ASFWD: Choreographing FIVE TIMES AROUND

Kianna Jackson is one of American Stage’s 19-20 Acting and Production Apprentices, and will be acting in, as well as doing choreography and sound design for, the 19-20 ASFWD New Generation Apprentice Cohort’s Original Work, FIVE TIMES AROUND. 

Making theatre is a beautiful, rewarding and overwhelming process. Now sprinkle into that already emotional process working in the middle of a pandemic, it makes for an entirely new experience. During the apprenticeship, the apprentices spent several months honing skills in production, performance and other areas within a professional theatre. A skill that our cohort has had to pick up in this new world of theatre is “how to devise a theatre piece over Zoom, a virtual platform.” Thankfully our fearless and passionate director, Lyle Sweppenheiser, has made the transition of devising over Zoom as seamless as possible.

Devising is usually a method of making theatre in which the script or performance originates from collaborative work by a group (usually actors). Although we’ve kept that core of collaborative work throughout this process, we‘ve had to be flexible. In past years, the apprentices would spend a few months in the mix of their schedules devising a live 45 minute to an hour work that would be performed a few times a week after the summer Mainstage Musical. At the beginning of this process back in January, while we were still onsite, we had thought that would be how we would present this piece. Once the pandemic hit earlier this year and we switched to virtual work, we had to figure out what would be the best way to present the piece that we wanted to create. 

We’ve discovered along the way that our devising process has morphed into, essentially, making a film. Personally, being a huge fan of films, I found it very cool to make the switch in mindset from staging and writing for theatre to that of a cinematographer and screenwriter. For the stage, the audience is able to see different things going on at one time, while with film you are forced to focus on what the camera decides to show.In figuring out staging, it became more centered on what shot lists we needed to tell the story. Movement became focused on making sure the actors were seen and moved naturally on camera. In the movements that the actors did, it was important to remember the movement down to which hand was up when a shot ended for continuity purposes. At the moment of filming, it can seem a bit nit-picky, but in the world of editing it makes the process so much smoother.

Along with collaborating in conceptualizing and writing, one of my main roles in the project was assisting in movement with my fellow apprentice Skye Lindberg. The piece is being split into five episodes and one of the episodes revolves around a spoken word piece written by John Perez. Skye and I worked together on creating a movement piece to go along with the words of his poem. I have been dancing on and off since I was 3 years old. Choreographing is something I’ve always found fun to do, but at the same time a struggle. I get bad cases of writer’s block in choreography which makes hashing out a full length dance challenging; having Skye to collaborate off of was very helpful. In college, I took a “Dance on Camera” course which went through the basics of creating and filming a dance film and, fortunately, the idea for this episode tied very well into techniques I’ve learned from that course. 

A challenge that presented itself was choreographing a piece for people to perform in completely different locations. Luckily, YouTube was a great resource for Skye and I to get some inspiration on how to do so. A lot of artists are stuck in the same boat of trying to figure out creative ways to collaborate during quarantine. Skye and I were able to draw from other artist’s ideas of how to continue the movement from one person to the other through the camera and locations to try to piece it together. As we’ve been choreographing, the piece has already evolved in a few aspects and I’m interested to see how the finished product will be different from what we’ve initially thought. The words alone make for a very powerful statement and I’m excited to see how adding the movement will resonate with audiences.

Two words I would use to describe this devising process would be “fluid” and “rewarding.” There have been a lot of changes within the piece itself, with the people working on the piece and within the way the piece will be presented. Even as we are in the stages now of filming and editing, I imagine there will be more changes to come. However, this group of people that I have got to create with have made the experience wonderful. Even though we are all miles apart, I feel creating this piece together has connected us in a deeper way and I hope that audiences will be able to feel that connection to us as well through the finished product!

I cannot wait for you all to see it in August!

This is an episodic virtual piece, with a new episode released on American Stage’s YouTube channel each day of the week at noon, Aug. 17 – 21. Audiences can subscribe to American Stage’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/americanstage, to be notified when new episodes are released.

American Stage is proud to present this original work to our community at no charge. Audiences are encouraged to donate in support of American Stage to keep Virtual Stories accessible for all in the community. Donate at americanstage.org/donate.

Learn more at americanstage.org/five