Espie is a queer mixed race Asian American director and producer

Maura is a white cis-woman who works as a director, producer, and dramaturg.

Espie

Shall we empty our pockets?

 

UntitledMaura

Yes! I know a couple of folks in the show, and I’m good friends with Pig Iron’s Associate Artistic Director Nell Bang-Jensen, who also cast the show. I also came into the show having already heard negative things about it. Also I am drinking a beer right now.

 

Espie

I knew a few folks in the show.  Additionally, I have a lot of conflicting personal feels about Pig Iron.  I had a frustrating experience with them as an intern when I first arrived in Philly but have also taken workshops with them that have really positively impacted my artistic practice.

 

Maura

I’m not sure how to start. Perhaps with who this play was for?

 

Espie

Because in a lot of ways the piece was asking “what is the meaning of LIFE?” and was so cosmic in scale, I wondered if this had the potential to reach across the aisle and engage Republicans.

 

Maura

That’s really interesting! I was thinking of it as rather about the progression of time and extinction and human meaninglessness, simultaneously with the idea of environmental stewardship. What did you decide regarding Republicans?

 

Espie

I feel like work that can cut to core questions about your happiness have the potential to reach anyone and I definitely experienced that. Notably, “Maybe I should quit my job and really focus on what makes me happy?” was really rattling my brainspace during Movement 2.

 

Maura

I agree with that. I loved Movements 1 and 2, because they felt like they truly honored the incomprehensibility of huge ideas (like extinction, or millions of years) for us as human beings. Both of those movements, and even Movement 3 to some degree, gave me space to reflect as an insignificant individual about the big things in my life, like happiness and how I use my time. I almost cried during Movement 2, for the sheer overwhelming expansive populated-ness of it. I do have to say though, Movement 3 gave me a giant headache.

 

Espie

I think got tired of the novelty of the halal cart pretty quickly.

 

Maura

I hear that, but when I thought more about the use of a food truck in that movement, I really liked it. It was about a very quotidien machine that multiplies throughout our cities in order to feed our physical, very human bodies. It embodied the point of the movement, which I thought was quite thought-provoking — that idea that human beings are the reproductive mechanisms for machines, like bees are to plants.

 

Espie

I really enjoy that interpretation, though because of the specific image of the halal cart, I kept reading it as a sensationalization of working class and immigrant narratives.

 

Maura

You’re so right that it did bring up some questions about machinery and the working class, that weren’t fully explored or acknowledged.

 

I’m not going to lie, I really want to talk about Movement 4.

 

Espie

YES.  While I appreciated that the narrative of Movement 4 was driven by women, I really wished that casting pushed away from them all being white and presented a multiracial family- especially coming on the heels of Movement 2’s inclusivity.  I thought that how Movement 4 periscope-d in and out between the very personal experience of the young girl and the strange other worldly experience with the volcano children and grandparent/tree/planet jawns was really effective.  

 

It’s so hard for me not to emote immediately with children on stage.  I felt myself giving in to letting my emotions be manipulated by their being adorable; so, when they started bringing up the pageant that was supposed to be going on or when I started to try to figure out if the people pushing the scenery were also supposed to be characters, I immediately forgave that some of the choices in that movement weren’t super clear.

 

Maura

Saying the choices weren’t clear feels like a great way to sum up certain directorial things about that movement. However, from a content perspective, I experienced it as a pretty didactic piece, that never felt genuine to the voices of the performers to me. It was also too long.

 

On the plus side, mad props to Nell for that casting job. I thought that the little girl was an incredibly compelling and lovely performer, and I had major feelings in that moment where Mel Krodman’s mother character just slid down the vacuum weeping after the grandmother had died. (Shout-out to Nancy Boykin, who is always incredible in my book.) I also really liked the volcano children and the planet sequence at the end, with the older folks handing the planets to the children. That plus the “Don’t forget my name” march really held me to the fire on my own environmental choices in a way I liked a lot.

 

The thing is — Movement 4 felt like it was trying too hard for me. I think putting those generations on stage together is already a radical act, so let that speak for itself. Let those beautiful endearing committed elders and those effervescent kids speak for themselves.

 

Espie

I especially feel your last sentiment.  They spent a lot of time trying to justify that these bodies were together on stage especially through the attempt to make a clear narrative and the moment where they all introduced themselves which I thought was really heartwarming but I questioned how necessary it was.

 

Maura

Agreed. It was a weird blend of heartwarming and Theatre, wasn’t it? Which was borne out through the design, and I did like that. The pageant costumes and the volcano and the planets worked very well for me. I think the design of the whole piece was pretty spectacular, I guess.

 

Espie

Notably for me, I thought that the sound design was so lovely and appreciated the care that was taken to highlight the little things – like the crunching of a carrot or just the live sounds of the wrestlers feet.

Maura

Yes! And while we’re on sound in general, I want to mention that the orchestra, especially in Movement 1, was incredible. As was that harpist, and the choir in Movement 5. There was a level of virtuosity in the music that made a lot of murkier choices utterly palatable for me.

 

Espie

Absolutely. Also, shout out to the crew and the technical director because in particular Movement 1 was a beast.

 

Maura

Oh man, definitely. Those folks made a lot of impossible stuff happen. Related though, the transitions were artistically clunky, even though they took the least amount of time humanly possible. The scenelets felt shoehorned in to me. I’ll watch Jenn Kidwell eat marshmallows and tell me things forever, but I kept thinking “Oh I hear the set moving” and “What is this actually about?” during the little “short pause” interludes.

Espie

I don’t think being constantly reminded that we were at the theatre did much more for me then offer an opportunity to check out for a second and make eye contact with someone about how strange the last movement was.  It encouraged me to intellectually engage with the material in real time, but kept me from completely buying into the world emotionally which I think was detrimental.

 

Maura

That is such a good point.

 

I’ll just say to round things out that Movement 5 was not really my cup of tea/a little boring. I understood that it was about the human struggle/survival of the fittest, but as a pretty standard metaphor for that, it didn’t hold up to the ambition or experiments of the other movements for me.

 

Espie

Both of my brothers were wrestlers and the experience of watching live wrestling or even observing a wrestler train is super nerve wracking and scary.  I think by turning that sport into such a choreographed piece all of the immediacy went away

 

Also human struggle isn’t an exclusively masculine thing!  It was a strange note to end on in an otherwise fairly inclusive cast.

 

Maura

I hadn’t thought of that, you are completely right. I wonder if that is part of why I checked out!

 

I do want to acknowledge the theatre community’s frustration about the large budget for this show, and say that I don’t think we should blame Pig Iron for being able to have a massive budget for 3 years of development around a show. I think there is an important conversation there about the funding system in theatre/Philadelphia/art, and that system deserves our questions. However, theatre doesn’t have as much of a formula for creating this kind of epic experience tackling huge cosmic ideas, and I think Pig Iron’s effort was ambitious and fascinating, even in the areas that it failed for me personally.

 

Espie

Agreed.  I remember the first time I saw a Pig Iron show and it was thrilling and eye-opening experience that really stretched my definition of what theatre could be, and, while I didn’t necessarily have that reaction this time around, I hope this piece inspires folks to experiment further.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s