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Day 6: The End, and The Beginning

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One idea that has permeated this week is that of water. It is a force of nature, powerful, cleansing, both beautiful and fearful, and the image of water is used very symbolically throughout The Flora & Fauna. As the team finalized the few technical elements and worked incorporated them into the transitions of the show in the few hours they had before opening the house doors, the sound of waves crashing on some ocean shore filled the room, as though to polish the project like pebbles worn smooth by the sea.

The final day of this process began with a few hours to finish working on the piece and preparing it for an audience. It was a relaxed morning, filled with coffee, treats, and beautiful words in the final push to share this piece with the world. Then, it was time to take a deep breath, let go, and let the small, lovely audience into the world of The Flora & Fauna. The reading went by quickly, the audience engaging with the text from the first mention of a Mermaid’s Tail to the phrase “end of play.”

Hugs were shared all around at the close. A great discussion followed the reading, as the entire production team pulled up a chair on stage and began an open dialogue with the audience. Everyone seemed to have formed an emotional connection with the piece, and the safe space that is the theatre allowed for a deep discussion of the heavier topics of the play. With that, the team said their goodbyes, some running off to theatre engagements elsewhere, others to enjoy a last lunch together before going their separate ways. The Flora & Fauna is on its way to multiple readings around the country, and we eagerly await further news of its development.

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Day 5: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

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One of the most frustrating things anyone can experience is having a very close, intimate friendship with someone important to them, but finding slowly that you will never fully understand them. In The Flora & Fauna, the friendship between two very different women is examined through excerpts of their history together. While their friendship is a very strong one, their differences make it difficult for them to truly relate to each other.

The script is full of moments in which one of them is entirely missing the point, missing the warning signs of things that would come while they are still small enough to be stopped. These moments were placed in the spotlight tonight, and the creative team dug into them eagerly, driven still more passionately by the image of the extended metaphors discovered last night. It is truly the story of two women struggling to pull each other back from the edge, when neither of them has a clear understanding of where that edge is. They care for each other as best as they know how – and while this leads to a lot of pain, or misunderstandings, or the like, they find their way through it all, and emerge stronger on the other side for having kept at it.

Tonight, the team focused on their staging of the show, solidifying the minimal staging, working the transitions between scenes and moments, and finding every last nugget they could in the time they were given. It was another empowering, magical night of work, and they left ready to hit it hard once more before presenting it to an audience and discussing it publicly with the playwright, Alyson Mead, at the helm.

Day 4: Extended Metaphor

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Everyone has experienced it: the moment of utter panic as you witness something disastrous, the split second of action in which you try to stop it from happening, with no clue as to if you will or will not be successful. Maybe your child darted into the street right in front of you, or that truck came far too close on the highway. This is the emotion that permeated much of the discussion this evening, by way of a beautiful, subtle extended metaphor discovered in The Flora & Fauna. From an older mother remembering her own fear when her young child nearly ran off the face of a cliff because she was distracted, to a new mother struggling not to run off the cliff herself, the image struck a chord with everyone in the room.

This was another night focused on digging into each scene individually, finding the deepest moments, the hidden golden nuggets found in every script, and coaxing them out into the light through understanding, intentions, timing, tempo, and all the other layers used to create a cohesive piece of art. Rather than driving to get through the entire script in an evening, the team slowed down to dive into each scene and give it the time and nurturing it needed.

Decisions were also made as to how the staged reading this process will conclude with would look. The tables of the previous evenings were abandoned by the end of the evening, shoved aside for the chairs, cubes, and music stands that would become their set. Three areas of the stage were identified, and scenes assigned to them, with the hope that each set up they created would allow the actors to take advantage of the different physical levels and motions that the team found most prudent to the action of each scene, capturing the essence of the show without fully staging the show. It was also decided that the Assistant Director, Hannah Stewart, would take up residence on the stage as well, reading those stage directions the audience would miss in the minimal staging performed.

All in all, it was a very full night of hard work from all involved. From the deep analysis of the script to experimenting with how it could best be presented, the team left full of ideas, brimming with emotions, and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Day 3: Butterfly Cookies

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Sometimes, an image resonates with you, however simple that image may be. One that has recurred in our rehearsal process is that of a butterfly drifting by. It’s such a hopeful, symbolic picture, and one that represents the play rather well – grace and beauty meet fragility and the uncertainty of gliding on an uncontrollable breeze. In the spirit of this image, the creative team of this project was treated to some lovely butterfly cookies before getting started today, courtesy of their director, Stefanie Sertich.

Another through line of this show, and one discussed in depth as development continued tonight, was the contrast of the real versus the imagined. Due to various traumatic events in the lives of the characters in this beautiful tale, there are many episodes of dissociation presented by the characters, struggling to remain grounded in the pain of their reality, particularly when faced with their often harsh and gritty pasts. These moments work in glorious contrast with the harsh realities presented in each scene, each seemingly more real than the last.

