Friday, January 22, 2016

Built to Roam

Once again I find myself with a long gap between this post and my last. As such, please imagine the following interstitial narrative being delivered by Westbrook Van Voorhis:

When we last left our (anti-)heroine Repocket Pingree the first, B. Cumberbatch was about to give his penultimate evening performance as Hamlet. (Two sentence review: Yes. Cumberbatch is every bit as mesmerising a performer as one could wish, and being ten feet away from the opening action of the show is a feeling our Repocket will surely never forget.) Over the following two weeks, she completed and submitted her final MA thesis paper on Western Bunraku Puppetry, and only a few days after that, spent the weekend in Leicester, performing in the world's quickest theatre festival.

At which point, in rapid succession, she moved out of her London digs, flew home to the Bay in time for the Memorial Service of her beloved Grandma Virginia, and spent a wonderful winter holiday jam-packed with family, friends, theatergoing, auditions, and looking after an awesome dog named Maggie, at which point she temporarily moved to Italy.

No freaking way.
Right. So. Now is probably as good a time as any to explain that I've managed to extend my studies abroad to include three months training with a program called ATELIER in Tuscany. It's an opportunity for which I must, once again, thank my trusty Circus Boys, for pointing me firmly in the direction of Matteo Destro, an expert movement theatre maker, teacher, and director, who is also a master mask maker. Because I am, perhaps, the luckiest girl ever to live, the timing worked out such that I was invited to join the inaugural class of the Mask Movement Theatre program in San Miniato Alto and the dates fell in exactly the right place to enable my attendance. I'll go into more detail about the program itself and why it is rad beyond belief in future posts, but for now let me briefly break down the current awesomeness that is my life.

1) Location location location.

This is the Palazzo Ceccherelli. A legit 15th Century palace. Also, my front door.
I have a studio apartment in a palace, guys. Whose life is this, anyway?
Pay no attention, it's only the view from the balcony. Holy S#%&balls.

The stairwell is full of beautiful old screens, one even had a bird for Mama. (Hi Mom!)
Also, the neighborhood is pretty okay:

Random window. I have no idea.

So, yeah. Magical setting? Check. 

2) My comrades. 

There are ten students: from the U.S. myself (CA), Paige (CO), Joe, Brian, Rachel (NY, via Chicago, IL), Frieda (CA, via France), Beth from Australia, Richard from England, Andreas from Sweden, and Piotr from Poland. I already cannot imagine my life without each member of our new ensemble, and I'm consistently confounded by everyone's talent and intelligence, moved by everyone's generosity, and reduced to tears by their sheer hilariousness. 

In which Joe attempts to find homes for the orphans at the laundromat...
There's also so much I can learn from this group outside of our actual classes, easiest example being that some form of music jamming happens virtually every night. The following video is of an impromptu song we recorded two nights ago for Paige's dad's birthday. Left to right is Richard, Brian (in the back), Piotr (in a blanket, our heating issues have since been resolved, huzzah), myself, and Paige. Shout out to Beth, who can operate a camera amazingly steadily and silently given that she was totally cracking up...

Not a flawless rendition, by any stretch, but I think the heart comes through. I'm excited to see where we can take future musical collaborations.

 3) The faculty.

Our "pedagogic knights" (Beth's joke, may only be funny to us), are Matteo Destro, Paola Coletto, Ned Brauer, and Alay Arzelus Makazaga all of whom studied with École International Théâtre de Jacques Lecoq when Lecoq himself was still teaching. Their extreme expertise, clarity of purpose, and unflinching candour are matched with remarkable kindness and wry humor at all times.

Like I was saying, lucky.
Matteo and Paula wearing each others glasses at lunch. These guys are wildly formidable badasses, people, and they are this cute ALL THE TIME. Killing me with win.

4) The work.

Our mornings are spent learning techniques of physical theatre, and developing our skills playing masks. This week was Neutral Masks, next week we'll add playing Larval Masks. No photos of the work itself yet, but hopefully soon. Suffice it to say the work is humbling, inspiring, and extraordinary.

Our afternoons are mostly spent in the Atelier with Matteo, learning the art and craft of Maskmaking. We began last week studying the evolution of simple shapes...

Don't ask me what they are evolving into, it's a mystery.
 And simple faces...

My first little dudes in clay.
 And now we're casting each others faces to make our first full masks starting next week. Shabam.

Richard, mid-facecasting. The plaster makes each person's unique facial structure apparent. Love.
5) The reason I won't talk about again, but that's a big deal for me right now: Value for $. The ATELIER tuition price is less than one seventh of my MA tuition but is more than half the total taught hours of the same MA program (that's not taking into account that ATELIER has a stronger instructor/student ratio at almost all times and is better organized). My studio apartment in a palace costs much less than my super rent-controlled bedroom in Berkeley, and is one third the price of my room in zone 2 in London (all credit to Matteo as our amazing housing advocate, he is a miracle worker in more ways than one). Basically, theatre friends, this is the program you've been looking for. Come next year if you possibly can.

So, that's me. So SO freaking grateful to be here right now. Many thanks to my beloved Circus Boys, Peter and David, what an absurd bonus result to come of knowing people who are really already awesome enough. Incidentally, their brilliant original mask and circus show BOOM! (directed by Matteo Destro) plays Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley TONIGHT! If you are in the Bay Area and can make it happen you won't be sorry. Circus Boys rule.

That's all I have time for right this minute, but there will be more whenever I can tear myself away from all this learning. Ciao for now!