If you see me (Clap once)

Oooooooo, okay. I re-read what I wrote in the last post, and even I thought I sounded —what is that word— self-admiring? Self-approving? Perasan? 

“Sometimes I make up my own recipe”? Hello, any person who randomly throws handfuls of ingredients into a pot is making her own recipe! I want to make it clear that I am, in no way, a very good cook. Just some person who dares throws stuff together then surrenders all to good ol’ Luck.

Anyway. Today was our last performance. Needless to say, I feel melancholic, quite empty. This thing that has taken so much of our time this semester is suddenly over. Done with. (Did I mention, by the way, that we did four shows, and all four of them sold out? We performed to sold-out audiences oh yes!)

After our show today, we stayed back for two hours to detach prop things and unscrew stage things and carry things back into the design shop. Basically, make the theater look like a theater again. Return it to its proper theater condition.

I say “make it look like a theater again” because for our show, the theater was not a theater. It wasn’t a conventional venue where the audience comes in, sits in rows of chairs, watches the show, then leaves.

Let me first say, I am extremely glad to have been a part of this production. I am so glad that, at the beginning of the semester when I was debating on whether or not I can make the time commitment for the Dance Ensemble, I ended up deciding that yes, this would be worth the time.

I’m talking about major time commitment here. Dance sessions three days a week for the most part of the semester, then rehearsals almost everyday in the final weeks.

This was how my schedule looked like during tech week:

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8:00am-10:00am : (Economics class) Environmental Economics

10:00am-12:00pm : (Sociology class) Contemporary Asian American Issues

12:00pm-1:00pm : Group meeting for presentation on human rights in Asia

1:00pm-1:30pm : Meeting with professor

1:30pm-2:00pm : Lunch

2:00pm-4:00pm : (Political Science class) Human Rights

4:15pm-5:15pm : Javanese dance rehearsal

5:20pm-6:00pm : Dinner

6:00pm-11:00pm : Dance Ensemble rehearsal

11:00pm-3:00am : Homework!

Repeat for every day of the week.

(You see that I get 30 minutes for lunch, 40 minutes for dinner, and every other hour is busy, busy, busy? By the time I hit the pillow I’m already half-dead.)

—-

Not that I am complaining, of course. It was a pleasure being a part of this.

I am most proud of this production out of any performance I’ve ever done because this show was one-of-a-kind. You had to be there to truly understand it, but I’m going to indulge myself and describe it to you, just because so much time and effort was put in it and I thought it went so excellently well. Most importantly though, I feel like I’ve taken so much from the theme of the show.

So the production is called Now You See Me, and it explores theater, dance and spoken word as platforms for political and social activism. The entire production is made up of 3 different pieces, the first two choreographed by senior-year students, and the final one by the theater and dance lecturer.

Let me first start by describing the prologue, which really sets the context and theme of the show. As the audience comes in, Celeste, the dance lecturer, does her solo on a platform in the middle of the theater. When the audience settles, the lights go out completely. Moments later, in the dark, someone yells, “ACTION!” A spotlight comes on, and we see a girl sitting in a chair high above the audience. The chair slowly lowers to the ground, the spotlight focused on her the entire time as the rest of the theater remains dark. Once the chair reaches the ground, the girl jumps off, and starts her speech. I can’t remember the words, which is embarrassing, considering I’ve seen it a million times during the endless rehearsals we’ve had.

It is basically about us (the “spectator”) watching the social and political goings-on in the world (the “spectacle”). It’s about what drives our decision to take action, to do something (to “act” or to not-“act”). My favorite line:

What is it that keeps us from being a part of it?
Stage fright. The fear that keeps us off the stage, and the terror that freezes us once we’re upon it.

This idea of “acting” was a major theme of the production. I love the message it conveys. It reminds me very much of one of my favorite songs, Bob Dylan’s Blowing In the Wind, which pretty much asks, how much of the world’s injustices have to happen before we decide to stand up against it? How much wrongs do we have to be a spectator of being we decide to “act” against it?

It also reminds me of the video I talked about in this previous post (“First Follower”). Here’s a link to a TED Talk by the dude who made the video talking about the same video (because TED Talks are legitimate). Point: It takes courage to stand up to be the first follower of a social movement and really give it momentum.

Message: Don’t let stage fright stop you from taking social action!

Anyway, back to our production.

This production is unique because of 2 things:

First, with the Occupy Movement in mind, the choreographers played with the idea of “occupying” the theater. This translates to having dancers performing in many different, unconventional, traditionally unused parts of the theater all at the same time (you get the feeling that the dancers are taking over the theater), and having audiences moving around the theater after each piece and watching the show from different vantage points.

This means at one point, I was performing in the “catwalk” above the stage (where the stage lights are installed), so audiences have to look up to see me dance. This also means that audience groups watch from different areas of the theater: from the stairs leading up to the stage, or from the back of the theater, or from above the stage where old stage props are stored.

Some of the audience are onstage, where there are chairs lined against the backdrop, as they watch the show. After the show, one audience member said, “As I was sitting on stage, and the dancers are three feet in front of me, I realize that audience watching from other areas of the theater are probably watching me as I watch the performance.” Ta-da! The spectator hence becomes the spectacle.

The seats in the house, the ones where audience usually sit, are completely empty, and that space is transformed into a performance area. Camping tents were also set up around the theater to evoke a sense of “occupying” the theater.

Second unique thing, the production tries to interrupt the conventional relationship between performer and audience by challenging the very-rehearsed roles of the audience and the performers. There are moments in the show where a dancer goes,

If you can hear me, clap once…
If you can hear me, clap twice…
If you can hear me, clap three times.

The rest of the cast all clap, the audience, however, are free to clap along or not. During the talkback after the show, some people have asked, “Were we supposed to have clapped?” And the answer is, there is no answer to that. It depends on how much you feel a part of the action. It depends on whether you want to take the role of the “spectator”, or the “actor”. (Again, this blurring of the line between performer and audience relates back to whether we are satisfied with watching world events unfold, or whether we decide to be part of it.)

Actually, this is a good place to take a break. This is long enough and I have a short paper due tomorrow that I have yet to write. Let’s do Part 2 another day. Stay tuned!

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