Wednesday was all about building and shaping the piece and tensions ran high. Luckily, as a production team, we worked very well as a united front to ground performers and they began to lose patience with each other. Seamlessly, Craig, Peter, Justin, and I shared our assets to get the performers’ attention, hone their focus, and raise up their work. We worked through a run of the whole show by the end of the day and knew we would have our work cut out for us on Thursday before the show.
Putting a show together in three days is no easy task when working with professional actors. Attempting this with amateur performers, some of whom are currently homeless, struggling with some level of mental illness, and/or dealing with some level of poverty might just make us a little crazy. The generosity of spirit that our actors had had for each other on Monday had mostly dissipated by the morning rehearsal on Wednesday. It was a bit of herding cats. After an hour of just trying to nail down the opening sequence, Craig, Peter, and I agreed that we had to move on and revisit it the following day.
While the majority of the group were dealing with personal frustrations in putting the show together, one performer had utterly shut down. He had arrived at rehearsal utterly distraught and unable to participate or do much more than sit in a chair in the corner, head bent over, completely withdrawn from the group. The night before he had been sleeping on the streets and his backpack had been stolen, his cell phone inside. The producer, Cheryl Hayward, learned this information from a representative at My Friend’s Place who had brought this young man to rehearsal. In a matter of hours, Cheryl had replaced the backpack and generously purchased him a pre-paid cell phone with a month of minutes on it. The transformation was instantaneous. That afternoon, this young man, who could not even lift his head during the morning session, fully engaged in the afternoon session and brought an inspiring performance to his portion of the installation piece.
This transformation mirrored the group’s progress between Wednesday and Thursday. Our first performance was Thursday evening and we elected to forgo our regular day of rehearsal on Thursday. Instead, we opted to meet a few hours prior to the performance to finish setting the details and run the show one final time. This proved to be extremely effective. The group was better rested and energized for the performance. When we rehearsed the opening sequence (which had taken us over an hour the prior day without making much progress), it was almost flawless. Craig and I were pleasantly surprised. We were able to get through the whole rehearsal, with only one performer unaccounted for. Luckily he showed up right before dinner and was able to perform that evening, although we had adjusted some key moments to run without him.
Overall, the residency was a success. It highlighted the importance of arts and culture in the lives of the housing insecure performers. Bringing together actors, singers, dancers, and artists from Urban Voices, Los Angeles Poverty Department, My Friend’s Place, and Skid Row Housing Trust allowed It’s Time to draw on the networks of local organizations and community art groups. Located in the heart of Skid Row, our partners at The Geffen at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) connected with their neighbors. It’s Time created an opportunity for a major art institution to engage with its local community in positive and meaningful ways. In fact, every performer in It’s Time received a free annual membership to MOCA and one of the performer’s ended up having his work displayed in the museum.
My collaboration on It’s Time has marked a significant moment of growth in my artistic process. It allowed me an opportunity to work with an intergenerational community group outside of an educational context. It afforded me the opportunity to observe and learn from master directors – both Peter O’Connor and Craig Christie. Finally, it challenged me to examine my process and re-prioritize my aesthetic goals with the reality of what can be achieved given other factors, such as participant experience, time, mental health, and reliability. I look forward the next iteration of this project as these partnerships continue to flourish.