Iphigenia 2.0 - For the last 5 weeks I have been living in the theatre building as the assistant director of this contemporary, po-mo take on the Greek tragedy. It's been a good experience largely as a result of two people. The director and the playwright. These are two men whose processes and understandings of theatrical collaboration are extremely open. Both of them position their vision and talent within the larger context of the theatre artists they work with. They fear not the shaping of the end product by a multiplicity of ideas and perspetives.
Charles Mee is a critically acclaimed playwright, who shirks the current publication/production rights system. Typically, playwrights and the large publishing companies who represent them are cranky watchdogs over their work. They stand in marked opposition to those who would want to add to or adjust their texts. But Mee is excited by this idea. Not only does he welcome additions and transformations of his texts, but he posts his work on his website for free. (http://www.charlesmee.com/) He charges production rights to those who want to produce his play (as all playwrights do) but he doesn't sell his scripts through a publisher.
Steven Pounders, the director of the show, shares Mee's collaborative spirit. At first, being Steven's assistant director was challenging not because he wouldn't listen to my ideas, but because he'd already gathered a group of talented people around him to be whispering in his ear about the production. He has a dramaturg (w/ two assistants), a stage manager (w/ two assistants) and a great relationship with his technical director, set designer, sound designer, cosutme designer, and lighting designer (w/ two assistants).
Typically, I'd worry that perhaps the show already had too many cooks in the kitchen. But it was clear, there was only one cook, he was just constantly running around letting everybody taste the sauce and contribute a dash of their favorite spice. The result is a show robust in style, visual spectacle, and overall excellence. Eventually, I found my place in this group of talented folks. Steven let me play the role of sounding board, idea man, and a second pair of eyes once we were running the show in rehearsals. He never flinched or seemed annoyed at me for jumping in to add notes or expand upon his own. He always listened to my ideas and I'd say he took roughly 2 out of 5 of them to add to the show. There are moments of the show that are entirely my concept and a number of little details and tweaks that were mine.
Interestingly, the show is unmistakably Steven's. Despite more input from more sources than any other show I've been a part of, this is a Pounders work. His own ieas, vision and talent are all over it. And in addition, the pastiche of influences makes it more his as well; because few directors (in my experience) would allow that much cross-pollination. His generous spirit has fused with his formidble talent and the result is quite compelling. Thanks Steven, for letting me in the kitchen.
The show, by the way, is wild. Baylor's Iphigenia is a thrilling hodge-podgery of classical and contemporary elements whose impact on audiences will be as multi-dimensional and varied as the cultural touchstones in utilizes. We're asking more of Baylor audiences that we normally do with this show. We're asking them to let genres, emotions and thoughts live next to each other in a way that most of our productions do not. I'm very curious to see their reaction. I'm not sure they'll all get it, but I'm pretty sure most of them will really like it.
Here's an article about the production in a local newspaper: http://www.wacotrib.com/aw/content/accesswaco/2009/02/19/02192009wacbaylorplay.html
By the way, considerable props should be given to Adrienne Harper, whose set design is imaginative in way that inspires all sorts of creativity in the actors. She has created an evocative playground for actors, lights and action that make the play really sing. Technical director, Adam Redmer has also done an incredible job tackling unique building challenges.