extremely LOUD voice class happening next door to our room (or was it a Laban class, who knows?), and that John, the other presenter, was not able to join due to a family emergency, I remained unruffled. This was in no small part to Cyndi and some of the other dramaturgs who made me feel like a superstar. The paper and presentation was well-received by a very warm and welcoming crowd of young and experienced dramaturgs and scholars. I did get a chance to hear John’s paper read by someone else and wished he was there to ask about his relationship with the playwright. Afterwards we engaged in a stirring conversation about not just how a dramaturg functions on ensemble-based works and transcribing physical actions, but also how to educate dramaturgs to be more instrumental in the rehearsal and developmental process. I believe this conversation won’t be over anytime soon as there is talk of doing a panel at next year’s ATHE in Denver.

Okay, you can say it…I’m a total geek. I mean, seriously, read that last paragraph, it’s like I’m a little kid describing candy for the first time. But I have to admit, process and intellectual conversations get me jazzed.

(By the way, that picture above is a photograph by E.J Bellocq, one of the images that inspired the show In the Belly of the Beast with Two Backs which premiered at HERE Arts Center in 2005. I handed this out at the presentation.)

As if I’m not geeky enough, one of my favorite panels was about translations. Four papers were presented on various aspects of the “necessary impossibility” of translating not just text, but the culture as well as physical movements (a fascinating exploration of Butoh by Katherine Mezur who is coming to the UW). It makes me even that more interested in brushing off my Spanish to look at Spanish Golden Age dramas, which is in dire need of exposure.

The other eventful meeting I had was with Gary Garrison, the Executive Director of Creative Affairs for the Dramatists Guild of America, Inc. He was in town as a respondent for the New Play festival, but also led a session about the Guild and the upcoming changes. It got me excited because some of the changes are a long time coming, and though I’d like to get into more detail about it, I’ll wait until they get instigated. In addition, I also met Pamela Turner, the regional rep for Atlanta (and a former Portland native) and we got to talk about the differences and similarities in the regions.

All in all, it was nonstop meeting new people, hearing new ideas, and talking with others about our wonderful art of making theatre. We were pretty much go go go from 8 am to 11 pm every day. Some of it was also getting coffee or getting drinks with folks and some of it was getting good food, but as I look back, all I see is a blur of activity. It was exhausting in some ways, but revitalizing in others. I guess that’s the way conferences should be, though.

And my birthday dinner on Saturday night was one of the best I’ve ever had. We went to Adolpho’s, an Italian-Creole place outside the Quarter. It was a charming little place hidden away with low lighting and no frills ambience. More local than touristy. I had frog legs for the first time (stringy and chewy, like a cross between chicken and fish) and had the best plate of veal parmesan ever. And of course, I was joined by my lovely wife and two of my best friends. Now, that’s living.

As much I enjoyed New Orleans, it’s good to be back in the Pacific Northwest. For one, it’s cooler, though the heat and humidity in Nola was not as severe as I had anticipated. But also, it’s good to be surrounded by the gorgeous mountains and evergreen trees. And I’m ready to get back to my diet of Salmon on the grill.

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