On this night, as on the last, the team received new scripts hot off the presses, filled with additions, cuts, and changes from the lovely Alyson Mead that had occurred over night. At the end of the evening, the team had begun truly digging into each scene, working every moment carefully and thoughtfully. The goal shifted from focusing on rewrites, which had been the primary focus of the previous evenings, to finding the time and tempo of the piece with the actors, finding all the layers that could be incorporated into the reading to express the depth of meaning their words gave.

It was another successful and emotional evening, filled with breakthroughs, laughter, and newly strained heart strings.

Day 2: Loss and Discovery

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You know you’re in a room full of artistically minded people when the room is mostly empty because the self-same artistically minded people that were supposed to be there misread the map. But, really, isn’t that what it means to be an artist? The artist goes where few dare to traverse, and leave their maps at home. They get lost in undiscovered worlds of their own invention, and in those worlds, they comprehend their own.

It’s often said that art imitates life. What is more true to life than the idea of being lost? Everyone has felt that panic, that disorientation, that utter helplessness of having no idea where they are, or where they are going. There’s something terrifying and thrilling about losing all reference to your place in time and space, living suspended outside of your own narrative. And sometimes, it takes losing yourself to find who you truly are.

While much of this is said jokingly, as much of the creative team quite literally got lost in attempting to find the rehearsal space for The Flora & Fauna last night, it is also said in reference to much of what was discovered as they worked. This beautiful piece often plays with the theme of being lost, of losing oneself, and of living in a different world. Whether it be discussions of dissociative as we dig into the psyche of Ginnie, a young woman struggling to find her way through life and motherhood, or the actual loss of her dear friend and mentor Adele at the side of her deathbed, loss and discovery are two themes that loop constantly through the story.

The process of this second day of working on The Flora & Fauna was just as full of loss and discovery, just as all life is, and just as all art is. The creative team came in with freshly printed scripts full of new moments, including a whole new scene that Alyson Mead had added to the storyline overnight – one brimming with the rawness of loss, which lead to the discovery of huge moments elsewhere in the script that otherwise would have been lost. Once everyone had found the space, a discussion of thoughts that had come up through the last 24 hours ensued, everyone reflecting on the work that was accomplished the night before.

After a brief introduction to the changes Mead had magically wrought overnight, the team went through the script once more, writing down questions and observations, finding moments, and getting a feel for how the changes altered the shape of the play as a whole. At the emotional close of the play, new conversations erupted, spanning from the cleansing and sensual images of water found throughout the script, to the use of ritual and community Mead is passionate to include in her work. With new thoughts and images in mind, the team went back to work on specific moments in the show, focusing on the first scene until their time was up for the evening. It was another very special night, and now that the team has all been found and accounted for, the real discoveries are just beginning.

Day 1: Becoming the Midwives

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To the casual theatre-goer, the magic of theatre comes to fruition in a final product: brilliant lights, vibrant costumes, incredible sets, engaging soundscapes, and fine-tuned characters all rehearsed to perfection and executed flawlessly to an adoring audience. But to the artist, the real magic happens long before any of that is even possible. It happens in a small rehearsal space furnished only with a few tables and chairs, some scripts ready for marking, and a team of passionate and driven people united in the singular goal of refining a story so that everyone can feel it as deeply as they do.

This lovely Monday evening, this process began for the Bridge Initiative’s development workshop of Alyson Mead’s new work, The Flora & Fauna. The creative team for this endeavor gathered under one roof for the first time, introductions were made, and many laughs were had. The mission of this workshop was laid out: that of supporting the playwright and her story however she may need, to the best of their combined abilities. Director Stefanie Sertich and Producer Tracy Liz Miller have set this up as the explicit goal of this project, allowing for a free approach for the rest of the creative team.

Because the team is not under pressure to create something perfect, or put up a show complete with full staging and so forth, they can truly lend themselves to the needs of the playwright in the further development of this beautiful piece. Whether this means rewrites, timeline alterations, experimenting with different looks, playing with elements of design, or so forth, the team will focus on what the play most needs in its current form. As Tracy Liz Miller put it, the team will act as “midwives” through the birthing pains of the playwright’s brainchild.

The Flora & Fauna is one of those rare pieces so brimming with reality that it touches everyone on a deeply personal level, a fact the team discovered very quickly upon sitting down for the first evening. After introductions and a discussion of the goals of this fast-paced process, the cast read through the show for the first time in its entirety, with the creative team taking their notes, jotting down questions and observations as Mead took her own notes for the improvement of the piece.

At the close of this first reading of the powerful, emotional story, the room seemed collectively stunned and short of breath, falling to silence as the recognition of exactly how moving this new play can be hit each individual like a ton of bricks. A deeply personal, vulnerable, and at times emotional discussion followed, as Sertich lead the team with thoughtful questions on character, structure, and the roots of the play itself.

The development team, comprised entirely of powerful women, left feeling revived, empowered, and confident that this project is something truly special. There’s no telling what this whirlwind week will hold, but on the solid foundation laid in this first night of forceful words, open minds, and bared hearts, it’s sure to be something magnificent.