Staging The Impossible, Or: What You Can Do With A Mason Jar
A phone cord can become helicopter blades, a flashlight can become a small animal, stools can become an army tank.
- Lab participant Kristin Heckler
Impossible things are happening every day!
- Lyrics from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella
This past June, we began hosting Labs, a series of three-hour work sessions intended to delve into a specific technique or storytelling device. One such lab was named “Staging the Impossible” and participants were invited to come equipped with an object that makes light and an object that makes sound.
Though we recently turned 10 years old, we are still a small company, adept at integrating DIY flair into our storytelling. We often joke about the “Broadway” version of a show while we are producing on a “shoestring” budget. This was our attempt at finding ways to supersede technical or budgetary prowess.
For this lab, we used scenes from Daniel Ho’s Don Quixote At Tiananmen Square (which The Anthropologists helped to develop in 2012) and techniques inspired by Tectonic Theatre Project's moment work. Though we put aside primary disciplines for the purposes of the Lab, I will identify contributors to the blog by their area of expertise so that you may tease out the intersections between discipline and craft:
The environment is completely collaborative and making decisions as a group rather than within disciplines of "director/playwright/actor" is so refreshing. Another fun reminder from the impossible lab is that any prop can become anything if you use it thoughtfully. A phone cord can become helicopter blades, a flashlight can become a small animal, stools can become an army tank. Utilizing our creativity in this way was an amazing return to childhood and the purity of imagining that anything can be something else if you are convinced it is the other thing. It reminded me that actors can make an audience believe anything, if they believe it themselves.
- Kristin Heckler (Director)
Something interesting happens, creatively, when the mind is presented with the impossible. When given a flashlight and a glass jelly jar and told I had three minutes to come up with a scene, my mind said “this is impossible.” Given no choice, not allowed to give up, still the mind said “impossible.” But then a wonderful thing happened. Once the mind determined the task impossible, the body took over. Or, probably more accurately, the intuition. One becomes completely engaged in the physical objects and the theatrical space and the fellow performers. The mind is no longer there to criticize, doubt, nag. One simply reacts to the environment and the scene and the other performers, and the creative portions of my brain were engaged, even let loose, in a way they had never been engaged before. Thanks to a burst of inspiration from my scene partners, the rest of us would react automatically, as if creativity were as instinctive to our human nature as breathing and eating, adding layer upon layer until in the end, with nothing but a flashlight and a jelly jar, we had created a short, imaginative scene. A piece of theatre.
- Daniel Ho (Playwright)
For me, it means breaking preconceived notions of what things are in reality so that everything is anything. A usb cord is a helicopter propellor; a flashlight is a creature who gets scared. Freeing your imagination in this way only benefits our creative practice so when we, as theatre practitioners come up against a stage direction like 'exit, pursued by a bear' or when Jupiter arrives riding on the back of an eagle, we know exactly how to make that happen on stage. We were allowed to think about how to imply literal elements in an abstract way. To create a sense of something real through the effects of something imagined.
- Lynde Rosario (Dramaturg)
So, why should we attempt the impossible? Or rather, what's at risk if we do not try? When faced with a daunting problem, shouldn’t we give ourselves permission to think beyond our perceived capacity? Our Resident Dramaturg Lynde succinctly sums up the connections between our artistic practice and the world outside the rehearsal studio:
“Thinking non-literally breeds creative problem-solving in every aspect of life.”
Next up in our "impossible" theatre making:
Artemisia's Intent returns to NYC on July 26th! Tickets available here.
Artemisia's Intent makes its Providence, RI debut at FRINGEPVD, July 31 & August 1!