Artistic Experimentation

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June 29, 2011 by Darlene McC

Laboratory“. Just the word conjures images of long white coats, right? Beakers. Chemicals. Maybe the occassional small explosion.  –  And experiments. That ones key.

Most of my June silence was caused my an overwhelming artistic experiment: WordBRIDGE Playwrights Laboratory. WordBRIDGE itself is hard to explain – apparently many have tried.  It was even explained to me over a number of years and, while I grasped its importance, I never really got it.  Not until I was there breathing the (sometimes nicotine filled) air.

Unlike the coat-and-beaker kind of Lab, WordBRIDGE is about experimenting with plays.  Yeah, like the stage kind.  I’ve worked on new plays before – I’ve done week long readings to let the writer hear the work and then we all disappear never to hear form it again.  I’ve done ‘development productions’ where we try to mount something that isn’t really done so that there’s a finished product and the playwright is cringing during the enter opening night performance when they hear where the problems are (I learned while I was there how painful that can be for a writer.  Its like bad music.  Some of them had to call hold at rehearsal because they could hear everything they thought was wrong at that point).

WordBRIDGE is not that!

WordBRIDGE has no focus on production, no pressures of an audience (other than sharing with the other artist who are there working along side you).  The playwright, actors, director, resource artists, and everyone else are free to go where they play needs to go without worrying about messing up the production schedule – because there is no production schedule.  Because the point isn’t to put on a show for an audience at the end of 2 weeks, the point is to help great writers make even more exquisite plays.  A different kind of laboratory.

But what does experiment mean when it comes to plays?  It can mean a lot of things – from the playwright crafting ‘maybe scenes’ while they explore their own creative creation, to the actors improving in the world they’ve heard in the play.  To steal a bit from my own post on the WordBRIDGE blog:

So we risk. But what does that mean to someone who’s never been to WordBRIDGE and seen what we do? Well. It means exploring dark corners of possibility within the world of the play as the playwright tries to learn what her own play is really about. Sure, these explorations are structured through improv and exercises, but I’ve never improv’ed quite like this before. It means being ready to come in one day and be working on a draft that isn’t just changed; it could be completely different. It means checking your ego and your agenda at the door and believing, as much as you can, that anything that happens has no reflections on you and yours. It’s about the play. And, as an actor living 99% if the year in the New York market (where it so often seems every actor is hyper-focused on themselves) it’s nice. And it’s scary. And it’s exhilarating.

Yeah, that still might not help.  But just like trying to explain the practical applications of stellar dynamics before making a specific discovery, I’m not going to be able to break this down simply.  Heck, I’m still trying to process all the personal discoveries I made while I was there.

What is clear to me is how important WordBRIDGE is.  There I discovered a company of 50+ artists (of all kinds; more on that later I think) who love creating.  They love playing.  They love the work.  But, and perhaps this is most important of all, they respect each other; and they recognize the value of everyone’s contributions.  Not just the writer/director/actor/dramaturg – but the whole company is valued.  Everyone’s favorite guy there was the one who stayed up all night to make sure we’d have hot soup for lunch the next day (his most visible, immediate responsibility; but certainly not his most significant contribution!  Thanks Mike!!).

These people are the developing face of new plays in our country.  They care, body and soul, about the work and one another.  What, for me, is the most exciting part?  Most of them are also teachers.  By choice.  And they’re imparting those values on their students.

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