Dreams, dating, a little girl with wings trapped in a cage, animal sodomy, and starvation experiments are some of the topics that will be touched on the first weekend of June at Red Eye Theater’s Works-In-Progress 2010, part of their New Works 4 Weeks Festival. Five artists—Laura Holway, Jessica Huang, Kevin Anthony Kautzman, Taja Will, and me—will be presenting 15-minute snippets of new pieces we have been developing for the last six months.
This is my second time participating in Red Eye’s Works In Progress (WIP). The first was ten years ago when I was working on a one-woman show called Cordelia’s Girdle. A few changes have been made to the process since then. The most significant change is that the process spans a longer time, to allow the pieces to develop organically without the rush of “putting on a show.”
The essence of the program is the same, however. The artists meet with Red Eye’s staff once a month and receive feedback about their work. Red Eye’s artistic director Steve Busa, managing director Miriam Must, other Red Eye collaborators, and the WIP artists themselves view the work and offer feedback throughout the six months.
The feedback sessions are modeled from the Artful method developed by the Perpich Center for Arts Education (PCAE), which attempts to create a safe space for all voices to come forward, allowing room for criticism and reflection without judgement. Busa described the process best when he said, “We’re giving feedback on the piece they made, not feedback on the piece we would have made if we would have made it.”
I’ve found the process to be really helpful in my work, because instead of getting ripped to shreds every time you show at a feedback session, you instead receive helpful information. You find out what the viewers noticed, for example, what they felt, what questions it brought up for them. You can ask specific questions from the audience if you are looking for suggestions about a certain aspect of the piece.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the program is the opportunity to watch different pieces develop over time. In the first weeks, some of the artists had only an idea from which they were starting. I remember Taja Will asking us to send her a dream that we had. Over the course of the six months, I’ve been able to watch the pieces grow and find shape. Because we know one another’s pieces so well, we’re able to provide better feedback because we have an idea of where the artist came from and what they are trying to achieve.
It’s all very nurturing. I know, I know—you might ask, “Isn’t it important to get harsh criticism—shouldn’t you be told if something sucks?” Well, as a critic myself, I’m certainly not one to say that harsh criticism should never be given out, but WIP focuses on the earliest stages of development: when the person creating the work is playing in the dark a bit, trying to figure out what he or she are trying to say and how he or she is trying to say it. I have found that it’s helpful to be able to take risks, to try things out without worrying if I fail. Failing, in fact, is encouraged, because that’s how you find the boundaries of the piece—what you can and can’t do. That’s not to say that there is never any negative feedback, but it’s framed in a way that supports the work and the creator’s vision.
The hope is that the work will have another life beyond its WIP appearance. For example, Tamara Ober, who was part of WIP last year, went on to perform PIPA at fringe festivals across the continent, and is going to be presenting it the last weekend of the New Works 4 Weeks Festival.
This year’s lineup includes Laura Holway’s multi-media piece about relationships and communication called I Like You; Jessica Huang’s dark, fantastical The Butterfly Net; Kevin Anthony Kautzman’s exuberant play exploring archetypes and animal instinct; Taja Will’s Awaken Absurdity, which features Will playing a gutted piano to accompany an ensemble of dancers who also sing; and my solo piece The Keys Experiment, about conscientious objectors in World War II participating in a starvation study.
Photo of program participants by Ben McGinley, courtesy Red Eye Theater