How 12 pages of text can take four hours…

We’re posting blogs this week live from our fourth workshop for The Pastures of Heaven. This latest one is by Associate Artistic Director Jessica Richards.

We met at 10 yesterday morning for our first workshop day for The Pastures of Heaven, and somehow the day flew by as we dug into one of the three stories Octavio Solis has drafted. Our first piece is “Tularecito,” the story of a man-sized frog-child, possibly of mythical origin, definitely an outcast in his town. This was one of the first stories that captured the group’s imagination when we were reading John Steinbeck’s novel last year. We’ve researched the history, played with how Steinbeck’s language could be physicalized, and discussed this character dozens of times since fall of 2007.

And finally, here he is, standing onstage telling his story, as are the characters in his world.

But what to do with the descriptive passages Steinbeck is known for? Inspired by the Word for Word style and the work of the Royal Shakespeare Company on Nicholas Nickleby, Octavio has given the Chorus much of this story to tell. We’re working out now how that translates to dramatic action, down to the basics of who has the line and in what context he or she says it (as a named character or as a townsperson or as a narrator?). This is how 12 pages of text can take four hours to read through!

It’s fascinating to me to watch these lines get parsed and divided—which words are layered with multiple voices, and when, exactly, an actor fades from a named character into a member of the ensemble. All the while, Octavio types away on revisions and rewrites, continually being called upon to answer the “first-person vs. third-person” questions and weigh in on who a character is addressing.

Today we’re on to staging, finding more places where we need to question the function of the ensemble as the action comes together. Cascada de Flores, our wonderful musicians, join us again this afternoon to bring in the story of the Lopez (“Tortilla”) sisters. And on we go.

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