Ellyzabeth shared a video with the cast a few weeks ago - a silent film comprised of myriad images and scenes inspired by the story of Ethereal Abandonment. In one particularly special shot, we see feet clad in heels descending a set of stairs. The foot steps are slow and deliberate and a tad unsteady. We see the ankle and foot muscles and bones at work, keeping the actress balanced as she makes her move. At rehearsal that day, Nelia (the actress to whom those feet belong) made a comment about how wobbly her steps were. To that Ellyzabeth replied, "Wobbly is OK."
That got me thinking of how important vulnerability is in theatre and performance. Actors and dancers in rehearsal and on stage are called on to take risks. Through opening ourselves up to the work we knowingly expose ourselves to failure, judgment and embarrassment (to only name a few). But this is when the magic happens. Those nerve-wracking tasks of being open and taking risks are what enable us to create moments in performance that are truthful and unique.
So this week as we begin tech rehearsals, I pose a challenge to myself and the cast to work with a sense of vulnerability. As the technical elements begin to build a strong skeleton for the show, let us continue to strengthen the malleable muscle, the beating heart of Ethereal Abandonment, remembering that vulnerability is powerful and yeah, wobbly is OK.
Ethereal Abandonment: Timeless, or covering all times? We’re playing with the echoes of the characters that lived in this physical church, this imagined theater, this creative space, and hinting at several different generations of humans who have traipsed through each of these tangential time-space continuums. The Muses’ movements ripple across all time periods, weaving together the audience’s experience of multiple worlds being present at once on our stage.
It’s been an exciting challenge in understanding the difference between the various kinds of story telling that each medium in Ethereal Abandonment provides. We have a narrative story line, brief episodic snapshots, period dances from very distinct eras and styles, and non-linear, timeless movement that create a dream-like, multi-disciplinary experience for the audience that keeps surprising me.
Our soundscape is the same in that it covers multiple styles and eras. “A Little Pink Rose” is a parlor song by Carrie Jacobs-Bond from 1912. Jacobs-Bond’s music was repeatedly turned down by music publishers due to the male-dominated industry until she established her own sheet music publishing company. She therefore owned every word of every song she wrote — not something many music artists can claim for themselves! Her independence as a woman is something I draw from in my character’s flight from her hometown to the big city…she realizes that she doesn’t want to have a traditional life at home with a husband and family, and shapes herself instead into a Vaudeville performer. The lyrics for “A Little Pink Rose” are nostalgic, asking if the pink rose has faded and gone away…when we grow, how much of our old selves remain, and how much has to be plucked away? How much of the original girl from a small hometown remains under the performer’s exterior?
The ghostly echoes of times past and present linger in our space, in our characters, in our movement, and in our music. We’re informed and inspired by the past to actively shape and cultivate our present and future…in Ethereal Abandonment, we can see remembering and action taking place at the same time, pulsating in our voices and bodies with a vibrance that remains in the space long after we’re gone.
Landmarks: What history is worth preserving?
Day jobs for artists are known to be soul-sucking voids to make ends meet. I am fortunate/lucky to have a day job that incorporates visual art, performing, and great office views. I'm an architecture guide on the Chicago River! Chicago has a rich history of architecture that has made impacts all around the world, including what is widely accepted as the world’s first skyscraper. While The Home Insurance Building was demolished long ago, Chicago still maintains and preserves many of its architectural treasures through the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Landmark status allows for legal protections to honor and preserve the site’s history (i.e. prohibits demolition, required upkeep by owner, restrictions on redevelopment etc.) The process, though, to receive such status is not easy. The site or building must provide a significant historic, cultural, or artistic value to the community brought before and decided by the commission. With limited resources and a people being drawn back into cities not everything can remain the same, so the question remains: What is worth preserving?
This question has been in the forefront of my mind as we created Ethereal Abandonment, in rehearsals and well as during my tours. We cannot learn from history if we do not remind ourselves of its residual effects of our daily lives. Yet if we cherish everything, then nothing is sacred. As audiences witness the stories told in our show, I hope they will also consider: With beautiful palaces of art like The Uptown Theatre (and the one created in our show) laying vacant and decrepit along the streets of Chicago, should they make way for the needs of today or be saved and forever etched into our city’s consciousness? And if the answer is the latter, which few places should we designate as indispensable?
Are you a fan of Chicago's Corn Cob Towers? Well rejoice as they were welcomed into the collection of Chicago Landmarks this past winter!
This performance would be entirely different if we had rehearsed in a theatre. Working in a church provides an authenticity to the process that we don’t have to manufacture. In Chicago especially, most theatre folk have performed in myriad locations, from an adaptable black box, to someone’s basement, to a bar, and of course, a church.
Religious background aside, I’ve always loved churches with their big open ceilings and (sometimes) stained glass. I see articles pop up about the fluctuation of church attendance and I wonder often what will happen to these beautiful buildings. You will see how Ethereal Abandonment addresses this issue, and while we rehearse the dances and brainstorm for script it’s easy to take this beautiful space for granted. But when I really think about it I’m so happy that this is where we perform.
Various artistic and community groups utilize this particular church, for which I’m so
glad! More and more, artists are taking advantage of the many churches in this city. Aloft Circus Arts, where I take classes, recently purchased a church for their classes and performances, and back home in Maine, a friend of my father's is working on converting a church into music venue.
Not only do we get to create our own show in this space but the setting is ready made for us. We mold our performance to the atmosphere, we don’t have to bend it to fit to what we need. I’m so excited for share this show and perform in such a beautiful space. It’s easy to imagine I’m walking through an old theatre, and I so hope you’ll come one night, and find inspiration in the space, or at the very least appreciate the beauty and versatility of an old church.