As we approach the final week-end of the New York run for “The Actual Dance”, I am reflecting on how incredible this journey has been and how many people’s creativity and energy and heart have made this possible. There are many people that have helped. One person though stands out and in many ways has been my soul partner in this work. No, it is not Susan, she is my life partner and is indeed the other half of who I am. Rather, this is my dramaturg, Gabrielle Maisels.
Gabrielle and I met perhaps a decade ago as we were both students of Carol Fox Prescott. We attended class off and on together and both are also members of the Artistic New Directions community. As I was working to write this “story” I hit a wall. I had written different versions and an introductory part of the show that I had been reading and performing in classes where Gabrielle was also a student.
In 2012 Carol Fox Prescott retired and Gabrielle became the teacher. And I needed to figure out how to move beyond what had become a stale draft. I reached out to Gabrielle to see if she could guide me and she graciously agreed. We began to work in April of 2012. We both remember the first session. “Give me what you’ve got, Sam,” Gabrielle instructed. And so I read what I had. “You know that’s only 15 minutes,” she pointed out. So we began. Gabrielle asking probing questions: What did I want to say? What does the audience needed to know? What did this or that mean? And so on, and on and on….
She explained to me that she would be my “dramaturg” on the play. And of course I said, “what’s that?!”
Now coming up to almost 3 full years since that first, fateful meeting, and as I walk out on stage to present a play that people tell me changes their lives, I want and need to credit all those who have helped, and most importantly this incredibly talented woman who has in her work changed me. I thought I would spend a little of the time between shows bringing the role of the dramaturg into sharper focus and to acknowledge this incredible person:
Question: Gabrielle, let’s start off talking about dramaturgy and what a dramaturg is and does. Then we can get to a little bit more about your work! So, what is dramaturgy and what is a dramaturg?
Yeah, what IS a dramaturg? A dramaturg is lots of different things, but one way that a dramaturg functions is as an editor. And if you’re working the way you and I worked, then that editor is helping develop the story, not just coming in after it’s done to shape it. Essentially, dramaturgs help playwrights and/or directors bring a story to the stage, as a collaborator who does all the things a good editor does for a written piece, with the additional challenge and excitement of live performance thrown in.
In my case, since I work with solo-show performers, like you, what I love is how personal the process is, both creating the script itself, and creating the performance of that script.
Question: Can you talk a little bit about how “The Actual Dance” experience was for you as a dramaturg?
It was really surprising. As you said, the script was only a few pages long when we started, and then, incredibly quickly this entire PLAY emerged, and it was so honest, and vulnerable and revealing. As a solo-show coach, I am there to elicit what wants to come out. My dramaturgy comes straight out of Carol’s Breath Work technique – so as you talked, I was watching and listening to your breath and body to see when powerful emotions were being checked or restrained, and then as soon as I would identify those moments and ask you to write about them, out would pour ideas and images I couldn’t have imagined.
I think yours is a story that has not been told on the stage before, and that makes it risky, and new and scary to tell. I was surprised at how ready you were to go to those places, and I think that’s what audiences find gripping about the piece.
Question: Talk a little bit about your own theatrical journey. I have had the privilege of being in class as you worked on your shows and have seen you as an actress.
Thank you! I suppose part of what I love about coaching solo-show performers – and all actors – is facilitating the same discoveries that have been life-changing for me. Studying the Breath Work with Carol gave me access to acting abilities and to aspects of myself that I knew were there somewhere but that felt somehow hidden. Being able to express all of myself is more satisfying than I can describe. Playing characters fully, exploring behaviors and emotions and physicalities that don’t happen regularly in my day-to-day life somehow opens up doors in my soul, letting light in to places that otherwise stay dark. The whole process feels magical, yet there’s this simple technique that lets you do it. One powerful piece of my journey has been looking back and recognizing what dramatic results I got from committing to doing this work week after week, day after day. It just works. And it’s so much fun.
Question: Is there anything else you would like to tell folks who are reading this?
Just this week I started working with a friend who’s a performing musician, teaching him the principles of the Breath Work, to support his live performances. He found it revelatory and I found it so exciting. So many of us, in so many fields, are looking for ways to get out of our heads and back into our hearts. We know that when we connect to that “flow”, we do better, more authentic work. I think that’s what the Breath Work offers, in probably more realms than I have ever thought of. A really simple, concrete practice to connect to the part of you that’s most powerful – and circumvent the part that is so unhelpful -- so that you can do satisfying work.
So I guess I would say to folks who are reading: If you’re an actor and are wanting to do more satisfying work, come study the Breath Work with me. And if you’re not an actor, and have a sense that this could help you, you’re probably right! So contact me and let’s explore. And if you live upstate, near Woodstock, New York, study with Carol Fox Prescott. She’s a genius. And if you want to see the Breath Work in action, come see Sam’s show. The power is evident.